Ethiopians with military records line up outside Moscow's embassy in Addis Ababa in the hope to join the Russian army amid rumours $2,000 will be paid to each volunteer.
Ethiopians have formed long queues outside the Russian embassy in the capital Addis Ababa in hope of fighting for Russia in Ukraine but the embassy officials said they're not recruiting foreign fighters from the African country.
The queues have been forming early each morning outside the embassy, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday.
Drawn by rumours on social media, young men and old, many with their military records in hand, have been arriving with hopes of fighting in Ukraine.
What began as a trickle of volunteers swelled over two weeks to scores, two neighbourhood residents told Reuters.
On Tuesday, Reuters reporters saw several hundred men registering with Ethiopian security guards outside the embassy. The guards recorded their names and asked for proof of military service.
There is no evidence that any Ethiopians have been sent to Ukraine, nor is it clear if any ever will be.
A man who came out of the embassy and addressed the volunteers in Russian through an interpreter said Russia had enough forces for now, but that they would be contacted when they were needed.
Russia says not recruiting fighters
The Russian embassy did not respond to questions from Reuters about the man's identity or whether Russia was deploying Ethiopian volunteers to Ukraine.
It issued a statement later on Tuesday saying that it was not recruiting fighters and that the Ethiopians who showed up outside were well-wishers expressing "solidarity and support for the Russian Federation".
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry welcomed the Russian statement for what it called "refuting the unfounded reports of recruitment for the Russian Armed Forces" but did not respond to Reuters questions.
Neither did the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Ukraine's embassy in Addis Ababa referred questions to the Ethiopian authorities.
Poverty and inflation
Ethiopia has called on all sides in the conflict to exercise restraint and did not vote on a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the February 24 assault on Ukraine which Russia calls a "special military operation" to demilitarise the country.
But many in Ethiopia have voiced solidarity with Russia, which has enjoyed close relations with the Horn of Africa nation since the Soviet era.
Social media rumours of a $2,000 payment to join up and the possibility of work in Russia after the conflict tantalised some of the men in the queues.
Many parts of Ethiopia are riven by conflict and annual inflation hovers around 30 percent.
"I am willing to support the Russia government and, in return, once I get out, I will get benefits," Leta Kibru told Reuters outside the embassy, where he returned to check on what he said was his application.
"Living in Ethiopia is becoming difficult," said the 30-year-old street vendor, who said he had retired from the Ethiopian army in 2018 and now sells clothing and mobile phones. "What I need is to live in Europe."
Leta said he had heard about a $2,000 payout from friends who had registered before him. Two others in the queues this week said they had seen posts on Facebook saying the embassy was signing up recruits.
Reuters was not able to find any posts on the subject from official sources or confirm any such offer.
"The reason I want to go to Russia is not to fight Ukraine but it is because I am not benefiting from my country," said Binyam Woldetsadik, a 40-year-old security guard who said he served in Ethiopia's 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea.
"I'd rather be a national of a different country."