Word of mouth

There are many little groups of soldiers in Lviv — a troop rotation. A narrative I’ve been hearing for a while seems to have more evidence supporting it.

In recent weeks I heard both Donbas Battalion Commander Semon Semchenko, and maidan hero turned volunteer fighter Volodymyr Parasiuk talk about the reluctance of the Russian soldiers & mercenaries to fight. Semchenko in particular talked about the cognitive dissonance they face when they go from the venomous incessant propaganda of Russian news about all Ukrainians being rabid Nazis and then see the reality of a population that supports Ukraine and an army led by dedicated, professional officers. I had assumed this was propaganda, but the stories circulating around Lviv seem to confirm this.

1. “When we shoot at them, they run away,” one soldier said. They don’t stand and fight.

2. There’s a story about a poor Ukrainian block post that had one old T-64 tank and some number of dismounts. They were attacked by four modern T-72B tanks, who were, perhaps, confident the Ukrainians wouldn’t hold their ground. They were wrong. The first shot from the T-64 destroyed the lead Russian tank. The others turned and fled. One sunk in a swamp, its crew barely escaping. The other got stuck in a swamp and was abandoned then captured by the Ukrainians.

It seems the only thing the Ukrainians lack are better weapons. They are still outgunned, but that’s it.

3. All of eastern Ukraine is painted blue and yellow. Not just municipal buildings, but private fences, displays in stores, everything.

4. The roads in eastern Ukraine are crowded with private cars, mini buses, and military vehicles, all transporting supplies, soldiers and volunteers to the front.

5. A gruesome story: I heard this rumor independently from two separate sources. A Ukrainian “deversina hrupa” operating behind enemy lines murdered an entire Russian artillery unit one night . . . . with knives. 50-60 of them.

From here on in, every step the Russians take eastward will be into territory even more pro-Ukrainian than Donbass.

These rumors and stories which come from the groups of soldiers returned from the front are much more optimistic than the headlines. I assumed they were Ukrainian propaganda when I only heard them from the military leaders, but the message is persistent. I hope it’s true. It’s understandable that Russia would be better at controlling the message in the media. Demoralization has always been the central strategy of their propaganda.

That’s why journalists who attempt to investigate Russian KIA get assaulted. The result is that Russian soldiers get treated like cannon fodder. They get lied to about going to war, and their burials are closely guarded secrets.