Russian Aggression in Ukraine: Russia's Ghost Army in Ukraine: Soldier discharged for refusing to fight in Donbas

17:08 Nov. 23, 2016

Russia's Ghost Army in Ukraine: Soldier discharged for refusing to fight in Donbas

A sniper seen during tactical exercises held by motorized infantry units of Russia's Southern Military District as part of the Caucasus 2016 strategic drills (TASS via Getty Images)

Former contract serviceman complains to the Presidential Council on Human Rights

A Russian contract serviceman complained to the Presidential Council on Human Rights claiming that he had been unlawfully dismissed from the army for refusal to go to Ukraine's eastern Donbas region in 2015. Military command argues 'drunk driving and disciplinary offences' were the reason to terminate his contract, Russian RBC agency reports.

The senior sergeant of the 536-th separate coastal missile and artillery brigade of the military unit 10544 from the Murmansk region, Vladimir Marchukov said he was dismissed from service on November 10. The story of Marchukov and other servicemen of the same brigade, who complained about the attempt to send them to fight to Donbas in February 2015, had been earlier reported by the Russian gazeta.ru, however the sergeant's last name was not mentioned.

Donbas Episode

Since 1990, Marchukov has been serving in the ranks of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense. In March 2014 he was called up for the military service in the 536th brigade, part of the 10544th military unit. He was then sent to the First Division of the coastal anti-ship complex "Redoubt" to serve as a rocket launcher operator.

The senior sergeant told RBC that at the end of January 2015 contract servicemen of his brigade were called up to the command of the 10544 unit, where Colonel Rustam Sanzhapov allegedly threatened with dismissal if the subordinates refused to go fight in Ukraine. Several people refused immediately, the remaining 56 went to the village of Sputnik near Murmansk, where the 61st separate marine brigade is stationed.

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While there, the troops have undergone additional training with a change of military specialities. The exercises included firing and operating special equipment.

When the soldiers complained of the cold in the barracks, the deputy commander of their 10544 unit, lieutenant colonel Vyacheslav Okanev, came and reminded the subordinates about the need to go to Ukraine.

RBC has an audio recording of the conversation, in which the officer said he "does not exclude deployment to the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and to provide direct assistance there." In February 2015, combined Russian-separatist forces were storming the Ukrainian city of Debaltseve.

"If you do not want to defend, if they crush Lugansk and Donetsk now ... They seized the opportunity that for the last 20 years Russia has not been doing its normal job there," Okanev said. "They came to power. The situation may develop in such a way that they will come to Stavropol, Krasnodar, Rostov, Bryansk, and so on, if you do not go there right now and do not protect them there.." he added.

After the incident, the lieutenant colonel did not deny the subject of the conversation, but added he was "misunderstood".

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Vladimir Marchukov (Photo source: RBC)

Marchukov refused to go to Donbas. His wife filed a complaint to the Presidential Council on Human Rights. Russia's Defence Ministry sent a commission to pay an inspection visit to the unit. Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov has subsequently denied information about Murmansk contractors being sent to Donbas.

Emerging problems

Marchukov's wife, Victoria, has been working in a canteen of the same 10544 military unit.

After her complaint to the Human Rights Council, she was warned by her bosses that she was being followed by the FSB [Russian Security Service]. Eventually, she was forced to quit her job, leave the garrison and return to Murmansk.

After the incident in the village of Sputnik, Marchukov returned to the 10544 military unit. Some of his fellow servicemen quitted or were transferred to other units. Several officers were interrogated by the FSB.

Marchukov's complaint did not go unnoticed. The commanding officers started maintaining pressure on him, entering disciplinary remarks into his personal records and forging his signatures. In a conversation with RBC, the fact of pressure on Marchukov was confirmed by his former fellow serviceman, on condition of anonymity.

A year after the events in Sputnik, in January 2016, Marchukov's division was reduced, but his contract was extended. After a month of service Marchukov was presented a certification sheet, which indicated the disciplinary breaches of the contract. He refused to sign that document.

The re-certification of Marchukov was scheduled for November 8, 2016, but he failed it. On November 10, 2016 and promtly dismissed from military service.

Marchukov calls his re-certification "pure window dressing" and associates the problems with his refusal to go to Donbas. Sergeant showed RBC his numerous positive references from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Armed Forces for 18 years of service.

Official Version

The commander of the 10544 unit Colonel Yury Ryazantsev told RBC that Marchukov failed the certification because of drunk driving.

Marchukov confirmed that just before the New Year he, indeed, was caught driving under influence, but he immediately reported about the incident to the command, and paid a fine. "I have already been punished for an administrative offence. We have a number of officers in the division, who had been deprived of a driving license for drunk driving, and the authorities are well informed about it," said the senior sergeant.

A member of the Human Rights Council and the coordinator of the movement "Citizen and the Army" Sergei Krivenko told RBC that the presidential human rights advocates asked the commanders of the unit and the military prosecutor's office to check the complaint of the senior sergeant. Krivenko believes that Marchukov has a chance to appeal against the dismissal and return to the military service.

The commander of the 10544 unit Ryazantsev told RBC that not one of the Murmansk contractors ever went to Donbas, and the soldiers just practiced military exercises on tactical and combat training in the village of Sputnik. His words were echoed by the Defence Ministry's Department of Information and Public Communications.

The ministry said that inspection did not confirm any single case of "sending servicemen, including under pressure and coercion, into a war zone in the south-east of Ukraine."

Moreover, the Department stressed that currently Marchukov is an active duty serviceman who enjoys all the benefits, and will be entitled to social guarantees from the Ministry of Defence after his retirement.

Source 

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