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Written off in advance How an untrained and unarmed ‘platoon’ of new conscripts from Moscow was decimated near Svatove
On October 8, a group of new conscripts from the Moscow region recorded an understated but still urgent video, in which they hoped to tell the civilian audience about their circumstances. Their platoon of 30 was about to be sent to Lyman, to take part in a Russian offensive there. The soldiers, dressed in rag-tag uniforms each of them had to put together around retail shops, said that they were going to the front without any training, and with weapons that were “rusty, stuck, or jammed.” With only a day’s worth of firing practice, and no acquaintance at all with the vehicles some of them would have to drive, they felt completely unprepared to be sent to a war “hot spot.” The day after recording the video, the platoon of 30 was sent to the Luhansk region. By October 17, when the video was first published on YouTube, only 13 men were left in the unit. The rest of them were either dead or missing. Here’s what happened to the platoon, based on an extended investigation published recently by Mediazona and the videos recorded by the soldiers — one of them still unpublished.
Most of the men who appeared in the published video (which has now been removed from YouTube) had been drafted on September 23–25 — that is, in the very first days of mobilization, which started on September 21.
According to his sister, one of them received a draft letter on September 22. On September 25, he was sent, straight from the draft office, to the army base in Alabino, a village on the outskirts of Naro-Fominsk, a town in the Moscow region. Over the several days he spent there, he was able to buy himself a uniform and all the other essential gear.
From Alabino, the conscripts were taken to a camp near the village of Nikitovka in the Belgorod region, which shares a border with Ukraine. From there, via a village called Khokhlovo, they were sent to the Luhansk region. In all that time, they got nothing that would even resemble adequate training. The mobilized men were assigned to the First platoon, Second company of the Fifteenth motorized rifle regiment within the “elite” Taman Division, stationed in Naro-Fominsk.
By October 9, they had arrived in the vicinity of Svatove, a Ukrainian city in the Luhansk region. There, the command deposited them in a “small grove,” leaving them with a non-working radio, so that the troops had no communication “either with the headquarters, the commander, or the Second or Third platoons.” All in all, there were 30 of them in position, including one BMP mechanic-driver who had never seen his combat vehicle.
In one of the two videos they made, the soldiers explained that they were barely armed. They had machine guns, but no hand grenades, and no rounds for the RPG launcher. One of the machine guns was broken. Soon the company commander ordered the platoon to “meet the enemy column.” The soldiers objected that they’d never fired an RPG, to which the commander replied: “Why don’t I send you ahead to the first line, and you’ll warm up your weapons right there.”
In the evening on October 12, the platoon’s positions came under Ukrainian artillery fire. An hour later, they saw a group of 30–40 Russian troops moving towards the front line.
We came up to those guys, asking what was going on, whether the village had been surrendered. They answered: “The battle is lost, we were beaten with mortars, we’re retreating.” There were about two companies there, the Fifth and Sixth companies, conscripts exactly like ourselves. One of them said that there would be a tank battle soon.
Shortly afterwards, four Russian tanks drove past the First platoon’s positions, in the direction of the frontline, with the headlights on. 20 minutes later, the men heard artillery fire, and soon the tanks came back, at a low speed, with all the lights turned off. “We all jumped up, gathered our guns and bulletproof vests, got our bags, and just followed the tanks,” said one of the conscripts. Their officers tried to stop them from retreating, but when artillery shells began to strike nearby, “they all scattered like cockroaches,” jumping into their vehicles and leaving.
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The tank drivers asked the First platoon for a “spare machine gun” and a walkie-talkie — they, too, had no communication with their command. The platoon continued to retreat for another 20–25 kilometers (12–15 miles). By the time they reached a checkpoint set up by fighters from the self-proclaimed “LNR,” there were only 15 of them left. That night, they had come under artillery fire, and knew nothing of what happened to those who didn’t make it to the checkpoint. The “LNR” men took away their weapons, bulletproof vests and helmets. Members of the platoon told them to “do what you want, just f*** off.”
On October 14, the group left the checkpoint. After walking a while, they met with a Russian armored vehicle, whose crew agreed to give them a lift to Svatove. There, they found an empty building and hid there, for fear that they might be ordered back to the front line. While at the “LNR” checkpoint, they’d overheard that officers often rip up the soldier’s military IDs when sending them ahead, writing them off as dead or missing in advance.
By the time the platoon’s remainder left Svatove together with the other retreating Russian units, there were only 13 of them left. On October 23, Mediazona was able to reach one of the First platoon soldiers, named Vladislav. He told the journalist on the phone that the remainder of the platoon has made it to the army base in the Belgorod region. He also said that the Attorney General, the FSB, and “lots of others” were investigating what had gone wrong in the Taman division.
Vladislav said that he was hopeful about punishing the commanders who sent untrained and practically unarmed new conscripts to the front line. He thought that around 200 other people had filed similar complaints with the Attorney General.
Later that evening, Vladislav told the same journalist that he and his fellow troops “were going somewhere again.” Since then, his phone isn’t answering.
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