This month, members of the Free Russia Legion are receiving training in the Kyiv region of Ukraine to be sent to the front lines.
The Free Russia Legion, composed of combatants opposed to the incursion initiated by Vladimir Putin, has taken arms against their own nation and participated in some of the most intense combat in the conflict.
For numerous motives, they have decided to take up arms against Russia, taking concrete actions against Putin’s war. This also drives their determination to protect Ukraine, which is now their new home. They also voiced deep-seated opposition to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.
Moreover, these individuals have demonstrated their dependability to the Ukrainian commanders to the point of being allowed to join the troops in the intense battle with the Russian military.
“We haven’t come here to prove anything,” said one soldier with the call sign Zaza, barely 20 years old. “We’ve come here to help Ukraine achieve the full withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory and the future de-Putinization of Russia.”
Zaza and Luna, both soldiers with the Free Russia Legion training in the Kyiv region in Ukraine. In the Free Russia Legion, soldiers repelled by Vladimir Putin’s invasion have taken arms against their home country, engaged in some of the most heated fighting in the war. NYT pic.twitter.com/zJAgWoBZoh
— Anne Tootill (@toot5000) February 12, 2023
Zaza said he initially took to social media his dismay about Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, but when police started showing up at his doorsteps, he knew it was time to leave.
“At such a young age, it is a little early for me to talk about my political opinions and worldview, because these are just forming now,” he said. “But when your country has been taken over by one bad man, you need to take things into your own hands.”
Meanwhile, Caesar, a Russian fighter with a military call sign, declared that a true Russian man would not participate in a war with such extreme violence, nor would they rape children, slay women, or murder elderly people. He went on to explain that this was why he left his hometown of St. Petersburg to fight for Ukraine and that he has killed many yet has no guilt or regret.
After roughly twelve months of conflict, the Free Russia Legion has not been in the spotlight much — partially to keep the soldiers safe from possible Russian retribution, but likewise due to the Ukrainian military’s hesitance to accentuate the contribution of troops from the country that has caused Ukraine so much damage. It is estimated that several hundred are located around Bakhmut, in the eastern part of the nation; they are always kept in separate units, yet they are still overseen by Ukrainian officers.
None of the questioned servicemen were willing to reveal their identity or give details concerning their personal lives to avoid possible repercussions for themselves and their families. Recently, the Russian prosecutor general’s office lodged an application with the Supreme Court to designate the Legion as a terrorist group.
Ukraine Working With Russians
This month, the Free Russia Legion’s troops opened fire upon Russian forces situated about a mile away from the Donbas region in Ukraine’s east.
During interviews, a few Russian servicemen said they were already living in Ukraine before the Russian forces’ intrusion into the nation the past year and had the compulsion to protect their newly acquired homeland. On the other hand, some, who had never been in the military, moved from Russia into Ukraine after the war had started, feeling that the Kremlin’s assault was extremely wrong.
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At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian laws prohibited Russians from enlisting in the military. Finally, a law allowing the Legion to legally participate was passed in August, according to Andriy Yusov, a representative from Ukraine’s military intelligence service.
“There was a large number of Russians who, because of their moral principles could not remain indifferent and were searching for a way to enter the ranks of the defenders of Ukraine,” Yusov said, explaining the military’s motivation to create the unit. “All legionnaires have come with a huge desire to stop Putin’s horde and free Russia from dictatorship.”
Yusov highlighted that a significant portion of the Russian population could not stay idle due to their moral values, so they strove to join those protecting Ukraine. He asserted that all the legionnaires were motivated to take a stand to oppose Putin’s army and free their home country from a tyrannical regime.
The organization functions within the framework of the International Legion of Ukraine, a combat force composed of units, including volunteers from the U.S. and U.K., as well as people from Belarus and Georgia.
