At least three Indians who were hired as “army security helpers” in Russia were allegedly forced to fight alongside the country’s forces in its war against Ukraine, The Hindu reported on Tuesday.

According to The Hindu, the matter only came to light after the family of one of the Indian nationals, a resident of Hyderabad, contacted Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.

On February 24, 2022, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, triggering the most deadly conflict in Europe since World War II.

After the war broke out, at least 500 Indians, including some veterans, had reportedly submitted applications to volunteer to join the International Legion created to fight Russian forces in Ukraine. However, this is the first time that the involvement of Indians in combat roles on the Russian side has been reported.

On January 25, Owaisi reportedly wrote to Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar and the Indian Embassy in Moscow, urging them to facilitate the return of the three Indian nationals. Owaisi reiterated his request on Wednesday in a social media post.

One of the Indian nationals forced to fight in Russia told The Hindu that he and two others arrived in the country in November 2023 with the help of an agent named Faisal Khan.

Khan runs a job consultancy and recruitment agency called Baba Vlogs. He also has a YouTube channel of the same name with 3,04,000 subscribers.

Two agents associated with Khan had received the Indian national, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, in Russia on November 12.

“On November 13, we were admitted into a camp and taken to a deserted place around two-and-half hours away from Moscow,” said the Uttar Pradesh resident, who is in his twenties, to The Hindu. “We contacted the Indian agents and they assured us that we would be posted as helpers.”

The three also reportedly signed a contract that said they were being hired as army security helpers.

“We were categorically told that we will not be sent to the battlefield and promised Rs 1.95 lakh salary and Rs 50,000 additional bonus per month,” the Uttar Pradesh resident was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

However, soon after, they were given basic training in handling arms and ammunition by the “Russian Army”. In January, they were sent to Rostov-on-Don where they were forcefully thrown into combat, the newspaper reported.

The Uttar Pradesh resident said that he had not received any money except the Rs 50,000 bonus for two months. He told The Hindu that he did not have access to his phone for several days and contacted his family only after fleeing the war zonem, and alleged that his repeated pleas to the Indian Embassy in Moscow went unheeded.

One of the agents associated with Khan who received the Indian nationals told The Hindu that as per the contract, the three men were to be given basic training for three months, which would be followed by a psychological assessment and other tests to ascertain if they want to continue as kitchen helpers or take up any other job.

“But after a month, their passports were snatched, and they were forced to fight on behalf of Russia,” said the agent. “People from other countries are also stuck here.”

The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on the matter, according to The Hindu.

Since November, around 18 Indians have been stranded in the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Rostov-on-Don along the country’s border with Russia while one is said to have been killed in combat. They hail from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, according to The Hindu.