ALONA MAZURENKO – WEDNESDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER 2022, 19:41
Russian media has talked with a Russian conscript who was sent to fight in Ukraine, specifically in Bucha, and then escaped from his battalion and returned to Russia. After the announcement of conscription in the Russian Federation, he was ordered to go back to the front under threat of criminal prosecution.
Source: BBC Russian service
Details: The BBC talked to 20-year-old Sergey from Krasnodar, who served as an artillery gunner.
He was called up to the army in the spring of 2021, and he was offered a contract with the Ministry of Defence of Russia that August. In January 2022, he and his comrades-in-arms were sent to Belarus for training, and on 23 February to Ukraine. He pointed out that there was no possibility of escape.
At the beginning of March, his battalion entered Bucha. Russian soldiers were attacked again in the city centre. "Two deputy commanders of the regiment went down immediately. Our battalion commander and many private soldiers, as well"
In Bucha, according to Sergey, Russian occupiers started robbing empty houses and shops: "There was nothing to eat from the very start; we took bread and canned food."
Quote from Sergey: "If locals came to our positions, they were taken, interrogated, and killed almost right away. They sent location tags of our positions to the Armed Forces of Ukraine by their phones. You could be sitting somewhere, a man on a bicycle would drive by, and something could strike that very place exactly a minute later."
The Russian reported that soldiers drank a lot of alcohol in Bucha, and they would launch attacks while wasted if they received target coordinates.
He also said that locals did not come to the Russian soldiers even when it was quiet: "They all knew that once they left their basements or houses, firing would start. They were told this when we came to Bucha. When we examined houses and mopped up those who used to work in the police, in the army, who had documents, or something on their phones… in fact, all men were taken."
When Sergey was asked what they did to the women of Bucha, he replied: "Different stuff happened. I, personally, [did] nothing. Neither did my first battery."
On 19 March, Ukrainian artillery units struck one Russian tank. It caught fire, and vehicles nearby started to burn, too. As a result, according to the occupier, six out of seven Russian tanks were burned.
During the next two days, Russian soldiers received new weapons and two tanks. One of them had a broken gear lever; another one was made in 1964 and could not shoot.
In April, after the troops retreated from the Kyiv-Chernihiv front, Sergey’s unit returned to Russia through Belarus. At the first stop, according to him, two companies (90 people each) wanted to leave, but commanders convinced them that everyone would go to jail if they did, so the companies remained with the battalion.
Sergey and his comrades-in-arms spent two weeks in Belgorod (Russia). He said that soldiers lived in tents in the forest and went to the city to buy groceries themselves, since they "were not fed there either, not a single MRE."
Having returned to Russia, the conscript had tried to retire from service two times.
A conscript from another battalion, 19-year-old Anton from Ivanovo, who was a sniper, said that commanders "threatened" him and other soldiers with a tribunal and "bullied" them. Commanders also "shouted that they would shoot in the back anyone who turned back and left".
But some went absent without leave, gave away their weapons and left.
Anton explained that he decided to leave the battalion because of the significant losses sustained and the psychological effect of the war.
Quote by Anton: "When I started shooting people and understood that it’s… hard… And they didn’t send home the bodies of the guys who were killed. They buried them right there, I saw it. It’s very rare that they made a cargo 200 [conventional designation of soldiers who were killed - ed.]. Especially when it was very hot, almost 40°C. They just decompose right away. The [Russian military commanders] do not tell the parents [of the soldiers who were killed] anything, just write that their son went missing. There were too many guys whose contracts should have ended a month or two later. They all were 19-20 years old. And now they are all allegedly missing."
In the middle of April, Sergey was sent to Ukraine again - at first, to Izium, and then towards Lysychansk.
Soldiers there were ordered to take the village of Berestove. "Twenty-one houses. We had been storming it for a week and a half," the conscript described the battle for this settlement. He stated that only one company of 90 people was left in his battalion out of the 600 who invaded from Belarus in February.
In July, Sergey’s regiment was transferred to Popasna, from where he escaped with seven more soldiers, leaving their weapons to their commander.
On the border near Pervomaisk they met border guards and ended up being interrogated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
According to Sergey, the interrogation of soldiers was not long; the FSB were just surprised at stories about those who had been killed. After that, he decided not to go back to his military unit, but to go home. As the BBC’s information indicates, the conscript received a total of approximately 700,000 roubles [approximately US$12,000 - ed.].
A few weeks later, Sergey was called to a military commandant’s office for interrogation: "They asked when I left the combat zone and why. I told them I had enough, and showed a video of our burned and defeated division in Bucha."
On 23 September, the military prosecutor called Sergey again. As the conscript stated, in the military unit, they had given him a document for a medical board [test] and said: "You have two options. Either you go to jail, or you go back there."
The conscript decided not to go to any medical board. He spoke to a lawyer; now, he is choosing among two options: either being put on probation for contract termination and for disobeying the mobilisation, or using his diagnosis by a psychiatrist at the military enlistment office.
Another conscript, Sergey Bokov from the Urals, who spoke to journalists in May, went to Kazakhstan and was applying for a humanitarian visa to Germany. Anton from Ivanovo returned to the front on 25 September.
As reported by the BBC, other conscripts who had retired from the Russian army are also being sent to the front.