Ukraine on Wednesday invited the worried mothers of Russian troops captured on the battlefield to come and collect their sons, in an apparent attempt to embarrass Moscow.
“A decision has been made to hand over captured Russian troops to their mothers if they come to collect them in Ukraine, in Kyiv,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
A week into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv claims to have captured dozens of Russian servicemen, and cellphone videos have been circling online of bewildered and disarmed young men in uniform.
Ukraine has sought to undermine Russian public support for the invasion by opening a telephone hotline for Russian parents to find out if their sons are among the dead or captured.
The defense ministry has published telephone numbers and an email address to provide information about captured Russians, and mothers will be invited to Kyiv to collect their missing sons.
“You will be received and taken to Kyiv where your son will be returned to you,” the ministry statement said.
“Unlike Putin’s fascists, we Ukrainians are not waging war against mothers and their captured children,” the ministry said.
Ukrainian forces have also published videos of captured Russian prisoners describing being kept in the dark about the invasion even as it was underway, and condemning the Russian military’s conduct.
Though the videos were likely made under some duress, they are still striking.
In one, a soldier says his commander refused to tell him where the unit was going.
“I didn’t know we were going to Ukraine, I was tricked,” another says.
“We were deceived and used like a meat shield,” says yet another, according to the translation provided in the clip.
“We acted like Nazis. We attacked people here, so they were forced to defend their territory,” a soldier adds.
“Everything they say to us is bullshit… I just don’t understand why we were told all this crap in Russia,” a soldier says in another video while talking to his family. “We have been fucking left here just like pigs.”
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In another clip, a captured trooper tells his mother: “They sent us to death, the whole fucking battalion. Everybody was killed… They don’t even take away the bodies.”
He warns her, however, not to make too much trouble back home. “If you start making a lot of noise the FSB will be after you,” he says, in reference to the Russian internal security agency.
On Monday, Ukraine’s envoy to the United Nations read out what he said was a text message conversation between a Russian soldier and his mother, moments before the serviceman was killed. He claimed that in the messages the soldier wrote of his fears, his bewilderment at the Ukrainian resistance to the invasion, and that Russian forces were targeting civilians.
Ukraine has already set up a website and Telegram channel called 200rf.com that has videos and photos of allegedly captured and killed Russian servicemen so that families in Russia can identify the soldiers.
The name is a reference to “Cargo 200,” the Russian military code for the transportation of dead soldiers.
A message on the website Wednesday said it has been blocked in the Russian Federation.
The Guardian reported Wednesday that due to a dearth of information from officials on what is going on, many Russian families are turning to the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee NGO, which was previously set up to promote soldiers’ rights but since the start of the conflict has become a key contact.
Svetlana Golub, who heads the organization, told the newspaper her phone doesn’t stop ringing.
“It is crazy,” she said. “We are getting hundreds and hundreds of calls. It’s just a sea of tears.”
“The families are being completely left in the dark. They had no idea that a military special operation was about to happen,” Golub said.
She said the group uses its own databases of soldiers and then asks officials for information about where they are and their status.
Golub believes the death toll is more significant than Russian officials are presenting.
“From the many conversations I have been sent between soldiers and their families, I believe many Russians have already died,” she said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky claims almost 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion began last Thursday.
Russia, though admitting losses, has not released overall casualty numbers and the figure could not be independently verified.