‘I’m 21 and I really want to live’ Investigative journalists at Bellingcat and The Insider obtain complaints submitted to Russia’s military by betrayed soldiers, their loved ones, and civilians in Ukraine’s warzone
Translation by Kevin Rothrock
Investigative journalists at The Insider and Bellingcat obtained access to an archive of complaints submitted to Russia’s military prosecutor’s office by the relatives of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, by the soldiers themselves, and by civilians whose hometowns have become warzones. The journalists say they’ve independently verified the letter archive’s authenticity, and The Insider has published several dozen examples on its website in the original Russian. The complaints accuse Russia’s Defense Ministry of deceiving and coercing conscripted soldiers into combat, failing to provide troops with needed food and medical care, and withholding information from family members about men who have been captured or killed. Meduza translated some of these excerpts into English (redacting data that could be used to identify individuals).
Deception and intimidation of conscripts
I’m asking you to review my complaint on behalf of a soldier conscripted for military service in the Bryansk region. He was then sent to the Belgorod region. When I called my son, he said they were being moved for exercises, but it turns out to have been to the war. At this moment, he’s being taken towards Ukraine. During formation in Valuyki, they told the soldiers that they were contract servicemen, effective February 23, but my son never signed anything. And all the others with him are also conscripts. At first, their camp was in the town of Mikhailovka, and they were living in tents (without basic hygiene), and nobody was able to shower for the entire time they were there. Back home, we’re here sending them money for bread and food. In the convoy supposedly headed for training exercises, they were given dry rations — one [portion] for two people — and there was no water. The drinking water was for sale. We’re transferring money to his card, so he’s not left with nothing on foreign soil. I get that this is the army, but that doesn’t mean our boys need to be treated like dogs.
Parents complain that commanders have beaten up soldiers who refuse to sign military service contracts
We’re actually dealing with lawlessness by the commanders of military units. My friend’s grandson came home injured and told us how his senior officers beat him and forced him to sign a contract. I ask you to expedite the investigations into the facts we already know, identify those who, acting under false pretenses, sent conscript soldiers to certain death, and prosecute everyone, whatever their rank or position, according to the laws of war.
The military ignored President Putin’s public remarks that conscript soldiers shouldn’t be fighting in the war
They told my son that he and the other conscripts had been selected specially for the military special operation. Subjecting them to emotional pressure, they urged them to defend the Motherland and come to the aid of soldiers under fire. When they objected, saying that President Vladimir Putin’s orders say conscripts can’t be deployed for the special operation, they were told: “Go on and watch some more television.” Later, they said they’d be sent regardless, even if they didn’t sign the contracts.
Soldiers have filed complaints, too
I urgently request a review of my letter of resignation from Russia’s Armed Forces. On January 15, 2022, I was sent to Syria aboard a warship for training exercises, but instead we were deployed to Ukraine under false pretenses. I was not asked if I wish to participate in the special military operation. From the first days [of the invasion], my brigade has been on the front lines at the firing position. I’ve lost all my closest comrades in battle, and I’m experiencing severe depression. I’m 21 years old and I really want TO LIVE. My commander refuses to accept my resignation letter. I appealed to the commander of the Baltic Fleet. What am I supposed to do in this situation?
Sign up for Meduza’s daily newsletter
A digest of Russia’s investigative reports and news analysis. If it matters, we summarize it.
Soldiers have described how they’ve violated the terms of their service contracts, hoping to be discharged
I serve as the commander of a platoon that handles equipment for secure communications. I have repeatedly stated my unwillingness to [continue serving] in the Russian Armed Forces. I’ve repeatedly filed explanations for illegally being absent from service, and I’ve also filed a resignation letter citing [my] failure to comply with the terms of my contract. From my military unit, I’ve seen inaction and complete indifference toward me. Disciplinary practices have lapsed. Currently, I have four severe reprimands and a warning about incomplete service compliance, but there’s been no attestation commission called to address it. I request help in resolving this issue: my dismissal from military service due to my non-fulfillment of the terms of my contract. I make no claims against the Russian Defense Ministry, and I am prepared to pay back the funds spent on my education.
