Surrender to a drone? Ukraine is urging Russian soldiers to do just that

Surrender to a drone? Ukraine is urging Russian soldiers to do just that

Tens of thousands of drones have been deployed across Ukraine to kill the enemy, spy on their formations and guide bombs to their targets. But this month, Ukraine’s military launched a program to use drones in a more unusual role: to guide Russian soldiers about to surrender.

The program emerged in late November when the Ukrainian military released footage of a Russian soldier throwing his gun to the ground, raising his hands and nervously following a path traced out by a drone overhead, directing him towards soldiers of the 54th Ukrainian Army led Mechanized Brigade.

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A few weeks later, Ukraine’s General Staff released an instructional video explaining how Russian soldiers can surrender to a Ukrainian drone, and it is now part of a wider Ukraine effort to get Russian soldiers to surrender. The program, entitled “I want to live”, includes a telephone hotline, a website and a Telegram channel, all dedicated to communicating with Russian soldiers and their families.

It’s too early to know if the drone effort will attract Russian deserters in any significant numbers. But it adds another avenue for Ukraine to recruit Russian deserters, this time with a distinctly modern twist on the age-old tactic of information warfare. And last but not least, it can encourage the erosion of Russian morale on the battlefield.

Russia’s defeats have already provided Ukraine with an opportunity to exploit this low morale, particularly in the months following the Kremlin’s September mobilization, which sent thousands of new recruits with little training and scarce supplies into bitter fighting.

Petro Yatsenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, said in an interview on Monday that Ukraine has received more than 4,300 direct requests for information about how they turn out under the I Want to Live program. An independent verification of the claims is not possible.

Yatsenko said the military will not release information about the number of Russians in Ukrainian captivity for security reasons.

Andriy Yusov, who represents the Intelligence Department at Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said Ukraine has received 1.2 million inquiries about the program since the program was launched on Sept. 18. Most requests come from Russia, he said, and the vast majority are appeals from “people studying for themselves or their loved ones the possibility of saving lives in the bloody and unjust war.”

Over the past 10 months, both Russia and Ukraine have conducted robust informational campaigns targeting enemy soldiers through leaflets, social media posts, radio appeals, text messages and television campaigns in order to persuade them to surrender.

When the Russians ravaged towns and cities and began gobbling up land in eastern Ukraine in May, not all guns were loaded with explosives. Some Soviet-era self-propelled howitzers had set up shells to detonate in the air and spread leaflets over Ukrainian-controlled territory, according to Zvezda, a state-owned, nationwide Russian television network run by the Russian Defense Ministry.

“We are giving the Ukrainian Nazis the last warning to surrender,” an artilleryman named Vadim told the station.

The Russians recently announced that their drone operators are sending SMS messages to Ukrainian cellphone customers urging them to lay down their arms. There is no evidence that Russia’s text-to-current drones have had any impact.

The Ukrainian campaign has used both high-tech and low-tech means of communication. Artillery units routinely use multi-launch Vampire missile systems to launch projectiles, each containing 1,500 leaflets, over Russian positions.

Hanna Malyar, a Ukrainian deputy defense minister, said it was a way “to give Russian occupiers one last chance to surrender” when there was no internet connection.

“Otherwise, only death awaits them in the Ukrainian countryside,” she said.

Yatsenko, the spokesman for the POW group, said the Ukrainians are also giving captured Russian soldiers released as part of the POW exchange e-cards with information on how to surrender. That way, he said, they know how to surrender when thrown back into the fray.

When Ukraine captures Russian soldiers, it sends them to POW camps. The main one is in the northwest, near Lviv.

Ukraine has allowed some strictly controlled media visits to this camp. They also allow routine visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The most far-reaching Ukrainian effort is the I Want to Live program, which includes a Telegram channel in Russian that now has more than 40,000 subscribers, mostly in Russia or Russian-controlled areas. Operators are also working around the clock at an undisclosed location in Kyiv, taking up to 100 calls a day, Yatsenko said.

But just as surrender was considered one of the most dangerous acts on the battlefield of World War I, so is Ukraine today.

With a frontline stretching for hundreds of miles and the Land Between the Trenches, a treacherous wasteland of mines guarded by snipers and subject to near-constant bombardment, organizing a surrender poses dangers for all involved.

That’s where drones come in.

The capitulation, captured on video released in November and located by military analysts in the eastern Donbass region, was a kind of accident, Yatsenko said. It wasn’t planned and the fact that it worked – with all the possible things that could go wrong – made the Ukrainian military think it was an idea that could be expanded, he said.

Ukraine’s General Staff set about producing a slick video with instructions on how Russian soldiers can surrender to a drone that was ready in early December.

The first step is to call the project “I want to live” and get instructions and coordinates. “It is important to arrive on time at the appointed time and wait for the quadcopter to appear, after which you raise your hands,” the video informs Russians.

“After the drone indicates the movement vector, the prisoners must follow the drone,” they are told. The drone will fly at “walking speed” and “guide you to Ukrainian positions.”

If the drone’s battery fails, the soldier must wait for a new battery to arrive in order to continue moving.

Yatsenko said the How to Surrender to a Drone program is still in its infancy. He wouldn’t give exact numbers for Russians who have surrendered to the drones so far, but said there are more than a handful.

The Ukrainian program, Yatsenko said, is the first designed to use dro

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