How desperate Russian soldiers would rather take their own lives than be ... trends now
When Mikhail Lyubimov returned to his mother’s Moscow flat last month, he was a very different young man from the one who’d gone to war in Ukraine.
In his three months on the frontline, the 25-year-old had witnessed scenes of scarcely believable horror. Stricken by panic attacks, he began drinking heavily.
But it was when he was ordered to return to his unit for a second tour of duty that he decided he could take no more.
The day before he was due to report back for another stint on the frontline, he threw himself out of a tenth-floor window — in full view of his mother — and fell to his death.
His tragic story offers a revealing insight into the state of Russia’s army.
Some 180,000 Russians have been killed or wounded during the war on Ukraine. Pictured: Newly-conscripted soldiers in Russia
25-year-old Mikhail Lyubimov (pictured) had witnessed scenes of scarcely believable horror. Stricken by panic attacks, he began drinking heavily and eventually threw himself out of a tenth-floor window
As it adopts a meat-grinder approach to warfare, with wave after wave of conscripts being driven into a hail of bullets, tank and artillery fire on battlefields all over eastern Ukraine, morale has never been lower.
Some 180,000 Russians have been killed or wounded, according to credible estimates from Norway’s army chief.
And after so many members of Russia’s standing army have been slaughtered, Vladimir Putin’s regime — like Stalin’s before him — is increasingly turning to its prison population to reinforce the frontline.
Many of the troops being used as cannon fodder are convicted murderers, rapists and thieves, all lured to the front by the promise of a pardon if they survive for six months.
Ukrainian soldiers who have been on the receiving end of Russian attacks are also convinced that enemy soldiers are fortified by drugs that enable them to keep fighting until they bleed out — ‘even when hit by machine guns’ — and which leave them so desensitised that they clamber over the corpses of their dead comrades as though they are nothing more than fallen tree trunks.
No wonder recruits such as the tragic Lyubimov prefer a quick end than a lingering death on the battlefield amid the carnage inflicted on them by the Western-armed Ukrainians.
As it adopts a meat-grinder approach to warfare, with wave after wave of conscripts being driven into a hail of bullets, tank and artillery fire, morale has never been lower. Pictured: Evgeny Prigozhin (left) assists Vladimir Putin during a dinner in 2011
One Russian draftee recently described how he had witnessed a desperate soldier take his own life after getting his first taste of the war.
‘He blew up a grenade in his hands,’ he said. ‘He was torn in half before my eyes.’
Others seek to avoid being sent to Ukraine by rendering themselves medically unfit. Gruesome videos have been posted online showing men getting friends to smash their arms or legs with sledgehammers. Internet searches for ‘how to break an arm’ or ‘how to break a leg at home’ have spiked in Russia since Putin’s notorious ‘partial mobilisation’ was announced five months ago.
While the draft officially ended at the end of October, when defence minister Sergei Shoigu insisted the Russian army had raised sufficient manpower, the fact is that men of fighting age are still being press-ganged into service on the quiet.
A year on from the invasion of eastern Ukraine, with the Russians losing men at a rate of an estimated 20,000 a month, Putin’s demand for more troops to hold the lines — let alone advance — remains insatiable.
One way of replacing the dead is to turn reservists and conscripts into regular soldiers, so the army can deploy them at will.
A report from Astra, an independent Russian news source, says some conscripts were taken to a forest a few days ago, cut off from outside contact and told to sign contracts as regular soldiers. There was ‘shooting at their feet’ to ensure they obeyed.
There has been little in the way of organised resistance to this sort of behaviour because, in the main, it is men from the poorest and most marginalised communities in Russia who have been targeted for the call-up.
Affluent families in Moscow and St Petersburg benefit from a policy not to recruit so intensively in places where the elite reside, and they can also draw on a wide variety of well-established techniques designed to help their sons dodge the draft.
These include keeping them in education, sending them abroad or soliciting treatment for non-existent problems with drugs or mental health. Then there’s that old favourite: calling on friends in high places.
Members of Russia’s ethnic-minority communities are not so lucky. They have been deliberately targeted by Putin, not only to swell the ranks but to diminish the likelihood of rebellion in remote regions. After all, many of the young men who oppose his rule will never return home.
One Russian draftee recently described how he had witnessed a desperate soldier take his own life after getting his first taste of the war. Pictured: Russian soldiers practice on a military training ground
Take the village of Gvasyuga in the Khabarovsk region, 5,250 miles east of Moscow. There, a staggering 30 per cent of the available men have been mobilised, according to a report this week by iStories, another independent Russian news source.
Meanwhile, the death toll in some ethnic Siberian communities is six times as high as the fatalities among the mainly Slavic soldiers drawn from Moscow and St Petersburg — cities where the wealthy are still partying as though there is no war.
The region sending most men to fight is Krasnoyarsk, also in faraway Siberia, which has provided a grossly disproportionate 28,000, or 5.5 per cent