Russian independent media: some troops refused to go to war in Ukraine

A general view of the damaged shopping center that was targeted by a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, 21 March 2022.
© EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO   |   A general view of the damaged shopping center that was targeted by a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, 21 March 2022.

Subject to a virtual ban in Russia, where journalists risk serving prison time if they write about the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Russian independent media continues to write about the conflict and its effects. This week, Veridica has selected articles about journalist Oksana Baulina, killed in Kyiv during a shelling of the Russian army, about the refusal of Russian soldiers to fight in Ukraine and about the Kremlin-linked billionaires’ waning power.

“She chose to walk the honest and dangerous path, trading the high-heel shoes of her previous life to the bulletproof vest”

THE INSIDER writes about journalist Oksana Baulina, who was killed during the attack on Kyiv on March 23. She was reporting on the destruction caused by Russian troops in the Podolskyi district when she was caught in the artillery fire. For many years, Oksana worked at Glamour, but she subsequently made a radical career change, opting to fight for justice and the future of Russia.

Kirill Kutalov, Oksana’s ex-husband: […] “To her, an important milestone was October 7, 2006, the day journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated. During the 2010 wildfires in Russia, as heavy smoke blanketed urban areas, she volunteered to go to Vladimir Oblast. […] At every protest action she would slip among the biggest and most dangerous crowd of protesters, while I was left behind, thinking she might die in the stampede. […]

In March 2017, while reporting live from a rally, she was detained at her workplace, put on trial and arrested. She was put on trial the very day she was detained and kept under arrest. I prepared a package for her, and when I showed the list to the pharmacist at the drugstore, she immediately said: “everything’s clear, don’t say another word”. On April 2, when she was released, it was the best moment of her career in front of the camera – that was what freedom looked like. “Prisons collapse while freedom greets us with arms wide open”.


Ekaterina Antipova, Oksana’s friend and sister-in-law: “It wasn’t work that bound us together, but the values we shared. She would tell me stories about politics, journalism, about Navalny. We would go to rallies together. We were very close. She was a principled, yet very private person, very focused on what she was doing. Oksana always had a plan. She was driven. She remained loyal to her principles, a hard-to-find quality. She stood firm. Prior to the war, this might all seem far-fetched. But now, it is clear these are necessary and important qualities”.


Ruslan Abliakimov, journalist: “No matter how much we volunteer in refugee camps, no matter how many times we read news on the ticker about the war in Ukraine, it is only when someone close to us dies that we truly understand just how close we are to this tragedy.” […]

“Incredibly brave, but never reckless”

NOVAYA GAZETA writes about Oksana Baulina’s work

“She started out as a journalist writing for fashion magazines. As editor-in-chief at Glamour magazine, Oksana wrote about feminism, women’s rights and self-fulfillment. Then she made a radical choice, to put the world of fashion aside and switch to political journalism. At first, she was an editor working for “Open Russia”. Then, in 2017, she joined Navalny’s team as video producer.


Oksana left the Anti-Corruption Foundation in 2020, when Russian authorities designated FBK an extremist organization, and its employees risked prosecution. Baulina was forced to leave Russia, moving to Poland.

She also contributed to Radio Svoboda and Mediazona, and three months back she started working for The Insider as well, where before the “special military operation”, she wrote about artists who took a stand against military actions in Ukraine, about acts of violence, about immigration and the future of Russia. She went to Ukraine in early March and managed to write a few reports.


On Sunday and last night, the Ukrainian anti-air defenses were activated, the sky was beaming with thundering explosions. They are targeting missiles fired on Kyiv, but they don’t manage to bring down every single one. On Sunday, during the day, a missile managed to get through and fragments landed in the courtyard of a house, breaking all windows. The crater was huge. At night, the shopping center (the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the destruction of this objective, which it described as a rocket ammo warehouse, e.n.) in the Podolskyi district was bombed”, Oksana recounted in her last report.

On March 22, the journalist went to the Podolskyi district in In Kyiv, to film the bombings, but was caught in artillery fire […]


MEDUZA writes that 12 OMON (a Russian special police unit) fighters refused to follow a direct order to go and fight in Ukraine. For this reason, they were dismissed.

On March 24, Pavel Chikov, the head of the international human rights group “Agora”, announced that 12 OMON fighters with the Rosgvardiya detachment in Krasnodar, who were carrying out drills in Crimea, refused to carry out the direct order of their superior to go and fight in the war in Ukraine. After this incident, they were dismissed, but appealed the decision, calling to be reinstated. MEDUZA also talked to their lawyer, Mikhail Benyash about the investigation and its outcome.

