Russian soldier: 'We didn't know we were invading until we crossed the border'

A Russian paratrooper has revealed in a new memoir that his fellow soldiers had no idea they were invading Ukraine until they were already deployed on the battlefield.

Pavel Filatiev, 33, a former elite soldier who later quit on medical grounds, details how his unit was amongst the first to be stationed by the Ukrainian border in the days prior to the invasion.

Armed with nothing but a rusty machine gun and an ill-fitting uniform, Filatiev claims he had no idea he was being sent to invade Ukraine until he was awoken by the sound of gunfire in the back of an army truck crossing the border at 2am.

Filatiev asked: ‘Are we firing at advancing Ukrainians?

‘Where we were going and why wasn’t clear. It was clear that a real war had begun. I found out [we had] orders to go to Kherson.’

In a series of devastating extracts published by Meduza, Filatiev outlines the major failings at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s military machine and reveals how poor equipment, low morale and inefficient leadership has internally crippled the Russian invading force.

When all of this started, I knew few people who believed in Nazis and, moreover, [who] wanted to fight against Ukraine, Filatiev wrote.

‘We didn’t have hatred and we didn’t think of Ukrainians as enemies.

‘Most of the army is dissatisfied with what is happening there.

‘[They’re] dissatisfied with the government and their commander, with Putin and his policies, [and] with the defence minister, who [has not served] in the army.

‘We have all become hostages of many forces and I believe that we got carried away.

‘We started a terrible war. A war in which cities are destroyed and which leads to the deaths of children, women, and the elderly.’

Elsewhere in the book he describes the poor conditions which hobbled his unit’s health and efficiency, explaining how a lack of proper clothing resulted in over 30 servicemen getting admitted to an infectious diseases ward after falling ill during a training exercise.

Following their training, his comrades were forced to march to an unknown destination.

‘At that point, everyone was already dirty and exhausted.

‘Some had been living at the training ground for almost a month…everyone’s nerves were on edge, and the atmosphere became increasingly serious and incomprehensible.’

The start of the war quickly became chaotic, with his own commander not knowing what he was supposed to do.

He wrote: ‘The command had no communications. The commander didn’t understand what was happening.’

He says the army was woefully underprepared and tactically naive, and blames a reliance on ‘the ways of our grandfathers’ as the reason his unit was wiped out.

‘All of our training was only on paper, our technique was hopelessly outdated,’ he said.

In battle he felt compromised by the army leadership, and says he never wanted to kill anyone.

‘The death of innocent civilians has been and will be in any war, but it becomes disgusting in the soul.

‘While our governments are figuring out among themselves how to live, and the military on both sides are their tool, peaceful people are dying, their habitual world is collapsing.

‘When you realise this, you don’t know what to do.

‘Drop everything and leave — then you will become a coward and a traitor.

‘If you continue to participate in this, you will become an accomplice to the deaths and sufferings of many people.

‘Now I understand that I was used.’

Filatiev’s book is titled ‘ZOV’ after the symbols painted on Putin’s military vehicles.

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