Putin’s Russian-backed separatists are reported to be facing massive casualties on the front lines in Ukraine, according to official figures. There are accusations that the Kremlin is using the men as “cannon fodder” to draw out Ukrainian troops.
The separatists are desperately under-equipped with reports emerging that some soldiers are fighting with World War II era rifles.
The soldiers are untrained and many are said to have been forcibly conscripted to fight in Putin’s war.
One Donetsk commander called the frontline a “meat grinder” for his men, lamenting the lack of training.
In a video posted online, he said: “More than 90 per cent of the people here have not fought at all…it was the first time they had seen a Kalashnikov.”
One Ukrainian soldier told The Telegraph that the separatists were used for “suicidal missions”, even being throw into the line of fire so Russian commanders could spot Ukrainian artillery.
He said: “They literally don’t have helmets or armoured vests, and they are being sent to provoke us to start firing.”
“We just kill them like pieces of meat ,but then the witches [Russian drones] detect us and know our position and they start shelling exactly where we are at that moment.”
He claimed that the separatists must be “high on something” as they rushed the Ukrainian positions with almost no support.
He said: “I really have the impression that they are high on something, because I just can’t understand how people without any armour just walk straight at us. We feel like we can just kill them like targets at a shooting range.”
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Official figures from the Donetsk separatists’ ombudsman for human rights showed that 2,061 troops from the area had been killed while 8,500 have been wounded in the past three months – at the start of the war the separatist army was estimated to be around 20,000 strong.
The other separatist region, Luhansk, has not released any official figures to date.
In a video posted online, two dozen women from Donetsk said they had not heard from their conscripted husbands for months.
One woman said said: “Our husbands have been snatched off from their workplaces. We have no idea where they are, if they are alive or dead. Where can people disappear to?”
The news comes amid a raging battle in the region which has become the focus of the fighting.
On Wednesday, the US think-tank the Institute for the Study of War (IWS) released a report which said that it was likely the Kremlin would begin to officially annex parts of eastern and southern Ukraine currently under Russian occupation.
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The report said: “Despite the apparent lack of a Kremlin-backed mandate concerning the condition of occupied areas, Russian authorities are likely pushing to expedite a comprehensive annexation process in order to consolidate control over Ukrainian territories and integrate them into Russia’s political and economic environment.”
The move would likely see Ukrainian-born separatist leaders replaced by Russians, already in Donetsk the separatist leader disbanded his government and appointed a Russian deputy minister to lead the new cabinet.
As Russia sets the stage for a formal annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk, it raises questions about the fate of two British fighters who are currently on death row following a trial there that was largely discredited in the West.
Russia currently has a moratorium on the death penalty and does not carry out executions, for the moment, on its territory.