A newly launched Ukrainian hotline offering Russian soldiers a chance to surrender — and stay alive — has been fielding thousands of calls from desperate draftees, according to Ukrainian officials.
Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, said in a recent interview with Voice of America that thousands of enemy troops have reached out to the “I Want to Live” program via phone or online chat to give up their arms.
Yusov said the hotline has been receiving offers of surrender at a rate of hundreds a day from soldiers already fighting in Ukraine — including those recently mobilized as part of Vladimir Putin’s partial draft — but also from those who hadn’t even yet been called up, but expect to be in the near future.
“They are interested in how to safely surrender in Ukraine,” Yusov said.
It’s been reported that the hotline has so far received more than 2,000 appeals from Russian soldiers and their families.
“It does not mean that everyone who calls and writes surrenders right away,” Yusov noted. “Many of them research the information for themselves or their relatives.”
Yusov said in some instances, wives call the hotline to inquire about securing surrenders for their husbands.
Yusov explained Ukraine is a democratic country that follows international laws and the Geneva Conventions, which means Russian soldiers who agree to lay down their arms are fed regularly, have access to medical care and are allowed to contact their relatives.
“Most importantly, they get to live instead of being turned into cannon fodder in a war of Ruscists [supporters of the Russian administration] and Putin against Ukraine,” he said.
During Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region last month, Yusov said, Russian troops were calling the hotline to capitulate. In one case, he recounted, a soldier surrendered along with the tank he was driving.
Reports of would-be draftees trying to avoid being sent to Ukraine have circulated since shortly after the February invasion along with claims that Russia’s army units are plagued by low morale, drunkenness and insubordination.
The Ukrainian intelligence official added that Russian prisoners of war who do not wish to be swapped for Ukrainian prisoners “won’t be sent back to Putin’s Russia against their will.”
It has not been decided yet, however, whether those troops who gave up arms would be offered political asylum in Ukraine.
One Russian soldier was reported to have surrendered his tank to the Ukrainians for $10,000 and the promise of citizenship. Earlier in the campaign, similar schemes offering surrendering Russians cash and political pardons were reported, but it is unclear if they are still running.
Russian troops have suffered embarrassing losses on battlefields in the Donetsk and Kherson regions in recent days, with Kyiv’s forces reclaiming large swaths of occupied territory and causing the enemy to retreat.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Tuesday that 200,000 men have already been drafted since Putin ordered the mobilization of 300,000 reservists two weeks ago.
The partial draft has proven extremely unpopular in Russia, stirring protests in cities and prompting an estimated 370,000 men to flee across the border to Kazakhstan, Georgia, Mongolia and the EU.