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Russian Soldiers Ask: 'We Have Nothing To Fight With. Why Should We Go Up Against Tanks With Only Machine Guns?'


The complaint, and the soldiers' decision to go public with it, highlights the continuing battlefield problems facing some of the tens of thousands of newly mobilized troops that Russian commanders have enlisted to wage war against Ukraine.

The video appeared this week on Telegram and other Russian social-media networks: a group of more than two dozen men in masks and camouflage, standing in a snowy field and appealing for help.

"We are the soldiers of the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Platoons, 254th Regiment, 7th Company, 3rd Battalion. Please help us sort out the situation," the soldiers say. "Our commander gave us an order not to retreat from our positions. But the commander gave us no cover and no support. We had only machine guns, and all the rest of the weapons were damaged."

"Now they're accusing us of desertion, since the company commander says he didn't give the order," they said. "In sum, command doesn't care about us."

The video is undated and does not indicate where it was shot, except to suggest it was in Ukraine or near staging grounds used by Russian forces to enter Ukraine.

But the complaint, and the soldiers' decision to go public with it, highlights the continuing battlefield problems facing some of the tens of thousands of newly mobilized troops that Russian commanders have enlisted to wage war against Ukraine.

In an effort to reverse the military's flagging campaign to pound Ukraine into surrender, the Kremlin in September ordered the call-up of 300,000 men, many of them reservists. In the months prior, Russian authorities had conducted what experts called a "covert mobilization," recruiting volunteers with offers of high salaries.

But Russia's national logistics and recruiting infrastructure was largely unprepared to deal with the influx of troops who needed to be housed, clothed, equipped, and trained before being deployed.

Troops have complained, even before arriving on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, of things like not getting paid, not having enough rations, or merely a lack of discipline and organization among commanders.

Desertion Persuasion

A law signed by President Vladimir Putin in September stiffens the penalties for desertion during a period of mobilization or wartime, with violators facing up to 10 years in prison, while conscientious objectors will risk up to three years behind bars. The law also criminalizes "voluntary" surrender, which is punishable by sentences of up to 15 years.

Still, that hasn't dissuaded a growing number of soldiers willing to brave the possibility of criminal charges.

WATCH: "There is deep cold, frozen earth, and fighting." RFE/RL correspondent Maryan Kushnir sent this special report after spending time recently on the front line in Soledar. After he filed this material, Russian forces claimed to have seized control of the town, but this has not been independently confirmed.

Ukrainian Troops In Battle For Soledar Faced Waves Of Russian Infantry
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0:00 0:03:29 0:00

"They were sent to the front line with only their naked asses, so to speak, to fight tanks with only machine guns," said Alyona Savochkina, whose husband, Viktor, was one of the soldiers appearing in the video. "Basic kit, grenades. All of them. They had no reinforcements. Nothing."

In an interview with Current Time, Savochkina, who lives in the western Oryol region, said her husband had previously volunteered for service in July and was sent to work as a driver. But when he was ordered into the infantry, he broke his contract and returned home.

On October 24, she says, he was called up under the Kremlin's mobilization order, and initially sent to Smolensk, near the Belarusian border. After a couple more moves, his unit was sent to the front line in Ukraine's Luhansk region on December 31.

Viktor Savochkin
Viktor Savochkin

She says her husband's unit is badly underequipped and underfed. She said they are supplied with food items sent by relatives. "But now they are threatening to deprive them of even this," she said.

Asked about the soldiers' public appeal, the regional government in Yaroslavl, where the unit is formally based, said it was investigating the appeal.

Relatives of the soldiers also said they planned to file a formal complaint with military prosecutors in Moscow.

What Are We, Cannon Fodder?

There are no known figures for how many Russian soldiers have deserted since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022. At least three deserters are known to have been prosecuted in Russian courts.

In a report published in November based on Russian media reports, the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said hundreds of soldiers were believed to have deserted and were hiding in at least seven locations in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

"The morale and psychological state of Russian forces in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts are exceedingly low," the report said. "Significant losses on the battlefield, mobilization to the front lines without proper training, and poor supplies have led to cases of desertion."

Viktoria, the wife of another soldier who appeared in the video, says her husband, Ivan, was sent to the front line with little or no preparation. After he received his orders to report for duty on October 23, she says they began quickly buying personal equipment for him: clothing, first-aid kits, berets. He was issued a sleeping bag and a uniform at the recruitment office.

Ivan's unit was first sent to Smolensk, where they went through basic training, and training on weapons, says Viktoria, who asked that her last name not be used.

After moving to a series of locations, they were issued weapons on December 31 while in the Voronezh region, near the Ukrainian border, and then they were sent to the front.. "They were taken to Ukraine, there was no more training. Nothing," she said. "They were given new weapons that they had never even held in their hands. They may have sat there for three days, and then they were sent to the front line immediately."

Ivan
Ivan

Ivan told her that commanders ordered them to start attacks, but Ukrainian artillery opened up, and they ran for 7 kilometers, she says. "'We don't even have anything to defend ourselves with; no equipment, nothing, just the guns in our hands,'" she quoted him as saying.

After that, Viktoria says, the unit began refusing orders to return to the front line. "They want to charge them with desertion for this. And they say: 'We have nothing to fight with. Why should we go up against tanks with only machine guns?'" she said.

"There are quite a lot of guys, and they all seem to be sticking together" as a unit, she said. "But now they are trying to split them up so that they can't resist."

After they were taken out, she said, the unit told its commanders: "We won't go further. It makes no sense for us to go up against tanks with these weapons. What are we, cannon fodder?"

The commander then swore at them and threatened them, she says her husband told her: "Take off your bulletproof vests, turn over your weapons, go back to your Russia. If you get there, well done; if you don't get there, you'll be MIA" -- missing in action.

Written by Mike Eckel based on reporting by Timofei Rozhanskiy of Current Time
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    Timofei Rozhanskiy

    Timofei Rozhanskiy is a correspondent in Kyiv for Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. Born in Russia, he graduated from St. Petersburg State University and also received film and video production training at Bard College in New York. Before joining Current Time’s Moscow bureau in 2019, Rozhanskiy worked for the independent Russian television channel TV Rain.

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