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Conscripted troops sent to fight for Russia in Ukraine have mutinied on camera, saying they have been sent to the frontlines without equipment, medicine or food.
In footage posted on Telegram, the soldiers – who claimed to be from the 113th rifle regiment of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic – say they have been fighting for months in ‘hunger and cold’ without proper kit or medical care.
Their commander says men with chronic medical conditions, who should have escaped the draft, have instead been sent into the midst of the fighting alongside carers and those with young children.
‘The higher command interpret our complaints as sabotage,’ he says. ‘But what is there to be gained from sending your soldiers to die?’
The video emerged amid bitter and bloody fighting between Ukraine and Russia in Donbas, of which Donetsk is a part, though the unit in the video is thought to have been stationed near Kherson – an occupied city hundreds of miles to the south west.
A company commander from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic army has complained that his men are being sent to the frontlines without food, kit or medicine
He says men with chronic medical conditions have been sent into the thick of the fighting and that any complaints are treated as ‘sabotage’
In the footage, the commander can be heard saying: ‘Our company, consisting of the 5th Infantry Battalion of the 113th Infantry Regiment, was on the frontlines in the Kherson region of Ukraine.
‘For that time the personnel overcame cold and hunger and for a considerable period we did so without material support, medical supplies or food.
‘The mobilisation of our unit took place without any medical examinations, and there are those among our unit who in accordance with the laws of the Donetsk People’s Republic should not be mobilised.
‘There are members of our personnel who suffer from chronic diseases and others who are guardians of people with mental illnesses.’
‘For those who are fathers to children and taking into account the duration of our continues presence on the frontlines, many questions arise that are ignored by command.’
He then speaks separately to troops who voice their concerns, but say they are being ignored by their commanders.
‘The higher command interpret our complaints as sabotage,’ he says. ‘Show respect for your officers. What is there to be gained from sending your soldiers to die?’
Russian troops have been occupying Kherson since capturing it during the early days of the war, but have faced attack by pro-Ukraine rebels there
A Russian military transport with the letter ‘Z’ painted on the side stands guard on a street in Kherson, close to where the separatist soldiers were fighting
100 Ukrainian soldiers dying every DAY in the Donbas, Zelensky says
Ukraine is losing up to 600 troops per day including 100 killed in action, President Zelensky has admitted as he gave the clearest indication yet of the blood-debt his military is paying to hold back the Russian invasion.
Zelensky said the situation in Donbas, where the fiercest fighting is taking place, is ‘very difficult’ but insisted his soldiers are ‘holding our defensive perimeter’ despite advances by Putin’s men in recent days.
‘We’re losing 60-100 soldiers per day as killed in action and something around 500 people as wounded in action,’ he said – lifting the lid on Ukrainian casualties which have been a closely guarded secret throughout the war.
The battle for Donbas has now largely descended into brutal trench warfare, with Ukraine digging defences that are pounded by Russian artillery before troops try to rush through gaps in the line – not unlike the battlefields of the First World War.
Out-gunned by the Russian side, Ukraine has been begging allies for better artillery to strike back at Putin’s men – with Joe Biden revealing on Tuesday that America will be sending advanced rocket systems to aid in the fight.
The heaviest fighting is currently ongoing in the city of Severodonetsk, which is now largely under Russia control. Capturing it entirely would put Putin’s forces on the cusp of taking Luhansk province – one of his key war aims.
Ukrainian forces in the region are taking heavy losses. Neil Hauer, a journalist who has spent time on the frontlines, revealed one soldier he is in contact with saw 56 men in his 60-man squad killed in a recent rotation to the front.
But the fighting is taking a huge toll on Russian forces as well.
Though their tactics have improved since the botched effort to take Kyiv, Putin’s generals are facing Ukrainians who are better armed and prepared than they were in the opening weeks of the war.
Western officials briefing journalists on Wednesday estimated that Russian forces have been ground down to around half the strength they had before the war started.
Kherson – a strategically important city which spans the Dnieper River close to where it joins the Black Sea – has been occupied by Russia since the early days of the war.
However, the region has been hotly contested with heavy Ukrainian shelling in areas to the west and now counter-attacks out of the nearby city of Mykolaiv.
Kherson has also been the scene of attacks by pro-Ukraine saboteurs operating partisan-style behind enemy lines.
Valery Kuleshov, a pro-Russian blogger, was shot dead in the area last month in his car after a reward of £15,000 was offered for the head of pro-Moscow officials.
Threats have been posted on social media, telephone poles, trees and walls.
‘Russian occupiers and everyone who supports them. We are close, already operating in Kherson. Death awaits you all!’ warned posters that appeared on the day of Kuleshov’s execution.
Ukraine’s flag also keeps appearing on buildings, along with the national colours of blue and yellow.
‘This is a local partisan resistance,’ said Serhiy Khlan, adviser to the head of Kherson Regional Administration. ‘It leaves the occupants uneasy every day, reminding them about the fact that Kherson is Ukraine.’
Mr Khlan said more organised efforts were starting in Kherson as Russia tries to impose its currency and language before the planned annexation.
‘It’s too early to talk about it but we have cases already when collaborators just disappear,’ he said.
