Ukraine's Newest Heroes: Russian Defectors Have Joined Kyiv's Forces

Ukraine's Newest Heroes: Russian Defectors Have Joined Kyiv's Forces

Like all his comrades in the Ukrainian army, Volodymyr Grotskov is driven by deep-rooted patriotism as he risks his life on the bloodstained front of the brutal war against Russia.

The 48-year-old electrical engineer says he loves his country and sees the Kremlin as a destructive “cancer” that threatens world peace and security. “It may sound presumptuous, but I fight for freedom and democracy,” he emphasizes.

But there is a big difference between Grotskov and all the other soldiers in his brigade, who sit next to us, eating borscht and cleaning their weapons while the thunder of artillery fire crashes around the battered Donbass front.

Because this member of the Ukrainian military is Russian – and he is fighting for the liberation of his country from the dictatorship and for the preservation of his adopted country.

“So what would happen if you got caught?” I asked this soft-spoken soldier as we chatted at his unit’s makeshift farm base. “Death would come,” he replied, laughing, admitting that many of his countrymen would consider him a traitor.

Still, he is among dozens of Russians so angry at Vladimir Putin’s barbarism and corruption that they have defected to Kiev’s side – including captured prisoners of war and even a senior official in one of Moscow’s central financial institutions.

“Guys from Russia – if you hate Putin’s regime and want Russia to become a free, democratic country, join us,” declared Igor Volobuev, former vice president of Gazprombank, last week.

Surely Grotskov shares such views. As we met on the deadly battlefields south of Izyum near some of the fiercest fighting, he shared with me the personal journey that led him to take up arms against his nation’s forces.

Scores of Russians are so enraged by Vladimir Putin’s barbarism and corruption that they have defected to Kyiv’s side – including captured prisoners of war and even a senior official at one of Moscow’s central financial institutions (Legion of Freedom of Russia in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, pictured after they a Russian tank)

Volodymyr Grotskov, 48, says he loves his country and sees the Kremlin as a destructive “cancer” threatening world peace and security. “It may sound presumptuous, but I fight for freedom and democracy,” he emphasizes.

His awakening began 11 years ago, when pro-democracy protests erupted across Russia to prevent Putin’s party from winning the parliamentary elections following electoral fraud and fraud.

Grotskov joined small demonstrations in his hometown of Kandalaksha after spotting a video posted by Alexei Navalny – the anti-corruption fighter who has since survived a poisoning attack and has been jailed.

The video, based on documents obtained by Navalny, revealed how billions of pounds were stolen from an oil pipeline project by one of Putin’s closest cronies.

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Grotskov said: “I was shocked by the level of corruption and injustice organized at the highest level. I began to look into the political and economic situation and realized that we must fight this regime.’

The soldier, whose family remains in Russia, began putting up placards and joining the protests. But after Putin illegally seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, he decided it was immoral to pay taxes to fund a thieving and poisonous dictatorship. “I’ve always been someone who wants to fight for justice,” he said. “I went to Ukraine because I knew that the hottest place to fight against Putin’s imperial regime is here in this country.” He originally planned to set up an online project with friends in Russia to gather information about corrupt state officials to expose the government’s failure to prosecute them and encourage the imposition of tougher Western sanctions.

He explained: “They have fun, spend the money, have businesses abroad. I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be allowed out west. The brainwashing has been going on for decades.”

But after Putin instigated a separatist uprising in Donbass and war broke out later in 2014, Grotskov joined the Ukrainian Volunteer Forces despite living in the country illegally — and ended up fighting in one of the most vicious battles near Donetsk. He is angry at the complicity of his compatriots. He said: “A lot of people get the same information I had but they ignore it. When the war started, I realized that 99 percent of people are happy when Ukrainians suffer, are bombed and killed.”

Grotskov, who won the right to stay in Ukraine last autumn, said he is proud to be fighting for Kyiv after rejoining four months ago, adding: “I feel at home . My friends are here, I love this country and I will fight for it.” But he also believes he is fighting to protect “the whole civilized world” and defeat the dictatorship.

He wants to see the Moscow empire crushed, arguing that Russia’s problem goes far beyond the current president.

He added: “Personally, I’m not against Putin because if it’s not Putin, there will be someone else. Russia as it is today should not exist.

It’s a cancer on the body of the world. Take any military conflict around the world – like Syria or in African countries – and you can always find the hand of the Kremlin.”

It is not known how many other Russians like this brave man are fighting alongside Ukrainian troops and risk execution or a show trial if captured. Obviously, such people have great propaganda value – although I happened to come across Grotskov.

He is fighting for a regular army unit in the frenzy for control of the Donbass, recently dubbed “hell” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Grotskov said: “I’m not personally against Putin (pictured) because if it’s not Putin, there will be someone else. Russia, as it is today, should not exist. It’s cancer on the body of the world. Take any military conflict around the world – like Syria or in African countries – and you can always find the hand of the Kremlin.

A staffer admitted they are losing up to 200 soldiers a day to the Russian attack. But there is also a Freedom Legion of Russia, formed by anti-Putin dissidents in the armed forces, which Ukraine’s defense ministry said was set up in April with more than 100 recruits.

An aide to the president said it was set up after Russian prisoners, disgusted by atrocities in places like Bucha and Irpin, asked to take revenge on Putin.

It fights under the anti-war protesters’ white-and-blue flag, which converts the red band of the Russian flag to white, and carries the slogan “For Russia, For Freedom” — a subversive play on Putin’s claim that his forces are fighting “For Russia, for the victory”.

Earlier this month, the Legion’s social media channel featured some cheering soldiers displaying their flag next to a captured Russian tank. “Now it will serve to liberate Russia from Putinism,” they announced.

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Their latest recruit is Ukrainian-born Volobuev, who said he could no longer “stay on the sidelines and watch Russia ravage my motherland.”

 



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