Hacked documents and various reports indicate a concerted effort by Russia to recruit Cubans, exploiting economic vulnerabilities and offering incentives like fast-track citizenship. An amendment to Russian Law in April 2023 made it easier for foreigners fighting with Russian forces to acquire citizenship, creating a pathway for Cubans to join the Russian military. The recruitment process has been facilitated by offering a one-time cash payment of about $2,000 and monthly payments starting at approximately the same amount, depending on rank, along with spousal and family benefits .
The Cuban Foreign Affairs Ministry’s response to these events has been ambiguous, acknowledging awareness of a human trafficking network facilitating the recruitment of Cubans into Russian military operations but denying direct involvement. Despite historical ties and alignment with Russia on various international matters, Havana has publicly denounced mercenarism and human trafficking. It has stated efforts to dismantle human trafficking networks involved in recruiting Cubans for the war in Ukraine .
An article from Havana Times paints a darker picture, reporting that some individuals were led to believe they were signing labor contracts for non-military work in Russia. Accounts emerged on social media about young Cubans like Alex Vegas Diaz and Andorf Velazquez Garcia. The young men reportedly responded to Facebook ads posted promising construction jobs in Russia. However, upon arrival, they were met by a soldier of Cuban origin, stripped of their documents, and sent to Ukraine.
Adding to the grim narrative, reports from Cubanos Pro El Mundo highlight the deaths of two young Cubans in Ukraine. Yansiel Morejón (26), and Raibel Palacio Herrera (21) have become the latest victims of what appears to be a ruthless recruitment scheme. Morejón was reportedly killed in action on January 10, while Palacio Herrera lost his life in the city of Kherson following a drone attack by Ukrainian forces. His family received the news through a WhatsApp message, informing them that Herrera was a casualty of a Ukrainian drone attack. The Russian authorities promised to repatriate his body, yet communication with the Cuban embassy in Moscow has been non-existent, leaving the family in a state of uncertainty. The families of these young men, misled by false promises, are left to mourn their losses, with the financial compensations promised in the recruitment contracts yet to materialize.