In Intercepted Calls, Russian Troops Describe War Crimes, Low Morale

'Putin is a fool,' one soldier said in March call from Bucha
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2022 1:24 PM CDT
In Intercepted Calls, Russian Troops Slam 'Fool' Putin
A priest prays for unidentified civilians killed by Russian troops during the Russian occupation in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Aug. 11.   (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

In calls made to partners, relatives, and friends at home in the weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian troops admitted committing apparent war crimes, including killing civilians and looting—and criticized their president. The New York Times says it has obtained recordings of thousands of calls Russian troops made from the area around the Kyiv suburb of Bucha in March. The unauthorized calls were intercepted by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, and the Times says it has verified their authenticity. The calls reveal a military in disarray, with soldiers complaining they were lied to about the invasion, and that military blunders led to the deaths of hundreds of their comrades.

"Mom, we haven't seen a single fascist here," one soldier said. "This war is based on a false pretense. No one needed it. We got here and people were living normal lives ... and now they have to live in basements." They described taking heavy losses, with one man saying only 38 out of 400 paratroopers survived "because our commanders sent soldiers to the slaughter." They described seeing the corpses of civilians lying around—and told of being ordered to shoot civilians so they wouldn't give their positions away. "There is a forest where the division headquarters is. I walked into it and saw a sea of corpses in civilian clothing," a soldier named Sergey told his mother. "A sea. I've never seen so many corpses in my f---ing life ... You can't see where they end." After Russian forces withdrew, more than 1,100 bodies were found, some of them in mass graves.

"Putin is a fool," one soldier called Aleksandr said. "He wants to take Kyiv. But there's no way we can do it." The Times says it's identifying soldiers only by their first names so they won't be punished for criticizing Putin. In many calls, the soldier described extremely low morale, with shortages of food and equipment. Some said they'd taken body armor from the corpses of Ukrainians. Relatives back in Russia told them the government and media were painting a very different picture of the war—and warned that prices were going up and Western companies were leaving Russia. "By the way, Amazon closed, you know. And Wildberries," one soldier's wife told him. "We don't have anything, Zhenya. You'll come back to the '90s." (Read more Russia-Ukraine conflict stories.)

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