A Ukrainian intelligence project has been working to identify and collect Russian soldiers looking to surrender in order to avoid participation in the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The spokesman for the “I Want to Live” project, Vitaliy Matvienko, told the Kyiv Post in an interview published Wednesday that Russian soldiers can contact them to arrange their surrender.
“They save their lives, and fewer will be at the front,” he said.
Matvienko explained that the project has a chatbot that Russian servicemen—who have been or may be mobilized—use to fill out a questionnaire where they can declare that they do not want to fight against Ukraine. The project’s hotline then provides these Russians with information to prepare them for the surrendering process if and when they are in Ukraine.
“When they are sent to Ukraine, they contact our specialists again, and we identify their location, then plan a program of safe exit from that territory,” Matvienko told the Post. “The special operations forces organize the safe exit, and the person finally reaches the territory controlled by Ukraine.”
Since the initiative was launched on September 18, more than 3,500 appeals have been received through its Telegram channel and telephone hotline, Matvienko said. He did not say exactly how many had successfully taken part in a surrender.
The war in Ukraine has taken a hefty toll on Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s troops, underscoring reports of desertions and morale issues in the Russian army. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in its latest estimate Wednesday that nearly 83,000 Russian personnel had been eliminated since the start of the war on February 24. U.S. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided a separate estimate last week, saying that Russia’s combined killed and wounded has topped 100,000 individuals.
Russia also faced large-scale public pushback for its partial mobilization order in September that Putin said would call up to 300,000 additional soldiers to fight in Ukraine. The draft triggered massive protests and an anti-mobilization petition that collected hundreds of thousands of signatures in the course of a day after it was announced.
Matvienko told the Post that the “I Want to Live” project saw a spike in requests after Putin gave the partial mobilization order, forcing many Russians to face the possibility of being sent to Ukraine.
As for the Russians who do end up surrendering, some express concerns about how they will be treated in the hands of Ukrainians, but they are provided with “comfortable conditions,” three meals daily and medical care when needed, Matvienko said. They are also permitted to contact legal representatives and relatives back in Russia, he added.
Newsweek reached out to Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment.