In late November, Telegram channels began circulating a video
in which two Russian servicemen were demonstratively detained in front of their fellow soldiers for allegedly refusing to be sent to fight in Ukraine. The incident is reported to have taken place at a military facility in the Belgorod region.
A post by the pro-war Telegram channel Zapiska Veterana claims
that the two servicemen verbally and then in writing refused to comply with an order to leave for combat. As a result, a criminal case was opened against them under harsh new laws
passed by Russian lawmakers in late September. Military personnel can now face jail time of 2 to 3 years for refusing to follow orders to fight. However, Russian courts have yet to sentence anyone under the new laws.
The civil rights lawyer Maxim Grebenyuk wrote on Telegram that the incident in Belgorod represents the first criminal cases
since the start of the war in Ukraine against soldiers.
“There is no need to detain a soldier who is on the territory of a military facility. It’s strictly for the edification of others,” writes Grebenyuk, adding that if the video shows mobilized soldiers who have not signed a service contract, then “most likely, the case will fall apart.” The exact service status of the two soldiers is not clear from the video. Only their surnames are heard in the audio.
reports that it was able to get in contact
with the wife of one of the refuseniks, Tatyana Degtyareva, and speak with her. According to the story, Degtyareva said her husband, Yuri, refused to go “to the frontline,” from where he had “just returned.” She claims that her husband was detained on November 17 and is now in Voronezh awaiting trial.
Degtyareva told journalists that her husband was mobilized on September 22 and had no prior combat experience. After receiving a draft summons, he was taken to the Voronezh region, where he stayed for about two weeks, though Degtyareva notes that her husband did not receive any training during this time. One evening her husband and the soldiers he was serving with were sent to the Lugansk region, where they came under heavy fire. Afterwards, the soldiers left the area. As a result, they were assigned to a unit in the Belgorod region. According to Degtyareva, military commanders in Belgorod tried to “return [the soldiers] to the front line by pressure and intimidation,” but the men refused.
Meanwhile, independent journalists from ASTRA
report that around 300 mobilized Russian soldiers are being held in a basement
in the village of Zaitsevo in the Lugansk region for refusing to return to the frontline. Relatives told journalists that the refuseniks are constantly threatened and fed one dry ration between five to six people once each day. ASTRA
was able to confirm the full name of only 42 people held in the basement of Zaitsevo. Relatives of the refuseniks traveled to Zaitsevo in search of the basement where the men are being held, but they were turned around at a military checkpoint after being told that a pass was needed to enter the village.
Media outlets in the Chelyabinsk region report that relatives of some mobilized men who have refused to fight have not had contact
with them for weeks. According to the relatives, a group of mobilized men from Chelyabinsk were sent almost immediately into combat in early October, without training and without their commanders. After several of the soldiers were killed in heavy combat, a group of mobilized men requested to be withdrawn from the frontline. Their commander treated the request as an act of treason. The soldiers’ weapons, as well as their military cards (voyennyye bilety
), were subsequently taken away from them, and they were sent to the commandant's office to talk with a colonel.
“Our husbands were sitting, digging trenches, and then they started coming under attack. When people began to die and the wounded were taken away, they retreated. And now they’re being told that this is desertion, that they’re not fighting and they refuse to go into battle,” the wife of one of the refuseniks told 74.RU
For two weeks nothing was known about the men. When the husband of one woman finally got in touch with her, he said that he along with other soldiers were being held in military police custody in a small barn and without food. As the soldier told his wife, his superiors insisted that the men who refused to fight go back to the frontline, otherwise their actions would be regarded as “non-execution of an order,” the punishment for which is 2 to 3 years in prison.BBC News Russian
reported similar cases
of soldiers from Primorsky krai. In mid-October, soldiers from the region who had just left the frontline in Ukraine began refusing to further take part in combat. Most of the men cited poor command and a lack of training as reasons, but others expressed anti-war convictions. The men were detained for their refusal to fight and still remain in detention, according to the BBC report.
Journalists from the BBC also note that there are no Russian courts in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Therefore, complaints made by mobilized troops, as well as the claims of their commanders against them, should technically be considered by courts at the location where they were mobilized – in this case, in Primorsky krai.
Back in the spring, journalists at Kavkaz.Realii
reported how soldiers from the North Caucasus regions refused to fight in Ukraine
, many of whom returned home. This included 115 employees of the Russian National Guard from Kabardino-Balkaria and 50 contract soldiers from Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia. Likewise, around 300 soldiers stationed at Russian military bases in South Ossetia – Georgian territory which has been under Russian occupation since the 2008 Russo-Georgian War – were able to escape punishment for their unauthorized return from Ukraine. However, these cases occurred before the new criminal laws for desertion were passed by the Duma in late September.
Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team.