26 Oct 2022

Conscripted Russians captured or killed within days on Ukraine front line - former NZ soldier

From Morning Report, 7:19 am on 26 October 2022

A former New Zealand soldier on the front line in Ukraine says growing numbers of freshly conscripted Russians are being captured or killed within 72 hours of being called up.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave mobilisation orders to over 300,000 men on 21 September - some of whom are reported to have been sent into battle without training.

Artillery, mortar bombs and explosions are the sounds of the ongoing war in Ukraine that haunt even the most experienced of soldiers.

But it's experience that is lacking among Russian fighters on the front lines.

A veteran New Zealand soldier in a Ukrainian reconnaissance unit in the Mykolaiv Oblast region, who RNZ agreed not to name, said those joining the Russian effort since Putin's mobilisation orders were untrained and lacking basic skills.

"You imagine you are an actual, regular-force Russian soldier who has been on the front line for eight months now with little to no rotation, because they expected a quick victory.

 "Your mates have been dying around you, you're starving, you scrape together any warm clothing you can find because you're freezing, and your army doesn't give you any warm kit.

"And now you've got some civilian who doesn't want to be there, who has been forcibly conscripted.... he's come to the front lines with even less kit than you have, and he is your reinforcement."

He described the enemy's morale as going from bad to worse, causing an increasing number of surrenders from the Russian side.

They were finding some of those captured Russians were incredibly ill-prepared, even carrying rusty weapons from the 1970s Soviet stock, the soldier said.

"We had a battalion the other day take a position, the Russians retreated obviously.

"Later that night, two of those Russians decided to walk back to that position which is now Ukrainian because they were cold, and their sleeping bags were still there.

"So naturally they were captured immediately.

"They got a sleeping bag in the end, because they are now imprisoned, but we actually feed them and give them water and a warm place to sleep so it's a much better deal than what they are getting from their own side."

The soldier said those fighting for Ukraine expected to see mass surrenders as winter drew closer, with inexperienced Russians likely to freeze in the trenches they had been living in for months.

"We know that winter is going to be the death blow for them and not us.

"However, given the nature of winter here in Eastern Europe, it will slow movements down.

"Obviously it's harder for armoured vehicles to move around the battlefield, even infantry manoeuvres become a lot more difficult, so in terms of combat action it might slow down a bit, but we are still looking to press the advantage we have."

Soldier expects increase in casualties

Another former New Zealand soldier fighting in Ukraine said his unit was expecting to see an increase in Russian casualties because of their lack of skill.

"On the ground level we barely think about how much of them we kill, more about how many of us we lose.

"Their personal discipline is poor as is their ability to utilise specialist weapons.

"Their biggest letdown is their inability to command troops, especially in a combined arms capacity."

In simple terms he said, they just do not know how to best use the equipment they have.

"On the line, there have been more Russians wanting to surrender but also trying to find safe locations in which they can prior to doing so."

Veterans advocate on mobilisation

Former soldier Aaron Wood, from veterans' support organisation No Duff, said although the official mobilisation started in September, the Russian army had previously been filling its ranks with prisoners.

 He said those who had been conscripted were "basically cannon fodder".

"There's evidence they aren't even getting two weeks' worth of training, they are getting conscripted and sent to the front within a week, and literally within hours of getting to the front they are being killed and captured.

"There are reports of entire battalions, especially up north in places like Lyman and Kupiansk in the ongoing Kharkiv offensive, the Russians have been struggling to stem that tide, and they've just been pushing these new units straight into the front line and they've been decimated."

Wood said after eight months, Ukrainian units had worked out how to operate together, and Russia had lost that advantage.

Those on the front line said that disadvantage will continue to grow, as Ukrainian forces secure land and liberate towns weekly.