Russia is depending on a ragtag group of soldiers to do the dirtiest work of their war in Ukraine. And to hear other members of the military tell it, those castoffs are “just meat” in Russia’s eyes. Here is the whole story.
“Troublemakers” Sent to the Front
Rumors about the existence of Storm-Z squads have circulated around the Russian army for months. But no one had any real proof of their existence.
To listen to the stories, though, Vladimir Putin was digging up fighters for his continued invasion of Ukraine anywhere he could find them.
There were tales of Russian officials heading to prisons to offer deals to incarcerated men. Fight for Mother Russia, get out early, or something to that effect.
And other stories emerged of military officers trolling their ranks to find drunkards, drug addicts, or other “troublemakers.”
Then they’d join the ranks of Storm-Z, too.
What exactly do Storm-Z units do? That’s been a matter of speculation, too, but the whispers generally have them on the front lines of the war.
Like most aspects of Russian life, and particularly the country’s rumor mills, there’s always been a heavy dose of spin from the top of the food chain around Storm-Z.
State-controlled media outlets, for example, have reported that Storm-Z units are real. Not only that, they’ve fought in battles, and some have won medals for their service.
But all of that wasn’t much more than hearsay until news outlet Reuters took to the streets, metaphorically, in search of the truth about Storm-Z.
What they found out pretty much backed up the folklore.
Criminals Sent to Frontlines
According to the Reuters report, they were able to speak to family members of actual soldiers who have served in Storm-Z units over the last couple of years.
One 29-year-old, Artyom Shchikin, was serving a 2-year sentence for robbery when a member of the defense ministry offered him a chance at freedom and to wipe his record clean.
It was a sweeping offer, too, as the military made the offer to everyone in his penal unit.
Seeing a chance to start over, the young soldier jumped at the opportunity.
Shchikin was assigned to a penal unit within a larger motorized rifle regiment and sent to the frontline in southern Ukraine. His family hasn’t heard from him since June.
Based on reports from others who witnessed the fighting, three men were killed in the same trench where Shchikin was last seen. Another had his hand ripped off.
No one has seen Shchikin, and his body hasn’t been identified.
His relatives don’t expect that to change, with one telling Reuters that no one from the Russian government or military will even bother looking.
Reuters points out that they weren’t able to confirm what Shchikin’s relatives said happened to him was the full truth.
But the story matches well enough with what they heard from other Storm-Z soldiers and families of yet others that Reuters sees a pattern.
“They’re Just Meat”
The Russian military either recruits desperate men who are serving prison terms or they create desperate soldiers who have violated a rule, real or not.
Then, they send them to the front lines and provide them with less than the bare minimum needed to do their jobs.
The result is a treadmill of death and destruction that keeps Putin’s war machine moving along but leaves a trail of devastated families in its wake.
As one “normal” enlisted soldier put it to Reuters, the “Storm fighters, they’re just meat.”
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / lev radin