How Did Cubans End Up Fighting for Russia in Ukraine?

Wes O'Donnell
4 min readSep 26

Russia’s got some ‘splaining to do…

Photo by Ricardo IV Tamayo on Unsplash

At this very moment, in a Russian trench along the Surovikin line, a Cuban man is waking up 6,000 miles from home next to a Russian soldier, and asking how he found himself in this surreal place to begin with.

Politico Europe recently reported on the curious case of Cuban mercenaries fighting for Russia against Ukraine.

Many of the Cubans were duped into combat duty when they were told, at first, they would only be truck drivers or construction workers — such was their eagerness to get out of Cuba.

In reality, Russia has set up a complicated human trafficking network that attracts poor, young Cuban men and entices them with high pay, Russian citizenship, and an upwardly mobile trajectory.

But as one Cuban named Pedro (not his real name) told Politico, “We signed a contract with the devil, and the devil does not hand out sweets.”

For the past six months, hundreds of Cuban nationals have left the island to fight in Russia’s war of aggression.

If you know your history, you know of the close ideological kinship that Cuba and Russia share — but this time, the Cuban government wasn’t aware that Russians were recruiting Cuban nationals… and they are furious.

The economic reality on the ground in Cuba is dire thanks to a sharp drop in tourism, high inflation, and new U.S. sanctions.

Many young men in Cuba earn less than 2,000 pesos a month — that’s about $84 in ‘cash American’ or about $1,000 per year.

For comparison, Russia is using WhatsApp and other social platforms to reach Cubans with guarantees of 195,000 rubles (about $2,000) up front, followed by a monthly salary of 204,000 rubles ($2,100).

One victim of this scheme named Miguel (also, not his real name) responded to a Facebook post looking for Cubans to work as cooks and construction workers in Russia.

When Miguel responded, he was contacted through WhatsApp by two women — one speaking Spanish in a Russian accent, and one Cuban woman.

Within a few days, Miguel had signed a contract to repair Russian infrastructure that had been damaged in the…

Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security Wonk for War is Boring, GEN, OneZero, Soldier of Fortune | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Founder of Warrior Lodge