Russian military personnel have increasingly refused to participate in the so-called “special operation”, the euphemism Russia uses to refer to the war of aggression against Ukraine. vacations to meet their families have been banned from leaving the conflict zone.
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The “disobedient”, as those who no longer want to fight are called, are held in prisons and camps in Lugansk, a region in eastern Ukraine that has been controlled by separatists since 2014.
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The situation was reported by relatives of combatants and human rights activists to DW.
There are cases of fathers and mothers of Russian soldiers who traveled to the city of Brianka, inside Lugansk, to try to negotiate the release of their children. In silence, they keep watch from dawn until dusk in front of a camp where, according to press reports, around 200 “disobedients” are being held.
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Case reported to the Attorney General’s Office
According to complaints formalized by members of the Russian Human Rights Council to the country’s Attorney General, there are also soldiers detained in four other Ukrainian locations under the control of the Russian army: Popasna, Alchewsk, Stakhanov and Krasnyi Luch.
DW had access to the documents, which are based on testimonies from relatives of six “disobedient” soldiers imprisoned in these four cities and on a battlefront in Svitlodarsk. The military command would not have allowed these people to return to their barracks in Russia. .
Among the authors of the complaint to the Attorney General’s Office are filmmaker Alexander Sokurov, who in 2011 was honored with the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and journalist Nikolai Swanidse. According to the document, the soldiers complain about the poor conditions in which they are being held and accuse their military superiors of psychological torture.
“These are crimes against members of the Armed Forces, illegal arrests, torture and inhumane treatment”, reads an excerpt from the complaint. Relatives reportedly also reported physical attacks against the detainees.
Soldiers trapped in trenches
Human rights activist and coordinator of the NGO “Grazhdanin i armija” (free translation: Citizens and Armed Forces), Sergej Krivenko, told DW that the conditions in which these “disobedient” soldiers find themselves depend on where they are being held.
“In early July, reports were that they were trapped in trenches,” says Krivenko.
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A relative of a soldier in Brianka, who for security reasons prefers to remain anonymous, told DW he receives frequent calls from his son, who apparently uses a regular telephone line, which other soldiers use to communicate with their families. He further stated that these soldiers are taken in the morning to “work” – it is not clear what kind.
According to Krivenko, one inmate managed to escape from prison in Brianka and reached Russia. “If a soldier returns to the barracks where he is stationed within ten days, it is not considered a case of desertion,” he explains.
Russia presses for return to the front
Due to the pressure they have been under, some soldiers have reversed their decision not to fight in Ukraine any longer and have returned to their former combat positions. That’s what the parents of a soldier arrested in Brianka tell DW. They also wish to remain anonymous out of fear for their child’s well-being.
“First the soldiers said that they would not return to the war under any circumstances. Suddenly, we learn that they are going to the front – and without informing their parents of this.”
In Russia, it is a crime to divulge information about soldiers prevented from leaving Ukraine and to publicly demand the release of “disobedient” held in prison. DW is aware of the case of a man whose parents sought out journalists and was therefore refused a vacation request. by their military superiors. It is for this reason that all relatives of arrested soldiers contacted by the report do not want to reveal their identities.
According to one of these people, the Russian government is trying to swell the ranks of the front with promises of “good conditions of service”.
The other strategy is to threaten criminal prosecution, says Alexandra Garmaschapova of the Free Buryatia Foundation, a US-based NGO created in March 2022 in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Behind the entity are citizens of Buryatia, a federal division of Russia located in Asia, who are engaged in free elections in the territory.
Prisons ‘violate Russian laws’
In early July, the Free Buryatia Foundation claimed that around 500 Buryatia soldiers had refused to fight in Ukraine and wanted to return to their homes. The number would be even higher according to information from the newspaper “Verstka”, which is under censorship by the Russian authorities: 1,793 fighters.
Reports say that soldiers have refused to participate in the conflict since late March, according to Krivenko, when the first troop withdrawals took place in the vicinity of Kiev. These soldiers would then have sought contact with human rights defenders, with the aim of terminating their employment contracts with the Russian Armed Forces.
According to Krivenko, the number of cases of “disobedient” military personnel has been growing. He is critical of the arrests. “It is a serious violation of Russian law. A soldier cannot be arrested and held without trial. Only a Russian court, on Russian territory, can judge these cases,” he says.