In the midday sun on May 9, Russian conscript Ruslan Anitin, trapped in the trenches of war-torn Kupiansk, Ukraine, made an unexpected plea for mercy to a seemingly unlikely arbiter – a DJI Mavic 3 drone.
Bombarded by drones dropping miniaturized explosives, Anitin, wearied and dehydrated, signaled his submission to the aerial observer. As reported by the WSJ, his desperate entreaty, transmitted to a control center of Ukraine's 92nd Mechanized Brigade, led Col. Pavlo Fedosenko to make a rather unusual command: “Try to take him alive.”
Modified DJI Mavic 3 drops an explosive on the Russian soldier.
Anitin's case tells of the Russian army's dwindling morale, even before Ukraine's counteroffensive. Over 17,000 inquiries have been received at a Ukrainian hotline designated for Russian soldiers wishing to surrender since September, and posts on social media suggest inadequacies in provisions for drafted soldiers.
The challenges faced by the Russian military have not gone unnoticed, with Russian President Vladimir Putin admitting to significant tank losses. Anitin's decision to surrender to a drone — a desperate act that was entirely captured on drone footage — illustrates the alarming reality on the battleground.
At 30, Anitin, a trained veterinarian and a marshal at Penal Colony No. 3, never imagined he'd find himself amidst the turbulence of war. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Anitin was drafted in September amidst a string of battlefield losses. The unexpected call-up tore him away from his middle-class life, wife, and three-year-old daughter, thrusting him into the chaos of the frontlines with minimal training and aging Soviet-era rifles.
Once deployed to Ukraine, his initial assignment seemed benign enough – guarding positions and building fortifications in Luhansk, a region partly occupied by Russia since 2014. However, the situation drastically changed in early May when Anitin was relocated to the frontline near Bakhmut.
Surrender and follow the DJI Mavic 3 drone
Utilizing the packaging of his field rations as an impromptu notepad, a Ukrainian drone operator scrawled a terse command in Russian: ‘Surrender follow the drone'. This vital missive was subsequently affixed to the DJI Mavic 3 drone, ready for dispatch.
Amidst the relentless bombardment and the omnipresent threat of drones dropping explosives, Anitin found himself alone, struggling to survive. The decision to surrender to the drone was a desperate bid for survival. As Anitin recalls, “I thought I would end up staying in that trench forever.”
His surrender was fraught with risks because the Ukrainian drone pilots initially feared a trap. Using basic hand signals, Anitin convinced them of his intent, and they guided him out of the trenches and across no-man's land to safety, all under the watchful eyes of the drones.
The harrowing journey was long, with Anitin navigating through remnants of warfare and risking fire from his own side. Eventually, he made it to a Ukrainian outpost, where he was detained.
Drones are modified to drop explosives or messages
If you look closely at the DJI Mavic 3 in the photo above, you can see that the drop mechanism is connected to the USB-C port on the back of the drone.
While Anitin's story underlines the grim realities of the war front, it also throws light on the use of technology in modern warfare and the potential for humanity amidst the brutality.
Anitin's journey, from a desperate plea to an unmanned machine to a precarious walk toward uncertain freedom, illustrates the extremes of survival on a modern battlefield.
Today, all he yearns for is a return home, even if it means imprisonment: “Let them lock me up,” he says, “I'd like to return home to my family, and never experience the sorts of things that I have seen here.”
Photo credits: ACHILLES and CODE 9.2
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