The war in Ukraine: the direct surrender line of Russian soldiers
- Author, James Waterhouse
- role, BBC correspondent in Ukraine
The Ukrainian government says the program it created to lure Russian soldiers into surrender receives up to 100 requests a day.
The “I want to live” project was launched in September.
By calling a hotline or entering information into messaging apps, Russian troops can arrange the best way to surrender to Ukrainian forces.
Kyiv authorities claim to have received more than 3,500 communications from members of the occupation forces as well as their families.
There has been a marked increase since Russian President Vladimir Putin mobilized hundreds of thousands of Russian men and liberated the city of Kherson.
The BBC obtained recordings of some of these calls.
As Dark Corridors says, Ukraine’s POW processing headquarters is not immune to power outages in the country.
In a small office, we meet Ukrainian telephone operator Svitlana, who does not have a real name, and who talks to Russian soldiers on a daily basis.
They can communicate by phone or on most messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.
Evenings are busiest, he explains, when troops have more free time and can run off to make calls.
“First, we hear mostly a male voice,” he explains. “It’s often partly desperate, partly frustrated because they don’t understand how the helpline works or if it’s just a setup.
“There is also interest, because many are calling not to give up, but to learn how they can do it if they have to. It’s different every time.”
Svitlan is not allowed to tell us how many Russians he helped or how it happened. They are simply told to state their position before giving further instructions.
He says some Russian soldiers are also reaching out to provoke them, but he doesn’t think everyone believes the Kremlin’s baseless claims that Ukraine is run by Nazis.
“We can’t judge the whole country,” he says. Most of them are worried about their lives.”
Svitlana also remembers the call of a man living in occupied Crimea who was mobilized to fight against his family and country.
It appears that Moscow has now blocked phone numbers that allow contact in Russia. Calls made from a UK or Russian SIM card are met with an error message.
“Ask yourself one question: what are you fighting for?” “I Want to Live” propaganda video aimed at Russian soldiers in Ukraine says the dramatic voice.
Explosions appear in sync with the rousing music, and we finally see footage of Russian soldiers surrendering before being shown two phone numbers.
They are even asked to wave the white flag if they are too close to the front line.
This, of course, is part of information warfare. Anatomy of Ukraine’s Attempts to Demoralize Russians.
On the walls of Svitlana’s office are pictures of Ukrainian prisoners of war. They are all believed to be still alive, and the hotline is central to Kiev’s efforts to bring them home.
Once they surrender, Russian POWs can be used as bargaining chips in future exchanges.
According to the Institute for War Studies, the Kremlin is conducting more prisoner-of-war exchanges to appease critics from inside Russia.
There are believed to be thousands of soldiers on both sides, but the exact number is unknown.
“We especially want to target the partially mobilized ones who are unable to fight and are thrown as cannon fodder,” explains Vitaly Matviyenko, who operates the device.
“This project was created so that if they surrender voluntarily, their lives will be guaranteed.”
It is hoped that this will soften the stomach of the invader for Ukraine, which has a large number.
Additional reporting by Daria Sipigina, Hanna Chornous and Moose Campbell.