A former Russian Lieutenant Colonel has described vivid scenes of chaos and slaughter in Putin’s army.
In an emotional appeal, he also urged senior officers to disobey Kremlin orders and stop the war in Ukraine.
Sergey Gulyaev served many years as a high-ranking officer in the Soviet Army. As part of his military service, he spent two years with the 58th automobile brigade in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
Since leaving the army, he has become a political activist and strident Putin critic, as well as a renowned journalist.
He was forced to flee from Russia this May after publishing a book about the war (“Zakat”), which he has vigorously opposed from the beginning – predicting it would be a catastrophe for his country.
Mr Gulyaev is still part of a Russian veterans’ group, which consists of former soldiers who have served from Afghanistan to Chechnya and beyond. As such he maintains close contacts with officers and soldiers in the Russian army and also has relatives fighting in Ukraine.
In a conversation with the Express.co.uk, he recounted the experiences of one member of his veterans’ group, who decided to volunteer for Putin’s army and was sent to fight in the Donbas last summer.
The soldier, a former Special Forces sergeant who previously saw action in Chechnya, said his unit was thrown into battle without any kind of preparation or support and lost more than 80 per cent of its men.
In a text message to Mr Gulyaev, he wrote: “That’s something I have never ever experienced. They sent 49 of us to take a settlement – they sent us without means to communicate, without artillery support, without officers. As soon as we got there the Ukrainians opened fire – out of 49 just nine of us survived.”
The survivors were evacuated by tank crews and returned to their headquarters. Most were suffering from shell shock and had shrapnel wounds.
However, the commanding officers back at HQ were furious with the soldiers for retreating and told them that if they weren’t dead, they should still be on the battlefield.
The former Special Forces sergeant ended up in hospital and was eventually released, by which time his military contract had expired.
When he returned home and tried to get his wages, he was accused of desertion, after the hospital couldn’t initially confirm he had received treatment there.
He was eventually able to contact the doctor who had looked after him and was subsequently able to get hold of the necessary paperwork.
Mr Gulyaev has called on senior officers to show solidarity with Major General Ivan Popov, the former commander of Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army that is fighting on the the southern front.
Popov claimed he was removed from his post after telling his bosses the truth about what was happening on the battlefield.
He criticised the Russian top brass for failing to provide counter-battery units to help protect his soldiers from Ukrainian artillery attacks that were inflicting heavy casualties on his men.
Mr Gulyaev said it was the duty of every senior officer within the 58th CAA to resign in protest.
“I have called on soldiers to sabotage Putin’s orders, and those of the Ministry of Defence (MoD),” he said. “I urge officers in the 58th Army to show solidarity with Popov and resign their posts.
“He has tried to save your lives and you have betrayed him. It would have been the right thing to do – the whole of the 58th High Command should have quit their posts.”
He added: “If the MoD can’t stop the war, if there are no political levers we can use to stop this mad dictator, then let’s stop it in the trenches. Stop shooting at the Ukrainians. Officers in charge of rockets batteries – don’t attack Ukrainian cities – stop killing civilians.”
The former Lt. Colonel confirmed that morale among Russian soldiers was low and pointed to the fact that many had spent six to eight months in the trenches without being relieved and without hot food or the means to wash properly.
He said the Russians were taking heavy casualties from artillery strikes and were defenceless against them.
“It’s obvious the situation’s hopeless and soldiers’ lives are being thrown away,” he said.
“As a commander you must understand that. If you have nothing to defend yourself with and cannot protect yourself from artillery attacks – your first task must be to save lives – take your men away from the front line – go to the rear.
“That is the duty of every officer and reasonable commander. In principle we have to stop this war and it will end when the soldieries in the trenches understand that the enemy is not in Kyiv, it’s not Zelensky – but the enemy is sitting in the Kremlin.”