Russian soldiers aren’t getting adequate medical care
I wish to report the military hospital in Belgorod. As of this moment, my husband has been there since April 23, 2022, due to a concussion. At this time, he’s received no proper treatment or examination. They don’t want to treat him. They say, “There are a lot of guys like you. It’s just psychological trauma. Your arms and legs are still attached. You can still fight.” I’d like to know the grounds on which no examination has been conducted. No MRI performed. All they give him is aspirin. Also, my husband shows the neurological signs of a concussion (headache, memory loss, slowed speech, spinal pain). He needs an examination and further treatment.
No help finding missing/captured soldiers
My son is a contract soldier. After the start of the special military operation in Ukraine (on February 24, 2022), I lost contact with my son. On March 3, I got a message (on the app Viber) from a Ukrainian phone number telling me that my son had been injured in the aforementioned special operation (a fracture in one leg and shrapnel wounds in the other) and was now at a hospital in the city of Voznesensk in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv region. The [Russian] Defense Ministry’s “hotline” told my daughter that my son isn’t among the prisoners and is listed as missing. But I spoke to my son on the telephone several times over the course of three days after he was taken prisoner. I have a video recording (attached) where my son confirms that he’s wounded and in captivity. I’m also attaching to this appeal a copy of the news website www.ikpravda.com.ua, which reported on March 10 that my son and another [captured] soldier are suspected of infringing on Ukraine’s territorial integrity (a felony offense), and that he’s been placed in jail. What other proof of my son’s captivity do officials in the Defense Ministry need?
Russia’s Defense Ministry won’t help to secure the return of killed soldiers’ bodies
I am asking you to help find out why it happened that my son was deployed to the special operation in Ukraine, our last telephone contact with him was on March 21, 2022, and afterward, on March 28, we learned from his unit commander that he died on March 24. According to men who served with him, his BMP-2 [infantry fighting vehicle] was blown up, his body couldn’t be removed, and he was left in the burning vehicle on Ukrainian territory. We submitted DNA samples. I ask you to look into this. No one knows what to do next. More than a month has passed. At least send back his remains so he can be buried like a human being.
There have been cases where relatives refuse to look for POWs, preferring to collect compensation issued for soldiers killed in action
I’m a soldier’s girlfriend. He signed a service contract in August 2021. On February 14, 2022, he left for training exercises, or so we thought. The last time I spoke to him was on February 23, when he said he’d been ordered to go on the offensive. For more than a month, we kept calling his unit and the Defense Ministry, and they constantly told us that he was alive and that everything was fine. On April 8, without any explanation, they took DNA samples from his parents, and then during lunch on April 13 they told us that his funeral would be on April 15… A soldier who served with him said that their commander had told them later that they’d be burying his legs. The cause of death was thermal burns over at least 90 percent of his entire body from combustible substances… In late March, we’d seen two captured paratroopers listed on Ukrainian Internet resources… I recognized one of the soldiers as my boyfriend, and I appealed to [Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana] Moskalkova’s office. They got in touch with us and promised to help search for him among the prisoners, but [first] they asked for the document issued by the morgue as confirmation. His parents have this document, but they don’t want to hand it over to try to find their son among the prisoners or wounded. They’re happy with the money they get as compensation.
Looting and pillaging by Russian soldiers
My parents live on DNR [self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic] territory in the town of Lyubivka in the Donestk region. We’re citizens of the Russian Federation… In April, Russian formations came into our town and set up a basecamp not far from our home. On April 8, when “Grad” [rocket launchers] started shelling their positions, my parents fell to the floor and later left for the neighboring farm to wait it out. The next day, when my mom came home in the morning, she saw how they’d brutalized our garage… A big tank had knocked out our gates, knocked down the huge slab wall, and crushed the slatted door on the garage, which then fell on the cars in the garage… They stole spare parts and tools worth 200,000 rubles [$3,300], even to the point that they stole coins from the cars and a single condom from my brother’s car. Tell me, are these people even human? Did they come here to protect us or rob and murder? Let me repeat that my parents have lived on DNR soil for eight years and they’ve never seen such barbarity… Is this the Z-operation?