Recent interviews of newly captured Russian prisoners of war tell of an army that not only imposes tough discipline and harsh conditions but is led by commanders who seem not overly concerned with keeping their troops alive.

In recent months Russian ground attacks have generally applied a tactic that launches groups of infantry traveling on board 5-15 armored vehicles towards Ukrainian defensive positions. Once close to the defenders, they dismount and dig in. Russian soldiers interviewed in recent days have said that retreat from these positions is forbidden. According to at least one account, soldiers that try to withdraw have been executed.

Unidentified Russsian soldier receives medical treatment following being wounded and captured in combat against Ukrainian troops. According to his account his unit was under Ukrainian FPV drone attack for hours. Location of the May 14 image published by the pro-Ukraine Telegram channel Russia No Context was not given.

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Ukraine’s tactic to counter this during Russia’s most recent large-scale Russian attacks in the north-eastern Kharkiv region, is to wait until Moscow’s troops start to dig in then counterattack in force knowing the attackers are not allowed to fall back. While relatively small-scale the tactic has recovered lost positions and delivered a few dozen new prisoners into Kyiv’s custody.

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Reports of one such engagement were confirmed on May 15.  Special forces operators from Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate (HUR) carried out a raid on buildings in the village of Hliboke, killing or wounding enemy defenders and taking prisoners. Channel 5 Television, along with other Ukrainian mainstream media, aired images of the fighting.

Other video published directly by the HUR shows its well-trained special forces teams clearing woodland and, at one point, taking Russian prisoners.

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Russian prisoner of war video interviews, published in open sources during the first two weeks of May and reviewed by Kyiv Post, painted a picture of Russian troops fighting with little motivation and limited support, but with few options but to stay on the front line until killed or wounded. They frequently told their captors that they had inadvertently wandered into Ukrainian lines after getting lost.

It was not possible to individually verify each video, however, collectively the accounts were consistent with previous Russian prisoner of war interviews conducted by Kyiv Post and other Ukrainian news agencies. In many cases the individual soldier’s account could be corroborated by other information sources.

Russian Private Viktor Strebkov, 48, in an interview published by the Ukrainian military journalist Yury Butusov on May 1, said he joined the Russian army because he was a convicted felon whose record would be cleared by military service and give him an excellent income.

Screen grab from an interview of Russian army POW Viktor Strebkov. A convicted felon, he joined the Russian army and participated in Ukraine’s invasion to clear is criminal record and save money.

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Strebkov said he had been assigned to a “Shturm” assault unit and deployed to the front. He told his interviewer that discipline in the unit was vicious, and he witnessed a man being executed for cowardice in front of his formed-up unit. Deployed to a forward position near Bohdanivka in the Donetsk region, his unit came under indirect fire where he was wounded, and four others killed. He claimed their corpses weren’t evacuated and four days later Russian artillery struck his position, gradually leveled its trenches, wounding him again after which Ukrainian soldiers then captured him.

Russian combat radio intercepts gathered by the HUR seemed to confirm Strebkov’s account of troops being increasingly unwilling to fight and commanders’ callousness towards their soldiers. An irate commander, in a recording published on May 14, is heard screaming into a microphone ordering foot-dragging soldiers to get moving in the direction of Ukrainian positions, and warning their leader that follow-up troops will fire on them if they fall back.

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Captured Russian soldiers, some wounded, are loaded on a Ukrainian army mini-bus prior to transport to the rear for processing. Interviews allegedly with some POWs testify to adequate treatment for Russian prisoners of war. Image published on May 16 by the Ukrainian military information channel Rozvidnik. https://t.me/rozvidnuk_1/5114

“Why doesn’t anyone care that they are mutinying before an attack? We have a barrier unit [with orders to fire on retreating soldiers] behind us, what they’re trying to do won’t work! Tell them to get moving forwards! I am the commander!... You ask the guys, what I am going to do to you! Because [vulgar] you guys won’t become [vulgar] traitors... [vulgar] you guys, don’t be stupid [vulgar]. You will die if you stop right now. I’ll direct the artillery on you personally!”

Front-line deployments that lack a clear mission and which end once Ukrainian forces assault was another common theme. Russian soldier Andrey Dagayev, 42, in a video published on May 14 by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry information director Anton Geraschenko, told interviewers he joined the army because he had been badly drunk when a recruiting team appeared in his village in the Belgorod Oblast. He said his seven-man unit had been assigned to guard a railway installation. When it came under fire, four of his companions were killed, and he became separated from the group. In the chaos that followed he got lost in the forest and after three days he walked into Ukrainian positions.

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Screen grab from an interview with Andrey Dagayev, allegedly a Russian soldier recently captured in Ukraine. He blamed chronic alcoholism for his decision to join the Russian army.

A May 16 video identified Andrei Yurgens, a private in the 138th Motor Rifle Brigade, which Kyiv Post confirmed had been present in the sector. He said he had been captured near the Kharkiv region town of Vovchansk following a Ukrainian counterattack and stated that Russian troops were suffering heavy losses in recent weeks, which Kyiv Post research has also established the presence of the 138th in that sector, and the fact of heavy Russian casualties in recent weeks there.

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A wounded Russian infantry section commander told an interviewer, in a video published by the Russian No Context Telegram channel on May 14, that his unit was driven to a defensive position, where they had no food or water, that came under repeated attacks by Ukrainian FPV drones. An explosion broke his arm and metal fragments sliced into exposed parts of his body. A drone killed his commander and follow-up drone overnight attacks killed others by dropping grenades, one of which hit his face and tore into his eye and yet another drone inflicted more injuries. By morning survivors among the Russian troops were surrounded by Ukrainian infantry advancing under the cover of artillery strikes. Eventually a drone led him to Ukrainian positions where he surrendered.

 

Another Russian soldier, Eduard Maranov, 21, from Kamykia, also told interviewers Ukrainian drones had become a deadly threat to Russian front line soldiers. Joining the Russian military because he needed money to pay off a substantial family debt, he was deployed to the southern Rabotyne sector. There in early May his unit received orders to advance into the ruined village and to plant a Russian flag in the center, so it could be photographed before May 9, a national patriotic holiday in Russia.

Private Eduard Maranov, 21, soldier formerly in Russia’s 70th Motor Rifle Regiment. In video published by a Ukrainian mil-blogger he said Russian army front-line supply is poor. He claimed his group got lost and walked into Ukrainian positions near the southern sector village Rabotyne by accident. Kyiv Post screen grab from a May 9 video published by the Ukrainian military journalist Andrij Tsaplienko.

He said they could hear Ukrainian drones from the moment his unit moved forward. After they captured a fortified building, they were ordered to advance further, but Maranov and his mates decided to retreat. He claims they got lost and walked into Ukrainian positions by accident. He said that the Russian army did not supply food to forward positions but, as a POW, food was regular and adequate.

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