A soldier’s diary from the Ukraine campaign reveals a routed Russian army

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Pavel Filatyev, a former Russian army paratrooper, posted his diary on a Russian social media site earlier this month, detailing his experience in Ukraine. He then fled his country. Filatyev’s poignant testimony is the first detailed account of the realities facing Russian soldiers still fighting in Ukraine six months after the invasion began.

On August 1, Pavel Filatyev, a 34-year-old Russian soldier, posted a 141-page diary about his Ukrainian battlefield experience on Vkontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook.

Titled “ZOV” – named after the tactical markings painted on Russian military vehicles during the Ukraine campaign – the memoir was spotted by Russian-speaking Western military experts and caused a stir on Twitter. His damning account of the war was picked up by several Western news agencies before he fled Russia to an undisclosed location in Europe.

Filatyev served in the 56th Guards Air Assault Regiment based in Crimea. The unit was ordered to march from its base in late February to mainland Ukraine for what commanders called a routine exercise.

Ill-equipped and lacking training, command targets or logistics, his unit arrived in the city of Kherson in southeastern Ukraine on March 1 after other units from the Russian army have already occupied the port of the city. Filatiev’s account of his experience is eloquent testimony to Moscow’s callous disregard for ‘grunts’, or infantrymen, on the battlefield.

“Have you ever seen the paintings of the Sack of Rome by the Barbarians? That’s the best way to describe what was happening around me,” he wrote in an English-translated excerpt published in the Guardian. “Everyone looked exhausted and wild, and we all started scouring the buildings for food, water, a shower and a place to sleep; some started grabbing computers and whatever valuables they could find. I was no exception: I found a hat in a destroyed truck on site and took it. My balaclava was too cold. I became disgusted with all the looting, despite my savage state.

The memoir, noted Frank Ledwidge, a former British military officer and senior research fellow at the University of Portsmouth, was a “corroboration of everything we saw on the battlefield” during the Ukrainian war, which “amply describes lack of discipline and professionalism”. in the Russian army.

Little training, absent company commander

Filatyev comes from a military family with a long line of men who served in his country’s military.

He spent much of his early 20s in the Russian military, serving in Chechnya in the late 2000s before leaving to work in the private sector. In 2021, he joined the military for financial reasons, he explained, enlisting in the 56th Guards Air Assault Regiment.

When he joined the service last year, Filatyev expected better military training since the Russian Defense Ministry enacted major structural reforms in 2010. But that was not the case.

The training his unit received before the Ukraine campaign was pitiful, according to Filatyev.

In mid-February, his unit received increased training, alerting Filatyev to the possibility of Russia attempting some kind of military action in Ukraine.

But Filatiev’s company commander was largely absent, and the unit’s young political officer had to train the soldiers as best he could. The Russian paratrooper also detailed instances where the whole company fell ill from a parachute jump and how the whole company caught Covid-19.

On the eve of the invasion, the soldiers were unaware of any invasion plan. “I couldn’t understand what was going on, who was shooting at whom and from where…I couldn’t fully understand what was going on – were we shooting at the advancing Ukrainians? to be on NATO?” he wrote. Filatyev was supposed to follow orders blindly, “like a stallion driven to castration”.

Eat “just like savages”

On the march to Kherson, their vehicles began to break down, run out of fuel, or get stuck in the mud. Sporadic fighting with the Ukrainians caused many casualties in their ranks and no one knew exactly what was going on.

Filatyev began to worry about Ukrainian resistance in a big city like Kherson. “I don’t think the mayor of the city will come out with bread and salt, raise the flag of the Russian Federation on the administrative building,” he worries in his memoirs.

After entering the city, Filatyev found he had to fend for himself, including finding food and shelter.

He discovered a kitchen in an office building with his fellow soldiers and after enduring a month without bathing or normal food, “we ate it all like savages”, he said. “Everything that was there – cereal, oatmeal, jam, honey, coffee, everything was turned upside down and we ate whatever we could find.”

Kherson was the first major city to fall under Russian control during the initial rapid onslaught of the invasion. But as his unit pushed further north and west of the city, the situation worsened.

Filatyev’s unit moved towards Mykolaiv, where their advance was halted by fierce Ukrainian resistance. For months, soldiers from both sides remained in the trenches and came under intense shelling.

The terrors of trench warfare deeply affected Filatiev and his comrades in arms. “Every time there was an artillery barrage I would bury my head in the ground and [thought], “God, if I survive, I will do anything to change that!” he noted.

Corruption in the army

It wasn’t long before Filatyev was injured and transferred to a hospital, where he witnessed first-hand the effects of a shortage of medicine among doctors.

Filatyev attributes the failures he witnessed on the battlefield to “the terrible corruption and disorder of (our) army, its moral and technical obsolescence”.

Corruption, he argues, has worked its way into Russian military institutions, destroying them from within. “Professional advancement is only possible with connections and loyalty to the system,” he noted. “How can truly promising and enterprising servicemen advance?”

Filatyev tried to complain, writing a full report to the Ministry of Defense saying, “I see complete anarchy, there is only a slight hint of combat readiness.

Unsurprisingly, his complaints fell on deaf ears.

He also criticizes the leadership of his officers in combat. “In all my time in the war, I don’t recall officers ever bothering to lead soldiers,” he said. “Those who make it to higher ranks sit back and grit their teeth…because they don’t talk the system eats itself,” he lamented.

Desperate to be heard, the young paratrooper took enormous risks trying to alert his superiors and ultimately posting his diary. But in the end, Filatyev was forced to conclude that he and his comrades were just cannon fodder for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs in Eastern Europe.

The Ukraine campaign is “a war where no one will care about your safety, what you eat and drink,” he wrote. “They have just decided to dump our corpses on Ukraine, the women will still give birth to others.”

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