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Hungry Russians sent to fight in Ukraine with rusty guns


A Russian soldier on patrol in Ukraine

A Russian soldier on patrol in Ukraine

A Russian soldier on patrol in Ukraine

Russia’s military was in such a poor state before its invasion of Ukraine that soldiers had to buy their own kit, use rusty rifles and sleep among stray dogs, a former paratrooper has revealed.

Pavel Filatyev, whose warts-and-all account of the war has been published in book form, was in an elite unit that stormed Kherson from occupied Crimea in February.

In the 141-page account of the early days of the conflict, the 34-year-old revealed that troops were sent across the border ravaged by hunger, without any instructions about tactics and with almost no knowledge of the wider war.

The unit charged into the southern port city under rocket fire, on empty stomachs and deprived of sleep after having been turned into “savages” by the conditions they had endured in the six months leading up to the invasion.

Describing the moment they found an abandoned cafe, he wrote: “Like savages, we ate everything there: oats, porridge, jam, honey, coffee. We didn’t give a damn about anything, we’d already been pushed to the limit.”

Others in the “worn-out and feral” forces who entered Ukrainian territory in unarmoured vehicles “started grabbing computers and whatever valuable goods they could find”, Filatyev said.

As the war dragged on, he and his unit became pinned down near Mykolaiv, under Ukrainian artillery fire, for nearly a month.

There a shell exploded, blasting mud into his eye, causing an infection that nearly blinded him, and he was withdrawn from the front line and sent to a hospital. It was then he started to write his account.

The problems did not begin when Russian forces stormed Kherson and mounted their full-scale invasion, wrote Filatyev, who arrived at his elite parachute regiment’s base in Crimea last August after rejoining the military.

There were no beds in the barracks, which were infested by stray dogs, so soldiers were forced to move into a cheap hotel on the peninsula illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.

He also spent 10 days waiting for his military-issue uniform to arrive, but had to buy a pair of boots after his footwear was delivered in the wrong size.

Boots are often stolen by corrupt Russian officers and sold for profit.

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The rifle he was given was rusty and had a broken strap, he said.

Despite his unit’s status, very few of his fellow paratroopers knew how to pack their parachutes, which delayed their initial practice jump by several days.

Even then, they were erroneously dropped from a plane above a cemetery.

“It’s good that the weather was good, everyone taxied out, no one landed on a cross or anyone’s grave,” Filatyev wrote of the operation.

He and others also contracted pneumonia in the cold, damp conditions.

Since publishing the memoir of his experiences, Filatyev, who served in the 56th Guards air assault regiment, has been helped to leave Russia by a team led by France-based human rights activist Vladimir Osechkin.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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