The queues formed early each morning outside the Russian embassy in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. Drawn by rumors on social media, young men and old, many with their military records in hand, arrived with hopes of fighting for Russia in Ukraine.
What began as a trickle of volunteers swelled over two weeks to scores, two neighborhood 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.
The Russian embassy 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".
Ethiopia has called on all sides in the war to exercise restraint and did not vote on a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine which Russia calls a "special military operation" to demilitarize 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 rumors of a $2,000 payment to join up and the possibility of work in Russia after the war tantalized 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.
"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."