Nearly 3,200 Russian soldiers surrendered to Ukraine last month, according to reports from Ukrainian officials involved in the “I Want to Live” hotline project.
Vitaliy Matvienko, head of the Ukrainian hotline, said Thursday that more than 16,000 Russian applicants have surrendered through the project since it was started in September. The Ukrainian official added in his statement that the number of Russian applicants increased 10 percent from March to April.
The project was created to offer Russian and Belarusian military personnel an escape from fighting in the war in Ukraine. In a tweet on Friday, however, the Ukrainian defense ministry also used the surrender project as a point of mockery against the Kremlin.
“The closer the counteroffensive, the hotter the surrender season,” the defense ministry said. “Don’t wait for the heat! The most favorable conditions are now.”
Officials have long touted a Ukrainian counteroffensive this spring to regain Russian-occupied territory in parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, although both sides have been at a stalemate for months in a battle for Bakhmut.
The brutal fighting around the eastern Ukrainian city has come with heavy losses for Kyiv and Moscow. But officials have estimated Russia’s casualties much higher than Ukraine’s, with White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reporting on Monday that Russia had suffered over 100,000 since December, including 20,000 deaths.
According to a survey conducted among Russian prisoners of war who are in Ukrainian control, over 50 percent of Moscow’s fighters said they were motivated to fight in Ukraine to improve their livelihoods, spokesperson for Ukrainian military intelligence Andriy Yusov reported this week.
“That is, not love for the homeland, not even trust in propaganda or love for [President Vladimir] Putin … but the desire for ‘life stability,’” Yusov said during a press briefing Thursday, according to an English translation of a transcript from the meeting.
Yusov added that roughly 3.3 percent of the Russian respondents said that they their expectations had been “met” since joining the fight in Ukraine, while 45.7 percent of Russian prisoners said their expectations “did not come true at all” after joining the Russian Armed Forces.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian defense ministry via email for comment.
Despite the heavy losses, Putin has promised to avoid imposing a second mobilization after Russia’s first wave in September was met with widespread condemnation and hundreds of thousands of men fleeing the Kremlin’s borders to avoid the fight. Moscow did recently impose a crackdown on citizens attempting to avoid military service, however, a sign that Putin is preparing for the long haul in his ongoing invasion.
A recruitment campaign video from the Russian military circulated on social media sites last month, promising that a volunteer can become “a real man” by fighting in Ukraine. The ad was ridiculed by online users, however, with many pointing to the Kremlin’s high rate of casualties among soldiers already in battle.