It only took a few hours after Russia’s Vladimir Putin hailed his mobilization as a sparkling success Friday for a torrent of humiliating reports to emerge that suggest the war effort has been more successful in turning the country against him than defeating mythical Nazis in Ukraine.
The most staggering contradiction to the Russian president’s boastful claims came perhaps in Kazan, where dozens of drafted troops were captured on video late Friday berating military leadership outside a collection point for the newly mobilized.
The angry crowd complained of a lack of water, food, and “rusty” rifles from the 1970s that one soldier said were too “dangerous” to even use, according to local outlets. Spectacularly, the troops were not cowed by a military officer who threatened to call in riot police.
“What kind of riot police are you trying to scare us with? We’ll call everyone we know right now, and they’ll come and we’ll pummel all of you and the riot police,” one protesting soldier yelled back.
The officer was forced to retreat as the crowd of rioting troops chanted “cocksucker,” the video shows.
By Saturday, local authorities said the issues cited by the troops had been “resolved,” according to Tatar-Inform. But outrage continued to bubble up elsewhere, including in Voronezh, where relatives of drafted troops gathered outside the local prosecutor’s office to film a video appeal to the governor pleading with him to rescue new troops from their own command.
“On the very first day, they put [the draftees] on the frontline [in Luhansk]. The command left the battlefield and fled, saying they would soon return and bring the mobilized troops their things,” one family member said in video shared by the independent outlet Verstka.
Within 40 minutes of being dumped on the battlefield, she said, the leadership had failed to return, shelling started, and “battles went on for three days.”
“They didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, and for three days held the line and didn’t run away unlike the command,” she said.
“They tell us over the phone that our sons are alive and healthy, and even fulfilling their military duty. How the hell are they alive and healthy when they were all killed there?” the mother of another soldier told Verstka.
More than 500 troops in that battalion were subsequently killed after being abandoned by the command, according to one of the surviving soldiers who spoke to the outlet.
Aleksei Agafonov told Verstka his battalion initially included 570 men—but only 29 made it out whole and another 12 were wounded after fierce fighting outside Russian-occupied Makeyevka. The massive losses were confirmed by another soldier who survived, identified as Nikolai Voronin.
“There were a lot of dead, they were lying everywhere… Their arms and legs were torn off,” Voronin said, adding that the troops had been ordered to dig trenches before all hell broke loose and many of them wound up “almost digging their own graves.”
“When it all started, the officers immediately ran away,” said Agafonov.
“On TV they show that everything is beautiful, but in reality, here in the Luhansk region, they specifically toss mobilized troops onto the frontline, and when we left there, without seeing any officers, we went back and saw that on the third line it’s only contractees and volunteers, and draftees are on the front,” he said
Putin, at a ceremony on Red Square on Friday, had tried to paint a very different portrait of his mobilization effort, boasting that thousands of men had opted to join as volunteers, resulting in a total of 318,000 new troops, 49,000 of whom he said were already “fulfilling their duty” in military ranks.
“The number of volunteers is not going down,” he said in comments carried by RIA Novosti.
“It’s a very large number of people [mobilized]. Families, mothers, fathers, children, wives are left… Of course, the state is doing everything in order to support them,” he said.
He went on to invoke the popular Russian slogan “we don’t leave our own behind,” claiming the phrase is “not empty words” but is “how everything is happening in reality.”
The most damning rebuke to that claim came just a few hours later from a man Ukrainian intelligence identified as a soldier from Russia’s 752nd Guards Motor Rifle Regiment based in occupied Donetsk—who said troops there are quite literally ordered to leave their own behind so the government can avoid paying their families the promised payouts.
The admission came in what was described by Ukrainian authorities as an intercepted phone conversation between the Russian soldier and someone back home.
“They won’t allow for the 200s to be collected,” the purported soldier said, using Russian military jargon for those killed in action. “No body, no case. Maybe [they will think the person killed] has been captured and they can hold back money from the relatives and not fucking pay. Do you understand the idea?”
Asked if he personally had seen the abandoned dead bodies, he said, “Of course.”
“They’re fucking laying everywhere and we can’t collect them,” he told his dumbstruck interlocutor, who asked in disbelief if the military command treats only the conscripts in such a manner.
“It’s that way with everyone across the board,” he said.