Reports of Russian soldiers unwilling to fight their “brothers in Ukraine” have been around since the war broke out. For fear of consequences, they usually do not make their reasons public. One has now broken his silence.

The junior Russian officer “slept on pillows” for several weeks and “hid his face from the Ukrainians out of shame” for a few weeks before finally handing in his resignation. The young man, who remains anonymous for his own safety, reports on his experiences to the US broadcaster CNN.

He was part of the troops assembled in western Russia before the war broke out, he says. At the time, the massive troop movements triggered great concern around the world about an invasion. The officer says he didn’t think much of it. Not even when they were suddenly supposed to give up their cell phones on February 22 last year – “without explanation”.

That night they would have spent hours painting white stripes on their military vehicles. Then suddenly the order changed, he recalls: “Draw the letter Z, like in Zorro.” The letter is now considered a pro-Russian war symbol.

The next day they were transferred to Crimea. The peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014. “To be honest, I didn’t think we were going to Ukraine. I didn’t think it would even come to this,” he tells CNN.

Then, on February 24, President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine.

They wouldn’t have noticed anything about it, says the officer. They would have had no access to the news, no more mobile phones – so no contact with the outside world. And: “We were not hammered into Ukraine-Nazi rhetoric.”

Two days later they were drafted into Ukraine. “Some refused outright. They wrote a report and left. I don’t know what happened to them. I stayed. I don’t know why,” he says today.

First, his unit went in the direction of Cherson. He remembers scattered boxes of Russian dry rations and heaps of destroyed equipment. “When we saw the locals, we were generally tense. Some of them hid guns under their clothes and when they got close to us they fired.” He says he hid his face out of shame and for security reasons because he was embarrassed to be seen by Ukrainians. on their land.

In the first week he was in a kind of shock. “I wasn’t thinking about anything,” he tells CNN. “I went to bed at night and thought, ‘Today is March 1st. Tomorrow I will wake up, it will be March 2 – the main thing is to live one more day.’” Some times shells hit very close. “It’s a miracle none of us died,” he says.

Some other soldiers also had concerns and were confused as to why they should invade Ukraine. Others would have been happy about the promised fight bonuses. “15 more days here and I’ll have paid off my loan,” he recalls saying. In Russia, many people live in poverty, and the army is seen as a potential way out.

After a few weeks he finally got away from the front to do repairs. “We had a radio and could hear the news,” he says. “That’s how I learned that in Russia shops are closing and the economy is collapsing. I felt guilty about that. But I felt even more guilty because we came to Ukraine.”

His determination was so great that he went to the commandant to write his resignation letter. The commander is said to have initially refused. It is impossible to refuse service. “He told me there could be a criminal case. This refusal is treason. But I stood my ground.” Finally he gave him paper and a pen. He declared his resignation on the spot.

There are no official figures on how many soldiers have already left the Russian army. But several NGOs told CNN about many more cases. Unauthorized absence is punishable by imprisonment, but an official resignation request can be made. According to the NGOs, however, this is not always accepted by superiors, and soldiers are sometimes intimidated.

The officer who spoke to CNN is now with his family. He doesn’t know what to do next, he says. “But I’m glad I’m home again.”