Russian paratrooper flees to France and seeks political asylum

Russian paratrooper flees to France and seeks political asylum after his online account of Putin’s shambolic Ukraine invasion makes him a target for Kremlin reprisals

  • Pavel Filatyev was a member of a supposed ‘elite’ Russian parachute regiment
  • But in a 141-page account, he depicts a barely functioning unit that lacked training and equipment even before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began
  • His unit entered Ukraine in February, but he was injured and returned home 
  • Now, he is seeking asylum in France after fleeing from his home country

A Russian paratrooper has fled to France and is now seeking political asylum after his online account of Vladimir Putin’s shambolic invasion of Ukraine painted a target on his back for Kremlin reprisals.

Pavel Filatyev was a member of a supposed ‘elite’ parachute regiment that stormed the southern port city of Kherson in February when the first Russian troops entered Ukraine on the Russian president’s orders.

But their mission, launched from Russian-occupied Crimea, was plagued with issues before it even began, with Filatyev writing in his account how his unit was ravaged by hunger, had little tactical training, and no knowledge of the war’s progress.

Filatiev arrived in France on Sunday after fleeing Russia following the publication of his 141-page memoir, which earned him notoriety almost overnight.

Speaking from the asylum seekers’ waiting area at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, the former Russian soldier said he had no choice but to flee his home country.

Pavel Filatyev was a member of a supposed ‘elite’ parachute regiment that stormed the southern port city of Kherson in February when the first Russian troops entered Ukraine on the Russian president’s orders. But their missing was plagued with issues before it even began, and he returned to Russia with an injury. Now, he has fled to France after writing his account

‘When I heard the higher-ups were calling for me to be sentenced to 15 years in prison for fake news, I realised that I wouldn’t get anywhere here and my lawyers couldn’t do anything for me in Russia,’ he told AFP news agency. 

After a time out from the army, the 34-year-old last year rejoined Russia’s 56th airborne regiment – his father’s old unit – based in Crimea.

The paratroopers were sent into southern Ukraine when President Vladimir Putin began his ‘special military operation’ against Kyiv on February 24.

Filatiev himself spent two months around the key cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv before being withdrawn from the front with an eye infection, caused by an explosion which blasted dirt into his face.

‘We didn’t have the moral right to attack another country, especially when it’s the nation that’s closest to us,’ he writes in the 141-page broadside called ‘ZOV’ that he posted on the VKontakte social network in August.

The title, the Russian word for ‘call’, is made up of the identification letters painted on military vehicles during the attack – including the now-famous ‘Z’ that is often seen emblazoned on the side of Moscow’s tanks in Ukraine.

In the text, Filatiev rails at both the state of the military and Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, which he believes is broadly opposed by rank-and-file soldiers too afraid to speak out.

Filatiev depicts a barely functioning army that lacked training and equipment even before the invasion started. The armed forces ‘are in the same state Russia has fallen into in the last few years,’ he told AFP.

‘Year by year the chaos and corruption grow. Corruption, disorder and a couldn’t-care-less attitude have reached unacceptable levels,’ Filatiev adds.

‘For the first few months I was in shock, I told myself that it couldn’t be true. By the end of the year, I realised that I didn’t want to serve in an army like this.’

In his account, Filatiev depicts a barely functioning army that lacked training and equipment even before the invasion started. The armed forces ‘are in the same state Russia has fallen into in the last few years,’ he told AFP news agency. Pictured: A Russian tank is displayed in Kyiv

Filatiev describes how Russian soldiers would often have to procure their own equipment, and that the rifle he was given was rusty. Pictured: A Russian soldier fires from a Kornet, a Russian man-portable anti-tank guided missile on a mission at an undisclosed location in Ukraine

But he did not resign before the attack on Ukraine began, and found himself advancing with his unit into the south of the neighbouring country.

‘If the army was already a mess in peacetime, corrupt and apathetic, it’s clear that in wartime, in combat, that this will come even more to the fore and the lack of professionalism is even more obvious,’ Filatiev says.

Those in power in Moscow have played a major role in ‘destroying the army we inherited from the Soviet Union,’ he adds.

Filatiev insists that his unit did not participate in the abuses against civilians and prisoners – in places like Irpin and Bucha – that have caused worldwide outcry and allegations of war crimes by the Russian invaders during his two months at the front.

Mr Filatiev, 33, dressed in his army uniform, was part of Russia’s invading forces on February 24. But now he opposes the ‘terrible war’ Russia had ‘no moral right’ to begin

After being evacuated to a military hospital in the Crimean city of Sebastopol, he tried to resign for health reasons – only to be threatened by his superiors with an investigation if he refused to return to the fighting.

He left Crimea in early August and published his account of the war online.

Filatiev spent some time skipping from one town to another to avoid detection before leaving the country, arriving this week in France via Tunisia.

‘Why am I telling all this in detail? I want people in Russia and in the world to know how this war came about, why people are still waging it,’ he says.

On the Russian side, ‘it’s not because they want to fight, it’s because they are in conditions that make it very difficult for them to quit,’ Filatiev believes.

‘The army, all of Russian society, is terrorised,’ he adds.

By Filatiev’s reckoning, just 10 percent of soldiers support the war, with the remainder fearing to speak out.

