“We were dirty and tired, the people around us were dying,” the officer told CNN. “I didn’t want to feel like I was part of it, but I was part of it.”
He said he went to find his commander and resigned on the spot.
For security reasons, CNN does not include any personal information that could help to name or identify a police officer.
His story is noteworthy, but opponents of the war in Russia and Ukraine say that both professional and conscripts have heard many examples of soldiers refusing to fight. .
According to assessments by Western officials, including the Pentagon, the Russian military is struggling with low morale and heavy losses in Ukraine.
The Russian Ministry of Defense did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
An officer interviewed by CNN said he was part of a massive military buildup in western Russia that sparked global fears about Ukraine. However, he said he didn’t think too much when he was asked to hand over the cell phone to himself and the rest of the battalion stationed in Krasnodar in southern Russia on February 22 this year without any explanation.
“The next day we were taken to Crimea. To be honest, I didn’t think I would go to Ukraine. I never thought it would come this far,” said the man.
President Vladimir Putin launched a further invasion of Ukraine on 24 February after his troops assembled in Crimea, a region of Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2014.
However, the officer said that he and his colleagues were unaware, as no news had come to them and they could not have contact with the outside world without a cell phone.
Two days later they were ordered to enter Ukraine, a police officer told CNN.
“Some people completely refused. They wrote a report and left. I don’t know what happened to them. I stayed. I don’t know why. We went the next day,” he said.
The officer said he did not know the purpose of the mission. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s radical claims that Ukraine is part of Russia and that “Naziization should be eliminated” did not reach those called to battle.
“We weren’t swayed by some sort of ‘Ukrainian Nazi’ rhetoric. A lot of people didn’t understand what this was for and what we were doing here,” he said.
In an interview with CNN, he said he hoped for a diplomatic solution and felt guilty about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, he added that he was not well versed in politics.
After his troops crossed the border in a long train, the first thing the soldier remembers is seeing boxes of dried Russian food and piles of destroyed equipment scattered throughout.
“I was sitting in KAMAZ. [truck], holding a gun to me. “I had a pistol and two grenades,” he said.
The army advanced northwest in the direction of Kherson. As they approached the village, a man with a whip jumped down and started yelling, swinging his convoy. The officer recalled.
“He almost climbed into the hut we were in. His eyes were weeping with tears. It left a strong impression on me,” he added. “Usually, seeing the locals makes me nervous. Some people hide their weapons under their clothes and shoot them when they get close.”
He said that he would hide his face from shame as well as safety because it would be shameful to see Ukrainians there. in their land.
He said the Russians were also hit harder with mortars on the second or third day of their arrival in Ukraine.
“It was aftershocks for the first week or so,” he told CNN. “I didn’t even think about it.” “I just went to bed thinking, ‘Today is March 1. When I wake up tomorrow, it will be March 2. The important thing is to live another day.’ Several times the shells fell very close. It’s a miracle that none of us died,” he said.
The officer told CNN he wasn’t the only soldier worried or confused about why he was sent to invade Ukraine.
But he also remembers feeling good when he found out that the combat bonus was going to be paid out soon.
“Someone said, ‘Oh, I’ll finish the loan in 15 more days here,'” he said.
A few weeks later, police officers were deployed closer to the rear with equipment in need of repairs, he said.
There he also said that he had a better idea of what was going on and that he had more time and energy to reflect on.
“We had a radio receiver and we could hear the news,” he told CNN. “So I learned that in Russia the shops are closing and the economy is collapsing. I felt guilty about this. But because we came to Ukraine, I felt even more guilty.”
He said that he had become so determined that there was only one thing he could do.
“I ended up coming together to write a letter of resignation to the commander,” he told CNN.
At first, the commander denied access and said that it was impossible to refuse service.
“He said there could be a criminal case. The refusal is a betrayal. But I stood my ground. He gave me paper and a pen,” the officer told CNN.
See more ‘refuseniks’
There have been other reports of soldiers refusing to fight in the tightly controlled Russian media environment.
Valentina Melnikova, secretary-general of the Federation of Russian Military Mothers’ Councils, said she heard many complaints and concerns as the first unit returned from Ukraine to rest.
“Soldiers and officers have written resignation reports saying they can’t return successfully,” she told CNN. She said, “The main reason is, first, moral and psychological state. Second, moral beliefs. I wrote the report then, and I am writing it now.”
Formed in 1989, Melnikova said all units had the right to report, while acknowledging that some commanders could refuse or threaten soldiers.
Her organization often advises soldiers on how to write reports and provides legal advice.
CNN cannot verify that number.
Melnikova told CNN that soldiers in Ukraine refused to fight, but refused to give more details for legal and safety reasons.
Aleksey Tabalov, a human rights activist and director of an organization helping Russian conscripts, told CNN he had personally consulted with two veterans.
“There were two same people who refused to fight and turned to us, but another 30 from the brigade they left,” Tabalov told CNN.
When submitting his resignation letter, Tabalov said he said that when the soldiers signed the contract, they did not agree to participate in special operations against Ukraine.
Absence from work without vacation in the Russian military is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment. However, a person serving in accordance with the contract has the legal right to resign within 10 days after leaving the company, explaining the motive for leaving the company.
“I can’t say that this is a popular phenomenon, but it is very powerful,” Tabalov told CNN. “If you add up all the examples from other organizations and indirect information, the number exceeds 1,000.”
He said recruitment is still ongoing in the country and new soldiers often come from poorer areas with fewer prospects.
Thousands of Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the war. Ukrainian forces estimate Russian losses at more than 22,000. The Russian Ministry of Defense reported on March 25 that 1,351 soldiers had been killed.
The Pentagon did not respond to CNN’s request for an update.
The officer who spoke to CNN is now with his family.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m happy to be home.”