Cuban Teens Say Russian Construction Job ‘Scam’ Landed Them in Ukraine War

Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, the military reserve of the Ukrainian Armes Forces,

Two young men claiming to be 19-year-old Cuban nationals accused unspecified Russian scammers of using a fake construction job offer to deceive them into fighting in Ukraine in a video that surfaced on Wednesday, in which they also said their requests to be deported home have been met with threats of up to 30 years in prison.

Video of the two teens first appeared on the page of Cuban American YouTuber Alaín Paparazzi Cubano, who said he obtained the video exclusively. Alaín aired photos of young men who appeared to be those in the video wearing military fatigues in front of signs bearing Cyrillic text, suggesting they were in Russia or Ukraine. The teens claimed to be in Russia but did not appear to know where, exactly, they were, other than a hospital facility, and had no way of escaping. They explained that they were taken out of Ukraine because they both got sick, but they feared that the other young men training with them were on the front lines of Russia’s ongoing invasion of the neighboring country.

On Wednesday night, journalist Juan Manuel Cao of the Miami-based América TeVé confirmed the authenticity of the young men’s stories, identifying the two as Alex Vegas Díaz of central Santa Clara and Andorf Velázquez García of Havana. Cao interviewed Vegas’ mother and broadcast a statement from Velázquez’s father, who both identified their children and implored the Russian government to allow them to leave. Both parents said they feared that their sons were in imminent danger.

The dramatic footage of the two young men pleading with those watching to “do something” to get them out of Russia follows months of speculation and concern that the Cuban Communist Party, a longtime ally of Russia and vocal supporter of the Ukrainian invasion, would offer its citizens as cannon fodder for the war. The Castro regime, currently helmed by nonagenarian dictator Raúl Castro, has a long history of sending its young men to die in foreign wars with no clear relevance to Cuba, most prominently in the disastrous communist intervention in Angola that killed thousands of Cubans in the 1970s. Russian leader Vladimir Putin began offering expedited citizenship and other perks to foreign nationals seeking to fight in Ukraine this year, a deal at least 14 Cubans accepted, according to reports in May.

More recently, in light of the reported demise of the leadership of the Wagner paramilitary group – previously critical to Russia’s operations to oust democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – concerns of a vacuum that untrained Cuban teens could fill in the Russian “special operation” have escalated. A senior military official in Belarus, a fellow communist nation that has vocally embraced the invasion of Ukraine, claimed in May that Minsk would be offering military training on Belarusian soil to Cuban soldiers.

In the video, as published on Wednesday, the Cuban teens describe being offered a contract to work on “construction” jobs in Ukraine and taking it in the hopes of helping their impoverished families with some financial assistance. The contracts, they claimed, were in Russian, and they were not offered a translation.

“They told us not to worry, to just sign. So we signed, they sent us to Ukraine,” one of the young men said.

“They told us that it was for construction, to fix up houses devastated by the war, trenches, rubble,” he continued. “It has all been a scam. They haven’t paid us, we don’t have passports, we don’t have documents, we have nothing.”

When they arrived in Ukraine, the Cubans said, they were sent to Russia’s “third line” in the country for military training. They did not fight in the war and were currently trapped in a Russian hospital, they claimed, as a result of an unspecified illness.

“Friends of ours are on the front lines,” one of the teens lamented. “Nobody told us any of that, that we had to go to the first or second lines.”

Some of the Cubans in the war with them, they claimed, demanded to leave, refusing to fight Ukrainians.

“There were Cubans who received beatings because they wanted to go back to Cuba, in front of us by the Russians,” one of the said.

“Many Cubans are missing, no one knows anything about them, and it’s all a scam,” they narrated.

The young men claimed they were trapped in a hospital where no one speaks Spanish and subject to mysterious medical testing on a regular basis. When demanding to be released or deported, “they tell us they are going to put us in jail for 30 years.”

Addressing Cubans on the island tempted to migrate to Russia, the young men warned, “don’t come here, this is crazy … you’re going to die here, literally.” One of the young men insisted that the two “have nothing to do with the dictatorship or that dirty communism they have in Cuba … we wanted to leave Cuba to have a better future, to help our families.”

The two did not offer any identifying information other than their ages. On his nightly broadcast, América TeVé journalist Juan Manuel Cao confirmed their identity with their parents. Cary, identified as the mother of Alex Vegas Díaz, explained that her son had responded to a Facebook ad offering manual labor jobs in Ukraine. Cary said that she repeatedly demanded to know if the job would be on the front lines of the war and the recruiters, both women, told her “that at no time is any Cuban authorized to go to the front line.”

Cary also said that her son suffered from gastritis and was taken out of military training. The last time she spoke to him, she said, he was training alongside paratroopers.

“The boy has no military preparations … we are desperate because we don’t know about him,” Cary said, noting that she found out about the video in which they denounced the scam by seeing it on social media. She also claimed that, in Santa Clara, rumors were circulating that the Russian government was trapping Cubans who refuse to fight in a “high-security prison,” but she could not verify those reports.

Cao also contacted Mario Antonio Velásquez, father of Andorf Velázquez García, who confirmed his son’s identity but declined an interview, sending a video message instead.

“I’m very worried, all us parents are very worried because of the situation that these kids are in … we fear very much for the lives of these children,” Velásquez said.

Velásquez appeared in the video wearing a shirt calling for the freedom of the “Cuban Five,” a network of spies who helped orchestrate the murder of five American citizens in 1996 – an apparent statement of disapproval for AméricaTeVé’s anti-communist broadcasts.

The first reports of Cuban nationals fighting in Ukraine surfaced shortly after Putin began announcing benefits, including citizenship, for foreign fighters to enter the Ukraine battle theater. In May, the Miami-based Martí Noticias reported at least 14 Cubans were training to fight there.

“They signed up, they are receiving money because they are contractors,” historian Álvaro Alba told Radio Martí at the time. “They receive a portion from the army, another portion is given to them by the local authorities who also have to fulfill a plan and they don’t care if they are Indians, Cubans, Mozambicans or Laotians.”

The anti-communist Cuban diaspora, which has vocally supported Ukraine against the Russian invasion, has increased attempts to raise awareness about the involvement of the Communist Party in the war and to urge Europe to stop doing business with Cuba, which directly benefits Russia. The Assembly for the Cuban Resistance, a coalition of several pro-freedom groups on and off the island, currently has a delegation touring Eastern Europe, making a stop in Kyiv in support of the anti-Russia effort.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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