Russian defector says his former unit that was accused of war crimes were maniacs who enjoyed killing
The capture of Aleksandr outside Lyman, the eastern city of Kiev, as described by Sergei Yields, the spokesman of the Lyman patrol unit
But when Aleksandr was captured outside the eastern city of Lyman last week, he was thinly dressed, without the customary armband denoting his allegiance — usually red or white for Russia and blue or yellow for Ukraine. To keep him warm, the Ukrainian soldiers gave him a Russian parka they had lying around in their trench.
Two New York Times reporters went to watch the Ukrainian soldiers’ position near the front line and were told that Serhiy had recounted the capture of Aleksandr, who came out of the forest.
“You are at it for five days, people dying right next to me, praying to God, begging for water. You think that you can put down your weapon and nothing else will happen. And then the fight starts again 10 minutes later, and [the Ukrainians] keep coming after you. There is no feeling attached to it. Just wave after wave.
Lyman, a strategically important rail hub, sits on the northeastern bank of the Siversky Donets river amid a mesh of fields and forests. The Russians captured it in May, but over the weekend Ukraine’s forces retook the city as part of a stunning offensive that is pushing back Russia in the east. There could be an important foothold in future Ukrainian advances.
A battalion commander was racing the road with his men in pursuit of retreating Russian soldiers when he came across an abandoned Russian armored vehicle. There was a rifle, a grenade, helmets, and stuff inside. There were no men left.
“They dropped everything: personal care, helmets,” said the commander, who uses the code name Swat. I believe it was a special unit, but they were panicked. They were moving because of the rain and the road was bad.
A Ukrainian soldier in the Kherson province, whose wife was attacked by a Russian soldier in September 2003, but no help from Russia or Ukraine
Ukrainian soldiers are happy that they smashed the Russian lines in the northeast three weeks ago and that they regained some territory that they were taken by Russian troops earlier in the year. They have almost retaken the whole of Kharkiv Province, as well as territory in each of the four regions that President Vladimir V. Putin claims to have annexed for Russia.
There were cases of sexual and gender based violence against people ranging from 4 to 81 years old, said the United Nations. As of September, 43 criminal proceedings had been initiated, according to the UN.
In two weeks of work in the Kherson region, the team from Kyiv has documented six allegations of sexual assault. They say the real number is much higher.
“They walked around those rooms,” she says. “One stayed there, and the other one, who raped me, came in here. He came in, walked a little bit around the room and here in this place, he started groping me.”
He pinned her against the wardrobe, she says, and tore at her clothes. “I was crying, begging him to stop, but with no success,” she says. “The only thought I had was to stay alive.”
She recalled that he warned her not to tell anyone. “I didn’t tell my husband right away,” she says, in tears. My husband heard, but I told my cousin. He told him he should have told him the truth, but he didn’t.
She spent three days at home, in a daze, too ashamed to step outside. She says she confronted the Russian soldier’s commander.
“One man stayed at a position, he was really scared, it was his first assault. We were told to run forward. But the man hid under a tree and refused. This was reported to the command. He was taken 50 meters away from the base. He was digging his own grave and then was shot.”
Although the prosecutor, Kleshchenko, and police officer Oleksandr Svidro are looking specifically for evidence of sexual crimes, everywhere they go they are confronted with the horrors of occupation.
The village was not directly occupied by the Russians. Those gathered round shout that they’ve been abandoned for months, with no help from either Russia or Ukraine.
A man in the crowd tells the investigators that he was held by Russian soldiers and subjected to mock execution. Tales of torture are common here, but that isn’t the focus of their work today.
A short drive down roads pockmarked by shelling, in Tverdomedove, a mother and daughter tell Kleshchenko that they have not heard of any sexual crimes in their one-road hamlet.
She returned after the Ukrainian military liberated her village. Shelling had reduced her roof to its rafters.
