“The greatest hope for any Russian soldier who hopes to return home from Ukraine alive may be that the Russian army will completely collapse” . Colin Freeman reports.
Russian soldiers on the front lines in Ukraine are paying the price for Vladimir Putin's decision to invade as casualties skyrocket and morale plummets.
Average 20 to 25 years of age and typically from poor families , some of them are recruits, while others are attracted by attractive online advertising and surprisingly good salaries. What is their daily life like as Kyiv prepares to launch a major counteroffensive?
Few soldiers on the Ukrainian front line can get a good night's sleep, as shelling can last all night. Soldiers must also be on duty around the clock to guard their positions, which are constantly changing depending on the course of the battle.
If they are lucky, they may find themselves in an abandoned school with a basement that can be used as a bunker, or in a house with vegetable cellar. Otherwise, it is often an uncomfortable night in a trench in the forest, which sometimes has to be dug by hand.
A Russian soldier is a day in the life – blue
Even when it is quiet at the front, danger still lurks. At dawn, ever-growing swarms of makeshift bomber drones arrive in Ukraine—cheap, store-bought drones with cameras that hover 80 meters above Russian positions and then drop grenades. Although they are not powerful weapons, they can still kill and maim, leaving Russian troops with very few places where they feel safe.
Mornings are also a tempting time to check your phones, despite warnings from the Russian high command, because they can give away your location. In January, when 60 Russian soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on a converted school base, the Kremlin said data tracked from their mobile phones showed where they were.
Most soldiers close to the front lines have to sleep fully clothed, going for weeks without a bath or shower. The closest thing they can get to laundry is a pack of wet wipes for quick cleaning “down there.”
However, even in its purest form, Russian uniforms are rarely a matter of pride. Cheap boots made in China often fall apart or come in different sizes as separate pairs. Jackets are not warm enough; during the winter months, the mercury column sometimes does not rise above zero for weeks. A typical night temperature is -10°C.
Russian soldier from the Southern Military District. T-72B3 tankers attack Ukrainian targets from an unknown location on May 1, 2023. sometimes given a used uniform: the reason its original owners no longer need it is not something many people like to ask about. However, Russia's high command insists that none of this can justify sloppiness in dress standards.
In January, they reminded military personnel to shave regularly and not grow their hair out. This infuriated the head of the Russian Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin. “War is the time of active and courageous,” he was indignant. “Not clean-shaven.”
Russian military equipment has such a bad reputation that it has spawned a lot of Ukrainian social networks ridiculing it. The YouTube channel of Andrey Nebytov, the head of the Kyiv police, talks about everything from Soviet-era helmets to body armor that doesn't stop bullets.
As with uniforms, many Russian soldiers simply buy themselves a kit, spending up to £500 on proper body armor, rather than risk getting a paintball-only kit. Some Russian conscripts have even been seen with ancient bolt-action Mosin rifles last used during World War II.
The combat experience of the average Russian soldier will not seem unfamiliar to World War I veterans. For the most part, it's a relentless trench warfare that rages for months over control of small towns and villages. Russian infantry is also rushing blindly across no man's land, rushing into machine gun fire in a desperate attempt to overwhelm the Ukrainian positions.
The Ukrainian military has dubbed these accusations “zombie waves,” which themselves eschew such tactics. “Firstly, it’s inhumane, and secondly, we don’t have enough men to spend like that,” says one. Zombie waves also help explain the skyrocketing death toll among Russians. Russia has already suffered about 40,000 killed and 170,000 wounded, compared to 16,000 killed and 110,000 wounded in Ukraine, according to a leaked estimate by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Russian soldiers march towards Red Square to take part in the May 9 Victory Day military parade commemorating the victory of the former Soviet Union in World War II over Nazi Germany. Photo: Getty
The life expectancy of Russian armored units is not much higher thanks to anti-tank missiles supplied by Britain and America. The Russian tanks are believed to have “reactive armour,” a skin filled with explosives that creates a counterattack to deflect missiles. However, corruption in the Russian military is so high that the explosive in the casing is often removed and sold.
