By Dasha Afanasieva
LONDON (Reuters) – Several Russian servicemen are seeking legal help to avoid being sent to fight in the war in Ukraine, two lawyers said, after 12 members of Russia’s National Guard were fired for refusing to go.
Lawyer Mikhail Benyash said around 200 people had been in contact to ask what they should do in a similar situation.
Pavel Chikov, another Russia-based lawyer, wrote on Telegram that there were “analogous stories from Crimea, Novgorod, Omsk, Stavropol… The workers are appealing for legal help.”
Reuters could not independently confirm the rush for legal help. The National Guard did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment.
Ukraine and Western officials have said that Russia’s forces are suffering from severely low morale in what Moscow calls its special operation to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour. The West has cast it as a poorly executed, imperial-style land grab.
In five weeks, Moscow has failed to capture any major cities and on Tuesday said it would sharply reduce operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, although on Wednesday attacks on Chernihiv continued.
On Feb. 25, a day into the invasion, a National Guard commander in the southern Krasnodar region and 11 men from his company refused to follow an order to cross the border to Ukraine, Chikov wrote in an earlier post.
The group said the order was illegal because they didn’t have their international passports and because their main job description was confined to Russia, Chikov wrote. They believed they would be breaking the law by going abroad as part of an armed group.
Reuters could not independently verify the account.
The servicemen were fired, the lawyers said, and went on to file a wrongful dismissal lawsuit. On Tuesday, however, only three of the 12 proceeded with their claim, according to Benyash, who is representing them.
Russia created the National Guard in 2016 to fight terrorism and organised crime. Since then, it has cracked down on peaceful anti-government protests and in 2020 was placed on standby by President Vladimir Putin to intervene in Belarus, which was squashing civil unrest of its own.
(Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Nick Macfie)