A member of Russia’s armed forces who took part in the invasion of Ukraine has requested political asylum after landing in Madrid, the Guardian has learned.
Nikita Chibrin, 27, said that he spent more than four months in Ukraine as part of the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, a unit accused of committing war crimes in the Kyiv region in March.
Chibrin landed in the Spanish capital on Tuesday and was being held at the airport’s immigration centre.
In a phone interview from the airport’s immigration centre on Wednesday evening, Chibrin denied involvement in the reported war crimes of his unit, saying he did not fire a gun “once” while in Ukraine.
He said he was eager to testify in an international court about his experiences in Ukraine. “I have nothing to hide,” he said.
“This is a criminal war that Russia started. I want to do everything I can to make it stop.”
Chibrin said he decided to flee Russia after deserting from his unit in Ukraine in June.
According to Chibrin, he told his commanders of his opposition to the war on 24 February, the first day of the invasion. Chibrin says he was removed from his rank as an army mechanic after he spoke out against the war and was then tasked with performing manual labour.
“They threatened to jail me. In the end, my commanders decided to use me as a cleaner and a loader. I was placed away from the battlefield,” he said of his time in Ukraine.
The Guardian has not been able to verify all the details of Chibrin’s story independently.
Chibrin has supplied documents and photographs showing he was stationed with the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade in Ukraine.
Maxim Grebenyuk, a lawyer who runs the Moscow-based advocacy organisation Military Ombudsman, said that he was contacted by Chibrin over the summer. Grebenyuk said that Chibrin spoke about his opposition to what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” and his desire not to fight in Ukraine.
Chibrin is the second known Russian serviceman who has fled the country after taking part in the invasion. In August, the Guardian interviewed Pavel Filatyev, a former Russian paratrooper who fled the country after writing a memoir criticising the war.
Born in Yakutsk, eastern Siberia, Chibrin joined the Russian army in the summer of 2021. “I did not think I would be involved in any wars,” he said, citing financial difficulties as the reason behind his decision to join the army.
Chibrin said that he first entered Ukraine with his unit on 24 February, crossing the Belarussian border.
“We had no idea we were going to fight in Ukraine,” he said. “We were all tricked.”
According to Chibrin, he spent the first month of the invasion in the village of Lypivka, 30 miles west of Kyiv.
During that period, Chibrin’s brigade is accused of executing civilians in Bucha and Andriivka, two villages close to Lypivka.
The Russian investigative site iStories has previously published a confession from a soldier who was part of Chibrin’s unit, admitting on camera to shooting and killing a civilian resident in the Ukrainian city of Andriivka, less than five miles from Lypivka.
After Ukrainian officials identified the 64th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade as the unit that had occupied Bucha, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, awarded it the honorary title of “guards” and praised the unit for its “great heroism and courage”.
Chibrin claimed he did not witness any shootings during his time in Lypivka but said his unit would routinely loot Ukrainian homes.
“They looted everything there was. Washing machines, electronics, everything,” he said.
He added that there were “widespread rumours” among his comrades that members of his unit were involved in sexual violence and killings of civilians. The UN has previously said that Russia has used rape and sexual violence as part of its “military strategy” in Ukraine.
Russian troops were forced to retreat from the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital in March, Chibrin said his unit was sent to Buhaivka, a town in the country’s north-eastern Kharkiv region.
He described morale in his unit throughout his time in Ukraine as “extremely low”, corroborating extensive media reports that portrayed the Russian army as one plagued by morale problems.
“Everyone tried to find ways to get out of the army. But our commanders would threaten to shoot us if we deserted.”
He said that on 16 June he managed to flee Ukraine by hiding inside a truck that was heading to Russia to pick up food supplies.
After some time, he contacted the human rights network Gulagu.net, which helped Chibrin leave Russia earlier this month. Vladimir Osechkin, the head Gulagu.net, confirmed that his organisation helped Chibrin leave Russia.
Chibrin said he hoped to receive political asylum in Spain, citing his public opposition to the war as a danger to his health if sent back to Russia.
On Thursday evening, Chibrin was released from the airport’s immigration centre in Madrid. He said he will be placed at a temporary shelter for refugees in the Spanish capital as the authorities proceed with his asylum application.
A spokesperson for Spain’s interior ministry declined to comment on the case, citing international protection rules and the risk of possible persecution of applicants.