Areas of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk which were occupied by pro-Russian rebels before the start of the war – so-called ‘People’s Republics’ – announced a general mobilisation in late February, just before the war broke it.
All men under the age of 55 were banned from leaving the territory, and put on notice that they might be called up to join the fighting.
Since then, Denis Pushilin – leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic – has been forced to raise the age to 65, because so few men have been found to join the army.
Those in the occupied areas – many of whom consider Ukraine to be their home country – have described thousands of men going into hiding to avoid the draft.
Fighting-age men are said to be hiding in the basements and back-rooms of houses where no males are registered, since the draft is organised by address.
Residents who spoke to The Guardian last month said many come out at night, when military patrols looking for conscripts are less frequent.
‘When I walk my dog at 11pm I could see the silhouettes of men smoking behind the curtains, with a window open,’ said one person who asked for anonymity.
Heavy fighting is underway in the eastern Donbas region, but battles are also taking place to the west of Kherson as Ukraine counter-attacks
Russian troops and dogs patrol the streets of Kherson, which has been under occupation since early March when Putin’s men captured it
‘It usually takes 45 minute to fix a problem with my tyres, and I just grab a coffee nearby,’ said another woman.
‘But last time I was asked to drop my car and leave it over the weekend so that they could bring a guy to fix it at night.’
All those who did not avoid the conscription have been sent away to the frontlines, often poorly armed and with ageing Soviet equipment – some of it dating back to the Second World War.
DPR units have been photographed fighting in Mariupol, across the Donbas, and in the southern Kherson region.
Russian forces have taken heavy losses during the war, which is now a little over three months old, and DPR forces have been no exception.
In an update late last month, the government gave total casualties as 1,912 soldiers killed and 7,919 wounded since the start of the war.
In 2015, it was estimated the DPR’s total military was between 30,000 and 35,000 men, meaning almost a third of that force is now out of action.
The Tartan Army sings with Ukraine during emotional play-off match in Glasgow
Ukraine’s emotion-filled quest to qualify for the 2022 World Cup drew one step closer with a 3-1 win over Scotland on Wednesday in a pulsating playoff semi-final, which saw Scottish fans singing the national anthem of their opposition.
The two sides met at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, with the match being Ukraine’s first competitive game since their territory was invaded by Russia’s armies on Feb. 24.
The play-off match was rescheduled from its initial March date due to the impact of the war, with the build up being dominated by the emotional toll the brutal conflict has taken on the team’s players, coaching staff and fans.
Ukraine’s emotion-filled quest to qualify for the 2022 World Cup drew one step closer with a 3-1 win over Scotland on Wednesday in a pulsating playoff semifinal. Pictured: Ukraine fans celebrate in Glashow’s Hampden Park on June 01, 2022
Ukraine’s Roman Yaremchuk celebrates scoring their second goal with Ukrainian fans
Scottish fans were asked to sing along with Ukraine’s travelling supporters before the match in a show of solidarity, with language education app Duolingo printing out flyers with a phonetic version of the lyrics to help the non-Ukrainian speakers.
The Ukrainian players all walked onto the field each with a blue and yellow national flag draped on their shoulders, and were met with huge applause.
When the time came, Ukraine’s national anthem ‘Shche ne vmerla Ukrainas’ – which translates roughly to ‘Ukraine has not yet died’ – was belted out by Ukrainians and the Tartan Army alike, while Scottish pipers played along.
Many fans stayed after the game to salute their victorious opponents off the field, and Ukrainian flags were waved by some home fans. Several were pictured with the yellow and blue flag painted on their faces, alongside St Andrew’s Cross.
Ukraine’s squad was made up of players who mostly have not played a competitive game for six months because of the war at home, and most of Ukraine’s squad play for home-based clubs whose league was shut down after Russia’s invasion.
After the match in March was postponed, FIFA and Scotland agreed to give the Ukrainian team a fair chance to prepare for games that have become a focus of national identity and pride.
Two Scottish fans are seen with the Scottish and Ukrainian flags painted on their faces
A Scottish fan is shown in the stands holding a flag which reads ‘Stand with Ukraine’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave his blessing for Ukraine’s players and coach Oleksandr Petrakov to leave their homeland to prepare for and play the game.
A month-long training camp in the safety of Slovenia has featured warm-up games arranged against clubs in Germany, Italy and Croatia, giving players from Ukrainian clubs like Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv a chance to get match sharp.
But the lack of competitive action did not seem to hinder Ukraine. Veteran captain Andriy Yarmolenko lifted his nation by scoring a deft lobbed goal in the 33rd minute and then helped set up Roman Yaremchuk’s header in the 49th to make it 2-0.
Ukraine dominated for much of a deserved win but had to resist a Scotland revival as risk-filled attacks brought a goal in the 79th by Callum McGregor, before Ukraine substitute Artem Dovbyk broke clear to score with the last kick of the game.
Ultimately, Scotland lacked the class needed and its wait for World Cup soccer now extends beyond the 24 years since it went to the 1998 tournament.
As for Ukraine, the team needs just one more famous win to reach Qatar 2022 – which would be its first World Cup finals tournament in 24 years.