Like any deployed troops, Russian soldiers make calls back home to reconnect with family, friends and other loved ones. Unlike most deployed troops, the calls they’re making candidly reveal the terrible experiences of an unjust war, one they weren’t prepared mentally or physically to fight.
The Associated Press obtained thousands of these calls, and detailed the shockingly grim and deadly picture of what life is like on the front lines of the Ukraine war for the young Russian men who are fighting it. Around 2,000 conversations were intercepted from a Russian unit that Ukrainians say committed war crimes in Bucha, a town near Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, in March 2022.
Many Russians joined the military for the same reasons many people around the world joined the army: they needed money. They didn’t know they would be deploying to invade Ukraine at the last minute. They were told by Russian officials that Ukraine was governed by an oppressive Nazi regime and the Russians would be liberating the country – and would be welcomed as such by the Ukrainian people.
Russian soldiers were also told that Kyiv would fall to Russian forces within a week and the war would be pretty much over by then. The battle for Kyiv instead lasted longer than a month and the result was a withdrawal of Russian forces from the areas around Kyiv, pushing the Russians all the way back toward their border with Ukraine.
The young Russian troops, the intercepted calls reveal, know they were misled into the war and began looting, drinking and growing more violent as the fear and uncertainty along the front lines only grew. They revealed they were under orders to kill prisoners of war and civilians, so many took to getting drunk so they could follow such orders.
The Associated Press detailed the stories of three Russian soldiers who were in Bucha when such atrocities were committed, but could not find evidence of their being involved. The AP can only confirm what the soldiers confessed on the call back to their homes in Russia. Their mothers cannot believe the stories they are told by their sons.
One mother, whose son is called “Leonid” by the AP, expressed shocked disbelief to discover her son is looting the abandoned homes of Ukrainian civilians. She is also shocked about the fact that Russian troops are missing basic supplies, such as food, socks and cookware. When she discovers that Russian troops are torturing and murdering civilians, she can only reply a short “mhm.”
Another soldier, called Ivan, was in the Russian military conducting an exercise in Belarus when he received a Telegram message that Ukrainians were committing genocide against Russians in Ukraine and that the war would start soon. Once sent to Ukraine, All Ivan could think of is his girlfriend, Olya. His mother is fully supportive of Putin’s invasion and says as much, encouraging her son to “kill them all.” Ivan, her only son, was killed in July 2022.
Maxim is the third caller from the Russian military in Ukraine. He too was sent to Bucha in March 2022. Maxim spends most of his time intoxicated, because he is taking just as much fire from Russian forces as he is Ukrainian. He is able to call home using the captured mobile phones of Ukrainian civilians. He also loots for gold to help his family’s financial troubles back home.
To read the entire account of Russian phone calls back home or listen to the audio recordings in full, check out the full article by the Associated Press.