“On February 24, my clients were about to be deployed to Ukrainian territory, but they refused to leave the territory of Crimea. On March 1, the order came to terminate their employment contract due to their failure to carry out the order. They decided to pursue their rehabilitation in court. In fact, many others are being laid off, but so far only 12 people have contacted us”.

Is there any legal ground for their reinstatement? Was it mandatory that they participated in the “special operation”?

“If there was an armed conflict, a state of emergency or martial law, the terms of their contract could have been changed without their consent. But there is no conflict or war on the ground, merely a “special operation”. The law stipulates nothing in this respect. So you can go only if you agree. The authorities don’t refer to these actions as an armed conflict. You get whatever you opt for. Therefore, it is necessary that each gives his consent before they go, and there’s no need to make threats. However, if there is an armed conflict unfolding, two questions arise: who started it? Oops. And no one wants to answer that question, because actions require a different protocol, unlike soldiers (who are sent against their will). Therefore, these actions will never be recognized as an armed conflict.

If your clients succeed in getting reinstated, is it possible this might set a precedent, thus prompting a massive number of military to refuse to take part in the “special operation?”

They are already refusing in large numbers. It’s just they thought it to be illegal before. But now, they know they have the legal grounds to say no.

Are there any administrative resources being used to prevent people from refusing?

In our case, publicity scared them off. In the case of other fighters, however, from other cities, there is some pressure from local administrations. They are afraid to “betray the fatherland”. But this is a game. They just mean to intimidate you.

Can you estimate the number of people who refuse?

We get reports from all over the country, from Siberia to North Caucasus. […]

How many applications do you get?

Approximately two hundred. Usually, one person contacts us on behalf of a larger group. They ask if they can be reinstated at their workplace. And I tell them: from a legal point of view, they have no choice. From the point of view of what is happening in Russia…we’ll see.

How do Rosgvardiya fighters motivate their refusal to take part in the “special operation”?

It’s all very simple. People don’t want to kill and be killed. This was not the deal they signed up for. Moreover, OMON serves a different purpose. They don’t know how to operate “ground-to-air” missile systems, they don’t use tanks. How are they supposed to fight a regular army? With what, batons and shields? […] I want other fighters to know that refusing to kill people is not a crime. It is not shameful, but something normal.” […]

“The inner circle will scatter gradually”

A high-profile Forbes-listed Russian magnate spoke to ISTORIES under protection of anonymity, describing the consequences of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, the fate of the big business and Vladimir Putin’s entourage.

About weak negotiators

“The decision to invade Ukraine doesn’t make any sense, it lacks any justification for us, ordinary people. The authorities that are now in power live by a different set of rules, it’s impossible to know what is going on in their minds. At the same time, the president believes he cares about the future of the country and feels an enormous responsibility when he asks himself: “If not me, then who?”

The goals and the means to achieve them have no justification. The most serious issue is that all the events are truly understood and analyzed in the process of irreversible actions. The president had no idea about the real situation, neither military nor economic. The special services briefed him before taking decisions, but the decisions themselves turned out to be bad. A poor analysis has led to an inaccurate assessment of the situation and a faulty line of action.

Any war is indicative of weak negotiation positions. All the Russian officials who were involved in the negotiation process have proved their utter incompetence. Russia doesn’t have negotiators, and has big issues with the practice of negotiations. In November, the authorities issued an ultimatum, and not three months later, they sent troops into the neighboring country. That is, they opted for the simple scenario – they offered terms and started a conflict. Unfortunately, our actions boil down to this comparison: a blow to the liver does more than a year of courtship.

Later on, it turned out of economy is full of holes, that there was no one capable of drawing the balance sheets. The Prime Minister goes on record to say things are going well, that we have prepared for any scenario. But it’s not true. There was no analysis of the consequences the war would have for our economy.

About billionaires leaving Russia

The time of Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska, Alisher Usmanov and other billionaires has passed. […] Russian billionaires who were sanctioned are left only with their pensions, because once they are no longer allowed to manage their assets, the authorities don’t want to have anything to do with them. Moreover, we should not expect from them any actions in terms of changing the social and political framework. Russian billionaires cannot even protect themselves. They tried to escape: they hired lobbyists, PR experts, lawyers, but none of it helped. Sitting on huge amounts of cash, top Russian entrepreneurs were unable to generate a positive agenda. Could they have thought to somehow influence the political context in Russia to ensure a calm and predictable future for themselves? It’s naïve to even ask – hardly anyone thinks in those terms. They simply moved their families to the West and considered it a reliable guarantee”. […]

Mariana Vasilache

Mariana Vasilache

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