Russia’s overstretched military is reportedly sending soldiers into Ukraine with weapons developed in the late 19th century.
Conscripts in the Russian-backed Donbass region are said to have been sent into front-line battles with a rifle called the Mosin, with the Kremlin relying on WWII stockpiles.
Vladimir Putin’s forces have fought against fierce Ukrainian resistance and a steady supply of modern weaponry from Western allies.
After nearly six weeks of war, Moscow has claimed only limited territorial gains while posting significant losses in vehicles, weapons and troops.
NATO estimates as many as 15,000 Russian soldiers may have been killed in the fighting, while Kyiv claims the death toll may have exceeded 18,000.
Russia’s military, which has suffered heavy casualties, is said to be urging near-retirement volunteers in two Siberian cities, Chelyabinsk and Tyumen, to report.
Russian media reported that the expanded reserve force would be needed to fill a wide range of battlefield roles, including tank commanders, snipers and engineers – with the army aiming to recruit volunteers aged up to 60.
Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reported that several conscripts in Donbass were equipped with Mosin bolt-action rifles developed in the 1880s.
Unconfirmed images and videos shared on social media also showed Donbass fighters with the weapon, which went out of production decades ago.
On Friday, Russia began its annual spring recruitment aimed at rounding up 134,500 men for a year of military service.
Russian officials have said new recruits are not being sent to the front lines or to “hot spots,” but many Russians fear they will be drawn into the war.
The question of the involvement of conscripts in Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine is highly sensitive.
In early March, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that some had been sent to Ukraine, after Putin has denied this on various occasions, saying only professional soldiers and officers had been sent.
All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve a year in the military, but many avoid service for health reasons or delays granted by university students.
Additional reporting by agencies