Speed Reads

White flags

Ukraine's army runs a detailed how-to-surrender hotline for Russian troops who 'want to live'

Russia has a manpower advantage in Ukraine, and at this "crucial juncture in an extraordinarily bloody war, Ukraine's military is focused on one task: removing Russian soldiers from the battlefield," the Los Angeles Times reports. Ukrainian forces are willing to shoot the Russian soldiers sent charging at them in waves of "cannon fodder," but they also want to make it as easy as possible for them to surrender. And lots of Russian soldiers, especially the conscripts mustered in a fall mobilization drive, don't want to die in Ukraine. 

So Ukraine's military, since September, has run an "I Want to Live" surrender hotline with detailed instructions for Russian troops who want to abandon the fight. The hotline and encrypted Telegram channel are staffed by 10 active-duty personnel with backgrounds in psychology and fluency in Russian, the Times says. Once the prospective surrenders are screened to weed out Russian spies and those deemed unserious, successful candidates are given step-by-step directions, to ensure things don't go sideways during the fraught process.  

"Russians who want to turn themselves in are told to wave a white cloth, remove the magazines from their guns, point the barrels to the ground, and eschew body armor and helmets," the Times reports. "They are assured that in the event they want to be sent home in a prisoner swap, their paperwork will reflect that they were captured, not that they gave up voluntarily. If it's a bring-your-own-tank surrender, which happens not infrequently, the turret is to be turned in the opposite direction." Group surrender is another popular option.

Surrendering — even if not officially — is bound to be unpopular back in Russia, where a recent Levada Center poll found that only 10 percent of Russians have a positive or understanding attitude toward Russians who fled the country due to the mobilization, while 51 percent felt negatively toward them. But even in Russia, they know what's happening at the front.

"With their own eyes, they see they are nothing more than cannon fodder," Lt. Vitaly Matvienko, a spokesman for the how-to-surrender program, told the Times. "They see one of their comrades being ordered to walk into a minefield to find a path, and he gets blown up, and another is told to go next, and he's blown up too, and on it goes. ... And the thought has to occur to them: 'How do I save myself?'"