A1: Russian Soldiers in the Russo-Ukrainian War: Life Histories, Deployment, Repercussions

Alyona Bidenko, MA (ZZF)

Project description

This PhD project investigates the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine by examining individual violent actors during their deployment and the environments that produced them. In particular, it focuses on Russian rank-and-file soldiers and officers.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is analysed as a continuation of a tradition of Russian governance that pertains to both its foreign and domestic policies. Reaching for the Russian state’s toolbox of mass violence has become a kneejerk reaction to the challenges of Russian statehood – be they shifts in the international balance of power or any internal turmoil. In recent Eastern European history, this trend can be traced back to the Soviet proxy war in Afghanistan and the wars of Soviet succession in Transnistria, Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Azerbaijan that morphed into the recent conflicts in Georgia and Donbas, instigated by Russia. Hence, this project aims at exploring the Russian invasion as part of this state-sponsored tradition of mass violence and looks at the ways it has reflected on the Russian people. It examines the war through the political, ethnic, class, and gender identities of individual Russian perpetrators of violence.

Key questions

The project draws on sociologist Peter Imbusch’s conceptualisation of violence in Imbusch 2003, 20-22:

  • Who were the Russian violent non-state actors in the Russo-Ukrainian war?
  • What acts of violence did they perpetrate?
  • Who did they target as their ‘enemies’/victims?
  • Why did they perpetrate their acts of violence?

Methodology and sources

This study employs a qualitative case study of the Russian military in Ukraine and makes use of such primary sources as:

  • Interviews with Russian prisoners of war
  • Testimonies of Ukrainian refugees
  • Intercepted phone calls


Imbusch, Peter. 2003. ‘The Concept of Violence.’ In International Handbook of Violence Research, edited by Wilhelm Heitmeyer and John Hagan, 13–39. Springer, Dordrecht.

Project team