Russian military officers are fleeing from battle in Ukraine, a soldier who was conscripted as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization order has claimed.
A Russian soldier who told independent news outlet Verstka that he survived shelling by Ukrainian forces near Makiivka in the Luhansk region, said his unit’s commanders fled from the front line on November 2, while his entire battalion was ordered to dig trenches and hold defensive positions.
The soldier, identified in the report as Oleksiy Agafonov, said the Ukrainian shelling may have killed up to 500 Russian mobilized personnel in a single day.
“We were thrown into landings, they told us to dig in, we had three shovels per battalion…we dug in as best we could, and in the morning shelling began—artillery, ‘grads’, mortars, copters, we were simply shot,” he said.
“When it all started, the officers immediately ran away,” Agafonov claimed. “In between shelling, we tried to dig in, but the copters immediately spotted us and simply shot us.”
Agafonov said Russian men drafted as part of Putin’s September 21 mobilization decree do not want to fight, and that mobilized people from all over the country are brought to the front lines to close the gaps in the defense.
“On TV they show that everything is beautiful, but in fact, here in the Luhansk region, it is the mobilized who are thrown to the front, and when we departed from there, without seeing the officers, we were already walking back, we saw that only contract soldiers and volunteers were sitting on the third line, and mobilized [troops] on the front end,” said Agafonov.
According to Agafonov, there is “complete confusion and discord” within Russia’s military.
“All survivors and new arrivals are grouped into new battalions and thrown to the front to close the line of defense,” he said.
News that Russian military commanders are retreating comes as the British Ministry of Defense assessed that Russian unit officers are likely threatening to shoot deserting soldiers.
The UK defense ministry said in an assessment of the conflict on Friday that Russian forces have likely started deploying “barrier troops” or “blocking units” to deal with their own 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.
Putin’s military commanders are also likely seeking to keep their troops in defense positions “to the death.”
“Recently, Russian generals likely wanted their commanders to use weapons against deserters, including possibly authorizing shooting to kill such defaulters after a warning had been given,” the British assessment added.
British intelligence states that this tactic of shooting deserters “likely attests to the low quality, low morale and indiscipline of Russian forces.”
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk Oblast, has said that the Ukrainian military is advancing 500 meters daily in the region.
Newsweek has reached out to Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.