“I have no idea why they took him,” said Alexei, who, like dozens of others in the office complex, was arrested and taken to the nearest military recruitment office, as part of a new harsh phase in the Russian campaign.
In cities and towns across Russia, men of fighting age are hiding to avoid officials who seize them and send them to fight in Ukraine.
In recent days press gangs and the military police have kidnapped the men from the streets and outside metro stations. They hid in the lobbies of apartment buildings to hand out military summons. They raided office buildings and hostels. They overran cafes and restaurants and blocked exits.
In a pre-dawn sweep of construction company MIPSTROY1’s dormitories on Thursday, they took more than 200 men. On Sunday, they detained dozens at a Moscow shelter for the homeless.
The press gangs seem to come down at random. It’s terrifying — and, at times, comically random. Alexey, a 30-year-old pacifist, lives with his cat, and until his arrival in Russia he enjoyed hanging out with friends in bars, cafes and parks, going to concerts and planning an upcoming vacation in Europe. (He and others spoke in this report on the condition that his last name be withheld out of fear for his safety. The Washington Post confirmed the raid, but could not independently verify the details he provided.)
An official stormed Alexei’s office on Tuesday. Two police officers and several military officials arrived in civilian clothes and demanded proof of his identity. He said they ordered him to go with them quietly, “otherwise we will use force.”
“I was panicking,” he said. I have not been arrested before. Everyone knows that if you are detained by the police in Russia, it is very bad. ”
suffering Huge military losses and repeated defeats in Ukraine, Russia began to dismantle its male population. Commentators on state television are demanding more Ukrainian blood and more sacrifices from the Russian men who say they are used to living thin.
But the new phase of Putin’s mobilization risks undermining the Russians’ tacit support for the war and even his artificial popularity — and could spark social unrest. Especially in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the major cities hitherto largely untouched by the war.
Reports from neighboring countries indicate that more than 300,000 Russian men and their families have fled Russia since the mobilization. The authorities set up mobilization points at border crossings to prevent departures. Many others want to leave after seeing them Aggressive police raids and first reports of new recruits dying in the war.
Activist Grigory Sverdlin, who has left Russia and is based in Georgia, this month launched an organization, Go By The Forest, to advise men in Russia on avoiding conscription. He said the group consulted 2,700 men in 11 days and told 60 recruited men how to surrender in Ukraine. He said at least eight succeeded.
“People are obviously very stressed because they are worried that they will be pushed to shoot other people,” Sverdlin said. “So people are not only afraid for themselves, they are afraid to participate in this unjust war.”
Yevgeny, 24, quit his job as a mechanic and is hiding in a nearby house away from Moscow. He has deleted his social media profiles and cut off contact with friends. He spends his days working in the garden, sleeps early and watches a lot of YouTube.
He said, “I don’t want to kill people, I don’t want to kill, so I have to flop right now.” “But even here, I don’t feel safe. We live in a time when your neighbors can report you. They might call the police and say there is a young man staying in this house while he should fight fascists in Ukraine.”
Yevgeny never supported the war. Now he stopped driving for fear of being stopped by the police. He cannot leave Russia, because he does not have a passport, and even going to the store in the small village is quite risky.
“I am panicking and my mother is very nervous,” he said. “I am nervous and depressed. I try not to think how long this could go on, because you could go crazy.”
Two of his friends are in a worse situation. They were enlisted late last month, he said, and are on their way to the front with little training.
“I have two friends who supported the war thinking that there are Nazis killing poor Ukrainians and that Ukrainians should be liberated and so on. But they change their minds after mobilizing. They start asking questions and surfing the Internet for information,” said Yevgeny.
“They don’t want to die, especially when you don’t understand why you should die,” he said. “what is the point?”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that 222,000 of the 300,000 targets had been recruited and that the operation would be completed within two weeks. Hardliners in favor of the war insist that a second round is needed.
The raids in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were fiercely controversial, in part because cities suffered relatively few casualties in Ukraine. Smaller ethnic groups and low-educated men from poor rural areas bear the brunt of the fighting largely.
