Hundreds of Russian soldiers who refused to continue the war in Ukraine are being forcibly detained in basements and garages in occupied Lugansk, according to a new report released Thursday.
Citing soldiers’ families and human rights organisations, independent media outlet Verstka reports that at least 234 soldiers who have been deployed to various parts of Ukraine are being held in facilities in the town of Bryanka.
This is where family members of some of the men say a special center has been set up to care for those who choose to opt out of the war amid deteriorating morale and dwindling the number of soldiers.
Vasily, the father of a 23-year-old soldier identified only as Alexander, reportedly told Verstka about the bizarre series of events which, according to his account, led to his son being held captive by his own army.
He said Alexander called him on July 8 to tell him that he and several other soldiers had submitted a formal request to military leaders to leave the war. At that time, he says, Alexander told him he had been summoned to meet with a Russian general to “discuss” his decision.
The next time Alexander called him, several days later, he said he was holed up in a basement in Bryanka with other soldiers who had tried to quit, Vasily said.
On Wednesday, he was still in the basement.
Fatima Gorshenina, the mother of another 22-year-old soldier, said her son and other detainees with him were trapped in a basement without electricity, food or water.
And according to his account, the jail plan apparently involves Russia’s powerful Federal Security Service and the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military force accused of war crimes across Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa. .
She told Verstka that her son, Artyom, officially announced his desire to leave the war in April, along with at least 81 other soldiers from the same Russian military base in Abkhazia.
After “nothing was done”, Artyom and another soldier traveled from their base in Ukraine’s Kherson region to Crimea, where they turned to the local FSB for help. Finally, the FSB seemed ready to help, according to Gorshenina’s account, promising Artyom and several other soldiers from the same base that they would be taken back to Abkhazia so that they could submit their departure requests to the military command.
The next thing they knew, however, was that their plane had landed in Russia’s Rostov region, where the soldiers were split up and taken by helicopter to Bryanka, Gorshenina said.
They eventually ended up locked in basements, with Artyom reporting that they were in the custody of members of a private military group who called themselves “musicians” (a popular nickname for members of the Wagner band).
“When they took the guys to Bryanka, we called the military base, the squadron commanders, the base commanders. I asked what they were planning to do, why they weren’t getting the guys out of there,” Gorshenina said. “I was told that there was a new center for objectors there. They have discussions with them,” she said.
Although they were told that soldiers would be sent back to their base to terminate their contracts if they could not be convinced to continue their service after two weeks, “that did not happen”, Gorshenina said.
Instead, as she tried to find ways to save her son, she said, an unknown person appeared to be impersonating him in messages with her.
“I wrote him, as we call him back home, ‘Gnom, what’s your cat’s name?’ After that all messages stopped,” she said.
Thursday, his whereabouts were unknown.
At least 1,793 soldiers have openly refused to take part in the war so far, according to open source data. Amid reports of Russian commanders threatening troops with pursuit if they choose to give up the fight, Ukrainian intelligence has reported numerous instances in which Russian troops took desperate measures to try to escape, in some cases fleeing directly across the border and in others deliberately injuring themselves.
In one of the most absurd attempts to leave the war, according to Ukrainian security services, a Russian soldier told his father that he had “decided” to “break his leg on the stairs”.
When that didn’t work, his father advised him on the best way to break his arm.