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“If we blaze the trail, others will follow”: The parents of Russian “balkers” enter the “LPR” to rescue their children from detention

Russian contract soldiers who have refused to wage war in Ukraine are being sent to a specialized detention center for “balkers” in Brianka, Luhansk Region. The Insider has recorded and published a first-hand account of one such soldier. This time, we spoke to another prisoner’s relative as she was crossing the border of the “DPR”, headed for the checkpoint of the detention facility in Brianka. At the moment, Maria (the name has been changed) and other “balkers”’ parents and relatives have already entered the so-called LPR to “rescue their children and put an end to lawlessness”.

“We didn't consult anyone before setting out on our mission; it was a collective decision made with the families of other soldiers. Something has to be done; we have to rescue our children and put an end to lawlessness. If we blaze the trail, others will follow. I don't know exactly how many people like us are out there, but there’s a lot. As many parents as the eye can see.

I haven't spoken to [my relative] himself. One of the guys told us there's a prisoner by that name. I phoned his military unit in Russia. At first, they said they hadn't heard anything of the sort. I kept calling them every day, saying my relative was out of reach all the time. I told them I’d heard he might even be tortured, pressured to go back to the front line. I didn't see [the officer I spoke to] but I could feel over the phone how round-eyed he was: ‘Are you serious? He’s in the combat zone, but I’ll submit an inquiry.’ He called me back later to say that my relative had been a ‘balker’ for some time. That's all the confirmation we received. As we were told, keeping them in detention was legitimate. We were told they were ‘balkers’ and were being treated accordingly; we were told they were criminals.

So I told them: ‘My relative was deployed by your military unit; he reports to your unit and therefore, you are responsible for him.’ And they said: ‘No, we aren’t. He has different commanding officers now. He’ll spend ten days [in Brianka] for consultations and investigation. They’ll figure out who is a criminal and who isn’t. Nothing illegal is going on there. They aren't mistreated in any way.’

I insisted that what they were doing was in fact illegal because the people who were keeping them in custody weren't even the Russian Army. And they said: ‘No, there’s nothing illegal about it. They are being investigated and interrogated by Russian officers. But he currently reports to the military unit in which he is stationed in the LPR.’

None of this sounds right: they are being subjected to violence, taken to pits one after another, and pressured to sign consent to be sent to the front line. When I shared my concerns with his commanders, they said it was all nonsense and that “balkers” would invent just about anything to return home.

You can learn the details of this story in our today’s (25.07) Russian-language news stream at 15:00 (Moscow time, GMT +3).

As we learned on July 21, Russian contract soldiers who have refused to wage war in Ukraine are being sent to a specialized facility for “balkers” in Brianka, Luhansk Region. The Insider spoke to one such soldier, who arrived in Brianka on July 22. Ivan (the name has been changed) wrote a report on his refusal to participate in combat action for moral reasons. Before ending up in Brianka, he had spent three months in the combat zone. In Brianka, soldiers are told they will have to pass a psych eval and sit down with their commanders, who will decide their fate.

The Insider also spoke to the father of a “balker”, who shared that Russian contract soldiers had been promised a leave after three months of service and permission to refuse to participate in combat activities. However, when they decided to leave Ukraine, submitting their refusals, they were detained and brought to Brianka, where they have spent over a month in custody. According to the father, the incarceration conditions are abysmal: “Some sort of pits, torture, and the like. These are the accounts of people who returned from there.”

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