The war takes a major toll on people’s lives, tearing them away from their loved ones and shattering families. For Pabitra Tamang of Naukunda Rural Municipality-5 in Rasuwa, wars have taken away her husband and her son.
Pabitra lost her husband during the armed conflict over 20 years ago. Recently, she lost her son who had joined the Russian army to fight in the Russia-Ukraine war.
“I’m all alone,” she says.
Her husband, who was in the Indian Army, was killed when he was on holiday. Some locals tipped off the Maoists who came home and killed him in April 2004.
Things then started to become challenging for Pabitra who had put her life together after the tragedy while taking care of her children.
“Times were tough. I couldn’t stop crying for weeks and months,” she says.
Not wanting to let that affect her children, she got her life back together and managed to raise her three sons and two daughters.
The youngest of them Sundar Moktan, recently died in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Thrill of the warzone
Sundar, following in his father’s footsteps joined the Nepal army.
There he served for over a decade and wanting to do more in life and make more money, he quit his job in the army and left for foreign employment in Malaysia.
After four years of toiling in the construction sector, Tamang returned and worked as a subcontractor in Nepal.
To sustain the family Sundar’s wife left for Oman around four years ago. Sundar, with his 12-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter with his mother. In August, Sundar told his mother wanted to leave Nepal and go to Croatia to work and make enough money for his children.
“He told me he was leaving again to make money. How could I stop him?” he says. “He sought my blessing and left.”
But Sundar did not go to Croatia. Instead, he went to Russia and enlisted in the Russian army.
“Had I known that he was going there, I would have stopped him,” says Pabitra who believes her son might have been cheated by an agent.
She worried for him as she believed her son had made a mistake. He had escaped the war in Nepal and now there her was in the heart of another. Communication was sparse, as she only got to speak to him twice on the phone.
“I asked him to come back. But he told me he couldn’t and asked me to take care of his children,” he says.
Sundar went out of contact in mid-December 2023. A week later, on December 29, 2023, Pabitra received a call from her second son, who informed her that Sundar had lost his life in the Russia-Ukraine war. The news came through Sundar’s friend, Kumar Tamang. Despite her desperate attempts to reach Kumar for confirmation, Pabitra was unsuccessful in establishing contact.
She did not believe it and travelled to Kathmandu from Rasuwa. She knocked on the doors of the Russian Embassy and pleaded for the return of her son.
“I had a confrontation in the embassy. They lied that he is under treatment in hospital,” she says.
On January 19, Kumar Tamang sent a photograph of Sundar’s lifeless body along with the death certificate. Pabitra collapsed as her nightmare proved to be true.
“It felt like my life was coming full circle. All the trauma I endured after my husband’s death resurfaced,” she says.
It has been over a month since Moktan lost his life in the Russia-Ukraine war, yet the family has not received his body. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that 13 Nepalis who joined the Russian army have died, but none of their bodies have been repatriated to Nepal. In the absence of their loved ones’ remains, some families have resorted to conducting final rituals by creating makeshift bodies using Kush grass.
Pabitra does not want to do that and says she will not perform the final rituals for her son until his body is returned. Alternatively, she urges the Russian government to carry out his last rites with honour if bringing back his body proves to be impossible.
Sundar’s wife, Patali Tamang, has recently returned to Nepal from Oman.
“I can’t believe that he is no more,” says Patali. “How will I tell my children that their father is gone.”
Like Pabitra, Theeng also hopes to see her husband’s body one last time.
“Just for closure,” she says.