USSIANS on the front lines are mutinying, fighting among themselves and getting lost in the chaos of a faltering offensive, videos and messages from inside Vladimir Putin’s army show.
Recently mobilised soldiers are refusing orders to face “certain death” by joining “human wave” attacks that they say are destroying entire units at a time.
Some are appealing directly to Putin in desperate videos, while others are standing up to Kremlin officials sent to quell the rebellion.
Reports are emerging of fighters being locked in basements for declining to become targets.
Meanwhile, the Russian army has created a new unit to round up all the “lost” soldiers deserting, fleeing or struggling to find their teams.
Soldiers from at least 16 different regions have recorded video messages since early February to blame commanders for trying to use them in “human wave” attacks, according to the Russian media outlet Verstka.
The tactic of sending “human waves” of poorly trained and poorly armed fighters into the line of fire to overwhelm the opposition has become increasingly common, according to military observers.
Ukrainian forces are reporting staggering Russian losses — between 600 to 1,000 men a day. Russia’s long-awaited offensive is largely considered to have stalled amid a gruelling battle to take the small city of Bakhmut.
One of the most striking recent calls for help from soldiers came from a group of men who were called up from eastern Siberia’s Irkutsk region.
The man said he and his comrades were sent to the occupied Donetsk region, ostensibly to be a patrol force only to find out they were to join a now notorious human wave attack outside Avdiivka.
“We’re just sent in for slaughter. The commanders are telling us in the face we’re disposable soldiers and our only chance to go back home is to get injured in the fighting,” the soldier said.
“The commanders don’t care about our lives. We’re asking for help. We have no one else to turn to.”
Ruslan Leviev, head of the investigative Conflict Intelligence Team that has been tracing Russian troops since 2014, said: “We don’t know how much of this discontent is left unpublicised but those videos most likely speak to the use of ‘human wave attacks’ widely reported by the Ukrainian army.”
Soldiers often hide their faces behind balaclavas and rarely speak to reporters, fearing that publicity would backfire against them or their families.
In another widely shared video, filmed in darkness, a Russian says: “Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], this is a plea from men mobilised from the Irkutsk region. We’re asking you to look into the illegal and criminal orders of our commanders and take action,” the man says, asking Putin to stop sending former civilians like him to their deaths. He says the unit of his predecessors who made a similar appeal was “almost completely wiped out”.
After four pleas from the 1,439th regiment, the men’s female relatives recorded a desperate video last week asking Putin, “our only hope”, to “save our men”.
“The commanders have abandoned them and told them not to leave their positions. Our men have been without food or water for a few days but surviving under constant shelling,” the women said.
In response, Russia’s defence ministry released a video of a masked soldier who said he was from Irkutsk and that he was willing to serve.
People of Baikal, an Irkutsk media outlet in exile, were able to trace the men’s relatives after they posted desperate pleas on local social media groups that were subsequently deleted.
The wife of one of the men who recorded the appeal called him a “patriot who respected Putin and thought he was doing everything right in Ukraine”.