In their zeal to carry out orders, Russian army officers sent their men to their deaths, writes the independent Russian press, which carries testimonies of some soldiers who fought in Ukraine. Another topic is the Russians in the diaspora who, allied with the extreme right in the West, organize demonstrations in support of the war in Ukraine.
ISTORIES: “On the very first day, in our sector alone, they brought a truck full of dead bodies”
The former commander of a search group tells how Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine, how many conscripts were sent to war and why he refused to continue fighting.
“Our mission was to survey the territory (on the border with Ukraine) as early as 2021, says Nicolai (the name has been changed). We were exploring the direction in which the actions were going to take place, we were watching how the border was organized, what and where it was, where and how many people were on guard. We were just told: go there, do this or that. We are not naive and we are well trained, so we sensed even then that it would probably be something very serious. There was nothing illegal about what we were doing. It is a regular exercise for the troops of a state to check the border with the neighboring countries: for example, our border is also surveyed with the help of drones. So did we. I mean, we weren't 100 percent convinced that an invasion was going to take place, it could just be intelligence gathering.
Then in 2022, at first there were some regular military drills. We went there (to the Ukrainian border) in February and we were deployed not far from the border. No one said anything to us, we just arrived, set up camp and waited. They took our phones. Soldiers post what they film on social media and that damages the image of the army. So, in this regard, there is an order to protect state secrets.
Usually we are just watched not to use our phones. This time (at the beginning of February at the border with Ukraine), however, they were very strict, the security staff were scanning all the territories where the troops were deployed. They have special programs, satellites, jammers - they can detect the exact location of anyone with a mobile phone, monitor their accounts, where and what they wrote. Then they took all the phones, so most of the soldiers didn't even know what was happening in the world. Political events were always followed in our unit, that's why we knew that the situation was escalating through the mass media, the social media, where slogans about the liberation of the Ukrainian people from the Nazis, etc. had appeared. I understood where we were going, but until the last moment I thought it would just be a show of strength. Nobody wanted a full-scale invasion. No one.
Later, they started to bring ammunition. In the army (in peacetime), each unit has an inventory of combat ammunition that is only accessed in the event of a war. In exercises, the real ammunition exists in documents, but it’s never really used. [...] But when they started bringing trucks full of real combat ammunition... Then I understood that it was no longer a joke. Battalion tactical groups were formed, with infantry, equipment, etc. and, on the night of February 24, we traveled to Ukraine. Just like the fascists, at 4 in the morning (we attacked Ukraine)”.
“Losses were very big”
“(During the invasion of Ukraine) I already felt hatred towards our people, towards commanders in particular. For the way they behaved, for how they were just throwing us into hell and for the very idea of this war. I participated in the stage held at the beginning of March, when the city of Izium was occupied and the armed forces were approaching Kharkiv. At this first stage, the offensive was going hard, but we were advancing. When we were just about to take over Kharkiv, and we were already trying to introduce the military units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (gendarmerie) and the equipment there, we were repelled. There they burned them all and the troops retreated. This is the part that I saw.
For inexperienced soldiers, for example the poor conscripts who were just thrown there, the first few days were a shock. Those originally from the regions near the Ukrainian border, for example, already knew they were on Ukrainian territory. The others were simply walking and did not know where they were going or why. That’s why we see those videos where the prisoners tell the Ukrainians that “we didn't know where we were going at all”. The conscripted soldiers were sent to war because in many units there is not enough personnel. As a rule, they are sent to exercises, abroad, being lured with money. They are lied to that they will have holidays, bonuses and such. What can an 18-19-year-old young man do, especially one from a poor region?
In the first days, the conscripts were very scared, they were simply in shock. When the shooting started, they froze, they were just stupefied. Another reaction was to fight to the end, it happens on a subconscious level, the soldier fights not for the country, but to survive. According to my data, over two thousand conscripted soldiers were sent to Ukraine on the first day. When (our subdivision) met them on the front, we would immediately organize their evacuation back to Russian territory. We knew that newly enlisted soldiers had no business there”.
At the beginning of the war, the Russian authorities denied that conscripts were used in combat. […]
“In the first days, losses were very big, Nicolai says. On television, however, they said that in the first days the aviation, anti-aircraft defense targets would be destroyed, that the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine would get on our side, that we would be greeted with flowers and so on. I mean, all these years, people have been misled into believing that they have been waiting for us to come, that we are loved, that we bring the light. And the command staff believes in all this ideology and the tsar believes that everyone loves him and is waiting for him. That's why the people in the Russian military leadership decided to impose themselves by force of arms, and only when they started being shot at did they understand that it doesn't work that way.For the first five days there was no proper air or artillery support. I mean, it was only the ground troops. Ukrainians are not stupid, the guys had eight years of war to prepare, they knew from which directions the Russian troops would come, because we had said for eight years that we would “defend Donbas”. Therefore, when we arrived, there were serious fortifications there, permanent casemates, camouflaged bunkers, all reinforced. They are very good fighters. Moreover, they know the terrain. In general, it was very difficult for us. From the very first day, only from our (operational) sector, a truckload of dead people were gathered. On the fourth day, only two of ten battalion tactical groups (BTGs) remained. That is, only 20-30% of the soldiers stayed alive. The others were either killed or beaten so hard that they were sent back to Russia”.
