It has been of the most sensational stories circulating on Russian independent media channels in recent weeks – perhaps even since the war in Ukraine began. A young Russian journalist travels to Ukraine to try to find evidence of war crimes committed by the armed forces of her own country.
With the help of social media, Ekaterina Fomina tracked down a couple of soldiers from a battalion that killed and looted in one village. One young soldier admitted to her that he killed a Ukrainian civilian with a bullet to the head. His confession came after a long phone conversation with the reporter about everything – but the killing.
Later, he messaged her. “Call me back on video. Record it,” the solider told Fomina. The Russian soldier then ultimately admits in clear language to having killed a Ukrainian civilian.
Fomina of “Important Stories” (Istories) believes the twenty-one-year-old soldier she spoke with, a young man identified as Daniil Frolkin from one of Russia’s poorest regions who signed a contract before the war he was told was never happening, probably could not live with what he had done, what he had seen and had to tell his story.
“After this (initial) conversation, he said, ‘I feel something like post-traumatic syndrome.’ He never knew term for the condition, but called it something like this. It was absolutely impossible to keep his information inside,” Fomina tells Fox News. “I was the first person who showed interest in his life, and what’s going on with him…how did he feel at that moment? Maybe this why he was so open with me.”
The soldier did not express remorse, according to Fomina. She said he was convinced the man he killed in Andriivka, a city outside Kyiv, had called in information to the Ukrainian army about Russian positions, which led to the death of his colleagues, though that suspicion not confirmed. Additonally, he claims he was given order from above to shoot.
Still, the unarmed victim, believed to be 47-year-old Ruslan Yermechuk, was reportedly put on his knees and shot in the head at close range. The soldier who confessed to this murder in that phone call ultimately appeared more eager to indict his commanders than express personal guilt, according to Fomina.
He told her the war seemed pointless, he saw no Nazis in Ukraine and complained that his commanders gave the men in the field zero support. He added the commanders dispensed those orders to kill and they themselves were part of the looting that has become famous for being one of the most common criminal activities carried out by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
According to Fomina, Frolkin somehow seemed to think that by confessing to what he did and what is really going on, he could save his comrades.
Fomina believes the fate of the soldier will likely end in some sort of punishment. He is sought by Ukraine for war crimes, and Russia will likely want him silenced. However, Istories says it has been contacted by that soldier’s colleagues, who reportedly insist the tales of abuses and description of reality Frolkin gave are true.
One of the anonymous soldiers who reached out to Istories to confirm Frolkin’s story reportedly said he believes 80% of the team wants to quit, but in many cases are not allowed to. Reportedly, though legally they have the right to terminate contracts since war has not officially been declared, soldiers are routinely verbally or physically threatened when they say they want out.
Additionally this month—the first soldier to publicly discredit the war and flee Russia in fear for his life—had spoken out at length. Pavel Filatyev of the 56th Guards air assault published his damning and lengthy memoirs written from the trenches on the Russian version of Facebook, VKontakte. He told The Guardian newspaper earlier this month, “I am not afraid to fight in war. But I need to feel justice, to understand what I’m doing is right. And I believe that this is all failing not only because the government has stolen everything, but because we, Russians, don’t feel that what we are doing is right.”
Filatyev, among the first deployed to Ukraine to fight back in February, claimed it took him weeks to understand that Russia had not been attacked and that Russia had just attacked Ukraine. Filatyev told the Guardian he is not only worried for his only personal security, but for the future of Russia. “What have we become? And how can it get any worse?”
He escaped Russia after going public with his book and is now in hiding.
For her part, Fomina says she and her team thought long and hard about publishing their story of the soldier who confessed to her and who criticized the war and his commanders. He claimed he was prepared for consequences as yet are unclear and is back in Russia.
Fomina hopes he will have to answer for what he has done, but worries this may end up happening in an extra-judicial way which she would not want to see. But in the end, she and her colleagues felt it was vital to release their expose.
“If even one future soldier would be stopped by our investigation from signing a contract and going to this absolutely bloody war, then our purpose will be reached. We really hope our documentary will stop young guys from deploying to this absolutely cruel war.”