"I wasn't scared of dying. But I felt sorry for giving my life in such a ridiculous way. I felt sorry for all those who lost their life and health because of this shit. For what? For whom? It hurt me, that our leadership doesn't give a damn about us and demonstrates in every possible way that we are not human to them: we are cattle It hurt me that before the war they started they had done everything to protect ours to ruin the army. And every time during the shelling, I kept telling myself, God, I'll do anything to change this if I survive."
With these words, Pavel Filatev recalls a dark day in March 2022. At that time, the Russian paratrooper lay in a trench outside the Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv, while the Ukrainian armed forces covered the invaders with heavy artillery fire.
And Filateev kept the promise he made to himself. 45 days after his return from the front he dropped the bombshell. On 141 pages he wrote down what he experienced during the two months of war in Ukraine. There are 141 pages full of desperation, fear of death, shame, anger, hunger, cold - and incomprehension.
The manifesto bears the title "ZOV", in German "call". Instead of Cyrillic, Latin letters are emblazoned on the first page - a hint at the symbols of this war, which came about by pure chance: Z and V.
Pavel Filatev opened Pandora's box. "I understand that the system will smear my name for what I wrote and put me in the farthest prison forever. But I cannot remain silent. I am not a coward and never have been. (... ) If I, coming out of the war, have no right, 'No to the war!' to say, who has it then?" he writes in the final pages of his manifesto. "I'm so tired of seeing the increasing insanity in my country that I spit on it. Give me a life sentence, I don't want to see any more of this."
Filatjew only found out after his return from the front that the war he waged shouldn't be called war at home. When Putin gave the order for the invasion, his 56th Air Assault Guards Regiment was standing on the border between annexed Crimea and Ukraine. At this point, the troupe is in a desolate state.
By then, the soldiers had spent over a month at a training ground in Crimea. "Even then, everyone was dirty and exhausted," Filatev recalls. "Everyone's nerves were on edge, especially as the atmosphere became increasingly threatening and inscrutable. The majority of us were no longer connected to the outside world. Everyone lived on rumours, which only heated up the mood further."
When the order for immediate departure came on February 20, no one among the simple soldiers knew where they were going to be transferred in their worn-out summer clothes and without field pack. "The majority thought that this forced march would mean the end of the exercises. Some joked that we would now attack Ukraine and capture Kyiv in three days. But even then I couldn't laugh at such jokes," writes Filatev about the uneasy feeling that befalls him. And yet, until the very end, he cannot believe that his troops' goal is Ukraine: "After the ammunition, grenades and Promedol (painkillers) were handed out, rumors spread that we were going to storm Kherson. It seemed like absolute nonsense to me. "
The war begins for Filateev on February 24 at 4 a.m. Explosions and the sharp smell of gunpowder wake him up in one of the transport wagons. "I couldn't quite understand what was happening. Are we defending against the advancing Ukrainians? Or maybe NATO? Or are we attacking? Who is this infernal shelling aimed at? Where does the rocket artillery come from?"
Lots of questions and not a single answer.
"Warplanes flew overhead, followed by helicopter gunships. Explosions could be heard in front of us, the air smelled of gunpowder. (...) It was already getting dark. The sun was shining like spring and was beginning to chase away the chill of the disgusting, cold night. I simultaneously saw ten helicopters, a dozen planes, (...) tanks appeared from somewhere, hundreds of technical units with waving flags of the Airborne Forces and the Russian Federation And that's just what I saw with my blood-caked eyes from the hold of the damned Urals (a type of transport vehicle, editor's note) could see without brakes." While boarding the transporter, Filatev fell and tore his eyelid on a thermal barrel that was lying around in the hold, which was crammed with mines and mortars.
During the first days of the war, his regiment wandered aimlessly through the Ukrainian plain. Sometimes it goes forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes the vehicles get stuck in the mud. "The fighters of our convoy have no idea where we are going and why. You can see that from their tired and confused faces. But what should you do? Jump out of the car, throw away the machine gun and say: I'm not moving, until all this is explained to me?!"
For Filatev, who has already served in Chechnya and is a soldier through and through, and his comrades, this is not an option. So everyone is silent – in the hope that the leadership will have a plan. Meanwhile, the Russian troops are marching through Ukrainian villages, the locals are following the events in crowded groups - and are also silent. Only a few old men come to the side of the road and hold up banners with crosses: "A queasy feeling, either they say goodbye to the next world, or they bless us." Filatev doesn't know.
"I understood that something global was happening. But I didn't know what. All sorts of thoughts were swirling in my head. We couldn't have just attacked Ukraine. Maybe NATO really got involved and we intervened. Maybe we will fought in Russia. The Ukrainians attacked together with NATO. Maybe something will happen in the Far East too. If America got into a war with us, then the scale will be huge. Then someone will definitely resort to nuclear weapons," says the soldier the confusion in his head.
The second day of the war brought no answers either.
"Terrible streets, some dachas, greenhouses, villages. In populated areas, we rarely met people and said goodbye with a gloomy look. Ukrainian flags waved over some houses, which at the same time inspired respect for the courageous patriotism of these people, but also the feeling that these Colors now belong to an enemy. A threat emanated from these houses. And I understood that if I see danger, I will shoot without thinking. A carelessness or hesitation would mean death for me and my comrades. (... ) But at the same time, I didn't want to kill anyone."
