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A unit of Russian riot police is suing its bosses for wrongful dismissal after being fired for refusing to invade Ukraine.
“These people didn’t want to kill or be killed,” Mikhail Benyash, the rebellious unit’s lawyer, explained to the Meduza.io website.
The unit from the Krasnodar region of southern Russia had been deployed on what they thought was an exercise in Crimea when they were ordered to cross the border into Ukraine on Feb 25, the day after Putin launched his invasion.
In a sign that the Krasnodar Omon unit was not alone in rebelling against the order to invade Ukraine in Febraury, Mr Benyash said that he has received about 200 requests for legal help “from Siberia to the North Caucasus”.
The Russian leader had expected an easy victory in Ukraine, to topple the Ukrainian government quickly using lightly armed paratroopers, and then send in the Rozgardia (national guard), including Omon riot police, to impose his authority over captured cities.
The Omon riot police units, feared by opposition protesters in Russian cities, were never properly deployed and some, such as the unit from Krasnodar, rebelled.
In a statement, Pavel Chikov, a human rights lawyer, said that the 12 rebelling Omon policemen from Krasnodar had been within their rights to refuse to cross into Ukraine.
“None of them had a passport with them, nor any intention of leaving the territory of Russia as their official duties were limited to the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said.
Kirill Alexeev, a lawyer and opposition politician from the town of Vladimir, east of Moscow, has told The Telegraph how he was being interrogated at a police station when news came through to the control centre that an Omon unit in Ukraine had been ambushed and killed.
“They stopped the interrogation to smoke cigarettes, a moment of mourning for their friends. They said that they were good guys,” Mr Alexeev said.
“The smoke break was a ceremony of mourning in that situation and once they had finished they continued to interrogate me.”
Separately, reports have begun to filter through of Russian military recruiters targeting anti-war activists.
On Twitter, a video showed the moment when three military recruiters issued Yegor Beschastnov, a 19-year-old activist, with an order to report to his local army recruitment centre. He had just walked out of a police station in Samara, central Russia, after serving a 28-day detention for organising an anti-war protest.
Under a law rushed through at the start of March, military recruiters can target anybody who protests against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.