May 27, 2024

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Who are the “five hundredths”, and are there deserters in the Ukrainian army (video)

They are called “five hundredths” – these are deserters and conscientious objectors, those who, even through self-harm, try to avoid being sent to a combat zone. Are they available in Ukraine? Of course, as in every army and in any warring country.

With the beginning of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, general mobilization was announced. However, some, due to both objective and subjective factors, after they began to participate in hostilities, voluntarily or by invitation, conclude that they are not ready for the appropriate lifestyle and participation in hostilities. That is why cases of unauthorized leaving a military unit or place of deployment are common. Using modern terminology, we are talking about desertion and SOCH (unauthorized abandonment of a military unit) during martial law in Ukraine.

Increase in desertion cases

In the second year of the war, the number of cases of desertion in the Ukrainian Armed Forces increased almost five times compared to 2021 and higher than in 2022. This is evidenced by the statistics provided in the reports of the Office of the Prosecutor General. According to her, writes edition “Country”, in 2021 was recorded:

  • 117 cases of opening criminal proceedings under Art. 408 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – desertion;
  • 2,028 military personnel left their places of service without permission – Art. 407 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.
  • 33 cases of crossbows to evade service were recorded – Article 409 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

At the end of 2022 deserters increased tenfold (3,214), the number of SOCH increased three times (6,183), and crossbows increased five times (177).

For 9 months of 2023 the number of deserters again increased slightly and amounted to 4,638. 10,940 unauthorized departures from the unit, 161 cases of self-inflicted gunshots and self-mutilation among the military were also registered.

The open electronic judicial registry of Ukraine has published over 800 verdicts under Article 408 – desertion – and several thousand documents of ongoing legal proceedings under this article.

Considering these data, in pre-trial detention centers, prisons and guardhouses, apparently, there are several thousand military suspects and prisoners who are being prosecuted under Article 408 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. That is, it is quite possible to form at least a brigade from those behind bars.

Punishment for SOCH and desertion

It is worth noting that with the outbreak of a full-scale war, judges began to treat deserters who fall under Article 408 much harsher: the majority receive five years in prison, sometimes up to eight years in prison. Whereas until February 2022, deserters most often received suspended sentences, and in most cases the case ended in agreements between the defendant and the prosecutor.

Reasons for desertion

Analyzing court proceedings under Article 408 (escape from active military units), it becomes clear that everyone has their own reason. Many defendants in the courtroom admit to fear of death. For example, one sentence from the registry tells the story of a National Guardsman who escaped from his unit with a machine gun and 4 magazines of ammunition after a rocket landed in his unit; this happened in March 2022, at the very beginning of the war. As a result of the missile attack, several dozen of the deserter’s colleagues were killed. However, he was never found, and witnesses told in court that the fugitive National Guardsman was seen in a photo on social networks – allegedly he was being held captive by the Russians. The sentence was pronounced in absentia – eight years in prison.

Another verdict concerns a soldier who escaped from a combat unit on July 9, 2022. He admitted that his trench was shelled, and out of fear he fled from the position along with the weapon. But he returned later to the unit and was sent for treatment by military psychiatrists. However, he did not complete his treatment and escaped again, after which he was detained and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Many of those convicted speak in the courtroom about the fear of death in battle. For example, a soldier of the assault brigade said that on August 30, 2022, he left the unit, not “wanting to take part in the assault on the city of Liman without proper support and not wanting to die in battle.” The judge sentenced the soldier to five years in prison.

Another verdict contains the story of a soldier who refused to carry out an order to move to the front line on July 21, 2023. The military man escaped and then even tried to leave Ukraine altogether, but was detained in the Chernivtsi region while trying to cross the border with Romania. Despite repentance, he was sentenced to five years and one month in prison.

Moreover, among the convicted deserters there are also volunteers who took arms of their own free will after February 24. For example, a National Guard soldier who escaped from his unit on January 3, 2023 and was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. He left the military hospital without permission and asked the judge for leniency, citing illness. However, he still received a long sentence.

