Russian volunteer soldier who left Ukraine war remembers his ordeal ‘I didn’t think I’d survive’

Russian volunteer soldier who left Ukraine war remembers his ordeal ‘I didn’t think I’d survive’

Anatoly, a 37-year-old soldier from the Bashkortostan region in central Russia, took part in the war against Ukraine in June and was sent to fight three months later.

His unit spent two and a half weeks on the front lines, he says. Things did not go well.

“All that time, we didn’t have regular rations,” Tell RFE/RL. “There was no ammunition, and we had to look for cartridges in the surrounding forest. We were promised new equipment and weapons, but we got automatic rifles that were already serviced three times. Some had crooked muzzles, others jammed in the second we didn’t have any heavy weapons Absolutely “.

Two weeks after being thrown into battle, Anatoly and dozens of other contract soldiers from a territorial unit called the Shaymuratov Battalion renounced their contracts and asked to be sent home.

Anatoly’s story is emblematic of the logistical and moral problems that Russia faced as it struggled with heavy casualties in the Ukraine War, a conflict that has lasted much longer than Moscow expected.

Exact numbers are unknown, but some Western intelligence estimated the number of Russian dead and wounded at 80,000.

To offset losses, Russia resorted to measures such as recruiting new volunteers with cash incentives, recruiting prisoners, or offering citizenship incentives to foreign mercenaries. On September 21, President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of military reserves with the aim of bringing in at least 300,000 additional fighters.

Manpower problems were exacerbated by the large number of “contracted” volunteers to soldiers who broke their contracts and refused further service. While ordering the mobilization, Putin also announced a clause that would automatically extend contracts for volunteer soldiers and make it harder for them to refuse to fight.

The exact number of volunteers who violated their contracts is unknown, but hundreds of cases have been documented. “The phenomenon of rejection has become systematic,” Ruslan Leviev, founder of Conflict Intelligence Team, a Russian NGO that monitors open source information about the military, told Current Time.

“According to our estimates, 20-40 percent of contract soldiers who have returned from Ukraine who are being prepared for repatriation refuse to return to combat,” he said in April.

Media reports, open source intelligence, and Ukrainian officials indicate that the problem has worsened.

“I didn’t think I’d survive”

The Bashkortostan Shaimuratov Battalion was one of several regional volunteer units created during the summer as a way for Russia to deal with a troop shortage. It was created in late May with the aim of enrolling 800 soldiers.

Volunteers were promised an initial payment of 200,000 rubles ($3,300) for registration and 2,000 rubles ($33) for each day of service — wages above national averages and well above the average in Bashkortostan, a relatively poor region despite its large presence. oil reserves.

Anatoly — who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity — said he signed up to fight in Ukraine because he thought, “I can be useful there.” “And the money issue played a role,” he said. “I thought I’d pay my debts and give my family a little something.”

Anatoly, who spoke by phone and social media messages after returning to Bashkortostan, said 42 fellow soldiers gave their written refusal on Sept. 17 after weeks of shelling by Ukrainian artillery and aircraft.

“Their artillery was so accurate that they were pounding our trenches meter by meter,” Anatoly said, though he added that he had not encountered any direct combat with the Ukrainian infantry. “We had 10 rows of trenches, and they would hit each one in order.”

“And what was our reaction?” He said. “We asked for counter-strikes, but there was no answer…and it has been since the first day we arrived at our position.”

The day after soldiers gave their written refusal to continue fighting, a political officer—a Soviet-era practice that involved an officer tasked with monitoring the forces’ political leanings—came to speak to the group, Anatoly says. Then they were loaded into two trucks and transported to a nearby city. “They were looking for a camp for the kids…but they couldn’t find it in the dark,” he said. “We had to spend the night in the woods.”

Anatoly said that they found the camp the next day, and the men were held there for two days. On September 20, they were taken to the Kherson region and placed in an animal stable.

The next day – September 21, the day Putin signed the mobilization decree – they were told they would move to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula region annexed by Moscow in 2014, in small groups because they “would not allow 40 men” to cross the border in one time “.

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But after the first group had traveled a few kilometers, the truck suddenly turned around and returned to the stable. Anatoly says there appears to be bureaucratic confusion about how to present their rejection.

More officers arrived on September 23, Anatoly said, and attempted to force the soldiers to submit new papers by that date; It seems to match the new regulations.

After a heated confrontation during which the officers allegedly “began calling us names and screaming,” the men were taken in a truck and taken to another location, where the regional military command is.

He said the men were locked in a 25-square-meter garage with “drunk soldiers and curfew-breakers.” Anatoly says he was kept in solitary confinement in a shipping container for two and a half days, wearing a T-shirt and slippers.

The soldiers managed to videotape an appeal and send it to the President of Bashkortostan and his assistant in charge of mobilization, Alek Kamaldenov. They later posted a second video on social media.

Kamaldinov declined to comment when contacted by RFE/RL.

500 kg honey

Anatoly said that officers punished the soldiers by restricting access to toilets and cutting off food and water.

On October 1, he said, a man claiming to be from Kamaldinov’s crew showed up and gave the unit 500 kilograms of honey as “humanitarian aid,” which the soldiers mocked.

A day later, Kamaldinov himself came, apparently traveling all the way from Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan. By that time, Anatoly says, 30 soldiers had agreed to return to the front; 13 They were left in the garage. “He offered to send us to different units [in Ukraine]”But we all refused,” Anatoly said.

Two weeks later, he’s back. “He called us dogs and said we would be considered traitors in the house. He said we’d be ‘abandoned’ and our relatives ‘won’t live,'” Anatoly told RFE/RL. “Then he left and we never saw him again.”

freedom to leave

Anatoly says he was held in the garage until October 9, when he and the others were sent to a nearby smelter and held for another nine days. On October 18, an officer gave them their documents and said they were free to leave.

Then the men made their way to Crimea, some by bus, some by hiking. Anatoly says that he and four others arrived in Ufa on October 22. He says he doesn’t know what happened to the other soldiers who stayed behind to fight.

On October 28, Anatoly’s enlistment contract officially expired. He says that he is afraid to go to his employment office to finalize the agreement, for fear of being detained and sent to prison or worse – returning to Ukraine.

In the end, he says, he was never given the signing bonus of 200,000 rubles or most of the daily payments he was entitled to. Instead, he received only 34,000 rubles in total.

“It turns out that I spent all those days in Ukraine for free,” he said.

Written by Robert Calson based on RFE/RL . Idel reporting

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