The Russians Fighting Putin in Ukraine

Members of the Territorial Defense Force brigade search vehicles after curfew on a road on the outskirts of Kharkiv on April 4, 2022 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

In Ukraine, a war within a war has broken out. More and more Russian citizens are fighting with Ukrainians more than a month after the Russian army invaded on President Vladimir Putin’s orders.
Even as they take up guns against their own citizens, the combatants, who look to number in the hundreds, label Putin as the enemy. They include political dissidents like the 30-year-old Russian who requested the name Yan, an IT worker who now spends his days scouting, identifying potential artillery targets, and delivering medical supplies to Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the front. They also include captured Russian soldiers.
Yan, a member of the nation’s territorial defense forces since the conflict began at the end of February, tells TIME from a neighborhood close to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, that “no Russian should have crossed the border with a weapon in his hand.” He provided a legitimate Russian passport but sought the pseudonym out of concern for the safety of his family in Russia. “I am here to resist Russian aggression and also defend Ukraine.” He claimed that three years ago, after his office was seized, he relocated from the Ural Mountains in Russia to Kyiv out of fear of going to jail. Yan, who identified as an anarchist, had participated in protests against Putin’s rule.

Having participated in anti-government demonstrations in his native Moscow since he was a young adult, a 25-year-old Russian political science student who went by the name “Vitya” joined the Ukrainian territorial defense forces to continue his struggle against the Russian government. Vitya declares from Kyiv, where he is stationed, “I love my motherland.” “Perhaps this war will topple the political order. He claimed that although though his parents, who reside in the Russian capital, are aware that he is in Ukraine, they believe he is blood-donating and otherwise supporting the Ukrainian military effort.
However, if some Russians fighting alongside Ukrainians were opposing Putin before the invasion, the way the conflict was fought brought in others, further dividing Russian society and perhaps depressing the military. The army received criticism for its performance on the battlefield in the early stages of the conflict because it found it difficult to progress into the city and even to maintain supply lines. On the territory it had held, clear atrocities against Ukrainian citizens were uncovered when it withdrew, and the Russian military is now now accused of war crimes.
The Ukrainian administration is taking advantage of the division in Russia by portraying the conflict as a struggle between the forces of light and evil. In front of reporters in Kyiv on April 5, three men in military fatigues and black balaclavas announced the formation of a new battalion dubbed “Freedom for Russia” that would be made up completely of Russian residents, including former POWs. They expressed their moral fury at Moscow’s lack of order and blatant disdain for human life to their fellow Russians.
One of the unidentified individuals claimed that the Russian government had duped them into traveling to a sovereign nation to commit what he called “genocide,” and that after being captured and then freed by Ukrainian forces, he changed sides to fight for Ukraine. “Propaganda was told to us. But this place is populated by civilians; there are no fascists or Nazis here, he claimed. “I want to overthrow Putin’s lawless regime so that people can breathe and speak freely,”
A Ukrainian serviceman stands amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Felipe Dana—AP
He claimed to have personally witnessed the atrocities carried out by the Russian army in Bucha, Irpin, and Kharkiv, sounding angry. President Joe Biden called for Putin to be charged with war crimes after seeing photographs and reports from Bucha, a commuter town close to Kiev, revealing mass graves and streets littered with dead civilians.

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A second speaker identified himself as a Russian special forces sergeant. He urged fellow Russian servicemen to “lay down your arms and fight for your future” in response to the rampant pillage of Ukrainian people’ homes by marauding military.
A notice on the table with instructions for making cryptocurrency donations to the battalion could be seen as the masked guys spoke. The group also maintains a Telegram channel where it encourages residents of Moscow to join anti-war demonstrations and provides recruitment advice for Russians (such as “sign up at a Ukrainian embassy in a nearby European nation”). The soldiers sported the white-blue-white flag, which has come to represent Russia’s anti-war movement, on their camouflage sleeves.
It is difficult to gauge the level of war support within Russia. For demonstrating or speaking out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russians risk severe repercussions. Even though recent polls indicate that more than 80% of Russians support Putin, many may be reluctant to voice their true opinions because new censorship laws threaten to imprison people for up to 15 years for spreading “fake” news about the conflict, including using the word “war” to refer to what is actually referred to as a “special military operation.”
Foreigners are publicly welcome to join the conflict in Ukraine. An estimated 20,000 people from 52 nations, ranging from the United States to Denmark, have enlisted since President Volodymyr Zelensky founded a “international legion” to defend Ukraine at the beginning of the war. The members of “Freedom for Russia” refused to disclose the exact number of soldiers in their battalion, other than to describe it as “big” and claimed they got more than 300 applications in a single day.
The IT specialist Yan claimed that there are many more Russians in his platoon of about 40 members of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces and that he is aware of further Russians in other regions of the nation. There are a fair number of us all throughout Ukraine, he claims, adding that while Russians serving in the Ukrainian military are mostly accepted, there are frequently jokes made about them.
“And why not, you know? Ukrainians are going through huge psychological trauma so this is totally understandable. I am not offended.”


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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