Hundreds in Russia Seek Legal Help to Avoid Ukraine War—Lawyer

Hundreds of Russian nationals have signaled doubts about fighting in Ukraine, according to a Russian lawyer representing several members who refused an order to go into the country.

Mikhail Benyash told the Financial Times, in an article published on Friday, that since he said he would defend 12 national guardsmen who were fired for refusing to go to war in Ukraine, about 1,000 people have contacted his team. All 12 have filed wrongful dismissal suits.

"A lot of people don't want to go and fight," Benyash told the newspaper.

According to human rights lawyer Pavel Chikhov, Captain Farid Chitav, and 11 of his subordinates were members of Rosgvardia—the National Guard which mainly has a policing role in Russia—and refused to enter neighboring Ukraine on February 25, saying that the orders were "illegal."

"None of them was informed about a business trip to the territory of Ukraine to participate in a special military operation nor about the tasks and conditions of this operation, and as a result, they did not give consent to it," Chikhov said in a post on the Telegram messaging service.

Benyash told the Financial Times that Rosgvardia members lack adequate training for full combat operations.

"Have [they] been taught to dig trenches? To build defensive structures?" asked Benyash. "In their line of work they handle small guns. Maximum they have automated weapons, but they basically never use them."

At least seven members of Russia's National Guard have been killed in combat since Putin's invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, according to Meduza, an independent Russian-language website based in Latvia.

In total, the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on March 30 that the Russian military has lost about 17,300 personnel so far. The Russian Defense Ministry on March 25 said that 1,351 Russian soldiers had been killed in combat and 3,850 injured.

News of the members' dismissal and apparent signs of internal conflict inside the ranks of Russia's forces come amid reports of stagnating morale among Russian troops, and as Ukrainian forces continue to put up a determined resistance more than five weeks into the war.

The Pentagon said on March 1 that units, including scores of young conscripts, had rather laid down their weapons than fight Ukraine's forces.

A clip that was shared online as early as March 5 appeared to show angry mothers of Russian soldiers accusing the Kremlin of deploying their sons as "cannon fodder" in the Ukraine invasion.

According to analysis by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S. government-funded outlet, the video showed an intense confrontation between the Russian mothers and Sergei Tsivilev, governor of the Kemerovo region, in southwest Siberia.

"We were all deceived, all deceived. They were sent there as cannon fodder. They are young. They were unprepared," one woman said.

Other clips have circulated online purporting to show Russian soldiers saying that they were ordered to cross the Ukraine border without adequate planning or preparation.

Newsweek has contacted Russia's Defense Ministry for comment.

Ukraine-Russia conflict
Russian soldiers rehearse for a forthcoming parade on Red Square in Moscow on November 5, 2017. Hundreds in Russia have signaled doubts about fighting in Ukraine, according to a lawyer. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images