Russian serviceman’s memoir depicts senseless war in Ukraine

A Russian soldier’s searing first-hand account of the invasion of Ukraine – which shows ordinary foot soldiers being exploited as cannon fodder by incompetent commanders and a cynical Kremlin leadership – draws decidedly mixed reviews both inside and outside the combat zone.

For many outside observers, the ex-soldier’s 141-page memoir, which he posted online in early August, offers a rare glimpse into Moscow’s brutal but botched attempt to subdue a smaller and less powerful neighbor.

But six months after a devastating war, some Ukrainians believe that widespread Western media attention to the veteran ex-paratrooper’s diary unfairly glamorizes a willing tool in the Russian military machine who should bear responsibility for the war’s atrocities.

Moscow has maintained an icy public silence over claims made by former soldier Pavel Filatyev, who managed to flee Russia earlier this month after self-posting his explosive story on VKontakte, a Russian-language platform similar to Facebook.

The 34-year-old said he took part in Russia’s first attack and spent two months in southern Ukraine before being shipped home with a serious eye infection resulting from having dirt blasted over his face by bombing. He wrote the memoirs during his convalescence.

Filatyev’s account of a random and disorderly offensive, with many Russian troops unaware of their true objective even as they pushed into Ukrainian cities, is in many respects consistent with assessments by Western intelligence agencies.

“Morale is low in many parts” of the Russian military, and its army is “significantly degraded,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday – Ukraine’s Independence Day, which coincides with the six-month mark of the invasion – in an intelligence assessment similar to other more recent assessments of the Pentagon and western analysts.

But while the broad outlines of Moscow’s methods and tactics are becoming clearer — as are its missteps, notably the early, failed attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv — Filatyev’s account offers a grainy, on-the-ground portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war effort in an even more devastating light.

Some scenes are vividly drawn: After capturing the southern city of Kherson, the first major Ukrainian metropolis to fall to the Russian invaders, starving and ill-supplied troops devoured all the food supplies they could find, Filatyev wrote.

“Like savages, we ate everything there: oats, porridge, jam, honey, coffee,” he wrote, describing his comrades-in-arms as “exhausted and wild.”

For troops in the field, he wrote, there was “no hint of comfort, a shower, or normal food.” Most of the equipment was ancient and didn’t work properly, including the rusty rifle he was given.

Whole Russian units were wiped out by friendly fire, he claimed, and soldiers deliberately shot or otherwise injured themselves to be sent home.

“We didn’t give a damn,” he wrote.

While Filatyev’s everyday anecdotes and descriptions of specific scenes could not be independently verified, his length of service in the 56th Guards Air Assault Regiment – which took part in the capture of Kherson and was then stationed on the front lines outside the nearby city of Mykolaiv – has been reported by news organizations confirmed, including the Russian investigative consortium iStories, now based in Riga, Latvia, which published abridged extracts.

Russian demining experts in a field

Russian experts search and defuse mines along a high-voltage power line in the occupied city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine.

(Associated Press)

Throughout the memoir — titled “ZOV,” after the tactical symbol scrawled on Russian vehicles — Filatyev showed troop morale and commanders well above their depth. Higher authorities had clearly decided to “flood Ukraine with our corpses”.

Although a disillusioned Filatyev denounced the war as morally wrong and said he no longer wanted to take part in it, some Ukrainians are angry at the memoir’s level of detail about the hardships of Russian forces, rather than the death and destruction they wreaked on a country , which was occupied from outside provocation.

Filatyev, who is now in an undisclosed location after a human rights network helped him leave Russia, has given several news interviews describing how, after putting his memoir online, he moved from place to place and with it expected to be arrested at any time. That prompted Ukrainian podcaster and activist Maksym Eristavi to tweet a denunciation of what he called “romanticizing” a “Russian terrorist attack.” [Ukrainian] Familys.”

However, some military historians consider the memoirs to be an instrumental opposition to the Kremlin’s uninterrupted glorification of alleged military successes in Ukraine, and a useful addition to the annals of that war. First-hand reports from Russian soldiers were mostly fleeting in nature – recorded, for example, in wiretapped telephone conversations with family members at home.

Author and researcher Chris Owen, who has long compiled several Twitter threads Based on Filatyev’s revelations, wrote that the soldier’s report, by far the longest and most detailed of its kind, “provides an informative insider’s perspective on what went wrong” for Russia in Ukraine.

But in Russia, where independent news outlets have been shut down and criticism of the “military special operation” has been criminalized, relatively few people have seen even the excerpts published by the mostly blocked media, let alone the memoir in its entirety.

Opinion polls — where reliable — indicate continued robust approval ratings for Putin, a phenomenon that Ukrainian analyst Denis Bohush, the director of the Center for Russian Studies in Kyiv, attributes to “more than 20 years of Putin’s personal propaganda machine.”

Despite his scathing assessment of the Ukraine war, Filateev, who came from a military family and had previously served with the Russian army in Chechnya, expressed residual feelings of loyalty to an institution he had long served.

In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel last week, conducted via Zoom from an undisclosed location, Filatyev, who was described as appearing tired and gloomy, said he wanted the Russian army to be “strong and good”, and that his report was intended to help achieve that goal.

“Only by speaking openly about our problems in Russian society can we bring order to the armed forces,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t want it to be an aggressor and threaten the whole world.”

Special correspondent Markus Ziener worked on this report in Berlin.

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-08-25/russian-soldier-memoir-depicts-senseless-war-ukraine Russian serviceman’s memoir depicts senseless war in Ukraine

Alley Einstein

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