Russian soldiers fleeing the war in Ukraine are facing a desperate situation with nowhere to turn
Russian soldiers fleeing the war in Ukraine are facing a desperate situation with nowhere to turn

For Yevgeny, a decorated hero of Russia's conflict in Ukraine, the choice between death and desertion led him to opt for the latter. He pleaded with a fellow soldier to shoot him in the leg rather than face certain death in combat. The pain was excruciating, but it gave him a chance at a new life.

"I joke that I gave birth to myself," he said, reflecting on his decision to desert. "I gave myself life after going through very intense pain."

Yevgeny's story is not unique. Many other Russian soldiers have deserted, seeking refuge from the horrors of war. However, their new lives are far from what they had hoped for.

The Associated Press interviewed several deserters, all of whom now face criminal charges in Russia, including lengthy prison sentences. Despite their hopes of finding asylum in the West, most are living in hiding, fearing for their lives.

The surge in asylum claims from Russian citizens since the invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns among policymakers. Are these deserters potential assets or risks to national security?

Andrius Kubilius, a former prime minister of Lithuania, believes that supporting Russians who oppose Vladimir Putin is in the West's strategic interest. However, the path to asylum remains fraught with challenges for deserters, with few winning protection.

Grigory Sverdlin, who runs a group supporting Russians seeking to avoid military service, has seen a dramatic increase in requests for help. However, the options for deserters are limited, with many facing detention or deportation if they are caught.

Despite the risks, the number of Russians fleeing continues to rise. Customs and Border Patrol officials in the U.S. have encountered tens of thousands of Russians at the border, with a significant increase in asylum requests.

For many deserters, the journey to safety is perilous. Some have been captured by Russian forces, while others have met tragic ends. Yevgeny urges Western policymakers to reconsider their approach, emphasizing the economic benefits of welcoming young, able-bodied individuals into their countries.

The plight of Russian soldiers fleeing the war in Ukraine highlights the complexities of asylum and the moral dilemmas faced by those caught in the midst of conflict.

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