'This is an idiotic war': Russian paratrooper, who visited Ukraine, told what he thinks about the invasion
Pavel Filatiev knew the consequences of his words. The former paratrooper understood that he was threatened with prison, that he would be called a traitor and that his friends would turn away from him. His own mother urged him to flee Russia while he still could. But he still expressed his opinion. What the Russian thinks about the war in Ukraine, the publication said The Guardian.
“I don't see justice in this war. I don't see the truth here," he said, sitting at a cafe table in Moscow's financial district. It was his first meeting with a journalist personally after returning from the war in Ukraine. “I am not afraid to fight in a war. But I need to feel justice, to understand that what I'm doing is right. And I think that all this is failing not only because the government stole everything, but also because we Russians do not feel that we are doing the right thing.
Two weeks ago, Filatiev took to his VKontakte page and published a 141-page scoop: a daily description of how his paratrooper unit was sent to mainland Ukraine from Crimea, entered Kherson, captured the seaport, and was near Nikolaev for more than a month under heavy artillery fire. And then - as a result, he was wounded and he was evacuated with an eye infection.
By then, he was convinced that he must expose the rot behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We were under artillery fire,” he said. - Then I already thought that we are doing nonsense here, what the hell is this war for us? And I really had this thought: “God, if I survive, I will do everything in my power to stop this.”
He spent 45 days writing a memoir about the conflict, violating the omerta that even the word "war" was banned in public.
“I just can’t be silent anymore, although I know that I probably won’t change anything. Maybe I acted stupidly, bringing so much trouble on myself, ”Filatiev reflects.
His memoir ZOV named after the tactical identification marks applied to the vehicles of the Russian army, which became the Russian symbol of war. So far, there has not been a more detailed, voluntary report from a Russian soldier involved in the invasion of Ukraine. Excerpts were published in the independent Russian press, and Filatiev appeared in a video for a TV interview on Dozhd TV.
"It's very important that someone speaks first," said Vladimir Osechkin, head of the human rights network Gulagu.net, who helped Filatyev leave Russia. This made Filatiev the first known soldier to flee Russia due to opposition to the war. “And that opened Pandora’s box.”
The Russian investigative website iStories, which Russia has banned in the country, published a confession from another Russian soldier who confessed on camera to shooting and killing a civilian in the Ukrainian city of Andreevka.
Filatiev, who served with the 56th Guards Air Assault Regiment based in Crimea, described how his exhausted and ill-equipped unit stormed into mainland Ukraine under a hail of rocket fire in late February with little to no specific targets or logistics, with no idea Why is there a war at all?
“It took me weeks to realize that there was no war at all on Russian territory and that we just attacked Ukraine,” he said.
At one point, Filatiev describes how paratroopers, the elite of the Russian army, seized the Kherson seaport and immediately began to seize "computers and everything of value that they could find." They then searched the kitchen for food.
“We, like savages, ate everything there: oats, porridge, jam, honey, coffee ... We didn’t give a damn about everything, we were already brought to the limit. Most of us spent a month in the field without a hint of comfort, a shower, or normal food,” Pavel noted. - What a wild state you need to bring people so that they do not think about the fact that they need to sleep, eat and wash. Everything around us gave us a vile feeling. As unfortunates, we were just trying to survive.”
“I know this sounds crazy to a foreign reader,” he said, describing a fellow soldier who stole a computer. “But the soldier understands that it costs more than his salary alone. And who knows if he will be alive tomorrow. And he takes. I'm not trying to justify his act. But it’s probably important to say why people behave the way they do.”
The paratrooper has long spoken out against what he called the “degradation” of the army, including the use of outdated equipment and vehicles that have exposed Russian soldiers to Ukrainian counterattacks. According to him, the rifle he was given before the war was rusty and had a broken belt.
“We were just the perfect target,” he stated, describing a trip to Kherson in outdated and unarmored UAZ trucks, which sometimes stood idle for 20 minutes. “The plan was incomprehensible – as always, no one knew anything.”
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Filatiev describes how his unit, as the war dragged on, spent almost a month in the trenches near Nikolaev under fire from Ukrainian artillery. It was there that a shell hit him in the eye, leading to an infection that nearly blinded him.
