Video is circulating on social media of a Ukrainian-Israeli man who's been captured by pro-Russian separatists. In the video, 40-year-old Vladimir Kozlovsky tells a bleak story of his brief service with the Ukrainian military.
"When the war started, my wife and I wanted to leave the country," says Kozlovsky, according to a translation of the video by Israeli news site ynet. "I am also a citizen of Israel...Before the border, in Uzhgorod, I met with the Israeli consulate, they gave me a special certificate so I could leave the country—but I was stopped at the border. The border guards detained me and did not let me out."
Uzhgorod is in westernmost Ukraine, on the Slovakian border. While Kozlovsky's wife and child were allowed to proceed, Ukraine bars men age 18-60 from leaving the country so they can be available for conscription into the war against Russia.
Kozlovsky was reportedly pressed into military service as a radio operator for an intelligence unit operating near the city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk Oblast (province) that, along with the Donetsk Oblast, comprises the contested Donbas region central to the ongoing war. On the eve of its invasion, Russia recognized the sovereignty of the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics.
Sent on a mission to transport personnel, Kozlovsky and fellow members of his unit came under heavy artillery fire. They retreated but, upon returning, were captured by members of the pro-Russian, separatist Luhansk Republic Army.
It's important to note the possibility that Kozlovsky's statements may be coerced. However, if his account is true, it shows the limited effectiveness of efforts to pour Western weapons into the conflict, and Ukraine's challenge in rapidly turning civilians into soldiers:
"We had foreign weapon systems but we didn't know how to use them. We were not trained to fight and nevertheless were sent to the battlefield. They didn't tell us we were going to fight either. We thought we'd stay in Western Ukraine, but we were deployed to Lysychansk. We were thrown to the battleground like cannon fodder."
Kozlovsky said Ukrainian military commanders encouraged the hapless conscripts to fight to the death. "We've received messages from the Russians saying we'll be better off if we surrendered. The soldiers also discussed this before, but commanders tried to prevent these talks. They told us that if we surrendered, the Russians would torture us to death, so it is better not to be taken alive."
The video was shared on the Telegram channel of the separatist Luhansk Republic Military. Along with Kozlovsky's video testimonial, the group also provided surrender instructions for Ukrainians who want to exit the war.
After learning of Kozlovsky's capture, Israel's foreign ministry and its Moscow embassy have been in contact with Russian officials, according to the Jerusalem Post.