It took just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed his mobilization as a resounding success on Friday for a flood of damning reports to emerge suggesting the military effort was more successful in turning the country against him than in winning it. over the mythical Nazis in Ukraine.
The most stunning contradiction to the Russian president’s boastful claims may have come in Kazan, where dozens of conscripted soldiers were captured on video late Friday berating the military leadership outside an assembly point for the newly mobilized.
The angry crowd complained of a lack of water, food and “rusty” 1970s-era rifles that one soldier said were too “dangerous” to even use, according to local media. Impressively, the troops were undeterred by a military officer who threatened to call in the riot police.
“What kind of riot police are you trying to scare us with? We’re going to call everyone we know right now and they’re going to come and beat up all of you and the riot police,” one protesting soldier yelled back.
The officer was forced to retreat as the crowd of rebel soldiers chanted “whoop,” the video shows.
By Saturday, local authorities said the problems cited by the troops had been “resolved,” according to Tatar-Inform. But outrage continued to rise elsewhere, including in Voronezh, where relatives of conscripts gathered outside the local prosecutor’s office to record a video appeal to the governor, pleading with him to save new troops from their own command.
“On the first day they put it [the draftees] on the front line [in Luhansk]. The command left the battlefield and fled, saying they would return soon and bring the things to the mobilized troops,” a family member said in a video shared by the independent publication Verstka.
Within 40 minutes of being dropped onto the battlefield, she said, the leadership failed to return, shelling began and “the fighting went on for three days.”
“They didn’t sleep, they didn’t eat, and for three days they held the line and didn’t run away, unlike the command,” she said.
“They tell us on the phone that our sons are alive and well and are even doing their military duty. How the hell are they alive and well when they’re all slaughtered over there?” the mother of another soldier said Verstka.
More than 500 soldiers in that battalion were subsequently killed after being abandoned by the command, according to one of the surviving soldiers who spoke to the publication.
Alexey Agafonov told Verstka that his battalion initially included 570 men, but only 29 made it out unharmed and another 12 were wounded after fierce fighting near Russian-occupied Makeyevka. The huge losses were confirmed by another surviving soldier, identified as Nikolai Voronin.
“There were many dead, they were lying everywhere… Their arms and legs were torn off,” Voronin said, adding that troops were ordered to dig trenches before the inferno broke loose and many ended up “almost digging their own graves.”
“When everything started, the police immediately ran away,” Agafonov said.
“On television, they show that everything is beautiful, but in reality here, in Luhansk region, they specifically throw mobilized troops to the front line, and when we left there, without seeing any officers, we returned and saw that on the third line it was only contract workers and volunteers, and the conscripts are on the front line,” he said
Putin, at a ceremony in Red Square on Friday, sought to paint a very different portrait of his mobilization efforts, boasting that thousands of men had chosen to join as volunteers, bringing the total to 318,000 new soldiers, 49,000 of who, according to him, were already “doing their duty” in military ranks.
“The number of volunteers is not decreasing,” he said in a comment quoted by RIA Novosti.
“This is a very large number of people [mobilized]. Families remained, mothers, fathers, children, wives… Of course, the state is doing everything to support them,” he said.
He went on to refer to the popular Russian slogan “we do not abandon our own”, claiming that the phrase “is not empty words” but “how everything happens in reality”.
The most damning rebuke of that claim came just hours later from a man identified by Ukrainian intelligence as a soldier with Russia’s 752nd Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment based in occupied Donetsk — who said troops there were literally being ordered to abandon their , so the government can avoid paying the promised payments to their families.
The confession came in what was described by Ukrainian authorities as an intercepted phone call between the Russian soldier and someone at home.
“They will not allow the 200 to be collected,” the alleged soldier said, using Russian military jargon for those killed in action. “No body, no case. Perhaps [they will think the person killed] is caught and they can withhold money from the relatives and not pay, dammit. Do you get the idea?”
Asked if he had personally seen the abandoned dead bodies, he said: “Of course.”
“Their shits are all over the place and we can’t pick them up,” he told his dumbfounded interlocutor, who incredulously asked if the military command only treated conscripts this way.
“It’s like that with everybody everywhere,” he said.