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Russian mother says son detained in Ukraine for refusing to fight

July 18, 2022 Updated Tue., July 19, 2022 at 12:35 p.m.

By Robyn Dixon Washington Post

RIGA, Latvia - The mother of a Russian paratrooper detained for refusing to fight in eastern Ukraine has posted an unusual video message online appealing for support to bring him home.

Oksana Plyusnina said her 21-year-old son, Ilya Kaminsky, who has been serving in Ukraine as a contract soldier since the invasion began, refused to keep fighting after his requests for family leave were ignored. Her son and six other soldiers who laid down their weapons in protest were warned that they could be sent to the front line as punishment, she said.

“I do not know where my son is and where he will be taken. Their phones were taken away and we can’t communicate with him or track down what is happening to him at the moment,” she said in the video posted to Instagram on Saturday. Plyusnina declined to speak to The Washington Post, saying it could put her son in danger.

Her claims could not be independently confirmed, but they were bolstered by reporting from Russian outlet Mediazona, which said Kaminsky was among seven members of the 11th Airborne Assault Brigade, based in Ulan-Ude in the Siberian region of Buryatia, who refused to fight and repudiated their military contracts. Mediazona cited an audio message from the men, which it received from a local rights group, Free Buryatia.

Diana Kaminskaya, the wife of Ilya, posted a similar shorter video, with a white cradle behind her, saying that her husband called Thursday to tell her he was being sent to a detention center. “I am asking you please help me to return my husband and the father of my baby home,” she said.

Their rare public appeals are a sign of growing unease in Russia about the high casualty rates among Russian forces in a war that Moscow thought would be over in a matter of days. President Vladimir Putin has not announced a military mobilization, which would risk igniting wider opposition to the conflict.

Plyusnina said her son had asked for leave in April for the birth of his baby daughter, but commanders ignored his request. He sent several more requests but got no response. “At the moment in their unit, all the contractors who wrote refusals are divided into groups of eight to 10 people, and are sent to Detention Center No. 1 of Luhansk Republic,” Plyusnina said, referring to one of two Moscow-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

Alexandra Garmazhapova, head of Free Buryatia, told The Post that since Russia is not formally at war and has not ordered military mobilization, but is conducting what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, soldiers are legally entitled to break their contracts. The group works to provide information to soldiers who wish to do so.

At least 250 servicemen from military units in the region have been killed in Ukraine, according to Lyudi Baikala, a media outlet in Buryatia. Mediazona reported that the message from the seven paratroopers said that after they signed formal documents refusing to fight, commanders began to threaten them.

They were locked in a makeshift jail in a garage and given one meal a day before being sent to a detention center, it reported. The men were quoted as saying that the head of the military investigation department told them they would be sent to join an assault unit unless they signed statements that they were willing to keep fighting.

A story from American-funded Current Time television posted on Saturday included an interview with Kaminsky, though it is unclear when the interview took place. “I am morally tired. There is absolutely no trust in the superiors and higher command because they ignore everything,” he said. “I am tired. I want to go home. I had a daughter three months ago. I still have not seen her.”

The average monthly salary in Buryatia is around $380, making it one of the poorest regions in Russia. The army offers recruits a salary approaching $3,500 a month, making enlistment an attractive option.

The Kremlin has consistently downplayed the impact of the war on Russian soldiers, and there has been no update on the military death toll since late March, when the Ministry of Defense announced that more than 1,350 servicemen had been killed.

Plyusnina asked people to repost her video to help bring her son home. “I am appealing to all the people who can help and who care to repost this video and help me to solve the situation when contractors who have been fighting in the special operation for more than four months can’t take a leave, can’t go home and are under pressure after writing refusals to fight,” she said.

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