The Kolesnyk Project: Women in the armed forces at the end of the Ukrainian War. What you need, what you don’t need
She says that she doesn’t know where to put it since the ceiling will fall on her head. “If it would fall and kill me that would be better, so I won’t suffer. I would like to see my son again.
Many of the allegations are difficult to prove; most do not have a suspect. For now, the team files its reports, and its investigators continue their work, hoping to be able to file charges in the future.
They are about to unpack Ukraine’s first ever military uniform for pregnant women, which they recently commissioned after a pregnant sniper got in touch.
The young couple, both TV journalists before the war started, are now fully devoted to their independent group, which procures vital items for women in the armed forces.
It became obvious that servicewomen needed more than uniforms. Smaller boots, lighter plates and hygiene products are in demand.
Body armor plates and helmets come from companies as far away as Sweden, Macedonia and Turkey. Winter items like sleeping bags and thermal clothing will be important for comfort as the winter sets in, but they are having a hard time procuring them.
Over 3000 women have been helped by the equipment that has been distributed, according to Kolesnyk. If they’re on the front-line shooting rockets they might as well do it “in minimum comfort,” he tells CNN.
We’re not doing this to compete with the government, but to help it. Their hub is filled with all the money they received from the grants and crowdfunding.
Alina Panina, a female border guard with a dog, served in the Ukrainian army during an all-female prisoner exchange
“For a man, it’s hard to understand that you can’t go there, and your sister is there. So, I’m trying to do my best here to help not only my family, but the whole army,” he says.
Twenty-one-year-old Roksolana, who gave only her first name for security reasons, walks in to pick up a uniform and other gear before heading out on her next assignment. She joined the army in March, and is now in an intelligence unit.
She says that having people who understand that we are tired of wearing clothes that are three sizes too big is valuable. “We had no helmets, we had old flak jackets, wore tracksuits and sneakers. Now we feel that we are humans.”
She giggles as she laces up her new boots with impeccable long fingernails. Before they hug goodbye, Drahanyuk hands Roksolana a copy of “The Choice,” the best-selling memoir by Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger. The aim is to help process trauma with this tool. Zemlyachki has also formed partnerships with military psychologists to whom women in combat can reach out.
Other women, such as 25-year-old Alina Panina, are receiving psychological support through the Ukrainian military. Panina, a border guard with a dog, was held for five months in a Russian prison after leaving the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.
She was finally released on October 17 as part of an all-female prisoner exchange with Russia and went into mandatory rehabilitation at a military hospital, under whose care she remains.
Panina, who was not prepared for captivity, says at a pizza bar that life has not prepared her for such an event.
Now her partner’s fate is up in the air. The border guard is still in captivity. “I know he is alive but don’t know in which prison he is,” Panina says sadly as she scrolls through pictures of him.
Vyacheslav Tarasov, 47, in Bakhmut, Ukraine – a Syrian refugee in the shelling campaign against the Russian army
The streets outside Vyacheslav Tarasov’s home on Ukraine’s eastern frontline are pocked by shell blasts. Most of the buildings are empty, windowless and cold.
The Russian army has intensified it’s campaign to take Bakhmut, and the shelling now comes just west of Kostiantynivka. Since the beginning of the month, the town has been hit almost every day, the hospital director says.
Tarasov, 48, was sheltering from the shelling in his basement where he now has to live. But last week he dared to venture out – to buy vegetables to make the national dish, borscht.
His face was pale as he talked about the images he had conjured up. I would have blown apart if I had not been wearing a leather jacket. My guts would have been all over the place. I lost a lot of blood. I remember seeing a big puddle.
He realised that he might not make it after the blast killed his friend and the shelling continued. He says he will tell you the truth. “I prayed to survive.”
When Tarasov got to the doctors, he begged them to save his limb. The first thing I asked was if it was possible to have my arm sewn back on. I saw that it was completely torn off and was just hanging in the sleeve. My stomach was burning, and it was burning in my stomach. I figured it must be the intestines coming out. There was blood everywhere.”