Pay and perks
To replenish the dwindling ranks of Russian troops, military recruiters stage roadshows. across the country, promoting frontline service in Ukraine as “the real man's choice.”
Those on a fixed-term contract can earn around 200,000 rubles (£2,000) a month, four times the pre-war level. Similar pay rates apply to the 300,000 conscripts called up as part of the “partial mobilization” announced by Putin last September.
In the spring, the Ministry of Defense plans to recruit 400,000 contract soldiers for the war in Ukraine. Credit: Getty
Russia has also used the war to emaciate its prisoners: the convicts were promised pardons if they served in the Wagner Group, a private mercenary company run by Prigozhin, a close ally of Putin. This ragtag army of ex-gangsters, rapists and murderers now make up the bulk of the Zombie Wave.
“They are just attacking us with absolutely no infantry discipline and no fear. says one American volunteer fighting for Ukrainian forces. “Quite often they continue to work even after being shot several times, which makes you wonder if they are on drugs.”
It is believed that about 10,000 convicts have already died fighting Wagner. Meanwhile, those who survived and achieved freedom often caused havoc by returning to their hometowns, where they are rarely welcomed due to their criminal past.
A Day in the Life of a Russian Soldier – White
A pardoned Wagner fighter, former assassin Ivan Rossomakin, was arrested a few days after returning home on suspicion of killing an elderly woman. Another boasted that his Wagner military ID now allowed him to get out of prison whenever he had run-ins with the local police.
One of the benefits of the service is the possibility of looting. The Russian military was reported to have stolen everything from washing machines to satellite dishes, sometimes even taking orders for goods from relatives back home. Alcohol is also often stolen and drunk on the front lines, a sign, critics say, of indiscipline and morale in the Russian ranks.
Although no army military ration is known as cordon bleu, Russian proposals are an example of this. Designed to fuel a soldier during combat for 24 hours, the focus is on calories, not taste. Choose from canned barley porridge and canned bread to cowhide, liver pate and bacon bits floating in fat.
“I tried some cowhide once,” says a British volunteer fighting Ukrainian forces. “It was okay at first because I was hungry, but as my hunger waned, it tasted like dog meat.” Army applesauce and chocolate, which sometimes has a grayish tinge, are best.
Ukrainian soldier testimonials Russian rations
But in general, it's not surprising that Russian troops often loot Ukrainian supermarkets, which are surprisingly well stocked with local produce and fresh bread.
When can I go home?
With Putin showing no interest in peace talks, and with Russian casualties skyrocketing, the best hope for any Russian soldier hoping to make it home from Ukraine alive could be a complete collapse of the Russian army.
Morality has already fallen sharply. , and masked soldiers express dissatisfaction on social media. “We were just sent to be slaughtered,” says one. “Commanders tell us to our faces that we are disposable soldiers and the only chance to return home is to get wounded in battle.”
One day in the life of a Russian soldier is red
Desertions are on the rise, although in September the Russian parliament passed new laws punishing such desertions with 15 years in prison. Russian generals are also deploying “barrier troops” with orders to shoot any retreating soldiers, a tactic last used by Stalin during World War II.
Nevertheless, the rot is gaining momentum. Last Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense issued a scathing assessment saying that the Russian invasion force could no longer conduct major military operations, saying it now consisted mainly of “poorly trained mobilized reservists and increasingly reliant on outdated equipment.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian Wagner mercenary group, posted his own videos criticizing the Kremlin for letting down soldiers. Photo: PRIGOGIN PRESS SERVICE
And it's not just British military leaders who say this. In a sign of growing tensions in the Kremlin, Prigozhin has released videos of his own criticizing the Kremlin for letting the soldiers down.
While he carefully avoids criticizing Putin by name, he also makes cryptic references to the all-powerful “happy grandfather” in the government , whose competence he now begins to doubt.
“How can we win this war if – by chance, and I'm just speculating here – it turns out that this grandfather is a complete ***head?”
The fact that he gets away with such comments shows that the Kremlin knows that he is expressing not only his opinion, but also the opinion of the majority of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.