Not only do Ukrainian soldiers continue to desert Kiev’s war against Donbass en masse, but an increasing number are crossing over to the Donbass side. Such are the findings of a recent investigation by Strana.ua, which has also pointed to some admissions in a recent Tweet by the editor-in-chief of Censor.Net, Yuri Butusov.
On May 29th, Butusov revealed: “In May alone, four servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces – one from the 36th marines brigade, two from the 14th brigade, and one from the 30th brigade, have crossed the frontline over to the enemy. This means that they are deserters.”
Of course, Butusov himself is a pro-Maidan Ukrainian journalist, which makes it only logical that he would dramatically understate Ukrainian losses. However, Butusov admitted that these incidents are part of a much larger trend, which he christened “switching season.” According to Butusov, recent mass-scale Ukrainian desertions are the result of troop shortages which are compensated for by “guest workers”, i.e., salary seekers who “sit, drink alcohol, have bad discipline, clash, are dissatisfied with everything, but aren’t removed because even they can be useful for something.” Under these circumstances, more and more Ukrainian servicemen are simply crossing over the the Donbass side rather than face the consequences in Ukraine.
Desertion is punishable with up to 12 years of imprisonment under Article 408 of the Criminal Codex of Ukraine, but is infrequently applied due to the severity and immense scale of the problem. Instead, Article 407 on “unauthorized leaving of a military unit” has been applied in so many cases that it is “off the charts.” Strana.ua’s investigation found dozens of case proceedings currently open in Ukrainian courts on troops evading service, around a quarter of which are desertion cases.
Many such statistics and proceedings are kept confidential. However, we know that in 2017 there were around 468 desertion cases officially registered – and far from everything in Ukraine goes through official registration – 19 of which were closed, while many more were shut down or kept classified due to potential damage to the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ public reputation. 2017’s numbers were an increase from 2016, which saw 430 criminal desertion proceedings, 47 of which were closed. Again, these are Kiev’s figures, which are highly suspect.
The reasons for desertion are typical: low morale, alcoholism, drug abuse, violent inter-unit clashes, widespread criminality, pitiful wages, insubordination, etc. Many Ukrainian conscripts also have family on the other side of the frontline. Whereas before Ukraine has been able to compensate for such losses with forced mobilization waves, the persistent shortage of troops on the frontline measuring around 30-40%, and the particularly drastic shortage of officers, has seen Kiev try to fix the hole with the bandaid of deploying anyone it can pick up. It is also not outside of the realm of possibility that imprisoned deserters are sent to the frontline.
The desertion of Ukrainian troops to the Donbass republics has been a significant phenomenon since the beginning of the war in 2014. Donbass and Russian sources estimate the number of deserters to be in the thousands. One year ago, in May 2017, the military spokesman and deputy commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, claimed that the Ukrainian command’s real figures numbered more than 8,000 deserters.
It also bears mentioning that these desertions have spiked despite the fact that NATO has increased the time and resources it spends training the Ukrainian army, which Kiev ruler Poroshenko has claimed is “Europe’s strongest army.”
If psychological conditions on the Ukrainian frontline are already deplorable enough to inspire desertion, then the psychological effect of Ukrainian troops’ comrades defecting to Donbass forces, thereby destroying Kiev’s entire narrative of the war as one of “Ukrainian defenders” against “Russian occupiers and terrorists”, is bound to be even more forceful. Indeed, as part of its coverage of the Donbass war since day one, Fort Russ News has covered the pitiful state of Ukrainian troops in a number of exclusive tell-alls from sources behind Ukrainian lines and analytical reports.
As the Ukrainian economy continues to collapse and Kiev’s military operation against Donbass continues to be torn between incompetence, adventurism, and corruption, the number of Ukrainian deserters is likely to continue to increase. Between millions of Ukrainians emigrating to Poland and the Czech Republic for work, at least just as many fleeing to Russia, and the deterioration of conditions and personnel on Kiev’s frontline, “switching season” might turn out to be not merely a “season”, but a whole chapter in the history of the population of Ukraine. In a few years time, Ukraine might not have any cannon fodder left to throw against Donbass.