As frustration grew at the front, he wrote about reports of soldiers deliberately shooting themselves to escape the front and receiving 3 million rubles ($50) in compensation, as well as rumors of acts of mutilation of captured soldiers and corpses.
In an interview, he said that he personally did not see acts of violence committed during the war. But he described the culture of anger and resentment in the army, which is destroying the facade of full support for the war portrayed by Russian propaganda.
“Most people in the army are unhappy with what is happening there; they are dissatisfied with the government and their commanders; they are unhappy with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies; they are unhappy with the Minister of Defense, who has never served in the army,” he wrote.
According to him, since he released the information, his entire unit has stopped contact with him. But he believes that 20% of them fully supported his protest. And many of them, in quiet conversations, told him about an involuntary feeling of respect for the patriotism of Ukrainians fighting for their territory. Or complained about Russia's mistreatment of its own soldiers.
“Nobody treats veterans here,” Pavel laments. In military hospitals, he says, he met disgruntled soldiers, including wounded sailors from the cruiser Moskva, which was sunk by Ukrainian missiles in April. And in his book, the paratrooper stated that “there are a lot of dead whose relatives have not been compensated,” confirming media reports that wounded soldiers have been waiting for months for payments.
Filatiev's original plan was to publish his memoirs and turn himself in to the police immediately. But activist Osechkin advised him to change his mind and repeatedly urged him to flee the country.
“Here I am leaving, going to America, and who am I there? What should I do? he argues. “If I am not needed even in my own country, then who needs me there?”
That is why for two weeks Filatiev stayed every night in different hotels and put his life in one backpack, which he carried with him trying to be one step ahead of the police.
The Guardian was unable to independently verify all the details of Filatiev's story, but found documents and photographs showing that he was a paratrooper of the 56th Airborne Regiment stationed in Crimea, he was hospitalized with an eye injury received in April while "performing special tasks in Ukraine ”, and that he wrote directly to the Kremlin about his complaints about the war before publication.
Filatiev, 34, was born into a military family in the city of Volgodonsk in the south of the country and spent a lot of time in the army. After serving in Chechnya in the late 2000s, he said, he worked as a horse trainer for wealthy clients for almost a decade before returning to the service in 2021 for financial reasons.
Now he is a different person. Pavel is still heavily built and eloquent, but war and stress are taking their toll. His scarred cheeks were overgrown with two weeks of stubble. He still has poor vision in his right eye and laughs bitterly at the fact that he has to complain about the Russian army to a foreign journalist.
“They say that the heroism of some is the fault of others,” he remarked. “It’s the XNUMXst century, we started this idiotic war and once again we call on soldiers to heroic deeds, to self-sacrifice. Is it a problem if we ourselves die out in the process?”
Most of all he was interested in why he is still free. Pavel heard that his unit was preparing to charge him with desertion, a charge that could land you in jail for years. And yet nothing happened.
“I don’t understand why they haven’t caught me yet,” he said when meeting at a train station in Moscow. “I've said more than anyone in the last six months. Maybe they don't know what to do with me."
It's a mystery he may never solve. Filatiev fled the country by an unknown route. Two days later, Osechkin stated that Filatiev managed to escape from Russia "before his arrest." It is still unclear whether he has been formally charged with any crime in Russia.
“Why should I flee my country just for telling the truth about what these bastards have turned our army into,” Filatiev wrote on Telegram. “I am overwhelmed with emotion that I had to leave my country.”
He remains one of the few Russian soldiers who has spoken publicly about the war, albeit after months of agonizing thought about how to do so without violating the obligations of his service.
“People ask me why I didn’t lay down my arms,” he shares. - I am against this war, but - I'm not a general, not a defense minister, not Putin - I don't know how to stop it. I wouldn't change a thing by being a coward and dropping my weapons and my comrades."
Sitting on one of the busy streets of Moscow, Pavel Filatiev expressed the hope that all this would end after popular protests, as during the Vietnam War. But for now, he says, that seems a long way off.
“I am just terrified of what will happen next,” he concluded. - What will you have to pay for it? Who will stay in our country? For myself, I said it was a personal tragedy.”
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