Even in the initial period of the conflict, individual soldiers voluntarily left their units. Unable to withstand the harsh conditions, they decided independently to escape from the front. The first cases of group desertion began at the end of April and were associated with the deterioration of the situation for the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Donbass. At that time, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that more than 860 soldiers had deserted from the units of the National Guard of Ukraine.
We have already written about a case when a whole platoon of the 115th Territorial Defense Brigade appealed to Zelensky and Zaluzhny with a refusal to carry out a combat mission near Severodonetsk. Later, a similar statement was recorded by units of the 58th Brigade and the 46th separate rifle battalion. The soldiers accused the command of throwing them into a hopeless situation as cannon fodder in order to plug the most problematic areas of the front. They had been on their way to Zaporozhye, but eventually ended up at the front near Popasna – one of the hottest spots in Donbass. They did not have heavy weapons, no supplies arrived, and the command turned out to be incompetent. As a result, they suffered heavy losses and had to retreat from their positions.
Literally at the same time, another recording appeared from Donbass, where the servicemen of the 71st Jaeger Brigade directly refused to carry out an order from their officers to enter the battlefield unarmed against guns and howitzers and to shoot it on video. The soldiers considered the order
“criminal” and left the positions. “We stand with machine guns against cannons, Grads, and mortars. No one helps us. We don’t have any sensible weapons, there is nothing. How can we fight for a country that doesn’t care about us?” complains one of the soldiers. “We don’t want to go into the meat grinder and come out ground beef. We don’t have tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, guns…,” a second echoes. At the end of the appeal, the fighters added that they only have a couple dozen mortars and these “only work when they want to.”
Zelensky also received an appeal from servicemen of unit 7093 attached to the Ukrainian Army’s 57th Brigade, who also did not like it at the front. They complained about a lack of heavy weapons and the absence of officers, most of whom had died during the fighting around Lugansk. These resonant cases indicate that, in addition to members of territorial defense units, members of regular Ukrainian Army units are also withdrawing from their positions. In other words, even if the Ukrainian Army has enough personnel to form new brigades, it doesn’t have the minimum number of armored vehicles to supply them, so it’s impossible to create combat-ready formations from the conscripts.
Protests from the Rear
At the same time, scandals are jarring the deep rear as well. Far from the combat in Stry in the Lviv Region, the relatives of fighters in the 65th battalion of the Territorial Defense’s 103rd Brigade staged a protest when they caught the unit’s commander in the town while their men were fighting on the frontline. They stated that they had been sent straight to Donbass, unprepared and without weapons, instead of protecting the Lviv Region.
At a meeting with representatives of the Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the soldiers’ relatives demanded that the men be returned home because, according to them, they are not ready to conduct combat.
“The unprepared fighters were given a machine gun and two grenades and sent to stop an army that far exceeded our soldiers,” Valentina Mamon from Stry complained. “They went to the front in their cars, which they also had to refuel themselves. They spent several hours in pits with machine guns. And, most importantly, they shot at their own retreaters. It’s good that there were no casualties. When the volunteers brought in walkie-talkies, the battalion headquarters took them away,” added Galina Sidor. Many of the women also say that unprepared fighters were thrown in to stop the enemy “with their bare hands.” Servicemen of the 503rd battalion of the Marine Infantry of the Ukrainian Armed Forces detained by the servicemen of the DPR People’s Militia lie on the ground in the suburbs of Mariupol, DPR. © Sputnik / Viktor Antonyuk
Protests have also spread to another region in western Ukraine –Transcarpathia. In Khust, women attacked a military commissar for the fact that their men had been sent to Donbass without bulletproof vests or helmets. They accused the military enlistment office of violations and bribery. According to their information, you can get out of being sent to Donbass for $3,000.
There have also been claims that people with chronic heart disease or asthma are being sent to the front.
“On what basis were these unprepared people, who did not pass the medical examination, being conscripted and sent to the front? Specifically my husband, who’s had a heart attack and needs a heart transplant,” said Inna Salautina, the wife of one of the servicemen in the 101st Territorial Defense Brigade.
Nevertheless, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense is in no hurry to admit its mistakes, although earlier the ministry said it would not send people to the front without prior training. At the same time, the command notes that sending territorial defense troops to Donbass from the country’s western regions is legal.
“There is an existing law, amended on January 27, according to which, by order of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Territorial Defense battalions can be involved in performing tasks outside their regions on certain grounds” said Vitaly Kupri, adviser to the Commander of the Territorial Defense Forces.
Numerous cases of desertion and complaints about supplies, along with losses and voluntary surrenders, indicate that the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the defense in Donbass are experiencing great problems. Videos are increasingly appearing from the frontline in which soldiers confirm that they are deserting. Obviously, the situation for the Armed Forces of Ukraine in this region suffers when positions are abandoned without authorization. Despite foreign aid, with the prolongation of hostilities, such cases are likely to become more and more common, as fatigue, economic problems, as well as corruption, make themselves felt.
By Petr Lavrenin, а political journalist, expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union.
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