Russian soldiers have provided a rare look into the tensions within Russia’s army as they continue to fight in Ukraine, as a group of soldiers has publically accused their commanders of putting them in jail after refusing to continue fighting in the war.
The Guardian reported that an estimated 140 soldiers have been jailed in eastern Ukraine within a military base that’s surrounded by land mines.
Maxim Grebenyuk is a lawyer who runs a Moscow-based advocacy organization, Military Ombudsman. Grebenyuk has reported that at least four Russian soldiers have filed complaints with the investigative committee and demanded punishment for their superiors who unjustly threw them in jail.
One of these written complaints is from a soldier who goes by the alias ‘Vladimir’.
“As a result of what I believe were tactical and strategic mistakes made by my commanders… and their total disregard for human life… I made the decision not to continue in the military operation.”
Vladimir was detained on July 19 after refusing to continue fighting in Ukraine. He said he was placed in a room with 25 other soldiers, where they were held without food. The soldier was soon transported to the town of Bryansk to Luhansk where he was held with 80 other soldiers who had also refused to continue playing a role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The soldiers in Luhansk were kept in a school-turned-military base, where they were guarded by a private military group, Wagner, which is infamous for its human rights abuses.
“They [Wagner soldiers] told us that mines had been placed outside the military base and that whoever tried to flee would be considered an enemy and shot on the spot,” Vladimir wrote.
The soldier then detailed the extremely poor treatment the soldiers endured, saying, “We were fed once a day at lunchtime. There was no basic hygiene.”
“The whole time, not a single document was provided that would explain our arrest. We were illegally jailed.”
Vladimir was finally able to leave the jail after a military doctor recommended he be hospitalized for injuries he sustained earlier in the war.
Since the Kremlin has not formally declared war on Ukraine, Russian contract soldiers should be able to opt out of the fighting without being prosecuted or jailed. Vladimir touched on this point, saying, “Military personnel can be deprived of their liberty only in cases strictly specified in Russian law, namely when they are believed to have committed a crime.”
The Russian soldier also revealed that some soldiers who refused to continue serving in Ukraine have been taken away by authorities and not heard from again.
“Some soldiers, under the threat of violence, were simply driven out to unknown destinations, they have not been seen since,” said Vladimir.
The Russian defense ministry has not responded to the Guardian’s request for comment.