Exclusive: WhatsApp to war – Cuban recruits join Russian military to fight in Ukraine

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NEW YORK, BRONX (ORDO News) —  In a surprising turn of events, Cuban recruits are joining the Russian military to participate in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This recruitment drive has seen several Cubans traveling to Russia to work for the military in various capacities.

The situation highlights the economic desperation and dire conditions in Cuba that have driven individuals to seek opportunities in foreign militaries.

The recruitment efforts began following a May decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin that allowed foreigners who enlisted with the military on year-long contracts to receive Russian citizenship, along with their immediate family members.

The story of Yamidely Cervantes, whose husband, Enrique Gonzalez, left for the Russian army in Ukraine, exemplifies the trend. Cervantes shared that her husband wired her a substantial part of his signing-on bonus in Russian roubles, which she received in Cuban pesos.

This bonus amounted to about 200,000 roubles ($2,040), an extraordinary sum on the economically struggling island. In fact, it is more than 100 times the average monthly state salary in Cuba.

La Federal, a small community on the outskirts of Havana, has been deeply affected by this trend, with one in four residents being unemployed, according to government data from 2022. Many men from the town have left for Russia since June, leaving behind a community grappling with severe economic hardships.

The recruitment of Cubans into the Russian military appears to have been organized through social media and various online platforms. A recruiter, known as “Dayana,” played a central role in facilitating the enlistment process. She provided recruits with contract terms that offered Russian citizenship after one year of service, along with a signing bonus and a monthly salary.

The terms provided by Dayana matched those offered to other recruits interviewed by Reuters. However, most of the recruits were not informed about their specific roles in the military until they arrived in Russia.

Enrique Gonzalez, who is currently stationed in Russia, revealed that he was one of 119 Cubans undergoing training there. Although he signed a contract to work for the Russian military, he explained that not everyone would be involved in direct combat. Some would have roles in logistics and support.

While this recruitment effort has provided economic relief to some desperate Cubans, it also raises concerns about their involvement in a foreign conflict. The Cuban government has sent mixed messages on the matter, initially stating that it was illegal for its citizens to fight for a foreign army, punishable by life in prison.

However, there was later ambiguity about Cubans signing contracts to legally participate in the Russian army’s operations.

This situation underscores the economic crisis in Cuba, driving individuals to seek opportunities abroad, even if it means joining a foreign military. While some Cubans have left for Russia, it remains to be seen how their involvement in the Ukrainian conflict will unfold and whether more will follow suit in search of economic stability.


Reuters news agency contributed to this report, edited and published by ORDO News editors.

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