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Russia forcibly sends men who refused to fight to Kharkiv Oblast

Hundreds of Russian troops who refused deployment to Ukraine have been sent to the Kharkiv front after their trials were abruptly cancelled, according to reports.
Russian soldiers.
Russian soldiers. Illustrative photo. Credit: Euronews
Russia forcibly sends men who refused to fight to Kharkiv Oblast

Russian opposition outlet Verstka reported on 3 June that Russian military authorities began forcibly sending hundreds of Russian servicemembers who refused to take part in Russian combat operations to the front in Ukraine, including to northern Kharkiv Oblast and Donetsk Oblast, in May 2024.

According to the ISW, Verstka stated that the Russian military holds the servicemembers at military unit basepoints in Russia as they await trial for crimes related to their refusal to fight before suddenly canceling their trials and immediately sending them to Ukraine.

Verstka reported that Russian authorities used physical abuse to coerce some soldiers into volunteering to go to Ukraine before forcing others from their holding cells at gunpoint and transporting them to the frontlines.

Verstka reported that Sverdlovsk Oblast Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Merzlyankova claimed on 6 May that she visited a collection point for servicemembers who refused to fight but that management stated that there were no violations of the servicemembers’ civil rights.

However, Verstka reported that “Russian authorities canceled the trials of at least 170 servicemembers who refused to fight and deployed them to Ukraine and that investigators, prosecutors, and lawyers were all unaware of this.”

According to Verstka, several sources, including one source from the Russian presidential administration, stated that the Russian military sends conscripts and “incompetent” reservists, who have signed contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), to non-combat roles in Russia’s border forces to free up experienced military personnel for the Russian offensive operation in northern Kharkiv Oblast, but that the Russian military is also sending deserters to fight.

A Russian lawyer, who specializes in cases related to servicemembers refusing to fight, reportedly stated that the Russian MoD may be stopping criminal cases to send such servicemembers to the front due to a shortage of forces needed to fight in northern Kharkiv Oblast.

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