Suddenly notorious for a scathing first-person account of the war in Ukraine published online, former Russian paratrooper Pavel Filatiev arrived in France seeking political asylum Sunday after quitting his country for fear of reprisals.
“When I heard the higher-ups were calling for me to be sentenced to 15 years in prison for fake news, I realized that I wouldn’t get anywhere here and my lawyers couldn’t do anything for me in Russia,” Filatiev told AFP in the asylum seekers’ waiting area at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.
Tuesday afternoon came with the news that “Pavel Filatiev was freed late afternoon” after receiving official authorization to enter France, where he will have eight days to make an asylum claim, his lawyer Kamalia Mehtiyeva said.
After a time out from the army, the 34-year-old last year rejoined Russia’s 56th airborne regiment – his father’s old unit – based in Crimea.
The paratroopers were sent into southern Ukraine when Russian President Vladimir Putin began his “special military operation” against Kyiv on February 24.
Filatiev himself spent two months around the key cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv before being withdrawn from the front with an eye infection.
“We didn’t have the moral right to attack another country, especially when it’s the nation that’s closest to us,” he wrote in a 141-page broadside called “ZOV” that he posted on the VKontakte social network in August.
The title, the Russian word for “call,” is made up of the identification letters painted on military vehicles during the attack.
In his account, Filatiev railed at both the state of the military and Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, which he believes is broadly opposed by rank-and-file soldiers too afraid to speak out.