There’s no place like Ukraine to experiment with drones. Throughout the war, drone tactics by both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries have evolved to include reconnaissance, artillery guidance, direct assault with drone-dropped munitions, and even drone-on-drone dogfights. As the New York Times reports, drones can also be used to help enemy soldiers save their own lives. Recently, the Ukrainian military released a video with explicit instructions for Russian soldiers on how to hail and follow a drone into captivity. It's part of a program called "I want to live," which Ukraine launched in November.
There is at least one documented instance of a Russian soldier—reportedly a Wagner mercenary—surrendering to a drone and following it to a Ukrainian position. According to Newsweek, Ukraine used the footage to troll the Russians on social media, but the incident also inspired "I want to live" program operators. As the Times reports, surrendering has always been one of the most dangerous things a soldier can do, not only in Ukraine but any modern battlefield. The incident with the Wagner soldier was not prearranged; he simply recognized an opportunity to survive, and that’s the message Ukraine is trying to send through all available channels, from Telegram to old-fashioned leaflet drops.
To surrender, Russians are instructed to call a hotline, from which they receive further instructions and coordinates for meeting the drone. Prisoners-to-be then follow the drone, which will fly at walking speed. There are even instructions on what to do if the drone’s battery dies. Ukrainian deputy minister of defense Hanna Malyar explained that the main point is to give Russians every chance to save themselves. "Otherwise the only thing that awaits them on the Ukrainian land is death," she told the Times. Another official said the program has received 4,300 requests for information, including many from relatives in Russia hoping to help loved ones on the front line. He also said "more than a handful" of Russians have successfully surrendered via drone, but verifiable numbers are unavailable. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)