Since the start of its summer offensive, in early June, the Ukrainian military has been capturing 5 to 10 Russian service personnel a day in the Donbas and Zaporizhzhia sectors.

Most of them only surrendered once the AFU infantry had overrun their positions, a Kyiv Post survey found, after reviewing 31 AFU videos of POWs being captured, published between June 9 and 15.

The fact that a total of 70 or more Russian POWs were gathered-in over a single seven-day period closely, matches the rate of capture set in the early days of the war, when signs of weakening Russian army morale were substantial. 

A typical account of the circumstances leading to his capture were given in a June 15 interview by a soldier who had been assigned to front-line fortifications near the village of Novodarivka in the Zaporizhzhia sector, one of the first objectives of the ongoing Ukrainian offensive.

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He said he was a reservist serving with Russia’s regular 218th Regiment, which was deployed to the front line.

He had been taken prisoner after a Ukrainian assault killed or wounded most of the soldiers manning his fighting position. Russian artillery and tanks had not supported his unit during the fight, he claimed.

Another POW, in a June 13 interview with an AFU regular army unit, said that his defensive position had three tanks supporting it, but only two of the vehicles were actually crewed.

 

Danil Baranov, a Novosibirsk resident and member of a special operations unit said, in a June 14 video, that his unit’s position was under constant, accurate Ukrainian artillery fire for ten days, particularly at nighttime, after which AFU infantry surrounded his position.

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The Russian T-90 crew abandoned the tank, “a hi-tech weapon system based on a century-long experience” which Putin considers the Kremlin’s most advanced, and then fled the battlefield.

Most of the rest of his unit were dead or wounded and more were hit when the AFU launched its ground assault. When the Russians’ ammunition ran out there was no option but surrender, he said.

Another Russian soldier, who didn’t give his name, gave an interview to the SBU intelligence agency on June 12 which detailed one possible reason why Russian soldiers often stay in their positions despite punishing AFU bombardments and the ever-present, threat from grenade-carrying AFU drones: “We were told to dig in, we’re going to hold positions here.

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In case of retreat, we were told machine gun units were positioned behind us. I don’t know who they are but they shoot anyone who runs. In principle, that’s how I became a prisoner. There was no place to run.”

Yaroslav Yerovslav, a member of the assault group Shturm which was recruited from Russian prisons, said in a June 14 video: “Our unit is demoralized, the soldiers want to surrender, but the officers won’t allow it.  The commander says you will be shot for that. That’s why all the soldiers in our unit are drinking … this is all the result of the ambition of one person [the Russian President].”

Antaloy Basov, of the 503rd Motor Rifle Regiment, complained of having effectively been considered totally expendable by the Russian army chain of command. In a June 9 interview he said he was captured in the Tokmak sector: “We had a great many dead, a great many wounded, our commanders abandoned us, like cannon fodder. Dead and wounded aren’t evacuated … our commanders don’t answer the radio, bodies are just left to lie on the ground.” 

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Several other POWs reported poor morale in their units. 

Andrei Pazazhko, of the Kaskad regiment complained: “Our unit is afraid to fight. That’s because we’re getting smashed, we’re getting f*cked up every day. Our guys are drinking in their fighting positions.” Pazazhko claimed he knew two soldiers who were able to get themselves evacuated from the front line by shooting each other in the foot.

There was no conclusive evidence in the videos of physical abuse of Russian POWs by AFU personnel and a number stated candidly that Ukrainian treatment was good. Some POWs had visible injuries but most said the injuries were a result of combat. Some videos showed AFU medics treating Russian POWs while, at times, shells and mortars impacted the nearby area.

Ukrainian soldiers frequently seemed angry, addressing Russian POWs with epithets such as “invader”, “beast” and “orc”, as well as the vulgar expression п*дар, a term used almost universally across the AFU to describe Russian soldiers. In a June 14 video, one POW seemed obliged to declare Crimea a Ukrainian region, and in another, on June 13, two Russian soldiers shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” into a camera. It was not possible to determine whether or not they were compelled to make the declarations, which would be punishable under Russian speech control laws.

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Multiple videos showed that UAF troops taking Russians into captivity order them to remove their outer clothing and submit to a head-to-toe search, after which the POWs eyes are covered and hands tied with military tape. 

One AFU sergeant, recorded in a June 13 video cutting off a POW’s rope hand restraints because they were too tight and restricted circulation, brought his captive visibly to tears by demanding “Why the [vulgar term] are you here? Coming here, raising Hell? Why can’t you stay home and put your own country in order? You S*B, [vulgar term], coming into our country, why did you do that? … Don’t cry! OK, how are your hands, everything in order?”

Repeatedly, visibly frustrated AFU soldiers tore verbally into their Russian captives for invading Ukraine with the mission of killing Ukrainians. One Ukrainian soldier, likely from the south-east of the country, unloaded in colloquial, native Russian on a recently-captured, wounded soldier from the Russian Far East being prepped for transport in a June 14 video:

“You [vulgar term] whore! Instead of [vulgar term] being home with my wife and daughter, I’m here [vulgar term] around with you, you [vulgar term]!

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He continued: “The Russian Far East? You couldn’t just have stayed at home? You animal! You were mobilized? Don’t [vulgar term] lie to me, you knew exactly where you were going! You [vulgar term]. You’ve made the best possible choice. Don’t worry, no one’s going to hurt you. You understand? I’m a coal miner just like you! I’m [vulgar term] 27 years old, why the [vulgar term] should I have to be here, [vulgar term] running around after [vulgar term] like you? There’s no way to pardon guys like you, you have created so much misery and sorrow for people. “

The view that AFU captivity was preferable to fighting it out with the AFU was also a common theme in the videos.

“You guys got lucky, you п*дарасы, you will live,” one Ukrainian soldier said in a June 10 video.

NOTE: The AFU bans practically all independent media access to front-line locations and it was not possible to verify the videos’ authenticity. The content was published primarily on Telegram channels associated with the AFU leadership or individual AFU units. 

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 In several cases Kyiv Post was able to identify the capturing AFU unit or the precise location of the capture but has chosen not to publish them for security reasons. Some AFU units, publishing video capture content themselves, do identify their formation as responsible for the captures. These included the 73rd Special Operations Unit, the Azov Brigade, the 3rd Assault Brigade, the 35th Marine Brigade, and the SBU national intelligence agency.

Videos reviewed by Kyiv Post researchers were consistent with POW-related content previously evaluated by, or by POW interviews of Russian Federation (RF) soldiers conducted by Kyiv Post itself in the past. In almost all cases, an AFU soldier off-camera asked questions of one or more blindfolded POWs. 

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