A number of Russian soldiers have been detained in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region for refusing to fight in Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, their lawyer has said.
Andrei Rinchino, legal head of the Free Buryatia Foundation, told Russian independent media outlet MediaZona that 17 servicemen who entered into short-term contracts with Russia’s defense ministry were locked up after they refused to continue to participate in the war and attempted to terminate their contracts .
The foundation describes itself on its website as “an anti-war movement against the criminal war in Ukraine launched by the Russian Federation led by Vladimir Putin.”
According to the lawyer, one of the soldiers said that about three weeks ago, they attempted to terminate their contracts as they no longer wanted to fight in Putin’s war. Rinchino said some of them were then returned to Russia, while others were ordered to wait.
However, a week later, the servicemen who were ordered to wait were reportedly sent to the front line in Luhansk again.
Moscow claimed military victory on Sunday after seizing the Luhansk region, which, along with the Donetsk region, comprises the Donbas.
Rinchino said that as they made their way to the front line, the soldiers’ car broke down and they were left on the side of the road. They reportedly encountered troops from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, who fed them and let them hide in a basement.
“But our brigade did not come, and we decided to go back [to Russia]”one serviceman said.
Rinchino said the group decided to take a bus to Moscow and were detained by military police upon their arrival.
The soldiers’ passports and military cards were reportedly confiscated and they were sent to the city of Alchevsk in Luhansk where they were locked up.
Rinchino highlighted that some of those who have been detained had expired contracts.
“They take advantage of the illiteracy of the fighters,” the lawyer said. “Firstly, they say that your contract is automatically renewed. Secondly, you are told that you will start a new contract, that this is all according to the law, that this is how it should be.”
“Nobody knows the law,” he added.
Rinchino said one of the soldiers who is being detained partially lost his hearing after he was caught up in a grenade blast, but that he is still not allowed to return home.
The lawyer said Russian commanders are refusing to explain why the soldiers are being held by force.
“Today, one of them asked why they were kept here,” Rinchino said. “He was immediately put in a cell.”
In March, just weeks into Putin’s war, a viral video appeared apparently showing angry Russian soldiers complaining that they were ill-equipped and ordered to go into a region of Ukraine with no clear planning from Moscow.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.