In the Free Russia Legion, soldiers repelled by Vladimir Putin’s invasion have taken arms against their home country, engaged in some of the most heated fighting in the war. #Ukraine️ pic.twitter.com/DrSMzXglbi
— H24 NET (@H24Net) February 12, 2023
This month, close to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, the drilling of Legion troops is taking place. Russian troops are undergoing a demanding induction ritual in the Kyiv area to become part of the conflict. However, joining the Russian military is not a simple process, according to those who serve. A comprehensive application and background check, including a polygraph, are required before beginning basic training. In addition, Russian passport holders can expect to face suspicion given that there have been attempts by spies to infiltrate the Legion, as reported by Mr. Yusov.
Last week, in a pine forest of the Kyiv region, a troop of fresh Russian soldiers who were close to finishing their 3-month introductory course had the opportunity to practice tactical withdrawals, firing off mortar shells, and primary combat medical care. This group was a perfect example of the global amalgamation that has become typical of the Ukrainian army’s operations; the Russian troops used a French-made 155-millimeter mortar and carried American-made M16 rifles.
One of the soldiers was enthusiastic about the M16, proclaiming it was “better than a Kalashnikov.” They added that they hadn’t encountered any issues after firing about a thousand rounds.
Then, in an undisclosed location, you can hear the reverberations of light arms and large cannons filling the woodland while a Ukrainian instructor hurled a fake grenade near a handful of soldiers to examine their response. Most of the Free Legion troops will stay behind the frontline, managing artillery or air observation teams with drones.
Though all the trainers were Ukrainian, they all conversed in Russian. Some trainees attempted to communicate in Ukrainian during the interviews but soon reverted to Russian.
One of the instructors, who chose to remain anonymous, stated that after roughly one or two months of being acclimated, students began to use simple expressions such as “thank you” or “fire.”
Fighting Kremlin’s Propaganda
The troops reported having difficulty expressing their choice to their relatives in Russia. Allegations of misconduct by Russian forces, such as the slaughter of civilians in the Kyiv districts of Bucha and Irpin, are disregarded as fabrication from other countries in their native land.
Miami, a 32-year-old soldier with a call sign, expressed that his family does not comprehend the entirety of the truth. He mentioned that his parents had asked him to join the Russian army and that they were convinced that this region was populated by flawed individuals. He then continued to say that his parents did not believe that the second-largest military in the world would be responsible for killing regular people.
In eastern Ukraine, near the front, there is no respite from the shelling. Russian forces have been launching numerous bombardments of Ukrainian positions near Bakhmut, intending to dislodge them before pushing to seize the entirety of the Donbas region.
During a recent visit to an undisclosed firing position, a rumble could be heard, and the sky was full of artillery shells. That day, Russian forces fired a barrage of Grad rockets, resulting in multiple civilian injuries, but the soldiers were unharmed.
Another Russian soldier told others while taking refuge in a shelter next to a row of lit
tle, snow-topped houses that “strikes were happening all around.”
The troops in the Legion declared that they would remain steadfast on the front; however, a few had already started to contemplate the future, not only of the present struggle in Ukraine but what lies beyond.
Caesar, 50, declared, “It is not only my responsibility to guard the people of Ukraine. If I stay alive after this stage and all the Ukrainian lands are liberated, I will keep on the struggle and take up arms to overthrow the Kremlin rule.”
Caesar, who has gained renown as an odd sort of wise man amid the Legion, proclaimed himself a committed Russian nationalist. Nevertheless, he believes that contemporary Russia has gone astray, especially concerning its invasion of Ukraine, he commented.
He had previously been associated with the Russian Imperial Movement, a group recently identified as a violent extremist organization by the United States. However, he stated that he distanced himself from the organization partly due to its endorsement of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
The Ukrainian military leader overseeing the Legion reported that Caesar had spent a long time attempting to locate a philosophy he considered the right one, and no signs of mistrust were found by the Ukrainian authorities.
Caesar, accompanied by his wife and four children, relocated to Ukraine during the summertime. He asserted that he did not view the situation as “fighting against fellow Russians,” but rather as battling “scoundrels and murderers” who did not have any national affiliation.
“I’m sitting before you, an example of a Russian man, and an example of a man that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky wrote about,” he said. “That’s the kind of man I am. Not them. They aren’t Russian.”
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