- Olesya Gerasimenko & Lisa Vocht
September 23, 2022
The Kremlin’s decision to call up 300,000 reservists for the war in Ukraine came as a shock to many Russian men.
In the big cities, Russia’s war on its neighbor Ukraine seven months ago has always seemed distant. But once President Vladimir Putin’s speech ended, sending a Russian citizen into combat was closer than anyone could have imagined.
The correspondent’s conversations exploded with anxious discussions about what would happen next. Some began making plans to avoid being sent to the front lines of the battle.
“It was like a science fiction movie from the 1980s,” says Dmitriy, a 28-year-old who works in an office in St Petersburg. “It’s a bit scary to be honest with you.” The employees were unable to start their work that day, and kept talking on television, computers and mobile phones.
Dmitry apologized for completing work in the office after lunch and went to a nearby bank with a sum of rubles in order to exchange it for dollars.
Dmitriy moved from his house to another after the police went to his former house for participating in an anti-war rally – believing it would be difficult for the authorities to find him.
“I’m not sure what to do next: fly on the first plane abroad or stay in Russia a little longer and wait for the police to be chased at anti-war rallies,” he says.
As for Sergey – not his real name – he has already been summoned.
Sergey, a 26-year-old doctoral student and lecturer at a prominent Russian university, was waiting for groceries to arrive the night before Putin’s speech when the doorbell rang. Instead, he found two men in civilian clothes who handed him military papers and asked him to sign them.
The BBC has a copy of these documents, which require him to come to the recruitment center on Thursday.
The Kremlin said that only people who have performed their military service and have special skills and combat experience will be recalled. But Sergey has no military experience, and his stepfather is concerned that draft evasion is a criminal offense in Russia.
The stepfather works for a state oil company, and hours later he was asked to provide a list of employees who had a legal exemption from military service.
Most Russian men do not have a legal exemption from military service, so many are looking for ways to avoid being called up.
In Moscow, Vyacheslav says he and his friends began looking for connections in the medical field to help them avoid summons.
“Mental health issues or addiction treatment seem like good, cheap, or maybe even free options,” he said.
He added: “If you are under the influence and you get caught while driving, I hope your driver’s license will be revoked, and you will have to undergo treatment. I’m not sure it’s worth it, but I hope it’s enough to avoid going. [إلى الجيش]”.
His brother-in-law narrowly avoided the summons because he was not at home when the officials went. His mother saw documents requiring him to come to the service between 19 and 23 September.
“Now he is locking himself in one room and refusing to go out,” says Vyacheslav. “He has two young children, one of whom is three and the other of one, so what is he supposed to do?”
Another man from Kaliningrad told the BBC he would do anything to avoid conscription. “I’m going to break my arm and leg, I’m going to jail, and I’m going to do anything to avoid this whole thing,” he added.
Thousands of Russians took part in anti-war protests in cities across Russia on Wednesday evening. Many said they received summonses either on the street or later in police detention centres.
The human rights organization OVDinfo listed as many as 10 police stations in Moscow alone in which the protesters received their draft papers. At least one man in Moscow’s Vernadsky district refused to sign and was threatened with a criminal case.
A woman told the independent MediaZona website that her husband was arrested at an anti-war demonstration on Arbat, in central Moscow. The man was taken to a police station, where he handed his summons papers and signed them while being videotaped by the police. He was asked to show up for enlistment on Thursday.
Mikhail, 25, had left Russia for neighboring Georgia at the start of the war and had only returned to his small town in the Urals a few days ago. He was planning to return, but now worried about the threat of nuclear weapons to President Putin, he will remain in Russia close to his family.
“We are in a state of panic,” he said. “In my town, many have already received summons, but I am not registered to live here, so I received nothing.”
He had recently landed a good job in Tbilisi, but now sees it as pointless due to Vladimir Putin’s military escalation.
“On September 21, he managed to destroy even the chaos he first created on February 24,” Mikhail said. [بداية الغزو]. I just stopped caring about it, and I’m just living day by day.”