Several Russian service members captured in Ukraine appeared for a press conference on Wednesday hosted by Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, during which they expressed remorse for their involvement in the invasion and some even vowed to rise up against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
CNN attended the press conference and interviewed three Russian captured Russian pilots afterwords. During that time, the prisoners of war (POWs) expressed remorse for their involvement in the war.
“Our government told us we need to liberate the civilian population,” said one POW, identified only by the name Vladimir. “I want to tell Russian servicemen: lay down your arms and leave your stations, don’t come here. Everyone wants peace here.”
“I want to tell our commander-in-chief to stop terror acts in Ukraine because when we come back we’ll rise against him,” Vladimir added.
“You won’t hide this for long,” said another Russian POW. “There are many like us here. Sooner or later, we’ll come home.”
The appearance of Russian captives at a Ukrainian government press conference may run afoul of the Geneva Conventions, which describe the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) and other conventions among warring nations. The Geneva Conventions generally prohibit captors from subjecting POWs to humiliating and degrading treatment. The situation does also raise questions about whether they are voluntarily denouncing their country or in any way under duress.
So far, about a dozen Russian POWs have appeared at Ukrainian government events. Ukraine claims it has captured about 600 Russian service members overall since the war began on Feb. 24.
CNN reported that after the press conference, the three captured Russian pilots did not suggest they were coerced or in a state of duress. CNN further reported no Ukrainian officials present directed reporters or POWs to ask or answer any specific questions, and no POWs were in handcuffs or any other physical restraints.
“The treatment has been acceptable. They’ve offered us food and drink. They offered medical treatment,” said one of the Russian pilots, identified only by his first name, Maxim.
Maxim echoed concerns shared by other Russian service members throughout the war, that they were given little information about the planned invasion before it began. Maxim said he received his “secret combat order” the day before the invasion began.
Maxim told CNN he believed Russian claims that the military objective in Ukraine was to “denazify” the country and eradicate fascist elements were a pretext to “in order to achieve their own objectives.”
Maxim said other members in his unit expressed misgivings even before the invasion began.
“They have many relatives and friends [in Ukraine], and they were told it was an operation localized to the DNR [a Russian-backed separatist area of eastern Ukraine], and not an attack on the whole country,” Maxim said. “My division was totally against it.”
Maxim also expressed remorse for civilians hurt and killed during the fighting.
“It’s not just about demilitarizing Ukraine or the defeat of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but now cities of peaceful civilians are being destroyed. Even, I don’t know, what can justify, fuck, the tears of a child, or even worse, the deaths of innocent people, children,” Maxim said.
Maxim specifically addressed a deadly Russian attack on a children’s hospital and maternity ward in the city of Mariupol.
“It was a horrifying fact, not just because it is a crime,” Maxim said. “It’s vandalism. You cannot forgive such things. To bomb a maternity ward?”
War captives have not been the only ones to express misgivings about the war. Earlier this month, video surfaced in which a Russian soldier described how, after the invasion began, he and other Russian troops expressed misgivings about the war and harsh conditions and were being retroactively discharged after they demanded to be sent home. The soldier said their leaders told them they were just taking part in a military “exercise” but after they realized they were being used for “cannon fodder” they demanded to be sent back home. The soldier said he and other soldiers were abandoned without food for days and were being retroactively discharged so their leaders could deny their involvement in the war.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy directly called on Russian troops to surrender.
“You will not take anything from Ukraine. You will take lives. There are a lot of you. But your life will also be taken,” Zelenskyy said. “But why should you die? What for?”