Ukraine has said some former Russian soldiers have switched sides and have now joined Kyiv’s forces fighting against Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
The Ukrainian defense ministry said on its Telegram channel on Wednesday that commanders of the “Freedom of Russia” legion were visiting detained former Russian military personnel “in order to select those who wish to serve.”
In a follow up post, it said that the “first volunteers,” comprising ex-Russian troops, “have already begun individual additional training.”
“Today the legion’s personnel, under the guidance of Ukrainian Armed Forces instructors, studied a NLAW grenade launcher,” said the post, accompanied by images of troops gathered around military equipment.
“In addition, the commanders of the legion’s subdivisions got acquainted with the operational situation on the fronts,” the post said.
It added that the legion’s troops “expressed a common desire on behalf of all the volunteers to conduct the first battle against the guard dogs of the Putin regime — the Kadyrovites.”
This refers to fighters from Chechnya who are loyal to the Russian republic’s Putin ally, President Ramzan Kadyrov, who have joined Russia’s forces in Ukraine.
Newsweek is still attempting to verify claims of soldiers switching sides.
The post was in Russian on a channel typically updated in Ukrainian. The message was also shared on the Telegram channel dedicated to the Freedom of Russia legion. This was created on March 10 and its first post appealed to Russian prisoners of war “to join our armed struggle against Putin and his regime.”
Russian-language Ukrainian news outlet Bagnet said joining the legion is voluntary and requires Russian prisoners of war to apply in writing. The troops are then vetted by Ukraine’s security services and counter intelligence.
It reported on Wednesday that both privates and officers were among the “several hundred” Russians who had signed up for the legion.
In a Telegram post on Monday, the Ukrainian defense ministry said that senior sergeant Nikolay Shishkarey had been accepted into the legion and described him as a former serviceman of the 70th Motorized Rifle Brigade.
Other posts detail prisoners who had swapped sides, although these have not been verified and Russian personnel joining Kyiv’s forces would represent a public relations coup for Ukraine.
However, there have been numerous reports of low morale among Russian soldiers with videos widely shared on social media of troops complaining that they were ill-equipped and lacking a clear strategy from Moscow.
A clip that went viral this week shows Russian troops saying that they were members of the armed forces from Donbas and were being sent to the Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine. One troop said, “the Russian Defense Ministry has no idea about us, or what we’re doing here.”
Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.