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As Ed pointed out this morning, there are reports that some Russian soldiers fled in panic from the Ukrainian counteroffensive last week. Today the Washington Post offers a kind of insider account of what Russian soldiers in one liberated city, Izyum, were feeling about their role in the war. The report is based on letters which fleeing soldiers left behind. Those letters were then turned over to the Post.

About 10 days before Ukrainian forces retook the city of Izyum last weekend, Russian troops stationed here were so demoralized that they drafted letters begging their superiors to dismiss them from their roles…

“I refuse to complete my duty in the special operation on the territory of Ukraine due to lack of vacation days and moral exhaustion,” wrote a man who identified himself as the commander of an antiaircraft missile platoon from the Moscow region.

Another soldier asked to be released citing “the worsening of my health and not receiving the necessary medical aid.” Still another said he was experiencing “physical and moral exhaustion.”

Others wrote complaining that they were denied vacation time for family obligations, including to get married and to witness the birth of a child.

You can see images of some of the letters here.

In all there were 10 letters found in a house where Russian soldiers had been squatting. But when Ukrainian troops advanced quickly toward the city, the Russians disguised themselves and tried to escape.

Shortly before the Ukrainians reclaimed the city, residents said, the Russian troops imposed a 24-hour curfew, then entered civilian homes and raided closets for mismatched clothing to avoid being seen in their uniforms. Some then fled on foot or by bike, the residents recounted.

Before stealing locals’ clothes “they didn’t even pay attention to who was living there or if it was someone their age, they just opened their closets,” said Tanya Lukianinka, 32, who crossed the broken bridge and walked downtown with her daughter and friends on Wednesday carrying Ukrainian flags in an act of celebration.

The image of dispirited Russian soldiers hiding their uniforms and fleeing in stolen clothes is dramatically at odds with what is happening on Russian television. There was a brief moment earlier this week when the commentators seemed to absorb the fact that Russia had suffered a major loss. But just a few days later they are uniformly calling for an escalation including attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure designed to put the entire country in the dark and create a refugee crisis.

Appearing on Wednesday’s broadcast of the state TV show 60 Minutes, military expert Igor Korotchenko said: “This is a new reality, which is why we should be acting quickly, harshly and uncompromisingly. First of all, we need to scale up our strikes against critical infrastructure in such a way that one region after the next, one district after another, Ukraine is plunged into darkness… By December, 20 million residents of Ukraine should flee to the West, to the European Union. This is our goal and the task we should accomplish.”

Korotchenko proposed: “Perhaps we should openly declare: ‘Leave. Zelensky is turning this territory into a real hell. No one knows what will happen here next. Twenty million, go to Europe.’ After that, we sink region after region into darkness. This is our enemy nation, the modern Third Reich, and we should act accordingly.”

Similar proposals permeated Russian airwaves, with experts arguing that the rules of the civilized world prohibiting war crimes are merely recommendations, compliance with which is optional. On Monday, appearing on The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, Andrey Sidorov, deputy dean of world politics at the Moscow State University, explained why those international conventions are irrelevant: “The rules of war, according to international conventions, are of an advisory nature: not to strike [certain objects], if possible. But it’s no longer possible.”

Julia Davis has put together another supercut of the latest highlights. The bottom line is that the Russians fighting the war are exhausted and want to go home but the people responsible for domestic propaganda are urging total war on the civilian population of Ukraine. About 2/3 through this clip there is one guy who points out how at odds this new language is with what Russia was saying previously. “If you’re going to call for everything to be leveled it’s time to admit that the talk about a ‘brotherly nation’ was deceitful. Otherwise stop calling for such things.”

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