Young Cuban Captured in Ukraine: ‘I Haven’t Killed Anyone, I Never Touched a Weapon, I Am Not a Mercenary’

14ymedio interviews a Cuban captured by Ukraine on the war front

The Cuban prisoner interviewed by this newspaper believes that he was detained in Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine occupied by Russia / EFE

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 6 April 2024 — When Ukrainian troops captured Frank Darío Jarrosay Manfugás, a 35-year-old musician from Guantánamo, he had neither helmet nor weapons. It was night. He had left a bunker with a Russian soldier with the mission of moving a battery to another base. Trying to track down the Russian, who had abandoned him, the enemy surprised him.

Now he is imprisoned somewhere in Ukraine, but at least, he acknowledges, he is alive. Three months – from his trip to Russia last January to his capture in March – were enough to disrupt his life, which he tells 14ymedio in great detail. It is the first time that a prisoner of war from the Island speaks with a Cuban or Latin American media, an exclusive conversation that the Ukrainian authorities provided to this newspaper.

Jarrosay and his companions now await the outcome of the conflict, about which they avoid commenting. According to the Ukrainian Army, neither Havana nor Moscow “want to take them” or answer for them. “In my mind there is no guilt. I haven’t killed anyone. I never touched a gun. I am not a mercenary even if they consider me one,” Jarrosay states bluntly.

In Guantanamo, Jarrosay graduated as a Geography and Mathematics teacher, a profession he abandoned to dedicate himself to music. In Cuba he left his parents, his grandmother and a brother. It had cost him work and a lot of money to buy the cell phone on which, one day, he saw a publication that promised him a work trip to Russia. “For a Cuban, going to another country to work is more than an achievement. My goal was to help my family move forward,” he alleges.

According to the Ukrainian Army, neither Havana nor Moscow “want to take them” or answer for them

Jarrosay says he does not remember the name of the Facebook profile where he saw the ad, to which he responded by stating that he had “experience in carpentry and masonry.” He also cannot say whether a Cuban or foreign person wrote to him. “I gave them my phone number and they sent me a message on WhatsApp. There was a form and a request to send copies of my license and passport. The blanks: name, sex, age, illnesses and abilities. The document was in Spanish and promised a salary: more than 200,000 rubles per month – just over $2,000 – to be transferred to a bank account in Russia.

“Shortly afterwards they told me where I had to leave from: the Varadero airport.” He didn’t hesitate. He sold his phone to pay for the trip from Guantánamo to Matanzas by car. “There were five Cubans on the plane. “We didn’t confide in each other.” When he arrived in Moscow, he was met by a person who spoke Spanish and who had a copy of his passport.

He was immediately transferred to a military base in Rostov, one of the Russian cities on the war front against Ukraine – where the Wagner Group was briefly based during its uprising against the Kremlin in June 2023. Jarrosay describes the place as “a warehouse.” There were other Cubans there, although he refuses to say the estimated number. All of them, he insists, came from the Island and had arrived recently “deceived.”

Frank Darío Jarrosay Manfugás, during the interview given to this newspaper / 14ymedio

“They showed up with a contract in Russian,” he says, “nobody explained it to us. We signed a paper that we didn’t even know what it was about. “We were thinking about the work form that we had filled out in Cuba.” From Rostov he was transferred to a military base in a location he identifies as Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine occupied by Russia since 2014: another of the strategic points of the war. “There I met four other Cubans,” he says. “They were very scared. They didn’t know what they were coming for. They filled me in on things and told me what we were really in Russia for.”

He did not recognize soldiers of other nationalities, only Russians and those from the Island. The ages of his compatriots – who were “separated in a cubicle” – he estimated to be between 29 and 50 years old. The Russians communicated with them in a cumbersome way: with a translator on a cell phone. There were no interpreters.

They did not receive training in Rostov or Donetsk, although the Russian Army offered them uniforms and weapons, Jarrosay says. Like any Cuban, he had had to undergo mandatory military service in a unit of the Island’s Armed Forces. “I did not have military training because I was in the Youth Labor Army (EJT). “What we did was plant and harvest.” He did not even, he alleges, pass the preparation known as ’prior’.

In their attempt to get the Cubans to accept their weapons, the Russian officers limited their food

“The Cubans who were at the military base when I arrived were on strike. They didn’t agree with what was happening. Our stories were similar,” he explains. “When they gave us weapons we refused to take them. We hadn’t gone there for that. That’s why when the Ukrainian troops took me prisoner I had no weapons, no vest or helmet.”

He did not participate in any combat, he insists, and gives an argument with a shrug: “I don’t have any gunshot wounds.” In their attempt to get the Cubans to accept weapons, the Russian officers – says Jarrosay – limited their food. “One day they left us without breakfast, another without lunch. It was his punishment.” Breakfast, lunch and dinner consisted of a single food: “Soup.”

They were assigned, yes, minor missions. On March 4 – the day of his capture – Jarrosay and two other companions, escorted by two Russian recruits, were tasked with carrying some power banks or portable batteries to a bunker not far from their unit. “In the middle of the night, the Russian was ahead of me and suddenly left me behind. I was running. I saw shadows and then the Ukrainian troops captured me.”

“In the middle of the night, the Russian was ahead of me and suddenly left me behind. I was running”

The Ukrainian Army feeds him and has made him aware of his rights. He does not know if Havana or the Kremlin have been interested in his case, but the officers guarding him explain that they have refused to admit his repatriation.

Asked for his opinion on the war before traveling to Moscow, Jarrosay is clear: he had none. “In Cuba they only talk about the United States. About Ukraine I only knew what they said on the news: that Russia was going to start an armed conflict. They hide everything, they cover everything. But it’s never known about. This is how the press works in Cuba,” he argues. Now, however, he does not dare to take sides for one or the other. “Russia should not have attacked Ukraine, that is my opinion,” he limits himself to saying.

In Cuba, Jarrosay insists that he had nothing to do with politics. He did not participate in the protests of 11 July 2021 (’11J’) – “I didn’t get involved, I was at home” – even though he wanted to leave the country. “I don’t want to go back” and he hopes that some NGO will “rescue” him, since his government does not want to. Although he does not feel mistreated by the Ukrainian Army, he does not want to stay in the country when the conflict ends. If Kyiv proposed to rehabilitate him by having him help to repair the country, he would not accept

I would like the war to end, but then… if I stay here, there, if I’m dead… I wouldn’t know what to say”

“Before Russia, now Ukraine. It’s like ping-pong,” he says, bitter, “I want the war to end… but then… if I stay here, there, if I’m dead… I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“I wouldn’t even want to call Cuba,” says Jarrosay. He doesn’t know if they know his situation. If it were up to him, they wouldn’t know. His mother is sick and when talking about her, he becomes emotional. “These are things that happen,” he laments. To those – in Cuba or already in Russia – thinking of joining Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Jarrosay sends a message: to desist, despite the misery that the country is going through. “Do not be fooled. When you arrive it is something else.”

Now he doesn’t know what will happen to him. The war continues. After a few dizzying months with multiple dangers, he has come to understand the phrase that has become his mantra: “The future is uncertain.”

Related news: Ukraine places the number of Cuban mercenaries in the service of Russia between 400 and 3,000


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