Nikita Chibrin says he still remembers his fellow Russian soldiers who fled after allegedly raping two Ukrainian women while deployed northwest of Kyiv in March.
“I saw them running, then I learned that they were rapists. They raped a mother and a daughter,” he said. Their commanders, Chibrin said, shrugged off the rapes. The alleged rapists were beaten, he says, but never fully punished for their crimes.
“They were never jailed. Just got fired. Just like, ‘Come on!’ They were just kicked out of the war. That’s it.”
Shibrin is a former soldier from the Russian city of Yakutsk who says he served in the 64th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, the infamous Russian military unit accused of committing war crimes during their offensive in Bucha, Borodyanka and other towns and villages north of Kyiv.
He deserted the Russian army in September and fled to Europe via Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Troops from the Chibrin Brigade were branded war criminals by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry in April after mass graves containing murdered civilians and corpses were discovered in the streets following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area. from Kyiv.
Chibrin’s military documents, seen by CNN, show his commanding officer was Azatbek Omurbekov, the officer in charge of the 64th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade. Omurbekov, known as the “Butcher of Bucha”, is under sanctions from the European Union and the United Kingdom. The United States sanctioned the entire brigade.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the massacres, while reiterating baseless claims that the images of civilian bodies were fake.
In a move that sparked outrage around the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin bestowed the unit with an honorary military title and praised it for its “heroism” and “bold actions”.
Chibrin said he saw nothing of the supposed heroism, but plenty of crime.
Speaking to CNN in a European country where he has sought asylum, he detailed some of the crimes he says he has witnessed and heard about, and said he would be willing to testify against his unit in court. an international criminal tribunal. He maintains that he himself did not commit any crime.
“I didn’t see any killings but I saw rapists running away, being chased (by high-ranking members of the unit) because they committed rapes,” he said. .
He also said the unit had “direct command to assassinate” anyone sharing information about the unit’s positions, whether military or civilian.
“If someone had a phone, we were allowed to shoot them,” he said. He says there is no doubt that some of the men from the 64th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Separate Guards were capable of killing unarmed civilians.
“There are maniacs who like to kill a man. Such maniacs appeared there,” he said.
Chibrin also described widespread looting, with Russian soldiers taking computers, jewelry and anything else they wanted.
“They didn’t hide it at all. A lot of my unit, when we left Lipovka and Andreevka at the end of March, they took cars, vehicles, they took civilian cars and sold them in Belarus,” he said. “The mentality is if you steal something, you’re good. If no one catches you, great! If you see something expensive and you steal it without getting caught, you’re good.
As for unit commanders, he said they were well aware of the alleged rapes and murders and looting, but cared little to seek justice.
“They reacted like, ‘Never mind. It happened. So what?’ In fact, there was no reaction,” he said. “Discipline will [down the drain]there is no discipline.
CNN asked the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on the allegations, but did not receive a response.
Chibrin has no doubt that Russia will eventually lose its war against Ukraine, but not before many more lives are lost.
“Because Russia won’t stop until blood is shed, until everyone is dead. Soldiers are cannon fodder for them. They don’t respect them,” he said.
Having seen the fighting first-hand, he said the equipment Russian soldiers have is no match for the weapons Ukraine has access to. He says that while Ukraine receives some of the most advanced weapons available from its Western allies, the Russian military relies on Soviet-era equipment used during the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“Of course Russia will lose. Because the whole world supports Ukraine. To think that they (the Russians) will win is stupid,” he said. “They thought they could occupy Kyiv in three days. is it now [of the war]? 260th? They thought they would come to Ukraine and be greeted with flowers. But we told them to bugger off and throw Molotov cocktails at them.
The men in his unit were also extremely unprepared for combat, according to Chibrin. He said the training his unit received consisted of commanders giving them a gun, a target and 5,000 bullets.
“Keep shooting and then you’ll be free to go. Nobody was doing anything. There was no actual training. I worked with a computer, in the office, I worked as a lawnmower…” he said.
The lack of training became evident once in Ukraine. The same men who bragged about being “like Rambo” before being deployed came back broken, he said. “Those who said they would easily shoot the Ukrainians, when they came back from the front lines… they couldn’t even talk to me. They saw war, they saw defeat, they saw their [fellow] murdered fighters, saw corpses. They understood, but they couldn’t run away.
He said many of the men were poorly trained and most had no idea where they were headed.
“It was a big lie. It was military training with the Belarusian army. And they lied to us. On February 24, they just said everyone will go to war,” Chibrin said, adding that he initially refused to go.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Commander, fuck you, I don’t want to go to war’ and he said, ‘Hey you, you’re going to be in big trouble, you’re going to jail and your family will be in big trouble’…and he attacked me and put me in a special vehicle and closed the door and I couldn’t open [it] inside. So that’s how I went to Ukraine.
Chibrin then spent months in Ukraine, on and off. When the 64th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade withdrew from the area northwest of Kyiv in late March following a failed offensive, he and his unit returned to Belarus.
He said he suffered from a back injury and went to a military hospital in Russia, but was forced to return to Ukraine in May. This time he was sent to the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine and then spent time in the forests around Izyum.
It was then that he finally found a chance to escape, he said. He noticed commanders of other units leaving the area for Russia in a truck and jumped into it.
“I jump in [the bed of the truck] and I see, wow, other guys, also leaving Ukraine. And they say we don’t want [fight the] war, we paid money to the commander (to drive). And I wait and I wait and then we’re near the Russian border and the car is stopped and the guys are jumping and I’m jumping too. And I go to the Russian border and say I need medical help,” he said.
Once back in Russia, Chibrin said he spent nearly a month in hospital, most of them bedridden with terrible back pain. But he said he was unable to get proper treatment. “They said if I wanted to go to a special sanatorium I had to sign a paper saying I would go back to war,” he said.
Refusing to sign, Chibrin said he was preparing to submit documents to have his military contract canceled when the Russian government announced a partial mobilization in September.
“And my friends told me that I had to hide. “You have to find a place and hide, your contract will not be canceled because of the mobilization,” he said. Knowing he had to get as far away as possible from the far eastern city of Khabarovsk where he was stationed, Chibrin first fled across Russia to St. Petersburg, then took a train to Belarus. Once there, he was able to find an intermediary who helped him get to Kazakhstan from where he eventually traveled to his current location.
Now he is determined to speak out about the events he witnessed in Ukraine, even writing an anti-war song. “Hundreds of souls, hundreds of bodies of lost people. Hundreds of childless mothers,” the refrain continues.