Nepal has imposed a ban on its citizens travelling to Russia and Ukraine for employment. This decision comes in the wake of reports that ten Nepali men have been killed and dozens more are missing after enlisting in the Russian military.

Over 200 Nepali soldiers are believed to have joined the Russian army since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. More than 100 Nepali soldiers are currently unaccounted for, with a smaller number believed to be fighting in the Ukrainian army.

Nepal’s foreign ministry has confirmed the suspension of work permits for Russia and Ukraine, a decision aimed at mitigating risks and losses for Nepali nationals. Foreign employment director Kabiraj Upreti announced the temporary halt until further arrangements are made.

The primary objective of this decision is to safeguard Nepali citizens from potential dangers in the conflict-ridden regions. Kathmandu has also demanded that Nepali fighters not be deployed on either side of the conflict in Russia and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, there are calls for the repatriation of the remains of Nepali fighters killed in the conflict and compensation for their grieving families.

Nepali soldiers have a historical association with serving in the British and Indian armies, with Gurkha units predominantly in infantry and specialist roles. Additionally, many Nepalis have worked as contract workers and security guards in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A concerning development is the involvement of human traffickers smuggling young Nepali men to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine. These criminals offer fast-track citizenship and higher salaries, exploiting vulnerable individuals seeking employment opportunities abroad.

In December, 12 individuals were arrested in Nepal for trafficking around 150-200 men to Russia. The smugglers charged US$9,000 for entry on tourist visas, coercing enlistment in the Russian military.

Rupak Karki, one of the victims, initially sought work in South Korea but ended up joining the Russian military in Ukraine for the promise of Russian citizenship and higher earnings. His parents are now unable to come to terms with their son’s death without seeing his body. Another captured soldier, Bibek Khatri, enlisted in the Russian army for financial reasons.

The Nepali government’s decision to ban travel to Russia and Ukraine follows President Vladimir Putin’s decree expediting citizenship for foreigners who enlist in the Russian army. This decree provides an additional incentive for recruitment and fast-tracking citizenship decisions for foreigners in the Russian army or paramilitary groups for a minimum of one year, extending to immediate family members as well.

Notably, migrant workers from Central Asia, as well as individuals from Cuba, Serbia, and various African countries, have been documented as soldiers in the Russian military.

Nepal had previously urged Russia to return the bodies of six soldiers who died in the conflict and demanded compensation for their families. It has been revealed that four Nepali soldiers have been taken captive by Ukraine.