By early July, Kaminsky said, he had had enough: he refused to fight, one of 78 soldiers in his brigade who refused orders.

“I am morally exhausted. There is absolutely no trust in the authorities and the higher command, from the first word,” Kaminsky, 20, said on July 17, recorded from an undisclosed location in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine.

“Because they don’t know anything. They ignore all requests. They started to stir and come up with alternatives when people started specifically saying no,” he said. “I’m tired. Homesick. My daughter was born three months ago. I still haven’t seen her.

Nearly five months after the start of the biggest war in Europe since World War II, a growing number of Russian soldiers like Kaminsky are refusing to fight, demanding to go home or not going to Ukraine altogether. Russian human rights activists say hundreds, if not thousands, of troops are reluctant to deploy, keep fighting or remain on the battlefield without rotation or return.

Of the 78 soldiers in Kaminsky’s unit who disobeyed orders, some were held in a makeshift brig for days, he said.

Refusenik troops are adding to the headaches of Russian commanders as they struggle to replenish exhausted and depleted units on the roughly 480-kilometre (300-mile) front line that stretches from east of Kharkiv to the north- east to Kherson in south-central Ukraine.

Western intelligence agencies say Russia’s losses are substantial; a senior British military commander told the BBC this week that up to 50,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured since the invasion began on February 24.

The Kremlin declined to call for a general mobilization to replenish lost troops, instead using what analysts described as a “covert and hybrid” campaign to recruit new troops: using private military companies, extending age limits, lucrative financial incentives and sometimes coercion persuasion to swell the ranks.

I warn you, this is a last offer

Paratroopers from the 11th Separate Air Assault Brigade, based outside Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryatia region in eastern Siberia, arrived in Ukraine’s Kherson region on February 24, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion.

At some point, Kaminsky’s unit was then transferred to Luhansk in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

He said troops had been granted no leave for 4½ months, even as brigade casualties and casualties mounted: up to half of the brigade’s personnel – around 1,000 – were killed or wounded in action, he said.

At the start of the war, Kaminsky said, commanders ordered the brigade to defend a line opposing Ukrainian forces that stretched up to 64 kilometers in length (40 miles) – about four times the strength of the brigade. brigade could reasonably protect.

At another time, he said, unit commanders ordered a squad of five soldiers to try to seize a nearby settlement defended by up to 200 Ukrainian soldiers.

Kaminsky said discontent had been building in the unit for weeks, if not months. He said he had drafted about 20 complaints and requests for reassignment himself, but that his superiors had rejected them, if not completely torn them up.

A total of 78 soldiers, including Kaminsky, openly challenged his orders and demanded to be either sent home or reassigned, he said.

The unit commanders then organized an intervention. According to an audio recording, commanders met with the rebellious soldiers on July 17, threatening them, pleading with them and trying to coerce them into remaining in service or rescinding their demands for resignation.

“Command post guard duty?” Artillery sentry mission? Anyone want some?” the commander, a lieutenant colonel identified only by his surname Agafonov, can be heard telling the soldiers. “The brigade commanders are asking who wants to keep the second gunnery unit. Three days of service?

“They make everything so easy for you guys. I warn you, it’s a last offer, ”he hears the soldiers say. “If no one is willing to accept offers from brigade commanders, I won’t hold you. But you have until 6 p.m. today. After that, I will not look at any new offers.

According to Kaminsky, the pressure eventually worked in part: by July 16, 50 of the 78 soldiers who had demanded to return to their home base had relented.

For the rest, however, unit commanders ordered their arrest and detention in a makeshift brig in the Luhansk region, according to Kaminsky, where they received food only once a day. As of July 20, the fate of the detained soldiers was unknown.

Russian military regulations provide legal justification and procedures for soldiers who disobey orders, according to Sergei Krivenko, a rights activist – especially for those who declare themselves anti-war or pacifists.

“If a soldier acts according to such procedures, he cannot be criminally prosecuted for it. Because there are no criminal articles for requesting termination of a contract based on anti-war beliefs,” Krivenko said. “The soldier is in the unit, he does not flee anywhere. And that means he can’t be prosecuted for desertion or total absence.

“He doesn’t refuse to carry out orders, so the article about insubordination or disobeying orders is also irrelevant, because he doesn’t refuse to do so,” he said. “He simply states that he has anti-war beliefs.”

I had to refuse to be able to stay alive

Russian troops in Ukraine are largely made up of contract soldiers: volunteer personnel who sign fixed-term service contracts. The range of experience varies. Other units include troops from private military companies like Vagner, or specialized semi-autonomous units overseen by Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

The discontent of Kaminsky’s 11th Brigade is not an isolated case, and there are indications that Russian commanders are trying different tactics to keep the problem from spiraling out of control: for example, publicly humiliating soldiers who refuse to fight.

In Buryatia, where the 11th Brigade is based, dozens of personnel have sought legal assistance from local activists, seeking to break their contracts and withdraw from service in Ukraine, for various reasons.

In the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk, based on the 205th Cossack Motorized Rifle Brigade, commanders erected a ‘wall of shame’ with the names, ranks and photographs of some 300 soldiers who disobeyed under orders during the war in Ukraine.

“They forgot their military oaths, the ceremonial pledge, their vows of duty to their homeland,” the painting reads.

In conversations via Russian social media giant VK, several soldiers from the brigade disputed the circumstances of their inclusion on the wall of shame. All have asked that their names not be released for fear of further punishment or reprisals from commanders.

“I understand everything, of course. I signed a contract. I’m supposed to be ready for any situation; this war, this special operation,” one soldier wrote. “But I thought, I’m still young; at any moment, a piece of shrapnel, a bullet could fly through my head.

The soldier said he broke his contract and resigned from the brigade before the February 24 invasion, once he realized it was in fact going ahead.

“I thought long and hard and made the decision. I understood that I had to refuse in order to be able to stay alive,” he said. “I don’t regret it at all.”

you are nobody

Another soldier from the 205th Brigade also said that commanders gave no preparation to soldiers before the war and when units deployed they were told they were going on exercise.

“We had no normal ammunition, no bulletproof vests or helmets. We had no food or water,” he said. “Honestly, we had to stock up” on food.

“I didn’t think I would quit, but it happened because of my wife’s difficult pregnancy, when I asked for a delay until she gave birth,” said a third soldier. “The response from the bosses was, ‘We don’t care about your problems, go ahead and quit.'”

Kaminsky lamented what he described as commanders’ callous disregard for the welfare of their troops.

“These people are ready for anything. They don’t care about a soldier’s life; what is more important is his position and rank,” Kaminsky said.

“‘I’d rather bury you on the front line, on the defense line, than give up my position,'” he said, describing the sentiments of his commanders. ” They do not care. You are only a soldier for them; you are nobody.

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