In this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, Filateev's troops continue to advance towards Kherson. "I still didn't understand what awaited us next, what kind of situation we were in. What's happening in the world? Who attacked whom? Why do we need Kherson?"
On the regiment's route are shot-up armored personnel carriers, abandoned trucks with howitzers, and burned-out military vehicles. The smell of blood hangs over everything. The letters Z can be seen on the side walls of the destroyed technology. But why do they seem to have moved in the opposite direction? Rumor has it that the Russian army has destroyed its own troops.
But it's fine again. In the afternoon we continue to Kherson. As the column crosses the Dnieper River, corpses float in the water. "The road is broken, it's dark, the column is starting to crawl. (...) How crappy must it be with the Armed Forces of Ukraine that they still haven't fucked us? This huge column that's slowly breaking the street creeping towards Cherson is an ideal target for the Luftwaffe and artillery," says Filatev, describing the situation.
Some soldiers are looting the shops that line the roadside. Steal cigarettes, chips, soda. "Nobody had any more cigarettes. I wanted to run there too, I really wanted to smoke. Adrenaline, tiredness, cold, hunger, thirst. I didn't think it was theft. I didn't care. But I couldn't find a suitable moment," admits the veteran soldier .
Around 1 a.m., Filateev sees Cherson lying in front of him. His regiment dug into the airport grounds and awaited the order to attack. "There was something unusual in everyone's eyes. Everyone seemed to be themselves and not themselves at the same time. You don't see those eyes in people in civilian life. Probably because everyone thought that it was probably the last day of our days," he reports tonight.
When Cherson was taken by Russian troops on the evening of March 1st, tension broke out. "Have you seen the paintings 'Barbarians in Rome'? They best illustrate what happened," writes Filatev. "Everyone looked exhausted and feral. Everyone started searching the buildings for food, water, a shower or a place to sleep. Some started gathering up computers and anything of value they could find. I was no exception. Me found a hat in a broken down truck and took it with me. I was just too cold in my balaclava. But looting of household appliances made me sick."
The soldiers plunder the fridges and kitchens. "We ate everything like savages, everything that was there: muesli, oatmeal, jam, honey, coffee... Everything was turned upside down and we ate everything we could find... We didn't give a damn we had reached our limit."
"Everyone was randomly looking for a place to sleep, arguing about the order for a shower. I was disgusted by all of this, although I understood that I was a part of everything. How much did our commanders have to shit on us?"
Filatev lies down on a table to sleep. "I felt like I was in a five-star hotel if you discount the occasional shooting."
The next day, Filateev's regiment left the city of Cherson. For several days, Russian troops wandered between Nikolaevsk and the airport of the plundered city. "I don't know why, either delirious or tired or looking for hope, but the thought occurred to me that maybe this is the end of the war," writes the paratrooper. But he is wrong. His troops take up positions between the Cherson and Mykolayiv regions. And stays there for over a month.
"We had long beards and were covered in dirt. Our uniforms were worn out. Rumors spread. We didn't see the High Command. The rumors varied: that many refused to go to war; that after our return we five million rubles; that we almost won; that our losses are enormous and NATO is sending its fighters; that a dollar costs 150 rubles and the price of sugar has tripled."
There is nothing to eat apart from dry rations. Some soldiers have started shooting themselves in the limbs to collect the three million rubles promised by Putin and "escape this hell". Filatev describes the horrible conditions: "One of our prisoners had their fingers and genitals cut off. At one post, dead Ukrainians began to be draped on seats, and they were given names and something to smoke. (...) Due to the artillery shelling, some villages are in practically disappeared from the face of the earth nearby. Everyone around us became more and more vicious. Some old woman poisoned us with dumplings. Almost everyone got a fungus, some lost their teeth and their skin peeled off."
Sometimes the Russian soldiers managed to intercept a wave of Ukrainian radio "where we were dragged into the dirt and called orcs, which only embittered us more".
In mid-April, Filateev's eye became inflamed after it was contaminated during artillery fire. When he threatens to lose his eye, he is evacuated. "This shit is over for me, but I can't get rid of the bitterness that people are killing each other there and the hatred is growing every day."
"I don't know how to convey to the millions of biomass with the passports of citizens of the Russian Federation that we ourselves are to blame for everything that happens. It's us," writes Filatiev self-critically about himself and his compatriots at the end of his manifesto . "Or aren't we all to blame for the deaths of citizens of the Russian Federation and Ukraine? Aren't you a citizen of Russia? Didn't you say that nothing depends on you in the elections? You didn't vote, did you? You did Traffic cops given bribes?
All of us, millions of citizens, have watched with indifference over the years as our country fell apart. But if you don't understand that, then you'd better jump out of the window," are his radical words.
His manifesto has been public knowledge for several weeks now. Weeks of Filatiev traveling across Russia and not staying a single night in the same place - hoping to stay one step ahead of the FSB. But finally he had to realize that he had to leave the country. With the help of the human rights organization Gulagu.net, he fled abroad. Where to, remains uncertain at first. He is trying to cover his tracks, explained the head of the human rights network Vladimir Osechkin.
Filatev is the first Russian soldier known to have fled Russia because of his stance on the war.
You can read Pavel Filatev's entire work in Russian here.