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The Russians Fighting Against Their Homeland

The Free Russia Legion, a Ukrainian military unit, is made up entirely of Russians who are fighting and killing their own countrymen. They have taken up arms against their homeland for reasons including moral outrage, a desire to defend their adopted homeland of Ukraine or a visceral dislike of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. The group operates under the umbrella of Ukraine’s International Legion, a fighting force that includes units made up of American and British volunteers, as well as Belarusians, Georgians and others. Nearly a year into the war, the Russian unit has received little attention — in part to protect the soldiers from reprisals by Russia and against their relatives. At the start of the war, Ukrainian law prevented Russian citizens from joining the armed forces. But the unit has now earned enough trust from Ukrainian commanders to take their place among the forces viciously fighting the Russian military south of Ukraine’s strategic eastern city of Bakhmut in one of the most brutal theaters of the war. “A real Russian man doesn’t engage in such an aggressive war, won’t rape children, kill women and elderly people,” said one Russian fighter, describing the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers as motivation for leaving his native St. Petersburg to fight for Ukraine. “That’s why I don’t have remorse. I do my job and I’ve killed a lot of them.” The Wagner paramilitary group said its fighters had seized a village outside Bakhmut, as Moscow’s forces continue a brutal campaign that has nearly encircled Bakhmut.

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