A video of Russian soldiers claiming that they have been prevented from retreating despite suffering heavy losses on the frontline has been making the rounds on Telegram channels since Friday.
In the video posted on March 24, a few dozen soldiers address two main grievances to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
First, they alleged that they had opted to withdraw after suffering heavy losses at the frontline in eastern Ukraine but were denied evacuation. Instead, their commanders reportedly sent in blocking units to force them to continue to fight.
Second, they claimed that their commanders were forcing the men to pay “tax” to avoid being sent to the frontline.
The soldiers were reportedly stationed near the village of Vodanye and are part of the Storm unit. This unit was formed by the Russian defense ministry in January and comprised mostly veterans of the 2014 offensive to annex Crimea, per The Guardian.
According to one soldier, 161 men were in the unit when the winter offensive began.
“We sat under open mortar fire and artillery for 14 days,” Alexander Gorin said in the video. “We took huge losses. Thirty-four people were injured and 22 died, including our commander.”
Despite these losses, their commanders allegedly would not let them retreat.
“They placed blocking units behind us and weren’t letting us out of our positions,” Gorin said. “They are threatening to destroy us one by one and as a unit.”
“Our commanders are a criminal organization. There is no other way to put it,” added Sergei Moldanov, another soldier in the video.
The Guardian has reportedly confirmed the identities of eight of the soldiers appearing in the video and spoke with three of them on the condition of anonymity.
Since the spread of the video, the men have been removed from the frontline, per The Guardian.
Similar videos and recordings from supposed Russian soldiers asking Putin for help have circulated since the start of the conflict in Ukraine.
On February 25, drafted Russian soldiers from the first and second battalions of the 1439th regiment allegedly sent a video to Russian Telegram channels saying that they were being sent to slaughter by local separatists in command of operations in Donetsk Oblast.
“The command directly says that we are consumables,” a soldier in the video claimed. “Commanders from the [Donetsk People’s Republic] are firing machine guns at our mobilized, as [soldiers] refuse to go to assault units.”
Igor Kobzev, the Russian governor of Irkutsk, where the men had been stationed, announced on Telegram on February 26 that he had requested an inquiry into the soldiers’ claims by the military prosecutor’s office. He also said that conscripts would be assigned elsewhere moving forward.
The video was one of three sent by this regiment, which relatives of the servicemen told reporters had been almost entirely wiped out as of March 3.
The Russian Red Army employed the tactic of blocking units to prevent soldiers from retreating during battles fought in World War II, per Insider.
Apart from the recent videos from soldiers, there have been other claims that Russia has resorted to these tactics again.
Last March, Fedir Venislavskyi, a Ukrainian parliament member, claimed that Russia was employing Chechen troops as blocking units during its invasion of Ukraine.
The British Ministry of Defence made a comparable statement based on intelligence it had gathered in November.
Yet Putin has accused Ukraine of using this tactic on its own soldiers and shooting them “in the back,” per The Guardian.
A report published on February 27 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted that the conflict in Ukraine is a war of attrition. Characterized by the offensive-defensive use of heavy ground artillery and trench systems, this kind of warfare results in high death tolls.
The report estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine, whereas that same month, U.S. officials approximated the number of dead and wounded as being 200,000, per The New York Times.
Either way, the Ukrainian war has led to the most losses seen among Russian soldiers since World War II, when approximately 8.7 million were killed.