Mothers invited to Kyiv to pick up Russian soldier sons
The mothers of Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine have been invited to collect their sons in an apparent attempt to turn the tide of public opinion against President Vladimir Putin’s war.
“A decision has been taken to hand over captured Russian troops to their mothers if they come to collect them in Ukraine – in Kyiv,” the Ukrainian Defence Ministry said.
Growing numbers of Russian prisoners have claimed they were duped by their superiors into fighting, and were filmed weeping as they phoned their families.
Eight days into Russia’s invasion, Kyiv claims to have captured dozens of Russian servicemen. About 5840 Russian soldiers have been killed, according to Ukrainian officials.
For much of the first week of the war, the Russian Defence Ministry limited its public comments to saying the losses it had suffered were significantly lower than those on the Ukrainian side, without providing details. Late on Wednesday, the ministry gave its first official accounting, saying 498 soldiers had been killed and more than 1500 wounded.
It also said more than 2800 Ukrainian troops had died in the fighting. Neither the Russian nor Ukrainian figures could be verified independently.
Numerous videos, apparently showing unarmed captives, some of them teenagers, have circulated on Ukrainian and Russian social media channels.
One shows a soldier in handcuffs telling his mother he loves her. He told her: “They sent us to death, everyone killed everyone.” In another, a soldier said they were not allowed to collect the bodies of their fallen comrades, and there were “no funerals” for the dead.
Some of the videos appear to have been released by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry in an effort to demoralise the Russians. Mr Putin’s invasion plans have stalled amid fiercer-than-expected resistance from Kyiv.
In one video, marked with the symbol of the Ukrainian state, a Russian soldier speaking to camera says he and his unit were told by their superiors they were in Ukraine to act as a peacekeeping force. He said: “They told us that (President Volodymyr) Zelensky had signed a declaration of surrender, and that we simply needed to go in and protect Kyiv.”
Other soldiers said they were told they had gone to Ukraine for “training exercises”. In one video, a soldier said his unit was training in the Russian town of Belgorod when troops were woken in the middle of the night and taken to Ukraine.
A statement released by the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia supported the claim. The organisation, which monitors human rights violations in the Russian military, claimed many soldiers had been tricked. It said soldiers were told they were heading to the border for drills but had their contracts changed to include conflict.
Kyiv has sought to undermine Russian public support for the invasion by opening a telephone hotline for Russian parents to find out whether their sons are among the dead or captured. Mothers have been invited to Ukraine to collect their missing children.
“You will be received and taken to Kyiv, where your son will be returned to you,” the ministry statement said. “Unlike Putin’s fascists, we Ukrainians are not waging war against mothers and their captured children.”
Other Russian prisoners received harsher treatment. One soldier, who gave his name as Daniil, was forced to lie on the ground while civilian gunmen tore the badges from his uniform. The soldier, who said he was from Buryatia, a republic on the border with Mongolia, gave his year of birth as 2003.
Of Russia’s 900,000-strong standing army, roughly 250,000 are conscripts. A 12-month military draft is mandatory for men between the ages of 18 and 27. Intercepted radio messages obtained by British intelligence firm ShadowBreak indicated that Russian troops were refusing to obey orders to shell Ukrainian towns.
In other transmissions, Russian soldiers can be heard crying in combat, insulting one another and, in one instance, shooting at each other.