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Russian soldiers risk prison or injure themselves so as to not fight in Ukraine

12.04.2022
Halya Coynash

Russian soldiers who surrendered in Mariupol Photo from Telegram channel ’Ищи своих’

Military servicemen from 17 Russian cities have approached human rights lawyers for assistance after refusing to go or return to take part in Russia’s war against Ukraine.  The cities named by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora Human Rights Group, include Pskov where separate reports suggest that at least 60 contract soldiers are facing pressure and / or threats of criminal prosecution for refusing to go to Ukraine.

The independent newspaper Pskovskaya Gubernia reported on 6 April, citing its own unnamed sources, that about 60 military servicemen from Pskov had refused to go to Ukraine to fight.  It stated later that there was reason to believe that the real figure could be much higher. Given Russia’s clampdown on any truthful reporting about its war against Ukraine, such reports cannot be independently verified.  It was, however,  Lev Schlosberg, writing for this same publication, who back in August 2014 revealed Russia’s first significant military deaths in Ukraine.  Russia then resorted to grotesque methods to conceal the truth, including getting somebody to pretend to be one of the dead paratroopers, but the reports were, nonetheless, proven to be true.

The initial report about Pskov stated that “after he first days of the war, they [the servicemen] were first taken to Belarusian territory, after which they returned to their normal position in Pskov.  At present, most of them t are being dismissed and some face criminal proceedings.”  The newspaper also noted that, according to unofficial information, the Russian defence ministry’s leadership was working in Pskov.  Their sources asserted that this was a deputy to the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.

On 7 April, Pskovskaya Gubernia posted comments from Nikolai Kuzmin.  The latter stated that he had managed to find the driver who had taken some of the men from Belarus to Pskov, and that, since he knew this person, he considered the information to be verified.  He added that he believes that “military servicemen should defend their Motherland, in the first instance from attack, and not take part in the imperialist ressentiment of a narrow group of individuals (and perhaps even just one man) beyond the borders of their own country”. 

Later that day, the newspaper wrote that “in the near future the number refusing will rise significantly.  60 people are only one military unit. The servicemen are now threatened with criminal prosecution for desertion or failure to obey a command (Article 332 of Russia’s criminal code.  However they and (what is important) their families stand by their position. According to our information, the commanders are presently not accepting resignations, so soldiers submit them via the military prosecutor.”

Chikov clearly cannot provide specific information about people who have approached Agora for legal assistance, but he also confirmed that all of the military servicemen and members of Rosgvardia [the Russian Guard] “report pressure and threats of criminal prosecution.  All are dismissed and are not given their documents. 

Mariupol after relentless bombing and shelling by Russian forces Photo Iryna Lapina

On 8 April, Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR] also reported the questionable ‘successes of Russian mobilization’, seen in the refusals to fight, the resignations; the cases where people go into hiding or injure themselves to prevent being sent to Ukraine.  It points to the extremely low level of interest in contract service for the Russian military, citing a report on recruitment in Yekaterinburg.

The motivation of those mobilized is no higher.  On 7 March, a Luhansk oblast hospital received two coachloads of Russian servicemen with injuries.  In the vast majority of cases, the men had injuries to the legs which were suspected by the doctors to have been self-inflicted.

HUR asserts that a entire unit of Russian special force officers with experience of combat in Syria have refused to take part in further attempts to storm Mariupol.  The unit lost around 30 men in battles against Ukraine’s Armed Forces from 2 to 4 April, and have clearly “decided not to tempt fate any longer.

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