What We Learned From Interviewing Russian POWs

Christian Baghai
3 min readNov 22, 2023

The war in Ukraine has been raging for more than a year, with no end in sight. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions of people, and brought the world to the brink of a new Cold War. But what do we know about the soldiers who are fighting on the front lines? What motivates them, how do they cope, and what do they think of their leaders and enemies?

To shed some light on these questions, Kyiv Post interviewed two Russian prisoners of war who were captured by the Ukrainian army in the Donbas region. The interviews were conducted at a military facility in accordance with the international conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. The captives were not required to answer any questions and could leave the interview at any time. The prisoners identified themselves by name, but Kyiv Post has used pseudonyms to keep their identities confidential.

The two prisoners, Alexei and Sergei, both in their twenties, had very different backgrounds and reasons for joining the Russian army. Alexei was a conscript who had no choice but to serve in the military. He said he was sent to Ukraine without proper training or equipment, and that he did not want to fight against the Ukrainians. He said he was deceived by the Russian propaganda that portrayed the Ukrainian government as fascists and terrorists. He said he regretted his involvement in the war and hoped for peace.

Sergei, on the other hand, was a volunteer who signed up for the army out of patriotism and adventure. He said he believed in the Russian cause of defending the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine. He said he was proud of his service and did not regret his actions. He said he was well-trained and well-equipped, and that he enjoyed the thrill of combat. He said he hated the Ukrainian army and considered them traitors and cowards.

Both prisoners, however, expressed a common sentiment of disillusionment and resentment towards the Russian leadership, especially President Vladimir Putin. They said they felt betrayed and abandoned by their commander-in-chief, who denied any involvement of the Russian army in the war and refused to acknowledge or support the captured soldiers. They said they were treated as disposable pawns in a geopolitical game that they did not understand or agree with. They said they feared for their future and their families, and that they expected no mercy or justice from either side.

The interviews with the Russian prisoners of war reveal the human cost and complexity of the war in Ukraine. They show that the soldiers are not a monolithic group, but individuals with diverse backgrounds, motivations, and opinions. They also show that the war has taken a heavy toll on the morale and mental health of the fighters, who are exposed to violence, trauma, and uncertainty.