Alternative punishment

There are quite a lot of cases in the register of court decisions when prison sentences are replaced by deserters to serve in a disciplinary battalion. For example, a mobilized senior soldier with many children (three children) received a year and a half in prison for desertion, which was replaced by the same term of disbat.

Another soldier, a border guard sergeant, escaped from his unit on May 5, 2023, telling judges that he deserted out of fear. He received a sentence of two years of disobedience.

There are also cases in the registry of deserters with a long prison history. For example, a soldier who had previously been imprisoned three times received 5 years in prison. The man has been convicted three times for theft and hooliganism, and the fourth time for fraud. He received his fifth term (five years) for desertion. By the way, the publication’s sources in the Armed Forces of Ukraine say that many soldiers who were previously convicted and mobilized into the Armed Forces of Ukraine are “extremely reluctant” to fight.

Disbats are not officially discussed in the Armed Forces of Ukraine very often. But they exist and act. Sources in the Ministry of Defense say that after February 24, 2022, the disbats were planned to be similar to the penal battalions of the Red Army during World War II – inviting the military personnel who ended up in these units to atone for their guilt before the Motherland with blood, sending them to attack in the most dangerous areas. But the first such attempts were unsuccessful. In most cases, the personnel were reluctant to attack, and some soldiers immediately surrendered. Now they are used like construction battalions in the USSR – for various jobs.

What the military says about the motives for desertion

Captain K. of the Armed Forces of Ukraine says: “Some soldiers openly declare that they will not go into battle, they say, it is safer to spend time in prison than to die on the front line.” According to the officer, the authorities try to keep these “five hundred” mostly busy with non-combat work – building fortifications, loading ammunition and equipment, digging trenches. After all, higher authorities also harshly ask unit commanders for cases of desertion and SOC. Senior Lieutenant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine M. admits:

“The more SOC soldiers you have, the more reports and documents you have to write. The authorities don’t pat you on the head for this – if you have soldiers running away from your unit, it means you’re doing a bad job with your personnel. For this, they’re punished not only with reprimands, but also with money.”

The main reason for desertion, according to the military, is the lack of motivation to serve among those mobilized, as well as fatigue from a long stay on the front line. Major T. of the Armed Forces of Ukraine says:

“The reality at the front is cruel – we have a lot of losses on the front line, soldiers are dying every day, our positions are being stormed every day. There are fewer rotations in the Armed Forces of Ukraine – there are not enough recruits. Wounded soldiers, untreated in hospitals, are forced to return to the trenches. The rear is very weak They imagine what is happening here, they paint some rosy pictures. In many combat units there is a shortage of personnel of up to 30-40% – this number includes not only the dead and wounded, but also the “five hundredths”, deserters. In addition to official cases of desertion, “In all parts of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, without exception, there are “hidden five hundredths” – soldiers, sergeants and officers feign illness. Others are trying with all their might to stay at headquarters and rear units – just so as not to go to the front line.”

Russian military desertion

Is there desertion in the Russian army? Undoubtedly, as convincingly evidenced by recent legislative changes. Prison sentences have increased for failure to comply with the order of the commander, desertion, looting, violation of the rules of combat duty, deliberate destruction or damage to military property during wartime, hostilities or mobilization – such amendments to the law adopted by the State Duma in September 2022.

In accordance with the document, “failure by a subordinate to comply with the order of his superior… during martial law, in wartime, or in conditions of armed conflict or hostilities, as well as refusal to participate in military or hostilities” is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. And in case of serious consequences – up to 10 years.

Also, liability for unauthorized abandonment of a unit during a period of mobilization or martial law, in wartime or in conditions of armed conflict or hostilities is increased – from 5 to 10 years of imprisonment. The punishment for desertion during the period of mobilization, wartime or in conditions of armed conflict has been increased to 15 years in prison, for evading military service by feigning illness – up to 10 years.

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