Volodymyr Zolkin, a YouTuber taking part in a project to search for captured and killed Russian soldiers in Ukraine, called “Ishchi Svoikh” (‘Look for Your Own’), has recorded more than 100 interviews with captured invading troops.
Speaking with Radio NV, Zolkin revealed what the lowest caste of the Russian military is, what the invaders say after they are taken prisoner, and what they think of Russia and dictator Vladimir Putin.
NV: Who are these people, how can they be described? It seems that they all came to Ukraine to fight from some Russian backcountry.
Zolkin: Let's try to classify them somehow. Firstly, it’s the inhabitants of occupied Donbas. This is the lowest caste and link in the whole ogre structure, because they are basically cannon fodder everywhere, sometimes even unarmed. None of them knows how to use weapons. They are genuinely recruited from the streets, from basements, taken out of homes and thrown into combat.
I think it goes like this: the puppet [“DPR leader” Denis] Pushylin — known [to be involved in the infamous] MMM Ponzi scheme — is told by the Kremlin: we need a thousand pieces of cannon fodder. He goes down and recruits them anywhere and by any means possible.
Then everyone is taken to some sort of a hangar, where they are given something resembling a military uniform. It is unwearable. Generally speaking, it’s the same with Russians, those who are "the second army in the world." In reality, our [soldiers] are much better equipped.
They are assembled, given shovels, and told to dig. They even call up people with physical disabilities, people who are unfit for service. Then they are taken away by train, and they didn't know at the beginning where they were being taken or what was going on — they knew nothing. Now they, of course, understand.
They are brought to some place and there they dig again. Then, at best, they are given rifles, but without magazines. Magazines are given when they arrive directly at the scene of the battle. Then they are shown how to reload rifles and how to shoot. That's who we're at war with, just so you know.
NV: The lowest caste are the inhabitants of occupied Donbas. Who's next?
Zolkin: Then we need to say a few words about conscripts who should not have come here at all. They are clueless. You know, I believe them.
For example, one man was called up for military service and had the task of lighting a fire somewhere in the woods, to maintain a fire. The commander approached him and said, "Get in a car and go." He sat down and left. On February 24, he left, and their column was annihilated. And in front of me sits a man weighing about 40 kilograms.
NV: Born in 2002.
Zolkin: Yes, some of them are 18-19-20. [He] says quite frankly that Putin is a bald bastard. And I believe him. I understand that the person is not hiding anything, he is in shock.
90% are from the hinterlands. They are all from such places that you simply wouldn't wish on the enemy to live there. But there are some from larger cities, like Ekaterinburg and Rostov. The day before yesterday, there were two conscripts from the city of St. Petersburg. It was a jackpot.
Firstly, from St. Petersburg. Secondly, conscripts. And thirdly, they call their mothers and they both tell them that the captain who led them into battle and threw them on the battlefield has returned to Russia and written a report that they are deserters — those whom we held captive. They are shocked, and afraid to return home because they will be beaten up there.
And there is a separate category of ogres. For example, elite Pskov paratroopers who try to [behave] defiantly, show their intelligence, and argue about things. But they still call home and cry like girls.
NV: And what can they argue about? About coming to kill the Nazis?
Zolkin: Sometimes, they inquire why we had the Maidan. They were told for eight years that the Maidan was the worst thing that could happen. And I say: "How can I explain to you what the Maidan is, if you don't understand at all what the will of the people is?"
You need to communicate with them in some rather primitive forms. At times, it is possible to tell them something about the Maidan. In the end, I ask them: "Why are you so obsessed with our Maidan?". And they do not know what to say. And the whole point is that they never considered Ukraine an independent state. I tell them, "You won't get it right now, you won't understand." Those who are already in captivity have already understood this.
As for audacity — these Pskov paratroopers occupied Mala Dmytrivka for over a month. This village was occupied and destroyed. I ask them: “You robbed? Stole? Looted? Killed?” [Their response] is: “No. Well, of course, we raided houses, picked stuff up, ate potatoes." But it is tougher to get a straight answer from them that "yes, we shot at civilians".
NV: There are several interviews where they say that a civilian Ukrainian was killed. How do you manage to get them to admit it?
Zolkin: We talk to them for five minutes before the interview and I ask everyone: "Will you talk openly? Is it voluntary? [They agree]. Some people don't believe it's a voluntary conversation: they think me asking consent is a formality.
There are some who refuse — I also note this down, so that I can confirm that those who refused to communicate, did not communicate.
And the one who said that he had already shot at civilians… They seized a car near the highway and [the Russian soldier] shot at one person. In such cases, in my opinion, they have already admitted this and testified under oath, so there's no harm in telling me.
NV: There are real killers. For example, Alexander Krasnoyartsev is a pilot who bombed Chernihiv. There are several other pilots. How can we use their testimony?
Zolkin: Krasnoyartsev’s story is as follows. He killed a man while fleeing. After ejecting [from his [plane], he landed somewhere in a village near Chernihiv. The locals ran after him and he shot one of them dead. There is ammunition, as well as the pistol from which he fired, and the cartridge with which he shot at the civilian was seized. There's no escaping it. Of course, he will own up to his actions.
As for when I ask him, "How do you enjoy being a serial killer?" There are no serial killers in history who could match Krasnoyartsev in the number of victims. The man bombed Syria, then Ukraine. I don't remember how many flights he had in Syria, but it was multiple.
One projectile he fires has a range of at least one and a half kilometers — just hit one house or one school and you understand how many casualties there may be. I ask him: “Do you comprehend that you are not merely a mechanism that is given orders? You are a human and you are responsible for your actions.”
And I see it dawning on him under these very circumstances, but I don't think it will mitigate his guilt or responsibility for it.