BBC News Arabic has learned that some Syrian fighters are receiving up to $7,000 to fight on the front lines in Russias war on Ukraine.
Moscow had announced about two weeks ago that about 16,000 fighters from the Middle East had volunteered to fight alongside the Russian army in Ukraine.
Hassan lives with his wife and three children in a Syrian city under government control.
We will not reveal the name of the city nor his real name for his own safety.
Hassan was in the Syrian army for nine years, and is now considering returning to the battlefield as a volunteer alongside Russia.
He does not agree with the goals of the war, as he says: “Russia is committing a massacre in Ukraine, and is taking advantage of the poverty of the Syrians who do not find anything to feed them, giving them a small amount of money to fight on its side and die for it.”
The money was the main motivation for his volunteering, as he was given $7,000 to fight on the front lines and half of that amount to work in the back lines.
The BBC has been able to find a number of private groups on Facebook and web pages promoting volunteering to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine.
One of these groups has more than 20,000 followers.
One of the posts read: “We are a group of young men who served in the army, and got a contract to fight in the ranks of the Fifth Division. We ask any member of this group to help us go to Russia.”
Another post stated that volunteers would receive 1,500 euros ($1,600) per month. The intervention also stated that “the Russian government will bear all expenses in terms of food and clothing, and if the volunteer is injured in the fighting, a large compensation will be given.” The intervention also stated that the Russians would give the volunteers a reward of 50,000 euros ($55,000) when the war ended as an expression of gratitude.
In another intervention, one of the Syrians said: “For me, I may be killed, but the most important thing for me is to provide money for my son and my wife. It will be similar to what happened in Libya, where we will get paid and travel and die in a country that is not ours but we will have graves at the end of the day. “.
Hassan told us that “the promised money is what motivates the Syrians to volunteer to fight.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that Russia has opened 14 volunteer centers in Syrian cities, including Damascus, Aleppo and Hama.
BBC News Arabic spoke to someone on the Facebook platform who says he is recruiting young men to fight alongside Russian forces. He adds, “Recruitment for the Ukrainian war is very similar to recruitment to fight in Libya, there are representatives in different regions. The volunteer has the right to change his mind after progressing. No one will force you to go.”
It is noteworthy that Syria imports a large proportion of its grain needs from Ukraine and Russia. Last month, the Syrian government announced that it was in the process of legalizing some products, such as wheat and sugar, due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Hassan says, “80 percent of volunteers volunteer for a living.”
“The war in Ukraine has raised the prices of fuel, food, drink and everything,” he adds.
The BBC cannot confirm the hypothesis of any Syrian fighters heading to Ukraine so far, but Russia had supported the Syrian government in the civil war that took place in Syria, while the Russian media is currently confirming that the Syrian military wants to repay this debt.
But Hassan says that he and others are fighting for money, not for ideological reasons.
He says, “Russia is not ready to lose its soldiers, as long as there are those who are willing to fight for money.”
He adds that the volunteers whose applications are accepted undergo training at the Hmeimim base near Latakia before being flown to Russia.
Russia says 1,351 of its soldiers were killed in the war, while the United States puts the number of Russian dead at nearly 7,000.
After 11 years of civil war, the International Rescue Committee estimates that 60 percent of Syrians – about 12 million people – suffer from hunger and struggle to provide for themselves and their families.
Hassan’s family does not want him to go to Ukraine, but after 11 years of civil war he says he has no other choice. “I have to go for the money,” he says. “It is likely that 90 percent of the volunteers will die in this war.”