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‘Nothing short of a prison’ Russian conscripts who refuse to fight are held in crowded basements and pressured to return to the front line
The news outlets Current Time and Siren have learned of new cases of the Russian government violating the basic rights of citizens who refuse to fight in the war in Ukraine.
Current Time recently reported the story of two men from the Moscow region — Alexey Arsyutin and Andrey Marchuk — who received draft orders in late September. After reporting to their assigned military commissariats as required by law, they were sent to the nearby town of Naro-Fominsk, then to Russia's Belgorod region, which neighbors Ukraine. From there, without receiving any training, the conscripts were sent to the town of Svatove in Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
In Svatove, the two men and their fellow draftees were sent to the front line and ordered to dig trenches. They soon came under artillery fire. Arsyutin and Marchuk claim they stayed in their positions for three days with no food or water; by their account, their command left them with nothing but their weapons. As a result, they decided to retreat.
After that, Current Time reported, the conscripts’ relatives complained enough to draw the Russian military leadership’s attention to what had happened — and the men were taken back to Russia in Kamaz trucks.
“As soon as they arrived at the military base in Belgorod, the intense pressure began. They were called [...] every [derogatory] word possible. By the commanding staff. Because they retreated. Because they were supposed to go back to the front line like cannon fodder,” said Ekaterina Belova, Alexey Arsyutin’s sister.
When the officers realized they would not be able to pressure the men to go back to the front, they sent them back to the Luhansk region. The men’s relatives didn’t learn about this until a week later.
“My brother contacted us and said that they were in a basement in [the village of] Zaitseve. They were held there for days. They were read orders to confirm on video that they were refusing to participate in the ‘special military operation.’ Now the guys are being threatened with this video, that you didn’t follow this order. As my brother said, when he was in Zaitseve, there were 250 people there. They're prisoners, plain and simple. Russian captivity,” said Ekaterina Belova.
Andrey Marchuk managed to call his mother to tell her what happened: “In Zaitseve. Luhansk region. Troitske district. They took them to a hole there. There were no amenities in the hole. A lot of guys there, they said, who don’t want to fight. Refusers. They pressured them and pressured them, they’re not signing anything. They don’t want to fight. What is there to fight for, and with who?” said Marchuk’s mother, summarizing what her son told her.
Marchuk’s and Arsyutin’s relatives told Current Time that conscripts from a wide variety of divisions were brought to Zaitseve and held there while officers relentlessly pressured them to return to the front line. Eventually, they said, Marchuk and Arsyutin managed to return to the rear, but they were then sent to the Russian Investigative Committee.
The outlet Siren reported a similar story about conscripts from Russia’s Kursk region who were also sent to the front line before retreating. The wife of one of the soldiers told journalists that the men were subsequently sent to the village of Holubivka in the Luhansk region, where they’re currently being held in a basement that contains 38 people. “They’re asking for help. It’s awful there — there are sick and wounded guys in there. It’s nothing short of a prison,” she said.
According to Siren, the wives of some of the draftees are fighting to free their husbands from the basement where they’re being held. Initially, the women went to the military base in the Belgorod region, where they were told that their husbands were not assigned to the corresponding unit. After that, the women traveled to the city of Starobilsk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region. There, they were able to meet with some of the conscripts, though many are still in Holubivka. The women plan to take the issue to the Russia’s Military Prosecutor’s Office.
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