Original here: http://www.kp.ru/daily/26275/3153420/
Translator: Daniel Mihailovitch / Edited by @GBabeuf
“I have two small children!” A woman slaps a Ukrainian Army prisoner on the cheek. “They almost lost their voices!”
“Knock it of!” A militiaman growls, and the woman moves away from the ranks.
A dozen local residents went out into the street in Snezhnoe to share with the surrendered artillerymen all that they had accumulated in their hearts in the last weeks. Under fire. During sleepless nights in basements. In anticipation of the next terrible artillery barrage, during rare moments of respite. The prisoners stand in silence, heads bowed. They can raise a plaintive look at the guards, but have not the strength to look into the eyes of ordinary civilians, those they shelled with large-calibre weapons.
After two more cauldrons were created in the Donbass, the flow of government soldiers willing to surrender increased enormously. They are so numerous that there are problems accommodating them all.
“To be honest, we do not really understand what to do with all these prisoners,” confesses the military commandant of Snezhnoe, Sergey Godovanets. “We took them everywhere lately: by Saur-Mogila, by Krasny Luch, by Ilovaysk. I can tell you the total number—a little over 160 men. Mostly from Kirovograd and Zhitomir regions. The relatives have already contacted us. Mostly tankists, gunners. Junior officers, almost none of enlisted rank.”
The commandant said that prisoners were taken in different ways. Sometimes white flags were run up, but were used to cover a retreat or a breakthrough attempt. In these cases there was no standing on ceremony.
“In one case, surrendering Army troops were shelled by their own. Yes, go, chat with them, they have been cleaning the streets for two days.”
We came to the “work therapy” site at the same time as the street cleaning service—they brought the prisoners some five-litre flasks of water and tinned beef with bread.
“One tin of beef each,” an elderly guard sternly said, and adjusted an old SKS carbine with bayonet fixed.
The prisoners did not react at all, and overall they had the appearance of completely spent, and even broken, men. Uniforms were dusty and dirty, but not torn. No bruises on their faces. Twenty men, “of military age”, as the government would say; that is, aged eighteen to fifty, sat in the shade near a heap of collected rubbish. They were waiting for the street clean-up truck to take away ‘the echoes of war’—asphalt rubble from mortar explosions and from tank tracks, dirt scattered by exploded lawns, glass and other debris. The city was almost never cleaned during the war. And now, Snezhnoe is close to the front-line—just ten kilometres to the South, thousands of Ukrainian troops sit trapped in the cauldrons.
We address the prisoners: “Nobody is forcing you guys to talk to us. But whoever wants to—let’s talk. Your relatives will see it, and they’ll be calmed.”
A young lad, Aleksey Gavras, from the 39th Territorial Defence Battalion of the Dnepropetrovsk region, did not refuse:
“We were brought by bus to the Starobeshnevskiy district, and were stationed at a checkpoint. Our task was to stand at the administrative border of the Dnepropetrovsk region. We were not fighting, nor did we ever get shot at. People shouldn’t resent us, we only did our job. Relations with locals were normal. Then a column of heavy armour came. We had to surrender, we only had rifles. And a machine-gun. So there wasn’t even any fighting. The column had twenty armoured vehicles, and we were only thirty men.”
“How are you treated?”
“OK. We’re fed and watered. We sleep on mattresses.”
An older prisoner with a classic “Zaporozhian” moustache is from Priluky. He is smiling, it seems, glad at how everything turned out. He had received a conscription notice, like everyone else. He threw away the first one, but the military commissariat was persistent. And they managed to conscript him at the second attempt. For forty-five days. Seventy days ago.
A soldier named Ruslan, well over forty years old, was also conscripted. He shows us a shovel: “I used this shovel on Independence Day to bury three of my friends. I want to appeal to Mr. Poroshenko and Mr Putin: Let it all stop somehow! This is full-scale war! It’s something terrible.”
It is hard to feel any hatred for these people. Even the guards communicate amicably with the prisoners—it is noticeable. We distribute all the cigarettes that we have. We offer a phone, so they can call their loved ones. A middle-aged man says into the phone: “Lyuba, don’t worry, I’m captured,” there, in Dnepropetrovsk, an explosion of emotions. “Lyuba, quiet down, Lyuba, calm down. Get everyone on it, public organizations, we’re all alive, the whole unit. They should try to get us exchanged or released.”
The man grabs his knee with his left hand, an unconscious nervous gesture: “All is well, Lyuba, I really miss you, love, I kiss you. Hope I’ll see you…”
These last words he says through clenched teeth, trying to keep in place his quivering Adam’s apple. His colleagues “attack” him: “Tell her to go down to the post office, tell them I’m alive! She should call Lena, and Lena should call Sergei’s wife! Tell her to visit Pasha’s mother and calm her down!” The guy passes all of it on, word for word, blinking through soaked eyes.
But here comes the truck, the prisoners get up and begin to work the ashes of war with their shovels. A richly decked out and modified car stops at the junction. A similarly accessorized Militiaman is behind the wheel. He shouts: “Come on, work faster! Faster!”
The guard comes over and looks into the car: “What are you doing here? What kind of behaviour is this?”
“Street-racer” darts off. Meanwhile, we are off to Donetsk, where the prisoners who surrendered at Ilovaysk were taken.
Seventeen troops of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade are lined up on a makeshift parade ground. Frankly, a pitiful sight. Torn shirts, dirty camouflage in all sorts of colours and styles. Combat boots that should have been thrown out a year ago. Only the “black men” of the NatsGvardiya battalions are immaculately and uniformly equipped by sponsors. But supply of the regular army, it seems, is based on the principle of a “white elephant sale”. Or what they bought themselves—Bundeswehr camouflage, English “forest” camouflage, Soviet “Oak” and modern “digital” camouflage. Three types of camouflage on one former combatant is almost the norm. These seventeen people are the only survivors of their unit, which only a few days ago numbered 150. They were repeatedly invited to lay down their weapons—it was pointless to resist. But the Ukrainian soldiers did not understand this right away. Now they say they only arrived at their positions two days ago, and did not have time to make mischief. Yet by their uniforms, and even by their crazed eyes, it is obvious that they have been in combat for weeks.
“We conducted an operation to relieve Ilovaysk and other nearby settlements,” the Minister of Defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Vladimir Kononov, tells us.
“The 93rd Mechanized Brigade engaged us in active combat. But they are well aware that we are on our own land. And your own land helps. They were encircled, supply lines cut. And they decided to give up to save the survivors. They raised the white flag, fully discharged the weapons and came over to us with the armour. But it can also happen otherwise. Sometimes Ukrainian Army units raise the white flag, and then open fire. We already had three such cases.”
The Prime Minister of the DPR, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, walks out in front of the line of prisoners. Yesterday, in response to Vladimir Putin’s address to Novorossiya militias, he said that the DPR Army will provide a corridor to the surrounded Ukrainian troops. But on one condition—they have to leave all their vehicles and heavy weapons in the cauldron.
“I can show you ruined schools,” he turned to the prisoners, “damaged kindergartens, refugees killed by your Grad rockets. It’s not us who came to your Dnepro[petrovsk], it’s you who came to us. But you know, I looked at you… I have a seventeen year old son, many of you are almost his age. Today I’ll give you a phone to contact your mothers, wives and relatives. If they come, I’m letting you go, no conditions. Out of respect for you being soldiers, and not from Azov, Shakhtersk or Dnepr [Battalions]. I want to tell you, for the future—all of you are welcome to visit. There will always be a cup of tea and a shot of vodka and something to eat as well. But I don’t want to see you as enemies again. I won’t release you a second time. Also, tell your commanders—you’re great soldiers. The fact that you were captured is not your fault. You fought with dignity, every one of you. It’s just that those who sent you here are bastards. That’s it, give them all soap and towels, let them take showers, give them a place in the barracks. And bring out tea and sandwiches.”
There was nothing false or affected about this speech, although the propaganda effect of this can be quite explosive. Yes, where these young men came from, to fight for ‘United Ukraine’, nobody watches Russian television. Neither do they read our newspapers. But can they dismiss the stories of their relatives? Word of mouth spreads quickly, repeating what Ukrainian soldiers saw with their own eyes. Already there are rumours that some artillerymen tamper with ammunition detonators to minimize the damage [they cause]. Back home, the former prisoners will certainly call their friends still sitting in the cauldrons. It is one more demoralizing effect that will likely start a chain reaction. To cross the line, to become a prisoner, is something terrible. Normally men only take this step when faced with mortal danger. However, when in captivity you are neither beaten nor tortured, but fed, it is a lot easier to make that decision. Especially in the current circumstances, when the southern group of the Ukrainian Army has practically no chance.