Waves of hapless Russians attacking Bakhmut are being mowed down by the defenders, some seemingly just walking to their death.
“They’re like zombies. You shoot them and more come constantly,” one Ukrainian soldier told AFP in November.
Another Ukrainian soldier speaking to CNN also compared recent attacks to something out of a zombie movie, describing advancing Russians climbing over the bodies of the fallen.
Elsewhere videos show Russian soldiers staggering around slowly, failing to move out of the way even when grenades are falling around them, while one Ukrainian describes watching Russians move ‘like molasses’ under bombardment.
What is going on here?
There are a number of possible explanations. Many Ukrainians are convinced that the Russian soldiers are drugged.
“The orcs have some serious drugs …they have no motivation to fight so they are given some euphoric s***,” says a Ukrainian soldier interviewed by Butusov Plus, describing fighting off four waves of attacks by Russians who did not seem to have any idea what they were doing. “Truly, they are under some kind of influence.”
“It looks like it’s very, very likely that they are getting some drugs before attack,” says the soldier talking to CNN.
The idea of a combat drug to enhance fighting performance has a long history. The Nazis issued millions of newly-invented ampehtamines to their troops in WWII to give them the stamina for lightning war. The allies made more cautious use of new drugs; Britain’s RAF issued ‘wakey wakey’ pills containing Benzedrine to bomber crews, but these were only to be used in extreme circumstances with stern warnings about misuse. The U.S.A.F has used ‘Go pills’ and ‘No go pills’ to help aircrew handle fatigue and disruption to their daily rhythms but even these have been controversial.
The Russians have long accused Ukraine of using combat drugs and even claimed to have discovered laboratories producing them – claims which were easily debunked. Just as Russia has made claims about Ukraine starting the war, and targeting civilians, and using cluster bombs this might be another case of Russia accusing Ukraine of something it does itself.
However, no evidence for this has yet been forthcoming. While the Germans, British and Americans were experimenting with military drugs in WWII, Russia remained committed to the traditional method of fueling troops with vodka. The military gave Russian soldiers 100 ml of vodka (about 3.5 ounces) per day to help fight the cold and give them courage, a practice known as the Commissar’s Ration. The ration was doubled to 200 ml a day in May 1942, but only for units who had proved themselves.
Vodka was also issued before attacks.
“The foreman walked along the trench with a mug and whoever wanted it poured it for himself. The young men were the first to drink. And then they went straight under bullets and died, “ according to a private called Alexander Grinko.
The Russian vodka ration ended some time after WWII, and while there have been plenty of accounts of drunken behavior among Russian troops in Ukraine, including brawls and shootings, there is no direct evidence of a new vodka ration before attacks.
There may be a quite different explanation for some of the zombie-like behavior. Reports of Russian soldiers acting strangely did not start until November when cold weather set in. Many of the videos seem to suggest men suffering from the early stages of hypothermia. This condition is marked by confusion, tiredness, slurred speed and slow movement, exactly the sort of behavior.
As the Daily Kos reported in November, while Ukraine has managed to provide its frontline troops fairly well with shelter, heating and sleeping bags, conditions are far worse for Russian troops, some of whom are still shivering in their summer uniforms and relying on sleeping bags sent from home and makeshift tents of plastic sheeting. This applies particularly to the Wagner forces being thrown at Bakhmut in waves. Hence videos like this one which shows Russian troops apparently suffering from hypothermia with sluggish movement and in a confused mental state, unable to react even under direct attack. Some are reportedly freezing to death.