In the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were at least a thousand people in each BTG, another soldier who participated in the war explains. “Later - approximately 800, in April - 600, in May they sent the ones left, 30-100 people, to fill other units. By the time they arrived, the (destination) battalion no longer existed. Thus, only those 100 people remained in the unit. In a battalion there must be 350-450 people, depending on the type of troops. So, only 100 men are supposed to carry out the mission of an entire battalion. Accordingly, the missions cannot be completed and the losses are high. In the early days the lines were driven forward – “Fast forward!” – they were simply burned along the way. Had the BTGs been deployed in battle formations and attacked as we were instructed, casualties would have been minimal. But the idiots in charge decided to conquer on the fly and would just order “Faster! Faster!”, so the field commanders got disoriented, but they also didn't even dare to contradict their bosses”, the military man explains.
“People were simply cannon fodder”, Nicolai says. For example, they order a detachment of 30 people: “Go there”. They reply that “there are 300 people there, they will butcher us all”. “Yes, they will butcher you”. Here's how things are. Or, another example, an order comes from above: “This locality must be conquered. Send troops”. The incompetent military leadership, blindly executing without regard to the circumstances, reports: “Okay, we’ve sent troops”. There the troops are decimated, it doesn't matter if they survive, or if they manage to conquer anything or not. Bosses say, “It happens, let's try one more time”. I mean, everything is so bad that they prefer to sacrifice the soldiers, just to not upset the bosses... The fear of bosses scares people more than the fear of death, the fear that they will lose the respect of their comrades, or that they will be despised”.
“When I watch the news about the crimes of the Russian military in Ukraine, I am not surprised by what is happening. Because the contingent that the army mostly consists of is capable of such a thing. There is no proper selection of staff. Only in subunits like ours we get selected, and it’s very difficult to get here. For the rest, they don't care if you're limping, if you’re blind, perverted or a dimwit. The important thing is for the troops to be complete, the rest does not matter. That is why these incidents happen: robberies, murders, rapes.
Or here comes this army press secretary (Igor Konashenkov doing the war briefings) with all kinds of stories about chemical weapons and pigeons. He says we bomb factories, military depots, not shopping malls. What kind of depos are not visible in photos? They use old maps, printed on paper. Now, when one can see satellite photos on any app. They don't understand that in half a year you can build an enormous shopping center next to a factory. And they, the commanders, still believe that there was something with a military profile and they launch missiles. That is, the leadership does not know how to work with the map and properly coordinate troops and artillery fire.
“I see no point in us being there”
“Our subdivision understood where and why we went on the night of February 24, many are veterans of the 2014 actions in Ukraine, in Syria. But we did not want this war at all. Ukraine is not the country we have to fight with. Half the population has siblings there. I have friends, relatives, I keep in touch with some of them to this day. Indeed, now it’s more difficult to communicate. Our nation is now ostracized all over the world, and especially in Ukraine.
When we (we, the military) have seen how everything evolves: how our people are consciously used as cannon fodder with no chance of survival, when losses are high, help does not come from anywhere and the bosses do not care. All this sinister propaganda: “There are Nazis there, the people are oppressed”. When we got there and saw that the so-called Nazis are soldiers just like us. I understood that the idea and purpose of this war is false. It's not what we need, not me, not our people, not our country”.
The INSIDER: Who in Europe organizes actions to support Putin, what is the role of Rossotrudnicestvo and the neo-Nazis
Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin's supporters have staged dozens of pro-Russian actions in Europe. Visa sanctions for Russians are unlikely to be able to stop pro-Putin rallies and public actions: they are not organized by tourists, but by Russians who have long lived in Europe and hold EU residence visas and passports. Many of them have connections with Rossotrudnicestvo and its structures, and help in organizing such actions comes from local neo-Nazis. Protected by EU law, Russians abroad boast that they have created a “European underground” and sponsor the Russian military in Ukraine while avoiding sanctions.
