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Human rights groups have long pointed out that the poorest regions of Russia are paying the highest price for the war in Ukraine. Now, some of those involved in this war speak for themselves.

One hundred and fifty Buryat soldiers terminated their military contracts earlier this month, according to members of the Free Buryatia Foundation, a US-based pro-democracy group representing its constituency from abroad.

A group of soldiers’ wives and mothers recorded a video appeal to the governor of Buryatia for the military to return home. The video caused a stir and was quickly removed by its intimidated producers.

But the men reportedly returned home after detouring for a few days to a closed military facility in Luhansk. However, the fact that the soldiers have returned may give other groups hope that they too can recall their families.

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In this photo provided by the press office of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on July 7, 2022, Ukrainian soldiers install the state flag on the island of snakes in the Black Sea.
(Press Office of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense via AP)

Buryatia, according to Vladimir Budaev of the Free Buryatia Foundation, ranks 81 out of 85 rich regions of the Russian Federation. Put another way, it is close to being the poorest part of the country.

The Buryats are closely related to the people of Mongolia. Budaev says the East Siberian region is artificially kept poor by the center, by the Kremlin, to keep it dependent on Moscow’s generosity. Buryatia has one of the highest war casualty rates in Russia.

“This is Russia’s colonial policy,” Budaev told Fox News. “It is xenophobia and chauvinism because we are Buryats. We are not the main population of Russia. So, basically, they treat us as a commodity.”

For many, before the war, the army was the only real social support. In peacetime, jobs in the army turned out to be more similar to those in the civil service. In a region where median monthly wages are less than $ 400 a month, pay that can now be nearly eight times more attractive. Aggressive payment and recruiting are all Russian President Putin has at this point to keep his war machine moving.

He did not ask for a general mobilization, presumably for political reasons. And for this reason, human rights lawyers say soldiers can even refuse to go to war if they wish. But it won’t be that easy. Nor simple. But apparently hundreds, if not thousands, of Russians and non-ethnic Russians alike are seeking help to terminate contracts or be spared from going to Ukraine.

Soldiers hold rockets as they attend the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushnyi in Kiev, Ukraine on June 18, 2022.

Soldiers hold rockets as they attend the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushnyi in Kiev, Ukraine on June 18, 2022.
(AP)

Budaev believes that several thousand soldiers from Buryatia have been deployed and that about 200 have been killed. But it is impossible to know the true number of victims. An independent media outlet in the regional capital of Ulan-Ude says there are one or two funerals every day.

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Families claim their soldiers were duped into their deployment and another member of the Free Buryatia Foundation claimed their people were being used as “cannon fodder”. The independent newspaper MediaZona believes the Dagestanis died in similar numbers to the Buryats (just over two hundred they confirmed) compared to nine in Moscow and thirty in St. Petersburg.

According to many followers of Russia, the Kremlin is particularly sensitive to the victims of the capital: if those numbers become significant they could lead to civil unrest. But of course Moscow is also nervous about the mood in Buryatia now. The government just blocked the Free Buryatia website.

A woman wrapped in a Ukrainian flag attends the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushnyi in Kiev, Ukraine on June 18, 2022.

A woman wrapped in a Ukrainian flag attends the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushnyi in Kiev, Ukraine on June 18, 2022.
(AP)

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Budaev says the Buryat soldiers, perhaps not unlike their Russian comrades, don’t know what they are doing in Ukraine.

“There are no Nazis in Ukraine,” Budaev said. “They (the Buryats) face Nazism in Russia. If Asian Russians go to Moscow, they hear insults. It is not our war. Not all Russians support this war. Many people want democracy.”

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