A group of untrained Russian troops, who were drafted after Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization in September, fled from the front line in Ukraine and have been hiding in a forest for two weeks, according to media reports.
The mother of one of the mobilized soldiers, Elena Solodovnikova, told Siberia.Realii that her son and four other men from the Pervomaisky district of the Tomsk region are being accused of desertion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Relatives of the five mobilized men say they did not undergo the required military training, and that they were deployed to Ukraine’s Luhansk region without ammunition or food.
The men were promised three months of training in a military unit in Omsk, but instead, were immediately taken to Yekaterinburg, given uniforms and sent to the border area in the Rostov region on September 29.
She said they were called “meat” and “minced meat” in their military unit and that the group retreated from the front line after coming under mortar fire and are now hiding in a forest.
“There was no equipment. There were machine guns, but what are they going to do with machine guns against tanks?” Solodovnikova said.
“Now they are on their own. They made some kind of awning out of tents. During the day they burn fires to keep warm [and] extinguish them at night,” the mother said, adding that the last time she heard from the group was October 17.
Solodovnikova said if the men were return to their unit they could be court-martialed.
The mother said that she and relatives of the other four men have appealed for help to Tatyana Solomatina, the State Duma deputy for the Tomsk region, asking if the mobilized men can undergo training.
Solomatina reportedly responded by telling the family members that “military officers refuse to work with deserters.”
In October, Russian independent media outlet Mediazona reported that Adam Kalinin, an IT specialist from southern Russia, has been hiding in woods since Putin announced a partial mobilization on September 21.
The British Ministry of Defence assessed on Friday that the Russian military is probably threatening to shoot deserters.
Russian forces have likely started deploying “barrier troops” or “blocking units” to deal with retreating soldiers who are unwilling to fight “due to low morale.”
“These units threaten to shoot their own retreating soldiers in order to compel offensives and have been used in previous conflicts by Russian forces,” the British defense ministry said.
The assessment added: “Recently, Russian generals likely wanted their commanders to use weapons against deserters, including possibly authorising shooting to kill such defaulters after a warning had been given.”
British intelligence states that the tactic of shooting deserters “likely attests to the low quality, low morale and indiscipline of Russian forces.”
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.