For Money Or A Passport: Many Kyrgyz Fighting Alongside Russians In Ukraine

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A 25-year-old native of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Sardarbek Mamatillaev received Russian citizenship just a few months ago.

Mamatillaev says he recently received a summons from the local military office in Russia and suspects he may be sent to Ukraine to fight alongside Russian forces after receiving a not-so-vague threat.

“I was told I must report to the military office, otherwise my Russian citizenship could be canceled,” Mamatillaev told Cabar.asia.

Several other Kyrgyz natives in Russia and human rights activists confirmed to RFE/RL that many naturalized Russian citizens from Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries have received similar summonses or were already sent to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, many Kyrgyz citizens -- in Russia as migrant workers -- have voluntarily joined the Russian military as contractors in return for money or fast-tracked Russian citizenship.

“Most of the contractors are motivated by money, and I heard that they get paid quite well,” says a Russian-based Kyrgyz lawyer who defends migrant rights.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the lawyer says “those who wanted to obtain citizenship got it immediately through special decrees and went to fight in Ukraine with Russian forces.”

It’s not known how much money the contractors receive from Russia. But one Uzbek citizen told RFE/RL in the first days of the war that he had signed a three-month contract with a monthly salary of 50,000 rubles (about $650) and the prospect of Russian citizenship to drive an army truck in eastern Ukraine.

The man said “many Uzbeks” and other Central Asians were taking part in the war in Ukraine.

The number of Kyrgyz and other Central Asians fighting in Ukraine with Russian troops -- as soldiers or contractors -- is unknown.

Mamatillaev had served in the Kyrgyz Army before becoming a Russian citizen. But it won’t spare him from compulsory service in the Russian Army, the Kyrgyz lawyer says.

According to Russian laws, conscript age men who become naturalized citizens must undergo the mandatory conscript service in most cases, even if they had already served in the army of their country of origin.

Valentina Chupik, a prominent migrant rights defender in Russia, told RFE/RL that several Kyrgyz-born Russian nationals have approached her for advice after getting summonses from military offices.

“[Authorities] have demanded they sign an agreement to become a contractor in the army. If they refuse to sign, [authorities] threaten that their citizenship will be taken away,” she told RFE/RL.

Coffins From Ukraine

Several coffins of Central Asians killed in Ukraine have already been sent to their hometowns for burial.

On March 25, 20-year-old Egamberdi Dorboev was buried in his home village of Kara-Oi in Issyk-Kul Province in Kyrgyzstan.

A naturalized Russian citizen, Dorboev was drafted into the military in the Russian city of Norilsk last autumn. He was killed in Ukraine on March 8, two weeks after Russia began its unprovoked invasion.

According to Norilsk Mayor Dmitry Karasyov, Dorboev “signed a contract and served in a special reconnaissance battalion in the Belgorod region,” which borders Ukraine.

Some naturalized Russians from Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries have left Russia simply out of fear that they will be sent to the army.Just two days after Dorboev’s family buried him, another coffin arrived in neighboring Chuy Province. Rustam Zarifulin, a 26-year-old native of Kara-Balta, was killed in Ukraine on March 14. Citing his family, Kyrgyz media reported that Zarifulin had been a contractor in the Russian Army.

According to his relatives, Zarifulin was killed in the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum, which has been the scene of heavy fighting for weeks.

In neighboring Tajikistan, the bodies of two men were returned from Ukraine. The families confirmed that both men had fought with Russian troops there.

Hundreds of thousands of Central Asians have received Russian citizenship in recent years, meaning many men are eligible to be drafted into the military.

The war in Ukraine and corresponding harsh and widespread Western sanctions against Russia have sent at least 100,000 Central Asian migrant workers back to their home countries as jobs dry up. But many stay in Russia because they don’t see any better opportunities at home.

Migrant rights activists in Russia fear that more migrants will be lured into the Russian Army with the promise of fast-tracked citizenship.

But not everyone is willing to take part in Moscow’s bloody war.

Some naturalized Russians from Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries have left Russia simply out of fear that they will be sent to the army.

According to official figures, several hundred thousand Kyrgyz citizens work in Russia. Kyrgyz lawmaker Aibek Osmonov recently said that about 600,000 people from Kyrgyzstan have obtained Russian citizenship.

Osmonov also told RFE/RL that about 5 percent of them, or about 30,000 men, are liable for military service.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.