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How a Somali Man Ended Up Fighting for Russia in Ukraine

Bashiir* says he only signed up to the Russian army to be a guard and never fired his weapon, but Ukrainian authorities say his story is uncannily similar to the claim of many POWs.

Jan. 19

A Somali man captured fighting for Moscow on the front lines in Ukraine has claimed he only ever wanted to be a guard inside Russia and didn’t even realize when he had been taken across the border.

In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Bashiir* said all he had wanted was to earn enough money to send back home to his family and provide them with a better life.

“[In Somalia] I was working in a small [shop], a helper boy earning $100 a month.

“I have a small daughter. She has to study; she has to be in a good situation but $100 is not enough.”

Bashiir said he travelled to Russia in August of last year looking for work and saw posters advertising the Russian armed forces.

He claims he was told he would be trained and work only inside Russia itself and believed he would be stationed as a guard at a military facility.

“So, you can say that I thought I would be working as a guard,” he said. “Letting people go inside this door or not going inside.

“No shooting, no killing, no other things.”

But Ukrainian authorities told Kyiv Post that Bashiir’s story is uncannily similar to that of almost all POWs they encounter.

Petro Yatsenko, representative of the coordination headquarters for the treatment of prisoners of war, told Kyiv Post: “The behavior is very similar among all captured military personnel of the aggressor country.

“In particular, they all claim that they did not kill anyone. They were rear-guard, or drivers, or cooks, or just brought ammunition, or there was no ammunition at all – they will all say that they did not take part in the fighting.”

Previous Kyiv Post interviews with POWs elicited similar responses – one Russian said that even though he was listed on military records as being an “assistant grenade launcher,” all he ever did was “give out food and ammunition.”

But not all Russian POWs are so coy about their motivations. When asked why he’d come to Ukraine, another told Kyiv Post last year: “I joined a private military company and came here to kill.”

Watch the interview with Bashiir above to find out more.

The interview was conducted at a Ukrainian facility. There were Ukrainian officials present in the room with the captive and the reporter. The captive was not forced to answer any questions and could leave the interview at any time.

*The prisoner identified himself by name, but Kyiv Post has used a pseudonym to keep his identity confidential, in accordance with the international conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.