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Russia is recruiting Cuban mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, leaked documents show

A rescuer examines a roof of a damaged residential building after a missile strike on the city of Lviv in western Ukraine on Aug. 15 amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  (GENYA SAVILOV)
By Nora Gámez Torres Miami Herald

Ukrainian hackers have leaked documents showing the Russian military was behind recent efforts to recruit about 200 Cuban mercenaries, mainly coming from the island, to join Russian forces invading Ukraine.

Hacker group Cyber Resistance infiltrated the email account of Maj. Anton Valentinovich Perevozchikov, a Russian officer in the Western Military District in Tula, 120 miles south of Moscow, who was involved in recruiting Cubans.

The cache of documents, many published by the citizen journalism website InformNapalm and also reviewed by the Intercept, includes the names, birth dates and photos of the passports of 199 Cubans. The oldest recruit on the list was a 69-year-old man from Havana. The youngest turned just 18 in March.

Most men were originally from Havana, though the documents show Cubans were recruited all over the country and traveled to Russia in July and August.

A majority entered Russia directly from Cuba to Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow in groups of 10 to 30 people, but at least five entered from neighboring Belarus on July 1. In late May, Valery Revenko, a deputy defense minister in Belarus, had discussed the training of Cuban military personnel in Belarus with Cuban officials, including Cuba’s military attaché in Russia and Belarus, Col. Mónica Milián Gómez.

Among the documents published by InformNapalm are several photos of Cuban passports next to Russian migration cards stating the reason for visiting the country as “tourism.” Cubans do not require visas to enter Russia.

Several photos and stories published on social media by some of the men confirm they have joined the Russian military. Pedro Soto Hernandez, 59, from Granma province in eastern Cuba, published a photo wearing the Russian army uniform on Aug. 7, with the caption “For the motherland.”

From Moscow, the men traveled to Tula, where Perevozchikov coordinated the translation of their passports and handed them the contracts, InformNapalm said.

The leaked documents do not include signed contracts but show templates translated into Spanish showing the men are promised the same benefits offered to Russians enrolled in the army, including monthly payments equivalent to $2,000 and a one-time $2,000 payment.

The new revelations come after two young Cubans denounced they were scammed into believing they were traveling to Russia for construction work but ended up forcibly recruited as mercenaries in the city of Ryazan, in central Russia, alarming activists who speculated that Cuba and Russia, close political and military allies, might be behind the effort.

The Cuban government, which denies any participation, said Thursday that it had detained 17 people involved in these activities, including three that authorities believed were the organizers of a ring recruiting Cubans to send them to Russia as mercenaries. The rest are Cubans who “confessed to having joined the operation by individual and voluntary decision, in exchange for residence in the Eurasian country and a substantial monetary remuneration,” Cuba’s official news site Cubadebate said.

In an earlier statement, the Cuban government said that its Interior Ministry had “uncovered” the ring and that Cuba was acting “firmly… against those who within the national territory participate in any form of human trafficking for mercenary purposes or recruitment purposes so that Cuban citizens may raise weapons against any country.”

Jose Luis Reyes Blanco, a top official at Cuba’s Attorney General’s office, said in a video on state television on Thursday evening that it was yet unclear what charges those arrested will face.

Cuba is going through one of the worst economic crises in decades, with shortages of food, medicine and other essential supplies and a crumbling infrastructure that cannot meet housing needs or maintain services like running water, electricity or trash removal.

About 300,000 Cubans left the island for the United States in the past year. Many still living in the country want to emigrate, a desire likely exploited by the Russian and Cuban recruiters. InformNapalm perused the social media accounts of several Cuban mercenaries and said they seemed to have one thing in common: poverty.

Cuban Interior Ministry Col. Cesar Rodriguez provided a different description of the men, calling them people “with antisocial behavior and criminal records” on state television.

Some Ukrainian politicians cast doubt that Cuban authorities did not support such a broad recruitment operation.

“The Cuban communist regime pretends that it has nothing to do with this ‘human trafficking’,” the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s committee on foreign relations, Oleksandr Merezhko, said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “In reality, this totalitarian regime is on the side of the aggressor.”

Thirty members of the Ukrainian parliament, including Merezhko and Olena Shulyak, the leader of the Servant of the People party currently in power, issued a statement to the Assembly of the Resistance, a coalition of Cuban exile organizations based in Miami, expressing deep concern “about the presence and participation of forces and mercenaries loyal to the dictatorship in the Republic of Cuba in the genocidal invasion of the territory of Ukraine.”

“We are watching how the regime in Havana supports Russian aggression in the international diplomatic arena,” they said. “The military component of the cooperation of the Republic of Cuba with the [Vladimir] Putin regime is a clear signal to the free world about the threat posed by the regime in Havana today.”

In a video published by the Assembly of the Resistance with Spanish subtitles, a group of Ukrainian soldiers holding their weapons urged Cubans not to fight on the Russian side. Orlando Gutierrez, the assembly’s coordinator, said the video was recorded by Ukrainian military forces in the Donbas region on Wednesday.

“Cubans, do not let yourselves be fooled as in the Soviet era,” a soldier says in the video. “Do not allow them to make you part of the war and genocide against Ukraine.”

“Cuban people, remember this” a woman said at the end of the message. “It is better to die with dignity for the freedom of Cuba than to die as an invader of Ukrainian land.”