September 29, 2021
Every year, dozens of young conscripts serving in the Russian army die far from the battlefield. Many of these deaths are the result of hazing – an age-old practice of harassing new soldiers, which is still common practice, despite what authorities claim.
On September 28, a 20-year-old soldier, Ivan Katlinskikh, disappeared from his military base in the Sverdlovsk region; he was found dead later that night. It seems that after hanging his Kalashnikov rifle on a power line ladder, he climbed it. He was, of course, electrocuted and fell from the pole; his military coat caught fire; he took it off and walked another 150 meters, but then fell and never got up again.
According to the official military explanation, Ivan wanted to use the pole to look around and plan his escape. While officers were busy cleaning up the mess, another unnatural death occurred in the quarters. In the early morning of September 29, another serviceman from the same base, Mikhail Pashchuk, 19, received his service weapon at the start of a detail, then came out of a tent and was shot and killed.
Anti-conscription lawyer Alexandr Latynin believes that Ivan was well aware of the operation of power lines and instead committed suicide. On the other hand, Mikhail’s cause of death is not even open to debate. According to the activist, the two dead were united by the same motivation: to escape the daily cycle of violence in the unit.
We had a military base in my small hometown in Siberia. As a child, I remember the same news every two years: another conscript derailed and shot himself along with a few comrades. When we went there for a high school class visit, some gray-looking soldiers asked us for cigarettes and whispered that we should never end up there under any circumstances.
About 130,000 young men between the ages of 18 and 27 are drafted into the Russian military each year. The absolute majority of guys I know have tried to dodge enlistment with success. The desire to do so is not surprising, because the first thing that comes to the mind of all Russians when they hear the word ‘army’ is’dedovchtchine ‘, Where hazing.
Almost all men born in the USSR spent two years of their youth wearing the all-green uniform. Even then, the practice of dedovchtchine was ubiquitous. The ancients, also known as’dead‘or’ ggrandfathers‘, harassed the recruits until the recruits became elders. One part was physical: an impossible number of push-ups, standing in excruciating poses for hours and meaningless beating. The part was psychological: Those in their second year of service had their laundry done by gentle freshmen.
Senior officers did not intervene – and why would they? Hazing gives you a little Stalinist-era order within your unit: a loyal caste with a license for any kind of abuse keeps the herd exhausted and subdued. The practice continued in independent Russia, because if it is not broken, why fix it? There is only one side effect: occasional corpses.
Here’s just one case: in 2019, Private Ramil Shamsutdinov spent 3 days on a watch without almost sleeping. According to him, the police promised to immerse him in the toilet head first and rape him. He took a gun and killed 8 people that day. And we only hear about the tip of the iceberg.
In the 2010s, the Defense Ministry stopped publishing data on violent deaths in the armed forces. When they last did this in 2009, there were an average of 30 such cases per month – now the number is unknown. But that does not prevent military officials from proclaiming “a complete victory over hazing”. The Committee of Mothers of Soldiers of Russia, on the contrary, receives 15-20 complaints of theft, beatings and humiliations in the army every day. And most cases are not even reported for fear of exposure, according to the NGO.
It would not be fair to say that the government has done nothing to improve the lives of soldiers. The length of service has been reduced from two to one year, and the proportion of contract soldiers is steadily increasing. Still, there are no plans to abandon the idea of compulsory service – which, even outside of violent prison-like customs, is a completely outdated custom that violates civil liberties.
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