Medical staff at Kostiantynivka have been continuing their work through power failures and water shortages caused by repeated Russian attacks on the energy grid. generators had to be used for eight hours on a single day last week.
“She’s a resident of Bakhmut. She sustained a wounds to her abdomen with damage to her organs, as she came under fire. We see people with these wounds every day. Every day.
According to a surgeon stationed at the hospital, it has been loud recently. His colleague, nurse Lucia Marron, agrees. “I think there’s more movement around in general – more troops, more people,” she says. “We are used to the sound. You get to a point where you understand what is dangerous and what is not.”
Nikita Chibrin, a Russian Defector of the War Crimes in Kazakhstan, has escaped from the prisoner’s camp
“If I had a lot of money, I would rather live abroad,” Tarasov says. “But I have no money and everything I had saved up was invested there. I had no money and nowhere to go.”
Nikita Chibrin says that he remembers his fellow Russian soldiers running away when they were accused of raping two Ukrainian women.
I saw them run, but I found out they were rapists. They raped a mother and a daughter,” he said. Chibrin said that their commanders shrugged when they found out about the rapes. The alleged rapists were beaten, he says, but never fully punished for their crimes.
“And my friends told me I needed to hide. He said that the contract wouldn’t be canceled because of the Mobilization. Chibrin knew that he had to take a train to the far east of the country from where he was stationed. Once there he was able to find an intermediary who helped him get to Kazakhstan from where he ultimately traveled to his current location.
The 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade: Is there a regime of non-religious crimes against unarmed civilians?
In a move that sparked outrage across the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded the unit an honorary military title and praised it for its “heroism” and “bold actions.”
He described some of the crimes he said he witnessed in a European country where he requested asylum and said he’d be willing to testify against his unit in an international criminal court. He insists he didn’t commit any crimes.
He said that they could shoot someone if they had a phone. He claims there is little doubt some of the men in the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade were capable of killing unarmed civilians.
This was not hidden at all. A lot from my unit, when we left Lipovka and Andreevka in the end of March, they took cars, vehicles, they took civilian cars and sold them in Belarus,” he said. “The mentality is, if you steal something, you are good. You’ll be happy if nobody catches you. If you steal something that is expensive but don’t get arrested, then you are a good person.
As for the unit’s commanders, he said they were well aware of the alleged rapes and murders and of the looting, but took little interest in seeking justice.
“They reacted like: ‘Whatever. It happened. So what?’ He said there was no reaction. “Discipline goes [down the drain], there’s no discipline.”
Why Ukrainian soldiers go to war, and why they don’t give up: A memoir of a soldier’s experience in warfighting
Having seen the fighting first hand, he said the equipment Russian soldiers have is no match for the weapons to which Ukraine has access. He says that while Ukraine is receiving some of the most advanced weaponry available from its Western allies, the Russian army is relying on Soviet-era equipment used during the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Commander, f*** you, I don’t want to go to the war’ and he said, ‘Hey you, you will have big problems, you will go to jail and your family will have big problems’ … and he attacked me and put me in a special vehicle and closed the door. I couldn’t open it from the outside. So, that’s how I went to Ukraine.”
Men in his unit were also extremely ill-prepared for combat, according to Chibrin. He said that the training his unit received consisted of commanders giving them a weapon, a target and 5,000 bullets.
You are able to go if you keep shooting. No one was doing anything. There was no training at all. He said that he worked with a computer at the office and as a lawnmower.
“It was a big lie. It was a military training with the Belarusian army. They lied to us. On February 24 they just said everyone will go to war,” Chibrin said, adding that he initially refused to go.
He said he was suffering from a back injury and went to a military hospital in Russia, but was forced to go back to Ukraine in May. He spent time in the forest around Izyum after being sent to the Kharkiv region.
