“I used to condemn desertion but now it’s the only way to stay alive.” A Marine fighting in Pavlivka describes the morale of Russian troops and the command’s indifference
Анна Павлова
“I used to condemn desertion but now it’s the only way to stay alive.” A Marine fighting in Pavlivka describes the morale of Russian troops and the command’s indifference
23 November 2022, 21:25

Ukrainian military firing at Russian positions in the Donetsk region from a captured Russian T-80 tank, November 22, 2022. Photo: LIBKOS / AP

The capture of Pavlivka village in the Donetsk region of Ukraine was announced by the Russian army on 14 November. Mediazona reported earlier that Marines from the 155th Guards Brigade in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East had made public complaints about the command and casualties. They were forced to record a rebuttal for the local governor’s Telegram channel and were thrown into further advance. Now Marines manning positions under heavy shelling are being punished for their complaints—their demands for withdrawal from Pavlivka have been denied.

In early November, the Marines of the 155th separate guards brigade appealed to the Governor of Primorsky Krai Oleg Kozhemyako about heavy casualties kept secret by their command.

The appeal was published in full by the Grey Zone, a Telegram channel linked to the infamous Wagner Group PMC, on 6 November: “We were once again thrown into this incomprehensible offensive by General Muradov and his pal Akhmedov so that Muradov could earn extra points with [Chief of the General Staff Valery] Gerasimov while Muradov had already promised Akhmedov a Hero of Russia title. As a result, us and the Kamchatka Marines are now storming Pavlivka. In just 4 days, we have lost about 300 men killed, wounded and missing as a result of this ‘carefully planned’ offensive thanks to our ‘great commanders’. 50 percent of the vehicles lost. And this is just our brigade. The district commanders and Akhmedov hide this and fabricate lower casualty figures out of fear of being held accountable.”

Oleg Kozhemyako asked the military prosecutor to investigate while not excluding the possibility that this could be “a propaganda hoax by the enemy.” Later he published three videos, allegedly produced by Marines of the 155th brigade and volunteers of the Tiger battalion. In those videos, the servicemen say that while the fighting is indeed heavy and there are casualties, “everything was fine”. Russian MoD also claimed that the losses of the brigade “do not exceed 1%” while the wounded amount to just 7%.

On Tuesday, November 22, Mediazona was again contacted by a contract soldier of the 155th brigade who claimed that the disgruntled troops were being kept in Pavlivka, while the others were being withdrawn to the rear. His account is below in full.

The brigade had about 4,000 men. Now, not all of us are at the front lines. Some are in the rear, some are manning the artillery, etc. Our battalion tactical group is 500 men, give or take, constantly being re-staffed. But there is not one single BTG in all of Ukraine. Our assault troops are also active in other areas.

I spent three months in this area. The fighting continued every day, and there were two intense days, 9 and 10 November. Overall, about 450–500 men were killed in Pavlivka.

The reaction to our appeal [to the governor] was not what we expected. We hoped that the command would change tactics. I wasn’t among those who wrote the letter, I’m from another company.

The objectors were threatened with criminal cases. I personally filed a refusal report, but it vanished miraculously. As Pavlivka was declared under full control, we continued to lose men. Our command acts like it’s a circus. They decided that [the troops] should get awards. In short, they get to keep their ranks and we get medals to keep silence. Except we don’t fucking need them, no one can bring our dead boys back.

Everyone is demoralised. Nobody is celebrating, because so many of our guys are dead. Personally, I lost four friends in just two days. It just pisses me off that our command does not think about the men. They want medals and stripes, so these sons of bitches are ready to send people to their certain death. They think that if they give us a medal, we ought to forget everything and shut up, but they’re wrong because their friends didn’t die while they were sitting in the rear all cosy. They are concerned with other stuff: like how can they get a Hero of Russia title or new stars on their shoulders.

Now that the command decided to withdraw from Pavlivka, we were all very happy, but not for long. Not everyone will be withdrawn. Not everyone will be withdrawn. The people who were among the most disgruntled, who wrote a letter and refused to storm the village, will continue to man their positions, and those who didn’t stand their ground against the command will be taken to the rear.

I stay because I didn’t keep silence.

In short, the ramifications of penning the letter are still there. They don’t change tactics, they can only punish. I think they want to eliminate all the mavericks, which is not a hard thing to do on the battlefield, it’s very easy. Once again I am convinced that my life is worth nothing here. We are controlled by those who care not about the people but about their rank and reputation. It’s very frightening.

They will never outright say [that this is meant as a punishment], but think about it: after the letter was published, we were ordered to assault Pavlivka, and then, miraculously, it is those disgruntled men who remain in their positions, while others are being taken to the rear. We all understand perfectly well why this is happening. They leave 100–150 troops, and the same number of men are being withdrawn, maybe more. We’ve been given a new task, to fortify positions in Pavlivka and prepare for a new assault. We are living in trenches and in those houses that more or less have survived the shelling.

The brigade was almost completely destroyed, it has already been re-staffed, but you have to understand that it really depends on those old servicemen who train the young ones, that’s why the brigade is not totally useless in combat yet. Now that we are gradually being eliminated and replaced with the newly mobilised men, this unit becomes irrelevant.

Now we have a lot of recruits in our brigade, because of the heavy losses in Pavlivka. We have small arms, mostly. Almost no heavy weapons. Tanks and other armoured vehicles were destroyed, and with what’s left you can either shoot or drive. Food is very scarce. We walk around, collecting what’s left in the basements. They bring us dry rations, mostly, and not regularly.

Near Pavlivka, we lost about 450 men. Overall, the toll is up to 900 men wounded and killed, more than half killed.

People are thinking of deserting, and I understand it, I am now contemplating the same idea. I have always served the motherland faithfully and used to condemn this kind of thinking, but now it is probably the only way we can stay alive. I cannot understand why they treat people like that when there is not enough manpower and mobilisation is in progress.

Editor: Dmitry Treshchanin

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