Russian soldiers refuse to fight in Ukraine

According to activists and Russian human rights lawyers, some Russian troops refuse to fight in Ukraine again because of their experience on the front lines at the beginning of the invasion.

Russian soldiers refuse to fight in Ukraine

According to activists and Russian human rights lawyers, some Russian troops refuse to fight in Ukraine again because of their experience on the front lines at the beginning of the invasion. One such soldier was interviewed by the BBC.

Sergey, not his real name, says that he doesn't want "to go back to Ukraine to kill and be murdered". He spent five weeks fighting for Ukraine in the early part of this year.

After obtaining legal advice, Sergey is now back in Russia and has been allowed to return to the front lines. Sergey is one of many Russian soldiers who sought such advice.

Sergey claims that he has been traumatized by the events in Ukraine.

The young man bitterly stated that he had once believed that they were the Russian army, the most powerful in the world. He says that they were to be able to work without any basic equipment such as night vision devices.

"We were blind kittens. Our army shocked me. It would not cost much to equip our army. It was so simple!

Sergey entered the army as a conscript. Most Russian men aged 18-27 have to complete one year of mandatory military service. After a few months, Sergey decided to sign a two year professional contract that would also pay him a salary.

Sergey was summoned to the Ukrainian border in January for military drills. He was ordered to cross the border a month later, on 24 February, when Russia invaded Ukraine. His unit was attacked almost immediately.

Their commander told them that they were not laughing as they stopped at an abandoned farm to spend the night.

Sergey said that he was shocked.

"It was my first thought to ask myself, "Is this really happening?"

He claims that they were constantly shelled both while moving and when they remained parked overnight. Ten of his 50-member unit were killed, and 10 more were wounded. Nearly all of his comrades were younger than 25.

He was shocked to hear of Russian soldiers so inept that they didn't know how to shoot or distinguish between mortars.

His convoy, which was travelling through northern Ukraine, broke apart after only four days. A bridge they were about cross exploded and killed their comrades.

Sergey also stated that he had to pass his comrades who were trapped in a burning vehicle in front him.

"It was either a grenade launcher, or another explosive. It caught on fire, and it contained [Russian] soldiers. We drove around it, firing as we go. I didn't turn back."

He says that his unit continued to move through the Ukrainian countryside but there was an apparent lack of strategy. The reinforcements failed to arrive, and the soldiers were not well-equipped for the task.

"We went to the parade without helicopters. We just rode in a column.

He believes that his commanders planned to quickly capture key cities and strongholds - and that they had calculated that the Ukrainians would surrender.

"We raced forward, with only short overnight stays without trenches and without reconnaissance. We didn't leave anyone behind, so if anyone decided to hit us from behind, there was no protection.

"I believe that so many of our guys died because of this. We could have avoided many losses if we had stayed slow and checked for mines on the roads.

Sergey's complaints regarding equipment also came out in phone conversations between Russian soldiers and their families. These conversations were intercepted by the Ukrainian security service and posted online.

Sergey was transferred back to Russia's border at the beginning of April. Troops had been evacuated from northern Ukraine, and it appeared that they were preparing for an attack in the east. Later in the month, he received an order from his commander to return to Ukraine. However, he stated that he wasn't ready to leave.

"He said that it was my choice. Sergey said that they didn't even try to dissuade them, since we weren't first. He was so worried about the reaction of his unit to his refusal, that he sought legal advice.

Sergey was told by a lawyer that he and his two colleagues should return their arms to their headquarters. There they should write a letter explaining their moral and psychological exhaustion and their inability to continue fighting in Ukraine.

Sergey was informed that it was crucial to return to the unit because leaving could be taken as desertion. This can lead to a two year sentence in a discipline battalion.

According to Alexei Tabalov, a Russian human rights lawyer, Army commanders attempt to intimidate contract troops into staying with them. He stresses, however, that Russian military law includes clauses that allow soldiers to refuse fighting if they do not want to.

Sergei Krivenko, a human rights activist, says that he doesn't know of any cases against those who refuse to return to front.

However, that does not mean prosecutions are not being tried.

According to BBC documents, a commander in Russia asked for a criminal case to be brought against his subordinate, who refused to return to Ukraine. However, a military prosecutor declined to proceed. According to the prosecutor, such an action would not be considered "premature" if it did not assess the damage done to his military service.

There is no way to predict that there will be more prosecutions in the future.

According to Ruslan Leviev (the editor of Conflict Intelligence Team), soldiers like Sergey who are reluctant to return to front line service are not uncommon. Conflict Intelligence Team is a media project that examines the experiences of the Russian military in Ukraine through closed interviews and open source material.

Leviev claims that his team believes that a significant minority of Russian contract soldiers who were sent to Ukraine for the initial invasion did not return.

Since April began, independent Russian media has reported hundreds of cases in which soldiers refused to be deployed again to Ukraine.

BBC spoke with several lawyers and human rights activists who said that they were regularly giving advice to men who wanted to stay in Ukraine. Our interviewees have dealt with many cases and believe that soldiers are also sharing their advice with colleagues.

Sergey doesn't want to go back to the frontline, but he wants to finish his outstanding service in Russia so that he can avoid any unintended consequences. However, his refusal to fight was accepted. There are no guarantees that he will not be sent back to Ukraine during the service period.

He told BBC that he could see that war is continuing and it isn't going away. "In these months [of compulsory army service] that I have already left, anything could happen, even the worst."

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