Other guys are also leaving Ukraine, and I jumped in the bed of the truck to see them. And they say we don’t want to [fight the] war, we paid the commander money (to drive). And I am waiting and waiting I am also jumping off, the guys are jumping off the car, which is stopped near the Russia border. And I go to the Russia border and I say I need the medical help,” he said.
Once back in Russia, Chibrin said he spent nearly a month in hospital, most of that being bedridden with terrible back pain. He said he wasn’t able to get proper treatment. He said that if he wanted to go to a special sanatorium, he needed to sign a paper saying he would go back to war.
Chibrin said he was going to get his military contract canceled by submitting paperwork when the Russian government announced a partial mobilize in September.
Denys, a dark Ukrainian man killed in Ukraine, is sad to see but afraid to see what has happened: a video call from the UK to Ukraine
He wants to speak up about the events he witnessed in Ukraine, even writing an anti-war song. Hundreds of souls, hundreds of bodies of lost people. A chorus talks about hundreds of mothers without children.
The associate lecturer at the School of Slavonic and East-European Studies at University College London is a special projects curator. She has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Birkbeck, University of London. She divides her time between the UK and Ukraine. The IWM project DocumentingUkraine supports her work. The views that are expressed in this commentary are not of hers. CNN has more opinion on it.
Long nights with the promise of a miracle: December is the month of fairy tales, when we peer into the darkness only to be reassured of the “happily ever after.”
When we used to joke that our life was a dark fairy tale, we were referring to it as a happy ending. And now it’s over,” says Ievheniia, a displaced Ukrainian woman in Poland who this December is nursing her two-month-old son – and raw grief for the child’s father.
Denys was killed in action on November 18, when he was fighting against Russian aggression. The 47-year-old man was killed in the east of the country at a place where some of the war’s heaviest fighting took place. Ukrainian forces have been holding the line there for months; soldiers waist-deep in mud amid trenches, bomb craters and charred trees.
This dark Ukrainian fairy tale has a number of key moments that take place via video link. This is what love looks like in a time of war, shifted to the digital space and disrupted mid-plot.
And so it was via a video call that Ievheniia, a 36-year-old PhD candidate working as an IT consultant, told me her story. She trusted a stranger to help raise awareness about the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers that have been killed in Russia’s invasion of their country.
In the streets of Warsaw, her temporary home, the festive season is well underway. “Christmas is coming. People don’t want to be reminded that someone somewhere is suffering,” Ievheniia said. “And yet, they must be aware that this fight is unfolding right next to them.”
After driving across the country under bombardment, Ievheniia finally arrived at an enlistment office. She was interviewed on a Friday and told to return the following Monday to sign a contract with the Armed Forces.
On the weekend, she decided to take a pregnancy test, just in case. “With war and evacuation, the ground was slipping under one’s feet,” she said with a laugh. “On top of that, it turned out that I was pregnant.”
There was a plot twist after the woman who planned to defend her homeland joined the flow of refugees looking for safety in Poland.
A fairy tale about Denys, Ievheniia and the death of a young man in the border zone of the Ukrainian Republic
During the war, Denys and Ievheniia attempted to prove their partnership to the state. The country at war was able to ingenuity at work, and now Ukrainian soldiers can marry via video call. “Instead of (by) boring civil servants, we got married remotely by a handsome man in a uniform. I had nothing to complain about,” Ievheniia said.
Denys kept the magic alive through the internet and ordered flower deliveries and professional photoshoots from the trenches.
Denys raised the alarm when he didn’t hear the phone ringing, and a rescue squad found Ievheniia unconscious in her flat. A delay could have resulted in death. A section of the Caesarean section followed. The father was able to meet his new son because he was born two months early.
Ukrainian men of fighting age can’t leave the country because of martial law. Yet as is appropriate for a fairy tale, Denys got permission, crossed the border, and spent five days with his family.
“It was a magical time filled with ordinary things: shopping, registering with a pediatrician, laughing, talking. He left after that. We sent him a greetings on his birthday. “The next day he was killed.”
