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Angry families say Russian conscripts were thrown to the front unprepared


The husband of Irina Sokolova, a Russian soldier drafted to fight in Ukraine, called her from a forest there last month, sobbing, almost broken.

“They lie on TV,” he cried, referring to state TV propagandists who downplay Russian failures and portray a war for Russia’s survival against the United States and its allies.

Sokolova, 37, cried for him too, and for their nearly one-year-old baby, she said in a telephone interview from his home in Voronezh, western Russia.

Sokolova is among dozens of soldiers’ wives and other relatives who are expressing remarkably public – and risque – anger and fear at the terrible conditions new conscripts have faced on the front lines of Russia’s war in Ukraine. .

Relatives of the soldiers, mostly people who would normally stay out of politics, tempt the Kremlin’s wrath by posting videos online and in Russian independent media, and even talking to foreign journalists. They say mobilized soldiers were deployed into combat with little training, poor equipment and often without clear orders. Many are exhausted and confused, according to their families. Some wander lost in the woods for days. Others refuse to fight.

“Of course, he had no idea how terrible it would be there,” Sokolova told The Washington Post. “We watch our federal TV stations and they say everything is perfect.”

Relatives don’t usually criticize President Vladimir Putin or even the war, but their videos revealed the low morale of many conscripts, as Russia tries to recover from its recent losses by throwing 318,000 reinforcements into battle.

Yana, a transport worker from St. Petersburg, was a staunch pro-war patriot, until her partner was mobilized.

In a phone interview, Yana confirmed video testimonies from other military wives that the men had to buy their own warm uniforms and boots and had little training. In Ukraine, they received neither food nor water.

“They have no orders and they have no tasks,” she said. “I spoke to my husband yesterday and he said they had no idea what to do. They were just abandoned and they lost all trust, all faith in the authorities.

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In the videos, wives recite lists of grievances in shaky voices, like frightened villagers petitioning the Tsar in the days of the Russian Empire. Conscripts pose in body armor that barely covers their ribs, or film themselves in Ukrainian forests, listing their dead and complaining that their officers are nowhere to be found.

The details of the videos could not be independently verified, but they are consistent with accounts provided by family members in interviews with The Post, and with reports by independent Russian media, such as ASTRA, who last week revealed seven basement prisons for deserters in Luhansk.

Sokolova’s husband was drafted to fight in the 252nd Motorized Rifle Regiment on September 22. He told her that he had received no military training “and on September 26 he was already in Ukraine,” she said.

He called late last month, having barely survived a major battle when his unit was surrounded and many were killed. He and two others escaped without their backpacks and warm clothes, but got lost and ended up wandering in a forest.

“They were thrown into the fire, so to speak, on the very front line, but they are not military. They don’t know how to fight. They can’t do that,” Sokolova said, adding that her husband has pancreatitis. “I feel how awful it is for him there,” she said. “My heart is torn.”

Families of other men drafted to fight in the regiment said their loved ones were sent to the frontline near Svatove, a small town in the Luhansk region, on their first day in Ukraine and given a shovel between 30 men to dig trenches. Speaking in a joint video call first sent to independent Russian media Vyorstka, they said the commanders “got away”, leaving the men to face three days of heavy shelling.

Several dozen mobilized soldiers from the regiment marched about 100 miles to Milove on the Russian border and demanded to return to their base near Voronezh, according to their Nov. 3 video account.

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They were briefly taken to Valuyki in Russia, but their request was ignored. “We have written applications. We have written reports. We have done everything, but no one listens to us. Nobody wants to hear from us,” one soldier, Konstantin Voropayev, said in the video, in which he also asked for legal aid.

Sokolova’s husband called her in a panic the same day from Valuyki, saying he and others were being sent straight back to battle.

On October 28, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that the first problems with the equipment and training of the mobilized soldiers had been solved.

Military analyst Konrad Muzyka of Poland-based Rochan Consulting wrote in a recent analysis that despite the “abyssal morale” of conscripts, their sheer numbers could help Russia on the battlefield.

As the videos multiply, the Russian authorities seem to be losing patience. Mobilized soldier Alexander Leshkov faces up to 15 years in prison, his lawyer Henri Tsiskarishvili says after swearing at an officer in a video, shoving him and complaining about substandard body armor of the unit.

“It’s a desecration, an imitation of shooting, an imitation of exercises, an imitation of training,” Leshkov fumed.

Yana and her husband, who have a 4-year-old son, married 43 other couples just before the men were sent to war. The Post agreed not to use her full name to protect her from arrest and prosecution.

In the couple’s apartment, the TV was still on, playing the Kremlin line that Russia is fighting the United States, not Ukraine. “We don’t know anything else,” Yana said. “We’re so used to believing what we’re told.”

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But after her husband was conscripted, she gave up TV because it made her “aggressive”. She said she feared for her husband’s life, but said she did not blame Putin, “because he is a smart person”.

“We are absolutely confused, lost and we feel abandoned,” she said. “We cry from morning to night.

Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Kremlin’s propaganda was working — for now — with the video protests not directed against Putin, or even against the war.

“Putin wants people to share the responsibility for the war with him,” Kolesnikov said. “He wants their bodies and their lives to be sacrificed on the altar of the fight against NATO, the West and global evil. This strategy of glorifying cannon fodder and heroizing death is risky, in a more or less modernized society that was not ready to be physically involved in the trenches.

After repeated military setbacks and many casualties, support for the war dwindled. The Levada Center Independent Pollster reported Nov. 1 that 57% of Russians want peace talks while 36% want to keep fighting.

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Sokolova said relatives of mobilized men “realize what’s going on but people whose relatives weren’t mobilized see the world through rose-colored glasses. They have no idea what’s going on. and they are not interested.

Yana told her son that his father is a superhero, fighting evil. The fairy tale corresponds to Russian imperialist propaganda, but deep down it does not ring true. Deep down, Yana said she was terrified that her husband would never phone again and that her son would grow up without a father.

“I’m just an ordinary woman and I want to live in peace,” she said. “That’s all I want.”


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