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Russian Recruiters Target Central Asian Migrants At Mosques, Dorms To Join War In Ukraine

A man in Russia receives a leaflet urging people to join the military.
A man in Russia receives a leaflet urging people to join the military.

Tajik migrant Foziljon Umarov recently applied to renew his expiring Russian residency permit in Nizhny Novgorod Province, where he works as a bricklayer.

As Umarov handed in his documents at the migration department, a clerk asked him if he would consider joining the Russian military.

"She said if I became a contract soldier I'd no longer need a residency permit or a work permit and could get a Russian passport after six months of military service. I would also earn about $3,000 a month," Umarov claimed.

He said the employee who spoke to him at the migration center was an ethnic Tajik.

"She spoke Tajik with me. I don't know if they hired a Tajik employee specifically to speak to Tajik migrants, and Uzbek clerks for Uzbeks, etc.," Umarov said.

Many migrant workers from Central Asia say Russian recruiters have increasingly approached them at mosques, in dormitories, and at migration offices to try to lure them into joining the military as Moscow struggles to replace its depleted forces in Ukraine.

Moscow has not officially announced a new military mobilization after its "partial" call-up of some 300,000 reservists in September caused tens of thousands of Russian men to abruptly flee the country.

The government plans to recruit 400,000 new soldiers to fight in Ukraine, according to Russian regional government sources.

Russian officials have expanded their campaign to attract potential contractors -- both Russian citizens and foreign workers -- with a promise of money and other benefits.

Recruiters on Russian city streets are handing out brochures to men claiming those who sign up for the military contract service will receive an initial one-time payment of $2,390, followed by salaries of up to $4,160 a month.

Photos and videos sent to RFE/RL show similar leaflets hanging on the walls, doors, and staircases in migrant workers' dormitories.

One video obtained by RFE/RL's Tajik Service purports to show a representative of a Russian military recruiting office giving a speech at a popular mosque in the city of Chelyabinsk.

Video obtained by RFE/RL reportedly shows a Russian military recruiter talking to migrants at a mosque in Chelyabinsk.
Video obtained by RFE/RL reportedly shows a Russian military recruiter talking to migrants at a mosque in Chelyabinsk.

"You don't have to wait five years to become Russian citizens -- instead you can sign a contract for military service for six months or up to one year in exchange for fast-track citizenship for yourself and your families," the uniformed man tells the congregation in the mosque.

Another video depicts a man in the Russian military outfit promoting contract military service to a group of men, some of whom can be heard speaking Uzbek. The video purportedly shows Central Asian migrants lining up for work permit in the western city of Penza.

Recruiters say those willing to become military contractors don't even have to take the mandatory medical checkup, says Jurabek Amonov, a migrant rights advocate in Russia.

"They only need to sign a paper saying 'I am healthy,'" Amonov told RFE/RL on April 10.

"I always tell the migrants that 99 percent of those who went to war in the hope of getting Russian passports were killed in Ukraine. It's also illegal for them to go to Ukraine," he said.

Not My War

Russia hosts millions of migrants from Central Asia and other former Soviet countries where unemployment has been a major problem the past three decades.

Most migrants have stayed away from the widely condemned war their host country has waged against Ukraine. But it is believed that many hundreds or thousands have accepted jobs in Ukraine's Russian-occupied territories -- mostly working for Russian construction companies.

Since the war began in February 2022, dozens of families in Central Asia have received the bodies of relatives killed in Ukraine. Some of them were naturalized Russian citizens, some were foreign contractors, and there were also convicts recruited from Russian prisons often under pressure.

Despite the falling value of the Russian ruble, a shrinking job market, and other consequences of the war, Russia remains a key destination for Central Asian workers.

One Tajik migrant contacted RFE/RL from a deportation detention center in the Far Eastern Russian city of Vladivostok earlier this month, saying a military recruitment officer had come to the facility to meet with the detainees.

"The officer told us, 'You are being deported and can't return to Russia for at least five years, but if you agree to join the Russian military your records will be wiped clean, you'll get a good wage, and become Russian citizens after just six months,'" said the Tajik man on condition of anonymity.

Though he said he wasn't convinced, some others "seriously considered accepting the offer, because going back to Tajikistan with no money, no jobs, and no future is almost as bad."

In Nizhny Novgorod, migrant worker Umarov decided to reject the offer of a Russian passport and $3,000 a month to fight in Ukraine, although he makes only half of that amount during the height of the summer work season.

"I am not going to Ukraine at any cost," Umarov said. "It is not my war."

Written and reported by Farangis Najibullah with additional reporting by Zarangez Navruzshoh

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