Nikita Chybrin says he still remembers how his fellow Russian soldiers fled after allegedly raping two Ukrainian women during their deployment northwest of Kyiv in March.
“I saw them running away, then I learned they were rapists. They raped a mother and daughter,” he said. Their commanders, Chybrin said, shrugged their shoulders when they learned of the rapes. Alleged rapists were beaten, he says, but never fully punished for their crimes.
“They’ve never been to jail. Just fired. Just like that: “Go!” They were simply fired from the war. It is.”
Chybrin is a former soldier from the Russian city of Yakutsk who says he served in the 64th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, the notorious Russian military unit accused of committing war crimes during their offensive in Bucha, Borodyanka and other towns and villages of north of Kyiv.
He deserted from the Russian army in September and fled to Europe via Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Troops from Chybrin’s brigade were declared war criminals by Ukraine’s defense ministry in April after mass graves containing dead civilians and dead bodies were found lying in the streets following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kyiv region.
Chybrin’s military documents, available to CNN, show that his commanding officer was Azatbek Omurbekov, an officer commanding the 64th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade. Omurbekov, known as “Butcher from Bucha” is under sanctions from the European Union and Great Britain. The US has sanctioned the entire brigade.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the mass killings, while repeating baseless claims that images of civilian bodies are fake.
In a move that sparked outrage around the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded the unit an honorary military rank and praised it for its “heroism” and “courageous actions”.
Chybrin said he saw none of the alleged heroism, but plenty of crime.
Speaking to CNN in a European country where he has sought asylum, he detailed some of the crimes he says he witnessed and heard stories about, and said he would be willing to testify against his department in an international criminal court. He claims that he himself has not committed any crimes.
“I didn’t see murders, but I saw rapists running away, being chased (by higher-ranking members of the unit) because they had committed rape,” he said.
He also said the unit had “direct orders to kill” anyone who shared information about the unit’s positions, whether military or civilian.
“If someone had a phone – we were allowed to shoot them,” he said. He argued that there was no doubt that some of the men in the 64th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade were capable of killing unarmed civilians.
“There are maniacs who like to kill a person. Such geeks appeared there,” he said.
Chybrin also described widespread looting, with Russian soldiers taking computers, jewelry, and anything else they liked.
“They didn’t hide it at all. Many of my unit, when we left Lipovka and Andreevka at the end of March, took cars, vehicles, took civilian cars and sold them in Belarus,” he said. “The mentality is that if you steal something, you’re good. If no one catches you, good! If you see something that’s expensive and you steal it and don’t get caught, you’re good.”
As for the squad commanders, he said they were well aware of the alleged rapes and murders and robberies, but they were not very interested in seeking justice.
“They reacted like, ‘Whatever. It happened. So what?’ There was really no reaction,” he said. “Discipline works [down the drain]no discipline.”
CNN reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on the allegations, but did not receive a response.
Chybrin has no doubt that Russia will eventually lose its war against Ukraine, but not until many more people are lost.
“Because Russia will not stop until great blood is shed, until all are dead.” Soldiers are cannon fodder for them. They don’t respect them,” he said.
Having seen the fighting firsthand, he said the equipment Russian soldiers have is no match for the weapons Ukraine has access to. He says that while Ukraine receives some of the most advanced weaponry available from its Western allies, the Russian military relies on Soviet-era equipment used during the 1980s war in Afghanistan.
“Of course Russia will lose. Because the whole world supports Ukraine. It is foolish to think that they (the Russians) will win,” he said. “They thought they would occupy Kyiv in three days. What day is it now? [of the war]? 260th? They thought they would come to Ukraine and be greeted with flowers. But they were told to get out and were pelted with Molotov cocktails.
The men in his unit were also extremely ill-prepared for combat, according to Chybrin. He said his unit’s training consisted of commanders giving them a gun, a target and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.
“Keep shooting and then you are free. Nobody was doing anything. There was no real training. I was working on a computer, in the office, I was working as a lawnmower…” he said.
The lack of training became apparent once in Ukraine. The same men who bragged about being “like Rambo” before they were shipped out came back broke, he said. “Those who said they would easily shoot Ukrainians when they return from the front line… they couldn’t even talk to me. They saw the war, they saw the defeat, they saw their own [fellow] killed fighters, saw corpses. They understood – but they could not escape.
He said many of the men were poorly trained and most had no idea where they were headed.
“It was a big lie. It was military training with the Belarusian army. And they lied to us. On February 24, they just said that everyone would go to war,” Chybrin said, adding that he initially refused to go.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Commander, fuck you, I don’t want to go to war,’ and he said, ‘Hey, you’re going to be in big trouble, you’re going to jail and your family is going to be in big trouble’ … and he attacked me and put me in a special car and closed the door. And I couldn’t open it [it] from the inside. So I went to Ukraine.”
Chybrin continued to spend months in Ukraine, at the time. When the 64th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade withdrew in late March from the area northwest of Kyiv after the failed offensive there, he and his unit returned to Belarus.
He said he suffered a back injury and went to a military hospital in Russia, but was forced to return to Ukraine in May. This time he was sent to the Kharkov region of eastern Ukraine, and then spent time in the forests around Izyum.
That’s when he finally found a chance to escape, he said. He noticed commanders of other units leaving the area for Russia in a truck and jumped.
“I’m jumping [the bed of the truck] and I see, wow, other guys are also leaving Ukraine. And they say we don’t want [fight the] war, we paid the commander money (to drive). And I wait and wait and then we are near the Russian border and the car is stopped and the guys jump and I jump too. I go to the Russian border and say I need medical help,” he said.
After returning to Russia, Chybrin said he spent nearly a month in hospital, most of which he was bedridden with excruciating back pain. But he said he could not get proper treatment. “They said that if I wanted to go to a special sanatorium, I had to sign a document that I would go back to war,” he said.
Refusing to sign, Chybrin said he was preparing to file to have his military contract revoked when the Russian government announced partial mobilization in September.
“And my friends told me I should hide. “You have to find a place and hide, your contract will not be terminated because of the mobilization,” he said. Knowing he needed to get as far as possible from the far eastern city of Khabarovsk where he was stationed, Chybrin first fled across Russia to St. Petersburg and then caught a train to Belarus. Once there, he was able to find an intermediary who helped him get to Kazakhstan, from where he eventually traveled to his current location.
Now he is determined to speak out about the events he witnessed in Ukraine, even writing an anti-war song. “Hundreds of souls, hundreds of bodies of lost people. Hundreds of childless mothers,” goes the chorus.