How Russian ‘refuseniks’ get into prisons in the ‘LNR’ | Russia and Russians: a view from Europe | DW

The Russian military is increasingly refusing to participate in the “special operation,” human rights activists say. In this regard, contractors are increasingly informally denied the desire to leave Ukraine. The so-called “refuseniks” are being held in prisons in several settlements of the self-proclaimed “LPR”, their relatives and human rights activists say. Several parents went to Donbass to secure the release of their sons. How the Russian military find themselves in the prisons of the “LNR” and what they encounter there – in the DW material.

Where can contractors-“refuseniks” be located?

Many Russian military contractors who were sent to Ukraine are held in detention in the cities of the Luhansk region, which are not controlled by Kyiv. These are soldiers who either wanted to go on leave for family reasons, or completely refuse to participate in the “special military operation” on the territory of Ukraine. Relatives of Russian contractors and human rights activists shared this information with DW. In total, according to media reports and human rights activists, more than two hundred people can be kept in the center for “refuseniks” in Bryanka on the territory of the self-proclaimed “LPR” alone.

In addition to the center in Bryanka, Russian servicemen may be forcibly detained in at least four other Ukrainian cities currently not controlled by Russia. These are the cities of Popasnaya, Alchevsk, Stakhanov and Krasny Luch. These data became known from the appeal of members of the Human Rights Council to the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, which is at the disposal of DW.

The appeal states that the human rights activists were approached by relatives of six servicemen – “refuseniks”. After they refuse to participate in the war, they can be forcibly detained in the listed cities, as well as on the front lines in the Svetlodar district. The command does not accept the reports submitted by them and refuses to send them to the points of permanent deployment.

The authors of the appeal, among them the well-known director Alexander Sokurov and journalist Nikolai Svanidze note complaints about the conditions in which soldiers are kept and the psychological pressure exerted on them by their superiors. “The data obtained testify to the commission of crimes against military personnel – illegal imprisonment, torture and inhuman treatment”, the document says.

Escape from the isolation

As a result of the pressure exerted, some military personnel withdraw their reports and return to combat missions. This was told to DW by the parent of one of the contractors, who is being held in Bryanka. “Before that, they said that they would not go back to the war in any way, they would not sign anything,” a relative of his son’s words conveys. “And suddenly I find out that they are leaving for the front line without even warning their parents.”

To convince a soldier to return to the front, different methods are used. “First of all, they threaten with criminal cases and that they will be sent to the front line,” said Alexandra Garmazhapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation. However, a relative of one of the “refuseniks” said that they could be lured to the front by good service conditions, without specifying which ones.

According to DW, several parents went to Bryanka from Russia to demand the release of their children on the spot. According to one of the parents who remained in Russia, who keeps in touch with those who left for Bryanka, fathers and mothers hold pickets outside the makeshift prison from morning to evening.

Prominent human rights activist and Citizen and Army coordinator Sergei Krivenko told DW that one of the “prisoners” managed to escape from the detention center and head to Russia. “If within ten days a contract serviceman returns to the point of permanent deployment, then this is not considered desertion and unauthorized abandonment of the unit,” Krivenko said.

Punishment for addressing journalists

According to the human rights activist, the conditions of detention of “refuseniks” depend on the prison they are in. “In early July, they reported that they were kept in pits there,” says Krivenko. “And then there was a call from relatives already that they were moved to other places, and that’s it.” There were also complaints of beatings.

A relative of the serviceman in Bryanka tells DW that his son calls him regularly. Most likely, the phone is not personal, but general – other servicemen also call their relatives from the same number. According to the interlocutor of DW, in the morning the guys are taken “to work” – but it is not known which ones.

For the publication of information that the son of a soldier is not allowed to leave Ukraine and public demands to release him, punishment may follow. So, DW is aware of the case when a young man was forbidden to go on vacation at the last moment for his parents’ appeal to journalists.

“Severe violation of the law”

The first reports about the refusal to participate in the “special operation” began to arrive at the end of March, Sergei Krivenko recalls. Then the first units were taken out for reorganization from near Kyiv, and the servicemen began to look for contacts of human rights activists to help them break the contract.

In early July, the president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, Alexandra Garmazhapova, reported that about five hundred contract soldiers from this republic refused to fight in Ukraine and were able to return to their homeland. The publication “Layout” recently calculated that it is known about 1793 soldiers who refused to fight.

Sergey Krivenko believes that the maintenance of the military in prisons on the territory of the “LNR” and attempts to prevent them from leaving the combat zone are connected with the increased cases of refusals. “This is a very severe violation of Russian laws,” he assesses the situation. “A serviceman cannot be detained and arrested without trial. And only a Russian court on Russian territory can judge them.”

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