Trapped in the trenches Russia appears to be covertly recruiting Cuban men for the war with Ukraine. Like the two teens in this story, many of them cannot read their contracts.
On September 8, a group of Ukrainian legislators accused Cuba of supplying mercenaries to Vladimir Putin’s regime. “We, people’s deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, are deeply concerned about the presence and participation of forces and mercenaries loyal to the dictatorship in the Republic of Cuba in the genocidal invasion of the territory of Ukraine,” their statement read. These allegations were based on a trove of recently leaked documents showing the presence of Cuban conscripts in the Russian military. On the same day, the Cuban authorities announced having uncovered a human trafficking ring, set up to recruit Cuban men into the Russian army, despite Cuba’s official refusal to take part in conflict with Ukraine. Here’s what we know about Cuban conscripts in Russia, based on reports from independent sources.
The outlines of a trafficking scheme
The Cuban news outlet CiberCuba and the Cuban-American influencer Alain Lambert — better known as Alain Paparazzi Cubano — were among the first to pick up the story of Cuban recruits in the Russian military. According to another early report, from the Miami-based news network América TeVé, Cubans are flown to Russia from Varadero, where they can board a direct flight to Moscow. Aeroflot has been offering such flights since July 1.
At the end of May, a regional Russian publication based in Ryazan wrote that several Cuban nationals had just signed contracts with the Russian military and gone off to Ukraine: “The Cubans are saying that they want to help our country meet its goals in the zone of the special military operation,” the paper said, referring to the invasion of Ukraine and adding that “some of them would like to become Russian citizens in the future.”
According to a Russian officer who spoke to The Moscow Times on condition of anonymity, conscripts like these join Russia’s international battalions, comprised largely of non-Russian-speaking troops. The speaker mentioned seeing large numbers of Serbs and Cubans in such units.
According to a translator who works with the Cuban diaspora in Russia and also spoke with The Moscow Times, “there’s a lot of young guys who come here for money, straight from Cuba.” Once they arrive,
In most cases, the speaker believes, by the time these efforts to locate the missing relative begin, “the person has already been killed.”
Latino teens in the Russian trenches
The story of two Cuban 19-year-olds, Alex Rolando Vegas Díaz and Andorf Antonio Velázquez García, is, so far, the most detailed account of how Cuban men (sometimes very young ones) wind up as mercenaries in Russia’s war with Ukraine.
In July, the two youngsters came to Russia, without so much as an inkling that they’d end up in the trenches in Ukraine. According to the two teens who call one another “hermano,” both of them signed contracts written in Russian, thinking that they were agreeing to dig ditches and do construction work. When interviewed by the Cuban-American influencer Alain Paparazzi Cubano, the boys told him that they heard about job opportunities in Russia from their friends. When they became interested, a Cuban national and two Russians helped them get their tickets and collect the paperwork needed for the trip. According to the teens, 200 other Cubans on the same Moscow flight were also going to Russia expecting to find jobs.
In Moscow, they were met by a Russian woman and a uniformed man who looked Cuban. These people invited them to sign a one-year contract with the Russian army. According to the teens, they were offered salaries of 200,000 rubles (or about $2,000) a month, as well as Russian citizenships for themselves and their family members. Their Cuban passports were taken away, on the pretext of applying for citizenship.
“They told us we were going to dig ditches and rebuild the cities destroyed in the war. Nothing more, and definitely no combat,” said one of the boys. After signing the contract, though, the teens were sent to an army base, and from there to Ukraine, where they were told to dig trenches in the woods. “We had no food or water; we couldn’t bathe; we slept six meters under the ground, where it was horribly damp.” Their phones were taken away.
According to Díaz and Velázquez, they were working together with other Cuban nationals. Since they were also forced to exercise and run, they realized quickly that they were being conditioned for combat. Like a number of their compatriots, the two teens asked to be sent back to Cuba. In response, they were brutally beaten by a Russian soldier who threatened to send them to Russia’s most dangerous prison, the Black Dolphin.
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Both Díaz and Velázquez were eventually hospitalized, and later sent to Kaliningrad, where they presumably are now. After they get better, they told Alain Paparazzi Cubano, they will be sent back to Ukraine. If they try to resist or escape, the teens told the influencer, they’ll have to face the military police in Russia.
According to Andorf’s father Mario Velázquez, his son really didn’t know he was going to war.
Who recruits Cubans for the Russian army
On September 6, the Ukrainian investigative project InformNapalm published information about the identities of 198 Cubans and one Colombia national who had reportedly signed contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry. These documents were part of the data trove accessed by Ukrainian Cyber Resistance, a group of hackers who found a vulnerability in the email account of Anton Perevozchikov, an officer responsible for military recruitment in Russia’s Tula region. Cyber Resistance then shared the contents of the leak with the media and the OSINT community.
The leak — comprised of passport scans, migration cards, questionnaires, and contract templates — reveals, among other things, that the oldest Cuban national recruited by the Russian military was 68 years old, while the youngest was only 18.
InformNapalm writes that what drives Cuban men to Russia is poverty in their home country. Their incentive for signing a one-year contract is a sign-up bonus of just under $2,000 in Russian rubles, with a monthly salary of around $2,000 thereafter. Being able to gain Russian citizenship is also offered as a bonus.
Similar terms were outlined by a Facebook user named Elena Shuvalova, who posted multiple recruitment ads in the Cubans in Moscow (Cubanos en Moscú) Facebook group. In conversation with The Moscow Times, Shuvalova confirmed that she “helps” Cubans prepare the paperwork they need to sign a contract with the Russian army.
Alain “Paparazzi Cubano” Lambert has published the phone number of the Russian woman who recruited the teenagers Díaz and Velázquez. That number is linked to the VK profile of Dana Diaz, 34, who also figures as Dallana Russia, Dana Diaz, Dayana Y David, and Dayana Guerra Ucrania (Diana Ukraine War) among various people’s contacts. The caller ID service TrueCaller identifies her number with Dayana Díaz Echemendía. The two teens’ families have confirmed that a woman named Diana or Dayana helped organize the boys’ trip to Russia.