Angry families say Russian conscripts thrown to front line unprepared

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Irina Sokolova’s husband, a Russian soldier mobilized to fight in Ukraine, called her from a forest there last month, crying and nearly broken.

“They lie on TV,” he cried, referring to state television propagandists who downplay Russia’s failures and portray a war for Russia’s survival against the United States and its allies.

Sokolova, 37, also cried for him and their almost-year-old son. in a telephone interview from his home in Voronezh, in western Russia.

Sokolova is among dozens of wives and other relatives of the soldier who are voicing remarkably public — and dangerous — anger and fear over the dire conditions facing new soldiers on the front lines of Russia’s war in Ukraine. .

Relatives of the soldiers, mostly people who usually stay out of politics, have provoked the Kremlin’s ire by publishing videos online and in independent Russian media and even speaking to foreign reporters. They say conscripted soldiers were sent into battle with little training, poor equipment and often without clear orders. According to their families, many of them are tired and confused. Some days they get lost in the forest. Others refuse to fight.

“Of course she didn’t know how terrible it would be there,” Sokolova told The Washington Post. We watch our federal TV channels and they say everything is great.

The relatives don’t usually criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin or even the war, but their videos have revealed the high spirits of many conscripts as Russia tries to recover from recent losses by throwing 318,000 troops into battle.

Yana, a transport worker from St. Petersburg, was an ardent pro-war patriot until her partner was mobilized.

In a phone interview, Yana confirmed video accounts from other military spouses that the men had to buy their own uniforms and warm boots and had little training. In Ukraine, they were not given food or water.

“They have no orders and no duties,” he said. I talked to my husband yesterday and he said they don’t know what to do. “They have just been abandoned and have lost all their trust and faith in the authorities.”

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In the videos, the spouses recite a list of grievances in shaky voices. Conscripts pose in body armor that barely covers their ribs or film themselves in Ukrainian forests listing their dead and complaining that their officers are nowhere to be seen.

Details of the videos could not be independently verified, but they are consistent with accounts given by family members in interviews with The Post, and with reports by independent Russian media, such as ASTRA, which revealed seven underground prisons for escapees in Luhansk.

Sokolova’s husband was mobilized for the war in the 252nd motorized rifle regiment on September 22. He said he had no military training “and by September 26, he was already in Ukraine.”

He called late last month, having barely survived a major battle in which his unit was surrounded and many killed. He and two others ran away without backpacks and warm clothes, but got lost and ended up wandering in a forest.

“They were thrown into the fire, so to speak, on the front line, but they are not military people. They do not know how to fight. They cannot do this. “I feel how horrible it must be for him there,” she said. “My heart is breaking.”

Other families of men mobilized to fight in the regiment say their loved ones were sent to the front line near Svyativ, a small town in the Luhansk region, on their first day in Ukraine and given a shovel to dig trenches among 30 men. In a joint video appeal first sent to the independent Russian media outlet Vyorstka, they said the commanders “ran away” and the men faced heavy shelling for three days.

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According to their video account on Nov. 3, several dozen mobilized soldiers from the regiment walked about 100 miles to Milove, on the Russian border, and demanded to return to their base near Voronezh.

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They were briefly taken near Valuyki in Russia, but their pleas were ignored. We wrote programs. We wrote reports. We did everything, but no one listens to us. Nobody wants to hear us.

On the same day, Sokolova’s husband called her in panic from Valuyki and said that he and others had been immediately sent to battle.

On October 28, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that initial problems with equipping and training the mobilized troops had been resolved.

Military analyst Konrad Muzyka of Poland-based Rochan Consultants wrote in a recent analysis that despite the “terrible morale” of conscripts, large numbers of them could help Russia on the battlefield.

As the videos proliferate, Russian authorities appear to be losing patience. One of the conscripted soldiers, Alexander Leshkov, faces up to 15 years in prison after he shouted obscenities at an officer in a video, pushed him and cried through the unit’s low-grade leather jackets, his lawyer, Henri Siskarishvili, said. became.

“This is an insult, a mockery of shooting, a mockery of exercises, a mockery of a make-up,” said the enraged Leshkov.

Yana and her husband, who have a 4-year-old son, married 43 other couples just before the men were sent off to war. The Post agreed not to use his full name to protect him from arrest and prosecution.

In the couple’s apartment, the television was always on, blaring the Kremlin line that Russia was at war with the United States, not Ukraine. “We don’t know anything else,” said Yana. “We are so used to believing what we are told.”

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But after her husband was drafted into the army, she gave up the TV because it was making him “aggressive”. She said she feared for her husband’s life but said she did not blame Putin, “because he is an intelligent person.”

“We are completely confused, at a loss and feel abandoned,” he said. We cry from morning to night.

Andriy Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Kremlin’s propaganda is working — for now — with video protests that aren’t directed at Putin or even the war.

“Putin wants people to share responsibility for the war with him,” Kolesnikov said. He wants their bodies and souls to be sacrificed on the altar of the fight against NATO, the West and global evil. This strategy of glorifying cannon fodder and championing death is dangerous in a more or less modernized society that was not prepared to engage physically in the trenches.

After repeated military defeats and high casualties, support for the war is declining. An independent poll by the Levada Center reported on November 1 that 57 percent of Russians want peace talks, while 36 percent want the war to continue.

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Relatives of mobilized men “know what’s going on, but people whose relatives aren’t mobilized see the world through rose-colored glasses. They don’t know what’s going on and they’re not interested,” Sokolova said.

Yana told her son that his father is a superhero and fights evil. This myth is consistent with Russian imperialist propaganda, but deep down it is not true. In her heart, Yana said she was afraid that her husband would never call again and that her son would grow up without a father.

“I’m just an ordinary woman and I want to live in peace,” she said. “That’s all I want.”

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