‘Drugged’ separatists thrown into line of fire by Russia as ‘cannon fodder’

‘Drugged’ separatists thrown into line of fire by Russia as ‘cannon fodder’

Russian-backed separatists fighting in Ukraine are suffering from staggering casualties, according to official figures, amid accusations that the Kremlin is using them as “cannon fodder”.

Moscow has not introduced mass mobilisation of the Russian population since the war began on February 24. However, forcible conscription has been in place for the two breakaway republics it supports in eastern Ukraine – the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.

Families from the region have staged repeated protests over the “kidnapping” of their menfolk.

In videos from the front, groups of conscripts from Donetsk and Luhansk have complained about their lack of training and weaponry. Some were seen with Second World War-era rifles.

“More than 90 per cent of the people here have not fought at all … it was the first time they had seen a Kalashnikov,” said one Donetsk unit leader, adding that troops were being thrown back into “the meat grinder”.

Now official figures released by the Donetsk separatists’ ombudsman for human rights showed that 2,061 troops from the region have been killed in the past three months, along with 8,500 wounded in action. 

The size of the separatists’ army in Donetsk was estimated at 20,000 before the war began. No figures have so far been released by separatist authorities in Luhansk.

The eastern Donbas region, which is formed by Donetsk and Luhansk, has borne the heaviest of the fighting since Russia withdrew its forces from the Kyiv region. Kyiv has said it is losing up to 200 soldiers a day.

Analysts said that Russia was stepping up conscription in the Donbas to meet its manpower needs – risking tensions with the areas Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, initially claimed his “special operation” was designed to protect.

Two dozen women from Donetsk posted a video online on Wednesday saying they had not heard from their conscripted husbands for two months.

“Our husbands have been snatched off from their workplaces. We have no idea where they are, if they are alive or dead,” an unidentified woman said, breaking into tears. “Where can people disappear to?”

Ukrainian troops have told The Telegraph that Russian commanders appeared to be throwing separatist recruits into the line of fire to spot Ukrainian artillery positions, effectively using them as cannon fodder.

Serhii, a former welder who was injured by shelling on the Luhansk frontline, told The Telegraph that the local fighters he encountered were poorly equipped and sent on suicidal missions.

“They literally don’t have helmets or armoured vests, and they are being sent to provoke us to start firing,” he said.

“We just kill them like pieces of meat ,but then the witches [a Ukrainian nickname for drones] detect us and know our position and they start shelling exactly where we are at that moment.”

He described separatist fighters rushing their position without any support from artillery or tanks.

“I really have the impression that they are high on something, because I just can’t understand how people without any armour just walk straight at us. We feel like we can just kill them like targets at a shooting range.”

Meanwhile, a US think-tank suggested on Wednesday that the Kremlin could be moving to annex parts of Ukraine’s south and east currently under Russian control.

In its daily briefing, the Institute for the Study of War pointed to signs of Russia speeding up plans of a land grab in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The report said: “Despite the apparent lack of a Kremlin-backed mandate concerning the condition of occupied areas, Russian authorities are likely pushing to expedite a comprehensive annexation process in order to consolidate control over Ukrainian territories and integrate them into Russia’s political and economic environment.”

A potential annexation could deprive Ukraine of 20 per cent of its territory – including those parts of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been held by separatists for the past eight years, as well as sections of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson that Russian troops seized in the first month of the war.

In its report, the Institute for the Study of War pointed to “arranging political and administrative contingencies for control of annexed territories” as a sign that Moscow may be priming them for annexation.

In Donetsk, the separatist leader last week disbanded his government and appointed a former Russian deputy minister to lead the cabinet.

Denis Pushilin, the Russia-controlled separatist leaders, explained the reshuffle by the need for an “integration” with Russia. More Russian nationals have been appointed.

Ukrainian officials earlier this month said they expected the Kremlin to get rid of those Ukraine-born local separatist leaders and replace them with Russian hires.

If Russia were to formally annex Donetsk and Luhansk, it would raise questions over the fate of the two British fighters currently on death row in the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol in exile, last week said that separatist-held Donetsk had already transitioned to using Russia’s financial and legal systems.

Earlier this week, Russian authorities in Kherson ordered local businesses and individuals to pay taxes locally, rather than to the Ukrainian government. The local self-appointed governor said last week that local residents will “most likely” not have to repay loans and mortgages to Ukrainian banks.

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Last Update: Wed, 15 Jun 22 20:43:06