‘Those who are against are afraid to say it, afraid to leave. They’re afraid of the consequences,’ he says.

If granted asylum in France, Filatiev says he wants to ‘work towards this war coming to an end’. ‘I want the fewest possible young Russian men to go there and get involved in this, for them to know what’s happening there,’ he says.

Ukrainian servicemen fire a Polish 155 mm self-propelled tracked gun-howitzer Krab in Donetsk, August 29

A woman walks past a damaged administrative building in the centre of Kharkiv after a Russian rocket, August 29

In his account, he says that it took him weeks before he learned that the on-going war was just Russia invading Ukraine, and that none of Kyiv’s forces were in Russia.

Despite supposedly being part of an elite unit, he said some of his comrades couldn’t pack their parachutes. This delayed their first practice jump by a number of days, he says.

When it came to the assault, a mistake meant their first landing zone was in the middle of a cemetery. Fortunately, he writes, good weather meant his touched down and ‘no one landed on a cross or anyone’s grave.’

Filatyev describes how his unit assaulted Kherson under a barrage of rocket fire, and soon turned into ‘savages’ as the torrid conditions that they faced in the six months leading up to the February 24 invasion took their toll.

At one point, he and his unit came across an abandoned cafeteria. ‘Like savages, we ate everything there: oats, porridge, jam, honey, coffee. We didn’t give a damn about anything, we’d already been pushed to the limit,’ he writes.

Other soldiers in the invading forces looted more valuable objects, such as laptops, because they are worth more than a soldier’s entire salary, he told The Guardian.

‘I’m not trying to justify what he’s done,’ he said of a soldier who took a computer. ‘But I think it’s important to say why people act like this, to understand how to stop them … What a person will do in these kinds of extreme situations.’


Filatiev himself spent two months around the key cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv before being withdrawn from the front with an eye infection 

Moscow brazenly expected to seize Kyiv in a matter of days, and soon the whole country. Instead, Putin’s forces have found themselves fighting a protracted conflict against a fierce Ukrainian resistance.

As the war dragged on, Filatyev and his unit found themselves pinned down by Ukrainian artillery fire in trenches near Mykolaiv for nearly a month. An exploding shell blasted mud into his face, causing an eye infection that nearly blinded him. 

The freezing conditions also led to he and others in his unit contracting pneumonia, and he was eventually withdrawn from the frontlines and hospitalised.

He wrote the memoir as he was being treated for his injuries.

In his writing, Filatyev expresses his anger at what he calls the ‘degradation’ of Russia’s army, including its use of old equipment and vehicles. Such kit, he writes, left Russian soldiers exposed to Ukrainian counterattacks.

‘We were just an ideal target,’ he wrote, while recounting a time he travelled to Kherson on an old and unarmoured UAZ truck. 

‘It was unclear what the plan was – as always no one knew anything.’ 

Pictured: Destroyed Russian military vehicles are seen in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv

The soldier first joined up with his unit in August 2021 – around six months before Putin ordered his troops across the border into Ukraine. 

He said there were no bed in his unit’s barracks, and the buildings were infested by a pack of stray dogs the dining room staff would feed. He instead moved into a cheap hotel on the Crimean peninsula – which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

‘I had to run like a homeless man from one barracks to another, looking for a bed to sleep in, until I found a place to rent at my own expense,’ he wrote.

He spent 10 days waiting for his uniform to arrive, and was forced to buy his own boots when his standard-issue footwear was the wrong size. Filatyev writes that new boots are often stolen by superior officers and sold for a profit.

To make matters worse, the rifle he was handed before the war was rusted, and had a broken strap.

‘All this equipment is a hundred years old, a lot is not working properly, but on their reports everything was probably fine and this was two months before the special operation,’ Mr Filatyev wrote in the memoir.

On the other side, when he was recovering in hospital, he describes the poor treatment veterans get when they return to Russia from Ukraine. The families of those who have been killed are not being paid their compensation. 

He said he encountered some soldiers from the sunken Moskva cruiser, which was sunk by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles in April. In ZOV, he writes ‘there are heaps of dead, whose relatives have not been paid compensation.’

Filatyev said he encountered some soldiers from the sunken Moskva cruiser, which was sunk by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles in April. In ZOV, he writes ‘there are heaps of dead, whose relatives have not been paid compensation.’

In the last week, Filatyev fled Russia out of fear of reprisals for writing about the state of the Russian army, and criticising it for its actions in Ukraine. 

He fled via an undisclosed route, and told The Guardian he was surprised he hadn’t already been arrested for his stance. In March, Putin signed a law that calls for anyone distributing ‘deliberately false information’ to be jailed for up to 10 years.

‘I don’t see justice in this war. I don’t see truth here,’ he told the newspaper. He later added: ‘It took me weeks to understand there was no war on Russian territory at all, and that we had just attacked Ukraine.’

Russia refers to its military campaign in Ukraine as a ‘special military operation’, aimed at demilitarising and ‘denazifying’ Ukraine. It prohibits the use of ‘war’.

Both Kyiv and Western governments say that is a pretext for an imperial-style war of conquest, and that Putin wants to seize all of Ukraine.

Filatyev says he fears Putin will try to take the whole country, whatever the cost.

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