This soldier fought for Russia. Now he flees after being criticized for what he saw in Ukraine | TBEN News

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As Russian tanks rolled over the frost-covered roads through Crimea in the early hours of February 24, Pavel Filatyev, a Russian paratrooper, was part of a unit he described in his journal as armed with “patriotism” rather than ” good workout”. , support and modern technology.”

Even as columns of military equipment entered Ukraine’s Kherson oblast, Filatyev told TBEN News that he and his fellow troops were unaware that Russia was invading Ukraine. Instead, a regimental commander had urged them a few days earlier to “stop spreading gossip,” he said, saying they would be on their way home in a few days when the drills were over.

Nearly seven months later, the Russian military loses large swaths of the Ukrainian territory it tried to occupy, and Filatyev is out of the military — and out of Russia. He was forced to flee after he issued a scathing rebuke to an army he fought for and a government he served, he said.

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“Russia has been imprisoned by some kind of mafia,” he said during an interview with TBEN News in Paris, where he is applying for asylum.

“The commanders, our government used its army and misled it.”

Filatyev, 34, was evacuated from the war zone in mid-April after contracting an eye infection, then spent more than a month writing a 141-page magazine entitled Zovwhich refers to the tactical “Z” labels that Russia uses on its military equipment.

He posted the manuscript on social media in early August. He documents confusion and disorder in the days leading up to the invasion, the chaos he witnessed as troops entered Ukraine, and his disgust at everything that has happened since.

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The Ukrainian army has reportedly taken back 3,000 square kilometers of territory from the Russian occupation in a matter of days after a swift counter-offensive in the northeast of the country. It marks a major shift in the war after months of attrition.

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Filatyev is the only Russian soldier to criticize the military in such a public and detailed way, and his actions carry enormous personal risk, as Russia has already sentenced several civilians to years in prison for “discrediting the military.” ‘.

He left a few weeks after posting his diary, with the help of a human rights network in France advocating for Russian dissidents. While it is impossible to verify his claims, his account is very detailed.

Realizing that it was Russia that attacked

Filatyev served in the Russian army during the second Chechen war in the late 2000s before leaving military life to become a horse trainer. He gave up that job after a decade for financial reasons, he said, and then re-enlisted.

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In February, while stationed in Crimea for training, Filatyev wrote that he was given a rifle that he said was so rusted that it stopped firing after a few shots. He said that on February 23, the division commander arrived and promised all troops that they would receive a daily bonus equal to $90 Cdn.

Filatyev said this was a clear sign that something was going to happen, but he thought the most likely scenario was that troops would be sent to the self-proclaimed Russian-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic to act as peacekeepers during referendums. .

Military vehicles of the Russian army drive through a street in the city of Armyansk, in Crimea, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, February 24, 2022. (Reuters)

He said rumors were circulating that the soldiers might “storm” Kherson, but dismissed the talk as nonsense. He said he got into an argument with his platoon commander for not being given a bulletproof vest, so he was transferred to a mortar team.

When they drove into Kherson on the morning of February 24, he wrote that the military truck he was in had no breaks and the equipment got stuck in the mud.

Hearing the sounds of artillery, several scenarios swirled through his mind. He may have thought that Ukraine was trying to retake Crimea, or that NATO was somehow involved.

He said it wasn’t until his unit was ordered to destroy a bridge over the Dnieper River that he realized it was Russia that was attacking.

He later wrote that while it felt shameful to invade Ukraine, it was also “shameful to refuse a military order.”

During his interview with TBEN News, he said the military units were poorly organized because soldiers didn’t know what they were doing and there was little communication. In his diary, he wrote that Russian soldiers were not killed because of the “professionalism of the Ukrainian army, but the mess in ours”.

He described driving further in Ukraine, passing rows of cars as Ukrainians fled. At one point, two men passed Filatyev’s truck carrying a banner with a cross on it.

