Apr 7, 2023
Russian soldiers calling a Ukrainian hotline that allows them to surrender are also offering to hand over equipment and heavy armored vehicles, a Ukrainian official said. The telephone line is part of a project called “I Want to Live,” allowing Russian soldiers to arrange to give themselves up rather than fight. The hotline tells callers they will receive treatment under the terms of the Geneva Convention, which guarantees meals, phone calls home, and medical care.
Launched last year, officials claim to receive thousands of calls per month — with record numbers coming in throughout March, spokesperson Vitaliy Matvienko told Ukrainian TV, according to The New Voice of Ukraine.
He attributed the rise to fears over a counter-offensive expected from Ukraine this Spring, the outlet reported. “In March, we essentially broke a record – more than 3,000 appeals, which is twice as many [per month] as in 2022,” Matvienko told Ukrainian TV, per the outlet. “In October and December 2022, on average, we recorded 1,400-1,500 requests per month,” he reportedly added. “In January to March 2023, the number increased to 2,500.”
Insider was unable to independently verify the claims.
Matvienko said that calls are coming in from across the front line to surrender both fighters and equipment. He added that “interesting” Russian heavy armored vehicles are already being used by Ukrainian soldiers on the battlefield, according to the outlet.
By Ukraine’s account, the surrender hotline has been a major success since its launch in September 2022, just ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s mass mobilization of reservists — a deeply unpopular move in Russia.
By mid-November, the hotline and its related Telegram channel were believed to have received more than 3,500 appeals in total.
Throughout a grueling Spring campaign, Russia has barely managed to inch forward on the front line, with thousands of troops perishing at grimly-held hotspots such as the eastern city of Bakhmut.
Western officials estimated in March that up to 30,000 Russian soldiers had died trying to take the city — dying at five times the rate of Ukrainians, one anonymous NATO official told CNN. UK intelligence reported on Friday that after months of battle, Russian soldiers have “highly likely” advanced to the center of the city.
In an expansion of the “I Want to Live” project in December, an instructional video was released telling would-be captives how to surrender not only directly to soldiers, but also to a drone.
There are nonetheless some reports of both Russian and Ukrainian mistreatment of prisoners of war. Following a UNHCR report last November, Ukraine launched a criminal investigation into the allegations. Russia, however, did not cooperate with the probe.
Mia Jankowicz is a senior news reporter at Insider’s London office. She previously covered Brexit for The New European and has contributed stories to The Guardian, The New Statesman, Politics.co.uk, and Mic.com, as well as several local newspapers. A longtime culture writer, she has published reviews, opinion, and features to a wide range of art publications, with a focus on art from both the UK and the Middle East. She won the Frieze Writers’ Prize in 2007.