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Russian Conscript Captured In Ukraine Faces Uncertain Future Back Home

Andrei Pozdeyev (far right) and four other conscripts were put before the media in Kyiv on March 14 to embarrass the Kremlin, which had repeatedly denied conscripts were taking part in the war.
Andrei Pozdeyev (far right) and four other conscripts were put before the media in Kyiv on March 14 to embarrass the Kremlin, which had repeatedly denied conscripts were taking part in the war.

For a teenager from a distant, impoverished village in the Siberian region of Irkutsk, Andrei Pozdeyev probably could never imagine his child-like face would go viral.

But for the former welder, recognition at home is a liability that could impact him for years to come.

Pozdeyev was among the Russian conscripts captured by Ukrainian forces after President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade the country in February.

Ukraine displayed Pozdeyev and four other barely trained Russian soldiers in Kyiv before global media on March 14 to embarrass the Kremlin, which had repeatedly denied conscripts were taking part in the war.

A nervous Pozdeyev said in a shaky voice that he had no idea he was being sent into battle and voiced criticism of Putin for launching the war. His family said he was visibly under duress at the time.

Russians on the whole back the war, according to polls, and some took to social media at the time to denigrate the conscripts, calling them -- among other things -- wimps and recommending they don't come back to Russia.

Late last month, Pozdeyev safely returned to his village in Siberia following a prisoner swap and a monthslong stop in the Moscow region for rest and medical treatment to remove shrapnel from his cheek.

But his family remains concerned about the long-term impact of any psychological and physical trauma he may have endured during the war, including his two-week captivity.

"What kind of person he will be when he returns, we don't know yet," his sister, Oksana, told RFE/RL a few weeks before his June 26 return home on condition her last name not be used.

"How will all this affect his psyche? Will he be able to work right away, or will he still have to recover," she asked rhetorically.

Andrei Pozdeyev
Andrei Pozdeyev

The family still hasn't received an official explanation as to how Pozdeyev ended up in battle despite being a conscript.

Oksana said Pozdeyev should be entitled to compensation if he is unable to work and called for people to be punished for the egregious mistake.

"I will not not stand for this," she said.

Brother Against Brother

Seryodkina, which has slightly more than 1,000 people, is located along the Angara River about 300 kilometers north of Irkutsk.

Like many remote Russian villages, it has fallen on hard times since the collapse of communism in 1991.

Priangarsky, the local state-run collective farm and main employer, folded in the early 2000s. So too did the sausage and milk plants, as well as the bakery.

Irina Gutnyk, Pozdeyev's mother, says there are few places to work in the village. The 49-year-old, who is unemployed, used to work as a cleaner at the local school. She says it probably has more workers than pupils now.

Pozdeyev's father holds a job that requires him to leave the village for weeks at a time.

Some homes stand abandoned, their owners either having passed away or left for greener pastures.

Russian conscripts often come from such hard-scrabble places. They have fewer connections and less wealth to get an exemption from the mandatory one-year service, but some see it as a stepping stone to a better life.

The family home in Seryodkina. Russian conscripts often come from the poorer, more remote regions of Russia.
The family home in Seryodkina. Russian conscripts often come from the poorer, more remote regions of Russia.

Pozdeyev had been working as a welder in Irkutsk after dropping out of an aviation technical school when he was conscripted in June 2021.

After training several months as a gunner in a BMP-2, an amphibious infantry fighting vehicle, he was sent to serve the rest of his time in the Moscow region.

But as Russia began massing forces near Ukraine at the end of 2021 amid speculation of an invasion, Pozdeyev's unit was sent closer to the border. "Don't worry, they will not send us into Ukraine," his mother recalled him saying in February.

Days later, on February 24, Putin ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine.

Pozdeyev says he learned of the invasion only after he had crossed the border while sleeping, a claim backed up by accounts from other conscripts.

Pozdeyev was captured on March 7 near the Ukrainian city of Sumy as he was being evacuated back to Russia.

Gutnyk says she first learned of her son's capture on March 9, when a local villager knocked on the door to show her a photo online of an injured Pozdeyev.

Ukraine began posting the names and photos of captured soldiers in the early days of the war in the hopes of getting around Kremlin censorship and undermining support for the invasion inside Russia. It later organized the press conference with the five conscripts.

Gutnyk says she was so overwhelmed by the news of her son's capture that paramedics were called to her house. "They were tricked into going to war! How can a child voluntarily end up there? What did they learn there in six months of training," she told RFE/RL.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has not just caused trauma for Gutnyk's only son, it has also frayed her relations with her siblings.

Gutnyk, whose mother was born in Ukraine, has three sisters and a brother living in the Sumy region, where Pozdeyev was captured. Gutnyk's siblings have children currently serving in the Ukrainian armed forces.

"So, it turns out its brother against brother?" Gutnyk asked.

She says she stopped calling her sisters and brother in Ukraine after February 24.

Her youngest sister recognized Pozdeyev in the news and lashed out at Gutnyk in a message, saying her son had come to "kill our husbands and sons."

Gutnyk dismisses her younger sister as a "Banderite," a Russian term synonymous with "fascist." It derives from the name of Stepan Bandera, a controversial Ukrainian nationalist leader who led an anti-Soviet independence movement. Putin has tried to justify his invasion to Russian citizens in part on the absurd idea that Ukraine is led by "Nazis."

Oksana says she first learned that her brother had been part of a prisoner swap only after contacting the family of another Russian conscript who was held along with Pozdeyev.

When Oksana finally reached Pozdeyev by phone in Moscow, he declined to tell her much, saying he would share more information with her when he got back home to Seryodkina.

Oksana says that aside from getting medical treatment in Moscow, her brother had been called into a meeting with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB.

"Thus, I don't know if he will say anything at all," she said.

RFE/RL called Pozdeyev after he returned home on June 26 but he did not answer his phone. RFE/RL then contacted Oksana again.

She said she was with her brother in Seryodkina but claimed she had not discussed the war with him or his time in prison.

She said if he wants to talk about the events, he will call.

Written by Todd Prince based on reporting by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities