As Russia’s 21-month war in Ukraine drags on, reports are appearing that the numbers of its mobilized soldiers seeking to desert are surging.
On Tuesday the Moscow Times quoted the Georgian-based group Idite Lesom that aids troops attempting to leave Putin’s army, saying it had experienced an 89 percent increase in requests for assistance over the past few months.
The group’s name translates literally from Russian to “go through the forest,” although among troops it is more often used as a curse roughly equivalent to “get lost” or even “go f*** yourself.”
Grigory Sverdlin, founder and leader of the group said that between June and August it had received 305 requests for help but between September and November this number had almost doubled.
He told the news outlet that most requests had come from those who had been wounded, treated in hospital but then made to return to the front line.
Sergei Krivenko, director of the human rights group “Grazhdanin. Armiya. Pravo.” (“Citizen. Army. Law.”) echoed this view saying: “A year has passed since the beginning of mobilization. If some people still had hopes that they could go home after a certain period of service, there are no such illusions now.
He noted that “servicemen see that there is no rotation, that even seriously wounded men are being sent back to the front after being hospitalized.”
The Ukrainian equivalent of Idite Lesom, the government sponsored Khochu Zhyt (I Want to Live), also indicated that it has seen an increasing number of Russian troops trying to get out.
A spokesman for the project, Vitaly Matvienko, told the Meduza web-site in September that in the year Khochu Zhyt has been working, it was launched to coincide with Putin’s 2022 mobilization announcement, the project has received over 22,000 applications from Russians wishing to voluntary surrender to Ukraine.
He was unwilling to confirm how many of those requests had become actual desertions for security reasons. He also said that, to protect the individual from any Russian reprisals, those voluntarily surrendering were registered as being “captured in action” along with all other prisoners of war.
In August, Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s intelligence directorate (HUR), told the Ukrainian УНІАН news agency that one in five POWs captured by Kyiv surrender voluntarily.
“Every day, three to five Russian servicemen surrender under the ‘I Want to Live’ program,” he said.
In September Yusov said that there had been an almost 70 percent increase in the numbers seeking to desert following the Aug. 23 defection by Russian pilot Maxim Kuzminov, who flew his Mi-8 armored combat helicopter to a Ukrainian airfield in an operation engineered by the HUR called “Sinitsa.”
Quoting the Russian online publication Mediazona, the New Voice of Ukraine news outlet said on Nov. 24 that since the start of the September 2022 mobilization in Russia, more than 4,000 criminal prosecutions for desertion had been brought before Russian courts.
Recent reports have indicated that it is not just the troops on the front line who have had enough. Their families are beginning to protest, forming a Telegram group with 30,000 members to organize demonstrations, petitions and letters to the Russian president demanding the return of those who have been fighting for more than a year without relief.
Now, with the public support of their families – in addition to a harsh winter setting in and battles such as that in Avdiivka turning into another meat-grinder slog – it is likely that the numbers of Russian troops seeking a way out will increase in the coming weeks and months.
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