Indicating the government’s fear of a growing urban backlash to the raids, Andrei Klichas, a senior member of Putin’s United Russia party, said on Friday that the conscription campaigns were illegal.
“It is not acceptable to take everyone in the street at random,” he said.
Anti-war sentiment could rise as the bodies of soldiers deployed only weeks earlier begin to return home for burial. 29-year-old Alexei Martynov, head of a Moscow government department, was mobilized on September 23 and killed on October 10. He was buried last week. Authorities in Chelyabinsk reported that five soldiers from the Southern Urals, mobilized on September 26 and 29, were killed in Ukraine in early October.
A companion of Chelyabinsk men who survived a crushing Ukrainian attack called a friend and described what had happened, according to the transcript of a phone call published by Russia’s BBC News. He said he did not receive any training. When he fled, he said, bodies were lying everywhere.
“We got there on the first day, we never fired a bullet, and they sent us, like meat, straight into an assault unit, with two grenade launchers. I at least read the instructions on how to use them.” By the third day, the soldier and his comrades were in trenches on the front lines.
Videos appear on Russian social media almost daily of enraged soldiers who were not given proper uniforms, weapons, training or accommodation. Testimonies about sending men who should be excused to fight are common. Alexey Sachkov, a 45-year-old Moscow doctor, signed a contract to treat wounded soldiers in Voronezh, Russia, near the border with Ukraine. He stopped calling his wife, Natalia, on September 24. She learned from the hotline of the Russian army a week later that he was fighting in Ukraine as part of a tank unit, she said in a video posted on the Internet.
As anxiety grows, men of military service age are being pushed back to the border while trying to leave the country. In March, weeks after Putin launched the invasion, he promised there would be no mobilization. But last month he frustrated tacit assurances that the conflict would only be fought by professional soldiers in exchange for the war’s passive Russian public acceptance. Spreading anger over Putin’s September 21 announcement suggests that public support for the war is lower than the Kremlin claims.
“It is the suffering of the regime, because the prevailing opinion in Russia now is that this war is lost,” Sverdlin said. Just giving subpoenas, arresting several thousand people and sending them to war, it just seems that this system is gaining more time. But it is just buying time, because it is clear that those people who are caught in the streets now will not become good soldiers because they do not know how to fight.”
As the backlash intensifies, some Russians are confronting the authorities and recording videos. A woman chastised a team in the lobby of her St. Petersburg apartment building. A Russian truck driver posted a video of him confronting a police officer and military recruiting official who tried to take him to the recruiting office.
“I don’t give a damn about your packing. You’re the qualified person, not me. You have a gun after all, not me. Why don’t you go packing yourself?”
The police officer tried to write a charge to claim the driver’s documents.
I don’t give you my documents. Why do I have to? The truck driver said, “If you failed to establish order in your country, why would you do it in another? and how? Once completely destroyed? “
He said that in the noisy bustle of the military enlistment office where Alexei ended up, many men were angry, some were angry and others shrank in their own hands. Lined up in line one after another, they were forced to sign the military summons, present their documents and undergo a medical examination. Many office workers were grabbed on the street. A couple of “strangers” tell Alexei that they are volunteers and are looking for an exciting lifestyle change.
He was shocked at the number of men who meekly wore the army uniforms that had been handed to them and allowed to be taken, seemingly straight to the training bases. Among them was one of his co-workers.
He said: “I saw men lost and confused, and at the same time they were very weak.” They did not want to fight for themselves. They were given papers and they all signed them obediently. They were not focused. They stared into space as if they had given up.”
For Alexei, threats and deception continued for hours as officials pressured him to sign the military summons. to reject. The police were called. that they He did not take any action, but the police guard at the door did not allow him to leave.
Watch the lines of nervous men. The drunk city worker was in a deep sleep. A member of the Russian Guards Special Police threw a tantrum about trying to recruit him.
Alexei contacted a lawyer. He entered the military commissioner’s office and filmed him on his mobile phone, demanding to know the legal basis for his detention.
“He got so angry and yelled at me to leave his office.” At eight in the evening, he was finally allowed to leave. Now he wants to leave Russia but fears he might be conscripted at the border.
“I want to wait until this is over, somewhere safe.”