Ukrainian officials have published dozens of videos of what they say are captured Russian soldiers, as the brutal fighting in Ukraine enters its fourth day.
In one of the videos, published early on Sunday morning on the Telegram channel Find Your Own, set up by Ukraine’s interior ministry, a visibly injured soldier identifies himself as Leonid Paktishev, the commander of a sniper unit based in the Rostov region.
The Telegram channel, which first went live on Saturday, has posted numerous videos and photos showing captured Russian troops, which have led to an outcry from their families who say they were shocked to find out about the involvement of their loved ones in the invasion of Ukraine.
The Guardian spoke to three family members who confirmed the identity of Paktishev and said they were shocked and angry when they found out after seeing the video that their loved one had been captured.
“I was sent the video of my brother captured at 2am last night. I was completely shocked. I had no idea that he was fighting in there,” said Yelena Polivtseva, the sister of Paktishev.
In the video, Paktishev, from the small town of Mezdhurechenskiy in western Siberia, said he led a team of three other snipers.
“I knew Leonid was in the military, but I had no idea that he was sent to Ukraine. I don’t think he would have been aware of it either,” said Polivtseva, who went by her maiden name.
Russia has so far not commented on the videos released and has revealed very little information about the state of its soldiers fighting in Ukraine. The Russian ministry of defence on Sunday evening for the first time admitted that there were “dead and wounded soldiers amongst our comrade[s]”, but added that “the number of destroyed [Ukrainian] nationalists by far outweigh” the number of Russian casualties.
Asked about her brother’s involvement in Russia’s unprovoked invasion into Ukraine, Polivtseva said she was not “competent” to judge the decision of our “commander-in-chief”. But she said she hoped the fighting would end. “No one needs this, not Ukraine and not Russia. I believe we can come to an agreement through peaceful means so that our sons, brothers and husbands don’t die.”
Polivtseva said she last talked to her brother over the new year holiday. She had also sent him a birthday message on social media on Thursday, the day the invasion started and he turned 28.
“I saw he was not online and got a bit worried then. Now am so so worried, I haven’t slept all night, my children are crying, our mother is in a critical state.”
Ukraine has been urging family members of captured Russian troops to contact them and to voice their opposition to the country’s involvement in the war.
The Ukrainian ministry of defence set up a hotline for the family members of Russian soldiers called “Come Back Alive from Ukraine”. According to the Kyiv Independent, the hotline had received “hundreds of calls” since the start of the invasion.
Another close family member of Paktishev, who asked for his name not to be used, expressed anger over the relative’s involvement in the war in Ukraine.
“How else can you feel?! Young boys are thrown like cannon fodder, and most importantly for what?! For palaces in Gelendzhik?” the family member said, referring to the palatial mansion on the Black Sea that Russian independent journalists have said is linked to Vladimir Putin.
The family member said he received an overnight message on their Vkontakte social media page informing them about the capture, with the video that was circulating online attached.
The message, seen by the Guardian said: “Good evening, I would like to say hi from the Ukrainian people. I would like to make you happy that a close person to you is still alive. Go out and protest, overthrow your government before we bury all in Ukrainian soil. Be damned and burn in hell. Glory to Ukraine.”
Dmitry Selyanin, a third relative of Paktishev the Guardian spoke to, said he had been in a state of disbelief ever since he found out about his cousin’s capture. “He is a sniper and snipers aren’t loved by the enemy. In the video we don’t get to see the other snipers in his group, we don’t know what happened to them. So we can only guess what they will do to Leonid,” he said.
Selyanin said the family was approached by the Russian authorities on Sunday afternoon. “They asked for some of the details about him – nothing special,” he said.
Other reports also detailed the surprise of family members of Russian soldiers at the involvement of their loved ones in a war that has been met with deep unease by many in the country.
On Saturday the independent TV channel Dozdh published an interview in which a visibly distressed father of a young Russian soldier said he did not want his son to become “cannon fodder”, denying that he had any prior knowledge of his son’s involvement in the conflict.
The Find Your Own Telegram channel also published a number of graphic photographs of what were said to be Russian troops killed in action. If confirmed, the images appear to shine a light on the true toll the war has had on the Russian army.
An adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on Saturday that about 3,500 Russian soldiers had been killed or injured so far in Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
On Saturday evening, Zelenskiy announced that Ukrainian and Russian delegations were planning to meet, news that was welcomed by Paktishev’s family, who are desperate to see him again. “Do you think there is a chance I will see him alive?” his sister Yelena asked.