Russian Fighters Explain Why They Took Up Arms Against The Kremlin


For weeks, a few of the most intense preventing within the battle in Ukraine has centered on the Donetsk area metropolis of Bakhmut, which Russian forces appear decided to seize even at monumental value. The almost abandoned metropolis is being held by Ukrainian forces, together with Russian volunteers serving within the Free Russia legion and preventing in opposition to the invading forces of their very own nation.

The complexion of the preventing has modified since Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced army mobilization in September, bringing tens of 1000’s of extra troopers to the Russian strains. As well as, the ostensibly personal Wagner mercenary group has recruited tens of 1000’s of convicts from Russian prisons and appears to be spearheading the drive to seize Bakhmut.

“We are able to really feel the distinction since mobilization,” stated a Free Russian fighter in Bakhmut who goes by the decision signal Tsezar, which suggests Caesar in English. “Now you’ll be able to simply shoot with out aiming and also you’ll undoubtedly hit somebody. Earlier we needed to seek for targets to nook Russian teams. Now, there are a number of them – in each gap.”

“They’ve been capable of advance a bit, however at the price of monumental losses,” he added. “I really feel sorry for the poor guys. I would really like to have the ability to inform them: ‘You don’t have any enemies in Ukraine. There aren’t any enemies in Paris or New York. All your enemies are sitting within the Kremlin.”

The Free Russia legion was shaped in March 2022. In line with Ukrainian sources, the primary members had been troopers who defected from the Russian army shortly after Moscow launched its large, unprovoked invasion on February 24. Of their manifesto, they describe themselves as “free residents of Russia who take duty for themselves and are starting to battle for a New Russia.”

"[W]e are united by one goal -- to defend Ukraine and then return to Russia with weapons in our hands,” says Tsezar from the Free Russia legion.

“[W]e are united by one purpose — to defend Ukraine after which return to Russia with weapons in our arms,” says Tsezar from the Free Russia legion.

The precise variety of fighters within the group is held secret, however media studies point out figures as much as 4,000. Tsezar, a 50-year-old from St. Petersburg who describes himself as a “Russian nationalist,” advised RFE/RL’s Russian Service that he joined the legion’s “second battalion” and now “the third and fourth are being shaped.” Numbers differ from nation to nation, however a battalion typically consists of a number of hundred and as much as 1,000 troops.

“They’re all totally different folks,” he stated when requested who has joined the legion. “All of them have totally different fates, however we’re united by one purpose — to defend Ukraine after which return to Russia with weapons in our arms.”

“Russia has discredited itself and there can’t be any regular switch of energy there,” he added. “They may cling to it tightly and are able to sacrifice thousands and thousands of individuals to carry on.”

‘I am Performed With Russia’

Tikhy, which suggests quiet or calm in English, is the decision signal of one other Free Russia fighter from the Volga River metropolis of Tolyatti. When Moscow’s invasion started in February 2022, he was engaged on a building web site in Kyiv.

“At first, I merely couldn’t consider it,” he recalled. “Solely after the third rocket flew by did I perceive what was taking place. I gathered up my household and we hid within the basement.”

Tikhy has been fighting for Ukraine since late spring last year.

Tikhy has been preventing for Ukraine since late spring final yr.

In late spring, he joined the legion. He spent a number of weeks coaching and was then despatched to the entrance, the place he has been ever since.

“I’m executed with Russia. I don’t even need to hear about it after what they did within the Kyiv area and elsewhere,” Tikhy stated when requested if he ever expects to see his homeland once more, referring to driving proof that Russian forces dedicated atrocities in areas that they occupied, together with Kyiv area cities similar to Bucha.

Tsezar joined the legion across the identical time.

“February 24 got here as a shock,” he stated. “My kids had been me with tears and asking: ‘Papa, how can this be? How might Russia assault Ukraine?’ I advised them to not fear as a result of Ukraine would win ultimately.”

“I couldn’t simply stand by,” he stated. “I attempted to volunteer for the worldwide legion, however they weren’t taking Russians then. When Free Russia was shaped, I utilized, went by means of some background checks, and ended up right here.”

Putin ‘Raised The Stakes’

The 2 males now kind a mortar crew squaring off in opposition to uncooked Russian troops.

“Putin actually raised the stakes with mobilization,” Tsezar stated. “Earlier, we had been preventing in opposition to the so-called ‘little inexperienced males’ and a few Vasya was sitting in Saratov watching tv,” he stated, utilizing a diminutive of the frequent Russian first title Vasily.

“Now Vasya has to get off his butt and crawl round a chilly trench exterior of Bakhmut whereas Tikhy and I fireplace mortars at him,” he stated. “Vasya’s angle goes to alter. If Vasya actually thinks about it, perhaps he’ll be part of us and we’ll march collectively on Moscow.”

A shell used by the legion with the words "For the freedom of Russia."

A shell utilized by the legion with the phrases “For the liberty of Russia.”

Regardless of taking over arms in opposition to the Russian army and authorities, Tzesar insisted he remained a right-leaning Russian nationalist who seems to be again nostalgically on the tsarist period.

“What are the Russian provinces?” he stated. “Dust, ruins, poverty, drunkenness. That’s what we must be engaged on, reasonably than increasing our jail to incorporate Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Belarus. That’s the form of Russian nationalist that I’m…. There isn’t a sense in utilizing drive to carry folks that don’t need to be with you.”

Tzesar remained assured in Ukraine’s final victory, however urged Kyiv’s allies to supply extra superior weaponry.

“You noticed how 20 or 30 HIMARS items modified the course of the battle,” he stated, referring to the U.S.-made a number of rocket launchers that helped Ukraine bounce again after the preliminary invasion. “And the West has a whole bunch extra. And 1000’s of tanks. I gained’t even point out plane.”

“If Ukraine had even a tiny fraction of those weapons, Tikhy and I might be celebrating our victory someplace on a seaside in Crimea,” he stated.

Written by RFE/RL function author Robert Coalson primarily based on reporting by Yevgeny Legalov.

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