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‘Lena, I might be executed by our own today.’ 21 Russian conscientious objectors are held captive in a basement in the Donetsk region. Their wives and mothers plead desperately for help.
21 Russian conscripts, who were mobilized this fall and are refusing to fight in Ukraine, are held captive in Zavitne Bazhannia, a village in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. The Insider, a Russian media project, has reported this, citing a letter from the wives and mothers of the unlawfully detained servicemen.
The women who signed the letter write that at least eight of the men who are currently held in a basement in Zavitne Bazhannia had official exemptions from military service. Before mobilization, they worked at the Dalnogorsk mining and metallurgy complex Dalpolymetal. The industrial plant has the official status of a defense-industry object, whose employees are exempt from being mobilized. In spite of this, draft officers sent the eight Dalpolymetal employees first to a boot camp, and then to the combat zone — allegedly, without appropriate training.
The 21 conscripts now held in the basement have submitted written reports, in which they refused to fight because it was against their conscience. Their relatives say that commanders are trying to force them to withdraw their statements. Distressed family members write that the group of conscientious objectors held in Zavitne Bazhannia are getting no food and no personal hygiene items. No one tells them why they’re locked in the basement; instead, their captors call them traitors and threaten them with the firing squad.
According to their relatives, until late October, the servicemen were stationed 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Mariupol. They were building dugouts but took no part in combat. Then, they were moved to Zavitne Bazhannia. Elena Kashina, one of the spouses who signed the letter, says that her 33-year-old husband had no prior combat experience. Although he did serve his mandatory term in the Russian army, he spent that time working as a mechanic at the garage. “At the boot camp, they had one day to try shooting from a machine gun,” she says.
The sight on gun he got was bent out of shape, so he couldn’t hit a target — neither from 400 meters, nor from 100. The next day, they had to dig trenches, and that was all their training. After that, they were packed off to Ukraine.
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Kashina says that her husband has been in Ukraine since October 2. On October 10, he called and told her that the troops were keeping watch in the trenches and trying to recapture parts of the forest strip. Two days later, he told her that he didn’t want to kill people — and that he would “just shut his eyes and ears” and wait for the firing squad, which had been promised by the company’s political commissar to anyone who refuses to fight.
Before they submitted their reports, the political commissar of the Fifth company in DNR said they if they wrote anything, they would be executed by a firing squad and tossed into a common pit, and that their relatives would be told that they’re missing in action. My husband called me and said, “Lena, I might be executed by our own today.”
Kashina also says that six of the conscientious objectors in her husband’s unit were assigned to cook for the rest of the troops, while eight others were taken away and locked in the basement. The relatives of the unlawfully imprisoned conscripts have written to the Russian Investigative Committee, but haven’t yet received a reply.
In the summer of 2022, journalists reported that dozens, possibly even hundreds of Russian troops who wanted to leave military service were kept in custody in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s Luhansk region. In the fall, it emerged that similar detention camps had been set up for the newly-conscripted Russians refusing to fight in the war. The military’s commanders use threats and physical violence to force soldiers back into combat.
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