The neo-Nazi’s friends
About two thousand protesters gathered in Cologne's central square on September 4. People wearing T-shirts with the inscription “Rossia” and carrying Russian flags protested in front of the Cologne cathedral. Many of them were holding placards calling for the lifting of sanctions, the commissioning of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, an end to Kyiv's arming and the resumption of relations with Moscow. A fundraiser was also organized in the square to support the separatists from the “republics of Donbass”, although the LPR and DPR, as early as 2014, were declared by the German Prosecutor General's Office as terrorist organizations.News about the rally was taken over by Russian and Belarusian propagandists.[...]The Russian press wrote that most of the protesters were German, but at the rally, Russian was heard louder than German. The announcements listed Elena Kolbasnikova and Maxim Shlund as organizers. They represent the Russian diaspora who have been living in Germany for more than 20 years. Kolbasnikova claims to work in the “medical field” and provides specialist help at home. Originally from Dnipro, she actively supports the Russian aggression. In an interview with the pro-Putinist YouTube channel Voice of Germany, she introduces Maxim as her husband. Both posed in 2019 for Moskovskii Komsomolets during the “Light the Candle” action, and both regularly organize pro-Russian actions. In April, Elena was fired from her job because of these actions [...]
Kolbasnikova is helped to organize such rallies by the leader of the far-right party Pro NRW, Markus Beisicht, who is best known for his intolerance towards refugees. In 2012, his supporters deliberately brought caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to a mosque to provoke the Muslims. The challenge then ended in clashes, in which 29 police officers were hurt.
Although Markus Beisicht does not identify as a neo-Nazi, his position is no secret, for example he offered to be the lawyer of the declared neo-Nazi Alex Reitz, known as “the Hitler of Cologne”, when he was tried for extremist actions. Beisicht himself published hateful articles against Jews, Muslims and sexual minorities.
It’s not the first time that the neo-Nazis help the Russian diaspora in Germany to organize protests. [...]
Rossotrudnicestvo’s little aides
Since its establishment, Rossotrudnicestvo has been engaged in propaganda influencing the Russian diaspora, and after the war it became an important part of the Kremlin's propaganda machine in justifying the war in Ukraine.
Dozens of video images about the invasion are posted on the organization's social media pages – all manipulative, fake, using disinformation and other propaganda tricks.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, dozens of pro-Russian actions have taken place in Europe. All of them have been media supported by the structures of the Russian Foreign Ministry and propagandists, even if some rallies had less than 10 participants. For example, the very small-scale action organized in Dublin was reported by all important Russian media: Rossiiskaia Gazeta, Izvestia, Pervii Kanal.
The rally in Haifa, attended by 30 people, was covered not only in the press, but was also taken over by the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. One of the participants in the action urged Russia to move towards Israel after Ukraine. [...]
On the eve of the day of the state flag of the Russian Federation, on August 20, in Limassol, dozens of Russians unfurled a 53-meter long tricolor, forming with it the letters Z and V, the symbols of the Russian “special operation”. They also carried placards reading “Russia, we are with you” and “We support Russia's actions”. Two days later, similar actions took place in Larnaca. Also, a patriotic car march was organized. Its initiators were Russians living in Cyprus, supported by The Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots and the Club of Young Russian Citizens of Cyprus [...]
In France, you can find Russians wearing shirts with the Z sign in the southwest of the country, in the brasseries of the Pyrenees Atlantiques department, which the local authorities don't seem to mind. Meetings of Russian-born take place there regularly under the auspices of pro-Russian communities such as Russophones des Pyrenees. [...]
Most of the Russophones des Pyrenees’ publications have a classified ad character, but among the new ads for plumbers or French teachers you can find posts by representatives of Rossotrudnicestvo and its structures about the “annihilation of Russian culture” or “the unprecedented intensification of Russophobia”. Also there, one can see posts about supporting the Russian “special operation”, clips about Rossotrudnicestvo actions in other French cities. For example, in Marseille, on March 19, an action in support of the war and against sanctions took place near the embassy of the Russian Federation. It was organized by the France-Russia-Soglasie association, known for its pro-Russian stand. From February to July, the group organized several actions.
In Germany, car marches in support of Russia have sparked a wave of disapproval. They were organized in several cities in April. The largest was held in Berlin, where 700 cars participated. The march took place immediately after the Bucha tragedy became known. At the time, many Putin supporters said the massacre in the Ukrainian city was a set up. Russophones in Bonn and Hanover also organized car marches. [...]
On social media, the actions organized by Rossotrudnicestvo are often presented as “actions of the locals”, and the Putinists’ position as the conviction of the European majority. “In the Italian city of Verona, residents came out to a rally in memory of Daria Dughina who died tragically”, an event is described on Telegram channels. However, this action was organized by the Verona-Russia Association and only the members of the organization participated, together with its president, Palmerino Zoccatelli. He knew Dughina and apparently shared her views, regularly justifying the Russian invasion in comments to the Russian press.