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We will be ‘dead’ if we are sent back home

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A captured Russian soldier cries while speaking to his mother. Prisoners of war fear they will be killed if they return to their homeland
A captured Russian soldier cries while speaking to his mother. Prisoners of war fear they will be killed if they return to their homeland

Russian soldiers captured by Ukrainian forces have said they will be “dead” if they return home, where they will be regarded as failures and killed.

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Captured troops – who have been filmed in breach of the Geneva Convention – have begged not to be sent back to Russia, fearing they will be shot by their own people.

One soldier, speaking at a press conference in Kyiv, said that he had been told by his parents that a funeral had already been prepared for him.

The soldier, deployed with Russia’s 2nd Motor Rifle Division, said: “In Russia we are already considered dead. I was given the opportunity to call my parents and they told me that a funeral for me had already been arranged.

“If we are exchanged, then we will be shot by our own people.”

Ukraine has been using captured soldiers as part of its campaign to undermine the morale of the Russian army.

It is also designed to show the Russians that their military has bombed Russian-speaking cities and killed civilians since Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, launched his invasion on February 24.

The Kremlin has banned descriptions of the invasion as a “war” and instead framed it as a “special operation” to save the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine from Nazis. It has also threatened to sentence anybody who criticises the war to 15 years in prison.

Part of the Ukrainian strategy has been to treat Russian soldiers with relative kindness, to contrast how the Russian army’s officers treat their own men.

Most of the captured Russian soldiers, looking exhausted and bewildered, have said that they had no idea that they were going to war. They also appeared short of food and equipment. Many said that they were conscripts and just wanted to go home. Some have been videoed crying on the phone while speaking to their mothers in Russia.

Up until Wednesday evening, the Kremlin insisted that it had only deployed professional soldiers to Ukraine. On Wednesday, after sustained pressure, Russia’s defence ministry admitted that it had used conscripts in Ukraine.

But, while the tactic of filming demoralised Russian conscripts has been praised as effective, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said that it breaks the Geneva Convention.

In a statement, a spokesman for the International Red Cross said: “The law states they must be protected. This includes from acts of violence, intimidation and ill-treatment.

“They also must be treated with dignity and not exposed to public curiosity – like circulating images on social media.”

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