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Massive leak reveals Russian soldiers tricked into fighting in Ukraine

·2-min read
Russian troops or their families have rarely spoken to the press about reported coercion - Alexandr Kulikov/AP
Russian troops or their families have rarely spoken to the press about reported coercion - Alexandr Kulikov/AP

Russian soldiers have complained to the military watchdog about being tricked into joining the frontline in Ukraine, a massive leak on Wednesday revealed.

A trove of complaints from troops and their relatives sent to the Russian Military Prosecutor’s Office and obtained by Bellingcat and The Insider revealed what appears to be a wide-spread practice of forcing and tricking soldiers into going to Ukraine.

One unnamed soldier said he was away on military drills on a warship off the Syrian coast when “we were tricked into going to Ukraine: no one asked me if I wanted to take part in the special military operation,” the man said, using the Kremlin’s term for the invasion.

“I lost all my friends in fighting, and I’m in a very depressed state. I’m 21 years old, and I want to live so much!”

Faced with the threat of the war censorship law, Russian soldiers or their families have rarely spoken to the press about reported coercion and abuse in the armed forces.

The soldier went on to say his commander has refused to accept his resignation letter.

Bellingcat and The Insider retracted the names of active servicemen to protect their privacy but the hacked emails match media reports about soldiers’ unwillingness to fight.

Relatives seek answers

A soldier’s mother told the prosecutors in an email that her son had been forced to go to the frontline despite the fact that he was a conscript.

“To his remark that Vladimir Putin's decree says that conscripts are not supposed to be sent off to the military operation, he was told: ‘Keep on watching TV!’” in an apparent reference to Russian state TV’s propaganda that has portrayed the invasion as a war to liberate the Ukrainian people.

Russians with relatives in eastern Ukraine and the residents of the Donbas also complained to the prosecutors about the damage that Russian troops caused to their property while they were stationed there.

The emails also included desperate relatives seeking answers about troops who were likely killed or have gone missing.

In a lengthy complaint, the girlfriend of a soldier from the central city of Ulyanovsk pleaded with prosecutors to help her find her boyfriend she suspects may have been taken prisoner despite the fact that charred remains found outside Kyiv were identified as his.

The woman said her boyfriend’s parents would not share burial documents with her or offer DNA samples, apparently because they were happy to receive a hefty compensation for a soldier killed in action.

“They don’t want to try to find their son among PoWs or those gravely injured. They’re happy with the compensation,” she wrote.

“We have no idea who we buried.”