“Either they took us to the next world, or they blessed us,” Filatyev wrote.

Filatyev, 34, in an undated photo. He has served in the Russian army twice and says he is ashamed of what is happening in Ukraine. (Pavel Filatev)

Losing faith in Russian leadership

Russia was able to intervene Kherson on March 2, just over a week after the invasion, but Filatyev said Russian soldiers had to fight against exhaustion, freezing temperatures and starvation.

In his journal, he wrote that some considered entering homes to bring warm blankets, but he says he hasn’t seen anyone do that.

“We don’t even need an enemy,” he wrote. “The commando has put us in such conditions that it makes homeless people better off.”

When the soldiers reached Kherson harbor, he described them behaving as “savages,” raiding buildings in search of food, water, and anything else they could take of value. He admitted to stealing a hat and sharing a bottle of champagne found by another soldier. They drank it while watching a Ukrainian news channel on television.

A view of the destroyed Fabrika shopping center in the city of Kherson on July 20, 2022, amid ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine. (TBEN/Getty Images)

When the news reports described a multi-front attack in Ukraine, Filatyev said he was somewhat relieved that it would all be over soon. Russia’s military campaign — which stalled early when troops failed to capture Kiev and Kharkov — has recently faced major setbacks in eastern Ukraine.

Some military bloggers and even Kremlin-appointed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have criticized the Russian military.

On one of his social media accounts, Kadyrov said on Saturday that if no changes are made to the strategy, he would be “forced to speak with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the leadership of (Russia)”.

The British Ministry of Defence said last week, Ukraine has taken back an area roughly twice the size of Greater London, speculating that the already “limited confidence the troops have in Russia’s senior military leadership is likely to deteriorate further”.

Speaking to TBEN News, Filatyev said morale was already low even before troops entered Ukraine. In March, he claimed that some soldiers shot themselves in an attempt to get compensation and “get out of this hell.”

He said other others left and did not want to return.

war crimes

Asked about the allegations that Russian soldiers committed war crimes, including murder and rape, Filatev said he saw nothing personal.

In his diary, however, he wrote about a Ukrainian prisoner of war who had his fingertips and genitals cut off.

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He told TBEN News that the daily war is making people “more and more cruel”, but this is a reality of all conflict.

In a tweet dated Aug. 3, Ukraine’s Attorney General’s Office said it was investigating more than 26,000 alleged Russian war crimes. In recent reports, Amnesty International, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch have also expressed concerns about the behavior of the Ukrainian armed forces — including allegations that they could endanger civilians.

The difference with the Russian army, Filatyev said, is that the government does not exterminate and punish the criminals.

“I blame the Russian government and the order that they have in no way suppressed,he said. “I have tremendous anger at these events.”

fleeing Russia

Filatyev told TBEN News that before arriving in France, he had a layover in Tunisia, and described being taken from his hotel room and interrogated for hours by security forces.

When he arrived in Paris, he tore his military ID and Russian passport in a bathroom in protest. The video has also been posted online

Kamalia Mehtiyeva, a Paris-based lawyer representing Filatyev, said his case is unique in that he is not a politician who had to flee Russia, but a soldier who is starting a new life with few connections in France.

“The price (of security) is very high,” she said.

Kamalia Mehtiyeva, a Paris-based lawyer, represents Filatyev and helps him apply for asylum. She says once he gets it, they’ll see if he qualifies for any kind of police protection while in France. (Briar Stewart/TBEN News)

When Filatyev spoke to TBEN on an observation deck in Montparnasse, Paris, he still suffered from his eye injury and said he felt dizzy.

Although he was eager to share his story of what he did and saw in Ukraine, he seemed exhausted and tired.

Even now in France, there is still a risk that he will come within reach of the Kremlin. Still, he expects his diary to be published and says he wants to keep writing.

“I understand that if someone needs me to die, it can happen anywhere,” he said.

“I don’t want to spend (life) as a slave.”