The fate of two Ukrainians captured by a Russian army during a Ukrainian military assault in eastern Ukraine: “Consolatory fables” of Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino, the celebrated Italian journalist and editor of folktales, among other works, called them “consolatory fables” because it is that a rare fairy tale ends badly. The time to be consoled has not yet come if it does. Instead, it is time to act.
There is not a narrative logic to a fairy tale. The kid won’t use magic to defeat the monster. Like ten months ago, Ukrainians need military aid sufficient to bring a decisive victory over Russia, not just prolong the fight with enormous sacrifices. Ukrainian victory is dependent on the efforts of all of us.
“As a teenager, I was reading a lot of fantasy books and wondering how I would act in a fight against absolute evil. Would it be possible for me to continue with my daily life? Ievheniia explained to me. Today, all of us have the chance to find out.
Two former fighters of the Russian private military company Wagner have told CNN of their horrific experiences on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, and how anyone who faltered was immediately shot by their own commanders.
The two fighters were captured by Ukrainian forces late last year. CNN is not giving out their names because of their own safety. They were both recruited while in prison and are married with children. One person was sentenced to 20 years for manslaughter.
For security reasons, the Ukrainians kept a presence in the room where the interview took place. CNN told the fighters that they could end the interview at any time they wished. But they spoke in detail for more than an hour.
There were 90 of us. Sixty people died in the first assault. A few people were wounded in his first assault near the village of Bilohorivka. “If one group is unsuccessful, another is sent right away. If the second one is unsuccessful, they send another group.”
While fighting in eastern Ukraine, another fighter was involved in a five-day assault through a forest on the Luhansk-Donetsk border.
You can not help those who have been wounded. The Ukrainians were firing heavily on us, so even if their wounds were minor, you’ve got to keep going, otherwise you’re the one getting hit by the fire.
The prisoner said his self-preservation instinct had kicked in and other people froze. “Some stop right there in the forest and drop their weapons. But to drop your weapons is to come under sniper fire and die.”
The wounded were not evacuated, he said. If you get wounded, roll away on your own, if there is no fire, and if there is not a person around, you administer first aid to yourself.
The men said there were many Casualties piled up. “When the casualties arrive, you get orders to load them, and you don’t really think who’s dead and who’s wounded,” one of the fighters said.
They became numb to the deaths of the Ukrainian soldiers. “You’d think you’d feel something You just keep doing what you’ve been doing.
The other fighter reported that their commander told them if anyone got cold feet they’d have to be eliminated. And if we failed to eliminate him, we would be eliminated for failing to eliminate him.”
The two men talk about how they were recruited. In August and September of last year, the group’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, arrived by helicopter at the prisons where they were held, offering six-month contracts in exchange for being pardoned.
One of the fighters explained that most of the fighters came in for money because they had long sentences. Some people who had only a few days left in their sentence went anyway.
The selection process for older prisoners only required them to prove they could march, one of the prisoners said. They took most of the people.
We thought we’d be fighting Poles. They are Germans. We didn’t believe anyone was still in the army there. One said that they thought they had left the country.
Hundreds of prisoners were taken to a training ground in the Rostov region of Russia after Prigozhin’s visits, according to two men.
One said he didn’t mention anything about danger. “He talked about expunging all convictions, we would serve six months, all convictions would be expunged, an advance payment of 240,000 roubles (around $3,300) and also that our task was to hold the defense on the second line.”
The AFU is not going to give up its land: a sniper can’t tell us why we are at war (even if it is the wrong pretext)
The command ordered me to dig in to my position, so I did. The group of 10 was sent by the government and the sniper eliminated them all.
“I think it was the wrong choice… I’d never participated in any military operation, especially fighting against the AFU, which refuses to give up its land. They brought us here under the wrong pretext. And so we are at war, but I don’t think it’s a just cause,” said one.