An this Wednesday it is six months since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of his “special operation” in Ukraine in a speech broadcast on state television early in the morning. Shortly before this date, Russian soldiers reported in independent – and therefore exiled – Russian media how they experienced the invasion of the neighboring country. They talk about a lack of equipment, malfunctioning technology, a lack of warm clothing and food, and chaos in logistics and chains of command. Above all, however, the confessions of the soldiers reveal their doubts about aggressive war, their insecurity, their fears – and how some of them have become war criminals themselves.
He tried to present what happened as honestly and credibly as possible and to reproduce the thoughts and feelings of the time when he experienced it all, “as if I were making a confession to myself,” writes Pavel Filatev. The 33-year-old paratrooper was one of the units that took over the city of Cherson in southern Ukraine from Crimea in the spring. He was taken to a military hospital in Crimea in April after his eyes got infected with dirt during the fighting around Mykolaiv.
By his own admission, a month and a half after returning from the front, Filateev began writing down his experiences. At the beginning of August, journalists from the exile medium “Vashnye Istorii” (“Important Stories”), which is banned in Russia, became aware of the 140-page text that Filatev uploaded to the Russian social network VKontakte. Given the furor the report and several video interviews Filateev has given since then, he has now left Russia – probably just in time.
Filatev had signed up as a contract soldier with the Russian armed forces in August 2021 after other career plans had collapsed due to the corona pandemic. It was a return for him: he joined the unit in which his father had served as a paratrooper and with which he was a soldier in Chechnya from 2007 to 2010. He found an army that seemed to be in far worse shape than he remembered from his early days in the service.
There were no uniforms and boots of the right size; the gun, which he was only assigned four months later, was rusty and jammed the first time it was fired. There were hardly any exercises and training courses, and a humiliating tone of voice from the superiors towards the soldiers was the order of the day. When the attack on Ukraine began on February 24, Filatev had no sleeping bag in the wintry temperatures; the brakes on the truck he was driving to Cherson didn’t work, which repeatedly led to critical situations.
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