A Russian prisoner’s mother received a government letter informing her that her son died on the day he was released from jail.

A Russian prisoner's mother received a government letter informing her that her son died on the day he was released from jail.

The Tragic Reality of Russian Warfare: Stories of Convict Soldiers Used as Cannon Fodder

Russian Mother Speaks Out

In a heart-wrenching account, a Russian mother, who wishes to remain anonymous for safety reasons, recently spoke to CNN about the devastating loss of her son Andrei. Andrei, a convict serving time for minor drug charges, was recruited by the Russian government to join the fighting in Ukraine. Unfortunately, his hopes of early release and a chance at a better life were tragically dashed when he died just three weeks after being sent to the frontlines.

The recruitment of prisoners as soldiers has become a common practice for Russia since the war in Ukraine began in February 2022. Tens of thousands of prisoners have been offered the opportunity to join the war effort in exchange for their service, effectively trading the shackles of their prison cells for the dangers of the battlefield. However, the reality is far from the promised freedom these prisoners hope for.

CNN’s investigative report sheds light on the plight of these poorly-trained convict soldiers who are often used as cannon fodder by the Russian military. These men are referred to as “disposable infantry” and are sent into the brutal battlefields, making them easy targets for enemy fire. The mercenary Wagner Group was the first to employ this tactic, but it has now been adopted by the official Russian Defense Ministry.

Andrei’s story is one of many tragic examples. At the age of 20, he was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for minor drug charges. After serving just three years, Andrei saw an opportunity for freedom when he was recruited to join the war effort. His mother, Yulia, reveals that it was not the promise of financial gain that persuaded Andrei but the chance to escape the confines of his prison cell.

“He didn’t remember the amount of money he was offered, said he hadn’t checked. So, I didn’t see any financial interest for him. It was just about freedom,” Yulia told CNN.

During his brief training, Andrei kept in touch with his mother, sending short videos and voice recordings. In these messages, he joked about the weather and documented his preparations. CNN was able to verify the authenticity of these communications through video proof and chat messages shared by Yulia.

On May 8, Andrei messaged his mother, informing her that his unit was being sent to the eastern front lines for a dawn assault the following day. Yulia, overwhelmed by fear and concern, pleaded with him not to go. The last message she sent to him was a reference to the film Forrest Gump, with Yulia writing, “Run, Forrest, Run.” Unfortunately, it was the final communication between mother and son.

In the weeks that followed, Yulia spoke with relatives of other convict soldiers who were recruited from the same penal colony as Andrei. According to these accounts, as many as 60 Russian soldiers lost their lives in the May 9 attack. Although these claims could not be independently verified by CNN or Insider, they contribute to the tragic narrative of convict soldiers being used as expendable pawns in Russia’s war efforts.

Yulia’s anguish is further heightened by the fact that she has not received her son’s body or any of his belongings. Instead, all she received was a letter from the Ministry of Defense, which marked Andrei’s death as the day he left prison for the front lines. This cruel twist of fate only adds to the emotional burden Yulia carries, as she admits her fear that her son might have become a murderer.

“The hardest part was that I was afraid he would kill someone,” Yulia told CNN. “Ridiculous as it sounds, I was afraid he would go through all this and come back to me as a murderer. Because I can live with my son as a drug addict, but with my son as a murderer – it was difficult for me to accept it.”

The stories of convict soldiers like Andrei shine a light on the devastating consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine. These young men, with hopes of a second chance, are being used as mere pawns in a brutal conflict. Their lives are cut short, leaving grieving families behind, and the promise of freedom becomes an empty and tragic illusion. It is vital to shed light on these stories to raise awareness of the human cost of warfare and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals caught in its grip.