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Number of Cubans lured to fighting for Russia in Ukraine close to 5,000, higher than media reports

ADN first broke the story in July 2023 before recent reports surfaced in the international press this year. Sources from the Cuban community tell ADN their connections in Ukraine put the real number of Cubans conscripted into fighting for Russia are closer to 5,000—much higher than the international press has reported

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May 8, 2024 9:39am

Updated: May 8, 2024 3:43pm

Several news outlets have finally begun acknowledging what ADN reported last year in that young Cubans are being recruited and lured for work in Russia but then forced to risk their lives on the battlefields in Ukraine. Sources from the Cuban community, however, tell ADN that the number of Cubans conscripted into fighting for Moscow are closer to 5,000—not 400 as reported by the international press.

The bait and switch scheme was first revealed by ADN on Sept. 6, 2023 as a result of the dogged research performed by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, an international human rights organization dedicated to combatting totalitarianism in Cuba and the Western Hemisphere.

ADN's story was revived two months ago when José de Córdoba of the Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 16 that young Cubans “eager to escape [the] communist island’s poverty” were “joining Russia’s army.”

Daniela Herrera, a young Cuban mother whose son was one of the recruits sent to Ukraine wept during an interview to Córdoba, telling him that, “Cubans are cannon fodder and they will kill them all.”

In its Feb. 16 report, the WSJ quotes Ruslan Spirin, Ukraine’s special representative to Latin America and the Caribbean told the Journal the Ukrainian government officially believes there are 400 Cubans fighting in the Russian army. The Journal then added however, that Maryan Zabloktskyi, a member of Ukrainian parliament who has closely studied the issue puts the number closer to 1,500 and 3,000.

A recent BBC investigation published May 4 also confirmed that young Cubans were being lured into fighting for the Kremlin with the promise of high pay and Russian passports as a means to escape poverty. The BBC acknowledged that the scheme began in September and reported that the young Cubans have been teased with monthly payments of $2,000, a significantly higher than the average Cuban communist monthly salary of $35, but says the number of Cubans fighting for Moscow is in the “hundreds.”

Still, Cuban exile leaders who have closely monitored the situation on the ground in both Cuba and Europe, tell ADN that the numbers being reported by the WSJ and BBC are underestimations.

Dr. Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat, Chairman of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, who has spent several months working with Ukrainian parliament officials—and has even been briefed by the government’s cabinet—says he believes the number of Cubans being forced into Russian conscripted service is even higher—and that the recruitment is part of a joint operation between Moscow and Havana.

“These are young Cubans being recruited in a joint covert operation by the Cuban military and the Russian regime,” Dr. Gutierrez told ADN. “This is a joint operation by the Russians and the Castro regime, and our Ukrainian sources put the amount of Cuban troops at 5,000.”

In its original Sept. 6, 2023 story, ADN reported that the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs was trying to cover up the regime’s coordination with the Kremlin, saying young Cubans were facing a “deception” as part of what could be a human trafficking ring. That account was dispelled immediately by Gutierrez who told ADN at the time that the real “deception” was the regime’s cover story “because there is too much evidence—instead they blame a criminal network. We’ll see whom they sacrifice.”

Former Cuban political prisoner Luis Zúñiga also told ADN in September that “it's worth reminding the [Cuban] regime that they have indeed functioned as mercenaries. The Soviets paid them for every soldier sent to fight in Angola and Ethiopia. Additionally, 'multinational' oil companies compensated the Cuban regime with $1,000 dollars per month for each Cuban soldier tasked with guarding the oil facilities in Cabinda, an enclave belonging to Angola.”

Since ADN’s original September 2023 report, Gutierrez has only amplified his work with the Ukrainian government working hand in hand with Zabloktskyi and Ukrainian official Aleksandr Morezkho.

The Cuban pro-democracy leader and acclaimed author of “Cuba: The Doctrine of the Lie,” says that based on his Ukrainian and Cuban sources, “they estimate 5,000 troops” have been forced into service for Russia.

The pro-democracy activist leader adds that some of the research being collected on his end is coming directly from the Cuban soldiers and their families, and that the increase in numbers may be due to the continued conscriptions during the past few months.

“From talking to the people who are there and their families, that number is not wrong. After the visit with Miguel Diaz Canel to Moscow, you’re probably going to see that number double.”

ADN's sources have also repeatedly warned about a separate treaty between Cuba and Belarus to send Cuban troops to Belarus to aid Moscow in their efforts against Kyiv.

Gutierrez says Cuba’s efforts in sending troops is part of a collective international effort being spearheaded by Moscow to help them in their war efforts against Ukraine.

“The Iranians provided the drones, North Korea provided the missiles, and Cuba is providing troops,” Gutierrez told ADN. “This is what the Cuban regime does—they send young men to die in wars that have nothing to do with Cuba.”

Gutierrez said that while Western Europe has helped Ukraine in its efforts against Putin, it continues to help the Cuban regime with financing, which only results in aiding the Kremlin’s efforts.

“On the one hand they’re sanctioning Putin and on the other they’re giving money to Putin’s subordinate—the Cuban regime. The EU sends no less than $155 million a year in Euros, and  if you add the Club of Paris loans it’s a total of $4 billion,” he told ADN.

According to Ukrainian officials who spoke to the the Wall Street Journal, the Kremlin has also conscripted soldiers from the Central African Republic, Nepal, Serbia and Syria.

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.