'You’ll die in this pit': Takeaways from secret recordings of Russian soldiers in Ukraine

Secretly recorded calls of Russian soldiers speaking from the front lines in Ukraine with loved ones back home offer a rare glimpse of the war through Russian eyes.

As the war in Ukraine grinds into its second winter, a growing number of Russian soldiers want out, audio intercepts obtained and verified by The Associated Press indicate. Russian soldiers speak in shorthand of 200s to mean dead, 300s to mean wounded. The urge to flee has become common enough that they also talk of 500s — people who refuse to fight.

These conversations also show clearly how the war has progressed, from the professional soldiers who initially powered Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion to men from all walks of life compelled to serve in grueling conditions.

The AP verified the identities of people in the calls by speaking with relatives and soldiers — some of whom are still at war in Ukraine — and researching open-source material linked to the phone numbers used by the soldiers. AP has withheld names and identifying details to protect soldiers and their families. The conversations, picked up in January 2023 — some from near the longest and deadliest fight in Bakhmut — have been edited for length and clarity.

As they called home, the deadliest season of the war was just beginning. Tens of thousands of Russians were about to die. Now, as Moscow scrambles to replenish its troops, the voices of these soldiers come as a warning. These are men living off rainwater, who have killed people with knives, who know that the only thing that’s kept them alive is luck. Forgotten and exhausted, they want to go home.


Nicknamed “Crazy Professor” because of his disheveled hair, he was swept up in the first days of Russia’s September 2022 draft. He worried that he might have killed children. Now he is AWOL and haunted by visions of the dead.

“I imagined that there, on the other side, there could be young people just like us. And they have their whole lives ahead of them,” he told AP in June. “Bones, tears — all the same, they are the same as we are.”


The war seemed senseless to Artyom, except perhaps as a way to escape the string of debts he’d left behind in Russia. Speaking from Ukraine, where he’d been serving more than eight months, he told AP that he loved his family before the war and loved them even more now. He regrets he didn’t spend more time with them. In calls to his wife, he explained that everyone is “gloomy as hell,” and while it made sense to run away if you have the chance, he wasn’t going to desert.

“I have to save the guys who are with me in the trenches — and myself,” he explained to AP in May. “That’s what I want to do. And to put down the Ukrainians faster and go home.”


Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Roman worked at a law firm, records show. Swept up in Putin’s September 2022 mobilization, he has some advice: Avoid this war any way you can. He’s lived off rainwater, scooped a dying man’s guts back into his body, ambushed a Ukrainian dugout with knives.

“I already feel more pity shooting a bird than a person,” Roman told his friend. “I’m telling you honestly, if there’s even a slight chance, get exempted from service.”


After four months in Ukraine, Andrei concluded that his life meant nothing to Moscow. Mobilized soldiers like him are “not considered humans,” he told his mom. They’re not allowed to leave — even if they get sick or injured — because commanders fear they’ll never come back.

“You’ll die in this pit where you live,” he told his mom.

“Better not get sick,” she said.

AP spoke with his mother in September as she was collecting tomatoes from her garden. She said she grew up in Ukraine, but her homeland has become unrecognizable. It’s filled with “traitors and fascists,” she told AP. “Are you blind or stupid, or can’t you see that there are no normal people? Or do you want your children to turn into monkeys like in America?”


AP reporters Lynn Berry in Washington and Alla Konstantinova in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed to this report. Students from the Russian translation and interpretation program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies also contributed to this report.


More AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine