These are extracts from Pavel Filatyev’s memoir, ZOV, which he published on his Vkontakte social media page on 1 August. ZOV, named after the tactical markings painted on Russian army vehicles that have been adopted as a pro-war symbol, is the most detailed voluntary account from a Russian soldier participating in the invasion of Ukraine.
In the first translated extract, Filatyev describes, hours after the Russian troops entered the city, how his unit ransacked the port of Kherson.
1 March 2022
Half an hour later, we arrived at the port of Kherson. It was dark. The units that were marching ahead of us had already occupied the port. The soldiers were looking for a place to sleep and clean themselves. The territory consisted of a checkpoint, an office, and a building resembling a dormitory with warehouses, changing rooms, and shower points. The ships were at the pier. The mortar division took over a large office on the ground floor. Other divisions such as the 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment and the Stavropol Spetsnaz (the former Russian military intelligence) began entering the port. I decided to explore the area.
Have you ever seen the paintings of the Sack of Rome by the barbarians? This is the best way to describe what was going on around me. Everyone looked worn-out and feral, and we all began to scour the buildings in search of food, water, a shower and a place for the night; some started grabbing computers and whatever valuable goods they could find. I was no exception: I found a hat in a smashed-up truck onsite and took it. My balaclava was too cold. I became disgusted with all the looting, despite my wild state.
In an office with televisions, a few people were sitting watching the news; they’d found a bottle of champagne there.
Coming out of the building, I saw a battalion commander and greeted him as was customary in our military rules. He greeted me, shook my hand and I bummed a cigarette from him, Marlboro Red. While smoking, I asked him how everything was going. He told me that everything was fine, that it will all be over soon … With these thoughts in mind and hoping deep down inside that this all will end soon, I returned to the offices occupied by the mortar division to get some sleep.
In the offices, there was a cafeteria with a kitchen and fridges. Like savages, we ate everything there: oats, porridge, jam, honey, coffee. We didn’t give a damn about anything, we’d already been pushed to the limit. Most had spent a month in the fields with no hint of comfort, a shower or normal food.
What a wild state you can drive people to by not giving any thought to the fact that they need to sleep, eat and wash.
Everything around gave us a vile feeling; like wretches, we were just trying to survive.
Everyone was in a rush, looking for a place to sleep, and people were fighting for a place in the shower queue. I was disgusted by all this yet realised that I was part of it all. The command must not have cared about its people who were giving everything to carry out their plans, which were not so clear to us. They turned people into absolute savages, ignoring the fact that they need to sleep, eat, and take a shower.
Even though I have a lot of nerve, I decided to keep it low in the shower queue. I was positive that now we would hold Kherson for some time, and I could still get an opportunity to take a shower.
It was getting close to midnight. For the first time in a week, I took off my bulletproof vest and thermal underwear, placed my belongings along with the weapons at the large, 2-metre-long table, and laid down on it. I was in a state of great bliss, my whole body was buzzing in a desperate need of sleep
The office was nice. Lying on my back on this table, with my head covered with a uniform, I was reminiscing about my past work in a similar office. I was a different person then and I felt like it happened in another life. Now, I’m lying like a savage on the office table with everything turned upside down all around, feeling like sleeping in a five-star hotel if one ignores the occasional shooting sounds coming from the outside.
In the second extract, Filatyev expresses his anger over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
I fought in Ukraine, and if I don’t have the right to say “No to war” why does someone else have the right to start the war? I cannot bring our army back home, but I can share my experience and my thoughts about participation in this war and encourage fellow citizens to take care of their country, which has so many problems of its own to deal with.
This is a vicious circle of some kind, we are all to blame, but we need to make the right conclusions and correct our mistakes. Where is the breadth of the Russian soul? Where did our nobility and spirituality disappear? … Our ancestors shed so much of their own blood for the sake of freedom. It may not change anything, but I refuse to take part in this madness. Ethically, it would be easier if Ukraine attacked us, but the truth is that we invaded Ukraine and the Ukrainians did not invite us.