Men of military age in Russia are still in hiding for fear of being sent to war

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A 34-year-old human resources director for an IT company has gone into hiding to avoid military conscription in Russia.  (The Washington Post)
A 34-year-old human resources director for an IT company has gone into hiding to avoid military conscription in Russia. (The Washington Post)

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Although Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have proclaimed the completion of their mobilization of 300,000 new troops, many Russian men of fighting age remain in hiding – still fearing capture by military recruiters and sent to fight and die, in a failed war.

While records of border crossings to neighboring countries have documented more than 300,000 people who left Russia in the weeks after the mobilization began, there is no data on how many men hid inside the country, but the number is also believed to be in the thousands. .

Among them is a young computer scientist from southern Russia, who now lives in a tent in the forest.

Like others eligible for military service, the computer scientist quickly began planning his run after Putin issued his mobilization decree on September 21 – frantically checking outgoing flights, the price of which increased each time he pressed the refresh button.

Then he had an epiphany: if he couldn’t afford to flee Russia or leave his family and friends behind, he could at least escape civilization and the state’s military conscription system. So he took a week off and drove to hide in the woods.

“I was afraid of being recruited if I went to the store or someone came to my house,” said the IT specialist, who shares his experiences on a Telegram blog under the pseudonym Adam Kalinin, in an interview. telephone. He requested anonymity because he is hiding from authorities.

The Washington Post interviewed five other men who have spent the past few weeks hiding out in rented apartments, country homes and even a music studio. Some were interviewed by telephone, others agreed to be visited by a photographer in their hiding places. Although they come from different backgrounds, professions and family situations, they expressed an identical goal: to avoid killing or being killed in Ukraine.

In interviews, most said they still did not feel safe from Putin’s war machine, and they each requested anonymity to avoid being identified by authorities.

“I’m not rushing to get back to normal life,” said a 38-year-old lab technician who was ambushed by a group of police and enlistment officers who delivered a summons to his home late. september.

He did not sign it and decided not to report to the assembly point the following day, as requested. Instead, he hid in a country house outside Moscow, while notices piled up on his apartment door.

Eventually he had to return to town to work but traded his car for a bicycle to avoid traffic police and wore a mask, wary of Moscow’s extensive CCTV network with built-in facial recognition.

“I didn’t have a place to run to, or a way to work remotely,” he said when asked if he was considering moving abroad. Having previously served in the Russian military, the lab technician said he wanted to avoid going through that again, but said he didn’t feel “unambiguous support for either side” in the war.

The IT guy and his wife have always been avid campers, so he had the essentials he needed to evade the enlistment agents: a sleeping bag, a saw, a gas burner. He also bought solar panels, a tent for winter fishing and a satellite dish to continue working online.

Shoigu’s public declarations that the mobilization was over brought little peace of mind to the computer scientist or the other Russian men in hiding. No legal decree has been issued officially ending the conscription campaign.

Thus, the computer scientist, who calls himself a pacifist, is now living his second month as an anti-war recluse.

For the computer scientist, his daily commute now consists of a three-minute walk from his “home” to his “office” – a separate tent set up higher up in a clearing, the only place nearby with a relatively stable internet connection.

He cooks over an open fire and says he misses the hot showers and fresh fruit but his living conditions were still far better than those of the conscripted men sent to Ukraine. According to Russian media, hundreds of new Russian conscripts, many of them ill-equipped and poorly trained, have already been killed, bolstering the computer scientist’s decision to remain in hiding.

“The very first news to come out of the mobilization is how people lack basic equipment or the conditions they find themselves in,” he said, referring to reports of senior officers forcing new soldiers to buy their own bulletproof vests or to sleep in dilapidated, unheated rooms. barracks.

“They are in pain before they even get to the front line and can easily get, say, pneumonia, and no one will care, which puts me in perspective,” he said. “Either I am mobilized and put in something like a prison, where you have no rights, just obligations, or I stay here, where I still have a lot of problems and problems, but I am free. “

With Russian casualties continuing to mount and troops inevitably requiring rotation, there is no doubt that additional reinforcements will be needed.

“For how long the hundreds of thousands of mobilized servicemen were sent to the armed forces, it is not known,” wrote Pavel Chikov, a lawyer at Agora, a human rights group, on Telegram. “Sooner or later…either through death, injury and other reasons, their places will have to be filled with recruits.”

A 24-year-old financial consultant from Moscow was a key target for enlistment officers because of his previous service as a special ops soldier, and they worked hard to track him down, he told the Post. .

First, the door to the apartment at its declared address – all Russians are required to register with the authorities – was covered with draft notices. The financial adviser, who lives elsewhere, never picked them up.

Then the local police station sent a notice to his office. Under Russian law, employers are obliged to hand them over to staff, or face heavy fines. Instead, his company fired him on paper but allowed him to work remotely in an unofficial capacity.

A few days before the supposed end of the mobilization, military recruiters came to the apartment with a police escort and questioned the tenants who lived there to find out the whereabouts of the ex-soldier.

From the start of the mobilization, the financial adviser, a graduate of a naval academy, declared that he knew that he would be summoned. “I wore the uniform for six years,” he said. “So I’ve already prepared for that.”

When Putin issued the degree, his family wanted him to flee to Kazakhstan, but he refused to go, fearing he would be arrested at the border or worse – branded a deserter. His former military colleagues were also bombarded with notices.

But the consultant said he was not ready to fight and die in unnecessary conflict.

“I think it’s absolutely not my war and I have no business there,” he said. “Knowing the mechanics of the military, it’s horrible to realize how many civilians are dying.” He added: “Politically, I don’t even get involved there and I don’t even want to know why they are fighting there. But on a personal and moral level, I don’t want that to happen.

He hid in a dacha, or country house, then went through several apartments of friends in the Moscow region. “I avoided all public transport,” he said. “I refused to go to the office for any reason, and you wouldn’t see me in public places.” After Putin declared the mobilization over, the consultant returned to his rented apartment but still kept a low profile.

A 40-year-old music producer in Moscow, who had military training at university, also saw enlistment officers knocking repeatedly on the door of an apartment he owns but rents.

“I’m against war, I’ve never hit anyone in my life,” the producer said, sitting in a dimly lit room in his music studio adorned with Soviet paraphernalia. “When problems are solved by violence, it is the most primitive way, a return to the animal state.”

The producer drifted away from his wife and children and spent nights on a sofa in the studio, shaken after hearing that his friend, also in hiding, had received a notice from the police who stopped his car.

Most of the producer’s friends left Russia, and his wife begged him to do the same, even threatening divorce. But he refused, saying he would not let Putin “roll” the life he has built in Moscow.

“I never held back Russia, I always considered myself a man of the world,” the producer said. “But when the war started, it kind of reversed my thought process. … I decided not to run away. I’m a full resident of this country and because someone derailed, it does not mean that I have to abandon my home, my convictions and my work.

He continues to live “outside the system” – avoiding the subway, crossing the street if he sees someone in uniform and most importantly keeping his phone turned off to avoid being tracked. “I think you have to choose a maximum security strategy if you’ve decided to stay here,” he said. “The situation may get worse. Rumor has it there will be a second wave of enlistment, then maybe a third.

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