On New Year’s Day, when no fewer than four HIMARS missiles landed on a school building in eastern Ukraine housing hundreds of newly recruited Russian soldiers, another group of newly mobilized young men stationed nearby who were called upon to help with the harrowing mission . holes. Among the ruins and ruins.
A Russian soldier told CBC News that he and other members of his group were ordered to search for the seriously wounded and dead, but sometimes they only found body parts.
“There are more than 100 dead,” he said in a message to CBC News.
I can’t even describe to you what I saw.
The soldier, who CBC News agreed to remain anonymous for his personal safety, first spoke to Russian online news site Verstka about what he believed was a Russian attempt to cover up the death toll in the attack on Makievka, Ukraine.
Russian officials say 89 were killed, including the regiment’s deputy commander. Ukraine said it believed the real number was likely to be 400.
“It’s not just war here,” said the young man. But the information war. »
The deadly attack comes as Russia winds down its war in Ukraine for nearly a year and has announced plans to bolster its military by adding hundreds of thousands of troops.
Although the timing of this decision is unclear, Russian officials have indicated that the country will soon raise the maximum age for conscription. And they insist Russia is not about to embark on another round of unpopular mobilization, though Ukrainian officials believe an announcement could come any day.
The soldier, stationed near Makeyevka, sent letters to CBC News over the course of a week expressing his confusion, nervousness and mistrust of his commanders, whom he accused of often being drunk.
He said that they often demanded money from soldiers, saying it was needed for important equipment.
The soldier said he had only spent six weeks in Ukraine and was recruited from his home in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, more than 1,200km east of Moscow. In order to help verify his story, he shared a copy of his identification documents and draft papers.
He says he regrets not heading immediately to the border like the hundreds of thousands of other Russian men who have poured into Georgia, Finland Kazakhstan will try to escape conscription.
The soldier does not have an international passport and has a wife and young daughter at home.
At the beginning of the conversation, the soldier appeared defiant and explained how he would be sent to prison instead of the front. After a few days, however, his tone was more resigned, and he spoke of the possible consequences of desertion.
“Not many of us want to fight, myself included, but we just don’t know what to do,” he wrote.
“There is no way out.”
cell phone signals
On January 4, when the Russian Lieutenant-General. This was announced by Sergei Severyukov 89 soldiers He was killed in the missile attack, blaming the soldiers themselves for inadvertently revealing their location using their mobile phones, which Severyukov said were off limits.
The soldier called the accusation “nonsense”, saying that his peers and commanders use their SIM phones to call home. Although they were told not to use it, they understood because they didn’t want to take pictures or post videos complaining about the conditions.
hour | Russia blames cellphones for deadly attack:
In recent months, videos have been posted on social media platforms of newly recruited soldiers showing their inadequate equipment and lack of training.
After weeks of controversy over the country’s “partial mobilization” campaign, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on October 28 that 300,000 conscripts had been completed.
But there was never an official decree, and some say the men still received drafts ordering them to go to the draft office.
Boris Bondarev, a former diplomat who resigned from his post at the Russian mission to the United Nations in Geneva last May in protest of what he described as a “war of aggression” against Russia, said, “mobilization is still going on.”
In an online statement released after his resignation, Bondarev called the war “not only a crime against the Ukrainian people, but the most serious crime against the Russian people”.
He denied any speculation before Ukrainian officials who said they believed the Russian government would begin recalling the men en masse from mid-January. He says he doesn’t think the government needs to announce a new round of mobilization because the MoD can only continue to recruit people “on a daily basis”, including The poorest hinterland of Russia.
“Russia has a huge advantage over Ukraine and over the West,” Bondarev told CBC in an interview from Geneva.
Russian officials do not count losses … they do not think about losses. »
The last time Russia’s defense minister publicly acknowledged the number of soldiers killed in Ukraine was early last fall, when he said it was about 6,000 killed.
Ukraine and Western officials believe that this estimate is less dramatic.
Bondarev says the Kremlin believes it can afford any loss of life because it has described the war as an “existential” battle. He says his 75-year-old father, whom he disowned for his anti-war stance, staunchly supports what Russia still calls its “military operation”.
Bondarev said that his father went to the draft office in the fall because he wanted to sign up to fight in Ukraine, but was refused because of his age.
Raising the age of conscription
The head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee said this week that the country may raise the maximum age for conscription from 27 to 30 ahead of this year’s spring draft. He added that there are also plans to raise the minimum age from 18 to 21, but this change may not happen for three years.
Ekaterina Shulman, a Russian political scientist who is currently a fellow at the Berlin-based Robert Bosch Academy, says she believes there will be increased pressure on conscripts to sign military contracts and form the force that will be sent to Ukraine.
She says that this “disguise form of mobilization” would be the most likely way for the army to replace ongoing losses and continue to send men to the front.
Shulman says she believes the Russian government will do everything it can to avoid what happened in the fall when hundreds of thousands of men fled Russia to escape the military draft, and that there has been what she calls “a spike in anxiety levels” across the United States. country.
Back in eastern Ukraine, the soldier who spoke to CBC News said he and his group were awaiting orders to be sent to the front lines.
When he heard the bombing, he said he was trying to run and hide. He said he wants to raise his daughter and lead a normal life instead of a “rotten” one for some unclear reason.
“At the moment I feel like a living corpse,” he said. I don’t have feelings. ”