Some conscripts to the Russian war effort from the Donbas region are turning on their commanders and refusing to fight on, after being handed antiquated rifles designed in the 19th century, and forced to drink from ponds littered with dead frogs.
One student draftee was given an automatic weapon but no instructions on how to fire it. The student, speaking to Reuters, said he was ordered to repel an attack by Ukrainian forces, but told a reporter: “I don’t even know how to fire an automatic weapon.”
The student said he was put in a mortar unit but was “taught nothing… Up to that point I had only seen mortars in movies. Obviously, I didn’t know how to do anything with them.”
The wife of another untrained Donbas draftee told Reuters: “He doesn’t even really know how to hold an automatic weapon.”
The report follows dozens of Western intelligence briefings and information shared by Ukrainian officials, which suggest that morale within the Russian forces is at breaking point and supply lines are a disaster.
Last week, a Russian soldier was caught on tape lamenting the huge losses they were taking and complaining that the army was full of “morons.”
“Our brigade has totally shit themselves. There are losses, many wounded,” he told his wife. “It’s unclear why we are even here,” he said.
Ukraine has made advances in dozens of regions where Russian forces made initial inroads, revealing the true scale of the horror perpetrated in President Putin’s name.
Reuters said that it spoke to six people for the report. In addition to the student it spoke to “three wives of conscripts who have mobile phone contact with their partners, one acquaintance of a draftee, and one source close to the pro-Russian separatist leadership who is helping to organize supplies for the Donbas armed forces.”
Draftees from the separatist Donbas region are not part of the Russian army but are fighting alongside them.
The overall picture that emerges from the report is of untrained and expendable conscripts providing ineffective support to their Russian counterparts. Reuters says Donbas conscripts “were given the highly dangerous mission of drawing enemy fire onto themselves so other units could identify the Ukrainian positions and bomb them.”
The claim tallies with a video published by Ukraine on March 12 in which a prisoner of war, who said he was an untrained civil servant from Donbas, said he was ordered to draw enemy fire in Mariupol to give away Ukrainian positions.
Reuters said that “several” of the draftees have been armed with bolt action Mosin rifles, which were first produced in the 1880s by the Russian Empire, and were the workhorse firearm of the Russian army for decades. Production ceased after World War II, however large stockpiles of the weapon survive. They were last manufactured, in small numbers, by Finland in 1973.
The student conscript said: “It’s like we’re fighting with World War II muskets,” adding, “I hate the war. I don’t want it, curse it. Why are they sending me into a slaughterhouse?”
In another episode that clearly illustrates weak morale, Reuters says a group of some 135 Donbas conscripts in Mariupol mutinied by putting down their weapons and refusing to continue to fight. The men were kept in a basement by their commanders before being released.
The report also highlights the widely reported supply-line issues affecting the Russian war effort, with three sources saying draftees had to drink untreated water, and scavenge for food.
“We drank water with dead frogs in it,” the student said, while a source described as being “close to the Donetsk separatist leadership” told Reuters: “Supplies for the soldiers right now are a disaster.”
The Kremlin told Reuters that the issues raised were for the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) to answer. The DNR did not comment.