More Russian men are seeking to avoid military service, some lawyers and rights groups say



LONDON, July 8 (Reuters) – Danila Davydov said he left Russia weeks after the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine because he feared he would have to fight a war he did not support.

The 22-year-old digital artist who lived in St Petersburg said that as the conflict dragged on he feared Russia was pressuring young people like him to serve in the military.

“I didn’t want to go to war or go to jail, so I decided to leave,” Davydov told Reuters from Kazakhstan, where he said he was currently working.

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He is part of what some lawyers and rights advocates say is an increased number of young Russian men seeking to avoid the country’s compulsory military service since the conflict with Ukraine began in late February, illustrating the ambivalence in Russian society. in the face of conflict.

Some young men are leaving the country while others are seeking advice on obtaining exemptions or alternatives, or simply ignoring their summons in the hope authorities won’t prosecute them, according to Reuters interviews with seven men seeking currently avoiding serving in the military. as well as five lawyers and advocates.

And this despite the risk of fines or up to two years in prison – in a country where military service is compulsory for young men between the ages of 18 and 27. service is a young man’s duty.

Davydov said he was able to withdraw from the military service register and leave the country because he had a job offer abroad. He wants to go home one day, he said, but laments that it won’t be anytime soon: “I love Russia and miss it a lot.”

The Kremlin referred questions to the Defense Ministry, which did not respond to a request for comment on the extent of the draft avoidance and its impact on the functioning of the Russian armed forces. The ministry, on its website, states that “service in the army and navy is the honorable duty of a Russian citizen which confers considerable benefits in the future”.

Moscow says it is carrying out a special military operation and that it is going as planned. Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed those who fight for Russia as “heroes” who save Russian speakers from persecution and foil what he says is a Western plan to destroy Russia. In March, he called “traitors” those Russians whose thoughts were more in tune with the West than with Russia. Read more

On February 24, Russia sent thousands of troops to Ukraine, embarking on the largest ground invasion of Europe since World War II. Following the withdrawal of Russian troops from near Kyiv, the war slowed to a fierce artillery contest, with Moscow concentrating on taking territory in eastern Ukraine.

Putin is betting on a professional army which, according to the West, suffered major losses during the war. If the military cannot recruit enough contract soldiers, Putin’s options would be to use conscripts, mobilize Russian society, or scale back his ambitions.

Although Putin has repeatedly publicly stated that conscripts should not fight in the Ukraine conflict, the Defense Ministry said in early March that some had already done so. Last month, a military prosecutor told the upper house of parliament that around 600 conscripts had been drawn into the conflict and a dozen officers had been disciplined as a result. Read more

Ukraine has imposed martial law: men between the ages of 18 and 60 are banned from leaving the country. Kyiv says it will fight to the bitter end against what it presents as an unprovoked imperial-style land grab.


Ever since Peter the Great transformed Russia into a major European power, its rulers have often relied on conscription as part of Russia’s vast army, one of the greatest fighting forces in the world. Men of military age must serve one year as a conscript. Russia calls about 260,000 a year in a biannual draft. Russia’s combined armed forces total around 900,000, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Read more

Avoiding the draft is a well-established practice, including through legitimate avenues like postponing service while studying and claiming medical exemptions. But recent months have seen an increase in the number of young men seeking help on how to do so, according to four lawyers and rights groups that offer advice and legal aid to these young men. According to two of them, it came mainly from people living in big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

A group that provides free legal advice called Release is co-led by Dmitry Lutsenko, a Russian now living in Cyprus. He said the membership of a public Telegram group for those seeking advice on how to avoid conscription that the group runs has risen to more than 1,000 people from about 200 before the conflict.

Another advocacy group, called Citizen. Army. Law, focuses on advising people who seek alternative types of military service, which involves working in a state-run organization like a hospital instead of the military. The group said it saw a tenfold increase in the number of people requesting alternative service to more than 400 this year, from around 40 in the equivalent period last year. “A lot of people are scared. They don’t want to join a fighting army,” said Sergei Krivenko, who heads the organization.

Lawyer Denis Koksharov, president of the legal association Prizyvnik, said that at the start of the conflict he saw an increase of around 50% in the number of people seeking advice to avoid military service, without specifying the figures. . He added that the number of applications has since declined and that more recently the organization has seen an increase in the number of young men wanting to volunteer to fight.

Koksharov attributed the fluctuation to people getting used to the current situation and an increase in people “displaying patriotism”.


Fyodor Strelin, a 27-year-old from St Petersburg, said he protested the war in the aftermath of the invasion but decided to leave Russia in late February.

Now in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Strelin said he previously avoided the project after being granted an exemption last year due to his nearsightedness, but chose to leave Russia due to a mobilization general. “I miss my home and right now I feel like I’ve lost my place in life,” he said.

Some young men who have been called up for military service are ignoring the call in hopes that authorities will secure sufficient turnout elsewhere, according to six of the young men, lawyers and rights activists Reuters spoke to.

Kirill, a 26-year-old man from southern Russia who works in technology, said he received a summons in April followed by a phone call in May asking him to go for a medical examination, but did not did not respond because he does not support Russia’s operation in Ukraine.

This has caused tension with some family members and friends who support the war and think everyone should do their service, said Kirill, who asked that his last name not be used. “Ukrainians are like brothers. I know a lot of people in the country and I cannot support these actions,” he added.

In June, police came to his home while he was out and asked his mother why he was avoiding military service, according to Kirill. Reuters was unable to corroborate Kirill’s account. Reuters tried to reach the Russian Interior Ministry’s media relations office. The person who answered the phone provided another number which went unanswered several times. Reuters also emailed but received an automated response saying it was undeliverable.


Kyiv and its Western allies estimate that Russia lost at least as many men as the 15,000 Soviets killed in the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-89. Moscow has not updated its official casualty figure since late March, when it said 1,351 Russian soldiers had been killed and thousands more injured since the start of the military campaign in Ukraine.

There are signs that Russia is looking for more men to fight. In May, Putin signed a law removing the upper age limit of 40 for people wishing to enlist in the Russian army. Lawmakers at the time said the change was aimed at attracting experienced people who specialized in areas such as advanced military equipment and engineering.

A Russian man in his 30s, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters he had been summoned by telephone to report to a military office on the pretext of clarifying some personal details. While there, he was questioned by an unidentified man in military uniform about his previous military service and offered him 300,000 rubles ($5,000) a month if he would commit to fighting in Ukraine, he said. he declares.

Reuters was unable to independently verify his account.

The man said he declined the offer because he was not a professional soldier and had never fired a shot since leaving service.

“What use is 300,000 rubles to a dead person?” he said.

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Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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