The war in Ukraine
Pedro Roberto Gamuza has one son fighting in Ukraine, and another arrested on his way there. AFP

For Cuban Pedro Roberto Gamuza, 59, the war in Ukraine has hit very close to home: one of his sons has gone to fight there and another was detained on his way, charged with being a mercenary.

Gamuza's sons, aged 33 and 34, are believed to be among a group of Cubans recruited by an alleged criminal network to fight for the Russian army.

Last week, Havana said it had arrested 17 people over alleged links to a "trafficking network that operates from Russia to incorporate Cuban citizens living there, and even some from Cuba, into the military forces involved in military operations in Ukraine."

Among the 17 were an alleged organizer, two recruiters, and 14 volunteers -- including one of Gamuza's four sons, 34-year-old Liogi Gamuza Perez.

Announcing the arrests, the Attorney General's office said anyone found guilty of human trafficking, offering mercenary services or "hostile acts in a foreign state" could face a life sentence or even the death penalty.

Gamuza told AFP that Liogi phoned him on Tuesday of last week to say he had been summoned by Cuban state security.

Days later, authorities informed him his son had been detained for mercenary activities, Gamuza said in his hometown of Santa Clara, some 280 kilometers (174 miles) from the capital.

He has not heard from him since.

Gamuza also has no idea as to the whereabouts of his other son, 33-year-old Robeisi Alexander, who has a three-year-old daughter.

Six weeks ago, Alexander's wife told Gamuza her husband had left for Russia.

Local media identified him as a recruit for Russia's war. There has also been no recent news from him.

"I feel giddy, my head doesn't work," a worried Gamuza, decked out in the blue uniform and white rubber boots of a factory worker, told AFP on Monday.

Gamuza said he was unaware of his boys being recruited to fight for Russia.

Liogi, he said, was never called up nor did he undergo military training due to ill health.

His son must have fallen victim to "deception," said Gamuza, who said Liogi had denied ever signing any contract with any recruitment group.

Earlier this month, Miami's America TeVe station circulated what it said were testimonies from two teenagers -- Andorf Velazquez and Alex Vega -- who claimed to have been tricked into working with the Russian army on construction sites in Ukraine.

Another Cuban man told the media outlet he had signed up with Moscow's armed forces hoping to legalize his status in Russia.

Andorf's father, Mario Velazquez, told AFP he has had no word from his son for a week.

The last time he spoke to him, the 19-year-old said he was in Russia and headed for Ukraine, Velazquez said by telephone from Leon in Mexico, where he lives.

He also claimed to have had no response from the Cuban embassy in Mexico, which he had approached for help.

Moscow and Havana have boosted ties recently, with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow late last year.

The Cuban government has categorically denied any complicity with Russia in the alleged trafficking.