Hours after Alexei Agafonov arrived in the Luhansk region on November 1 as part of a battalion of new recruits, his unit was handed shovels and ordered to dig trenches all night.
Their digging, which they took turns to do for lack of shovels, came to a sudden halt in the early hours of the next day as Ukrainian artillery lit the sky and shells began to rain down on Agafonov and his unit.
“A Ukrainian drone first flew over us, and then its artillery started bombing us for hours upon hours nonstop,” Agafonov, who survived the bombing, told the Guardian in a phone interview on Monday.
“I saw men tearing apart in front of me, most of our unit was gone and destroyed. It was hell,” he said, adding that his unit commanders abandoned them shortly before the bombing began.
Agafonov was called up on October 16 along with 570 other conscripts in Voronezh, a city in the southwest of the Russiaas part of Vladimir Putin’s national mobilization campaign that has seen more than 300,000 men recruited to go and fight in a war the Kremlin calls its “special military operation.”
After the attacks stopped, Agafonov with approximately a dozen other soldiers withdrew from the forest outside the town of Makeyivka in Luhansk to the nearby Russian-controlled city of Svatov. In Svatov, Agafonov and his group moved to an abandoned building, trying to contact the other soldiers who were with him that night.
According to Agafonov’s estimates, only 130 of the 570 conscripts survived the Ukrainian attack, which would make it the deadliest incident among conscripts since the mobilization campaign began at the end of September.
Many of those who survived are losing their minds after what happened. “No one wants to go back,” Agafonov said.
The incident indicates Russia’s desire to throw hundreds of unprepared conscripts onto the front line in eastern Ukraine, where some of the fiercest battles are taking place, in an attempt to halt Kyiv’s advance.
There is growing anger in Russia with the return of more coffins from Ukraine, and the return of the remains of the recruits.
Some of the details surrounding last week’s bombing could not be independently verified. But the Guardian spoke to a second soldier, as well as two family members of surviving soldiers, who gave similar accounts.
“We were completely exposed, we had no idea what to do. “Hundreds of us died,” said the second soldier, who asked not to be named. “Two weeks of training doesn’t qualify for that,” he said, referring to the limited military training recruits they received before they were dispatched. to Ukraine.
Russian investigative executor Verstka, who first mentioned In Saturday’s incident, he cited the account of a third soldier, Nikolai Voronin, who similarly described coming under Ukrainian fire in the early hours of November 2.
“There were a lot of dead people, they were lying everywhere … their arms and legs were torn,” Voronin told Verstka. “The shovels we used to dig our trenches are now being used to take out the dead.”
The bombing led to anguish in Voronezh, where a group of conscripts’ wives recorded an angry video message on Saturday addressing the local governor.
“On the first day they put the conscripts on the front line. “The command left the battlefield and ran away,” said Inna Voronina, the wife of a conscript soldier whose fate was unknown, in the video.
Another soldier’s mother can be heard saying, “They tell us over the phone that our sons are alive and well and doing their military duty. How the hell are they alive and well when they were all killed there?”
Putin boasted last Friday that Russia had mobilized 318,000 people in its armed forces, citing a large number of “volunteers.” He went on to invoke the popular Russian saying “we do not leave behind”, claiming that the phrase “are not empty words.”
But the chaotic mobilization campaign, and the ensuing losses since, drew criticism among even the war’s most ardent supporters.
In a scathing statement on cableAnastasia Kashivarova, a pro-war journalist, condemned the Russian leaders on the ground who she said were mobilizing untrained men.
groups [mobilised men] Without contact, without the necessary weapons, without medicines, without artillery support. Zinc coffins are already coming. She told us there would be training, and they wouldn’t be sent to the front line in a week. Did you lie again? “
In a video clip, allegedly filmed at a training center in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, dozens of recently mobilized men are seen scolding the military leadership over the lack of wages, water and food. An officer identified as Major General Kirill Kulakov was seen retreating as a large crowd of angry conscripts shouted insults at him.
Perhaps growing disaffected, Putin said on Monday that he intends to “discuss personally with the Russians” the issues surrounding the crowd’s support. He urged local officials to “take care” of the soldiers’ mobilization and their needs.
Despite the seemingly high costs, the mobilization campaign has not yet led to Russia gaining new ground, according to a recent report from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
The report said the Russian military was “wasting new supplies of mobilized personnel on marginal gains” rather than mustering enough soldiers to ensure success.
“Russian forces would have likely had more success in such offensive operations if they had waited until enough massed personnel had arrived to assemble a force large enough to overcome the Ukrainian defenses,” the institute said last Thursday.
In another sign of poor morale and communications at the front, several pro-Kremlin journalists published an open letter reportedly from a Russian marine unit that criticized the decision-making process by its superiors after heavy losses in what it called an “incomprehensible” assault on the village of Pavlevka.
Russian forces launched an attack on Pavlevka, southwest of Donetsk, on November 2, according to the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian officials. Four days later, the 155th Guards Marine Brigade reportedly accused its military leaders of losing 300 men in a letter to Oleg Kozymiako, the governor of their region in the Far East of Russia.
A number of prominent pro-war bloggers quoted the letter as saying, “We were thrown into an incomprehensible attack.”
While The Guardian was unable to independently verify the contents of the letter, Kozimiakou appeared to acknowledge it was genuine but said it exaggerated the true scale of the losses.
We called the leaders. “Yes, there are losses and there is heavy fighting, but it is far from what is written in this appeal,” he said in a video statement on his Telegram channel. “I am sure that in any case the situation will be analyzed and the relevant authorities will provide their assessment.”
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