Since Russian President Putin announced a “partial” mobilization on September 21 in hopes of reversing the disastrous course of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, more than 200,000 men are estimated to have fled Russia, mostly to neighboring countries such as Kazakhstan. , Georgia and Mongolia. Other Russians are trying to stay out of the hands of the recruiting officers in their own country. And there are also those who volunteer for the fight. NRC spoke to some of them. Konstantin (42), Moscow: ‘We are being cornered, but fleeing is not an option’ “I have never served and have no military training. I’m 42 years old and my job in the military doesn’t help much either. I am a biologist and have a part-time job as a network administrator. Officially I shouldn’t be covered by the mobilization, but I still got a service call delivered to the address where I’m registered. Luckily I live elsewhere in a rented apartment. “Running is not an option. I have three children [exemption applies from four children] and financial obligations. Fortunately, I have not yet received the call in person, as required by law. But it’s a cat-and-mouse game. So if that does happen, I’ll have to go into hiding and sell everything to survive financially for about six months. That Putin said last week that the mobilization was carried out sloppily and mistakes must be corrected does not reassure me. It’s just propaganda. Every Russian knows: if the authorities say it will be okay, it will only get worse. “I have participated in almost all anti-government demonstrations since 2011, and I was arrested last year. Even if the danger seems inevitable, there are always alternatives. And I don’t want to give up everything just out of fear. We are being cornered. Everyone is in shock, but not everyone is sedated. We do everything we can to help each other.” A Russian soldier addresses mobilized reservists in the city of Volzhsky, in the Volgograd region. Photo Reuters Anna Zuyeva (35), Ulan-Ude (Buryatia): ‘Even the dead have received calls’ “The authorities in Buryatia were in great haste with the mobilization, they took everyone with them. The night of September 21 to 22 was terrible, men were arrested everywhere. Nobody was prepared, nobody knew that he could refuse. In this way they have entrapped a lot of men in villages, but also in shopping centers and other places they just wrote out calls. Students were also taken, they were simply taken out of class. Even the dead have sent them calls. A resident here received a call for her husband, who has been dead for two years. [Apologies were made for the error.] “But here in Buryatia, many men support the ‘special operation’, as we legally have to call it. Of course, they don’t go out of enthusiasm, but they don’t try to escape it either. They have nothing and often have to gather their own equipment. Some get drunk and report to the recruitment office in dirty clothes. That says something about their fear and low willingness to fight. Also read Poverty and patriotism drives Siberian soldiers to Ukraine “No questions are asked about how society should move forward. Who’s going to take care of our sick, who’s going to teach our kids when all the doctors and teachers are sent to the front? My friends have almost all fled, they are all pacifists and don’t want to fight for something they don’t believe in. Two went to Ulaanbaatar via the border with Mongolia, which is only forty kilometers from here. In total, hundreds of people have crossed the border there. The organization Free Buryatia helps them to come to Mongolia, because not everyone has money just like that.” Oleg Klimov (58), Kaliningrad: ‘My son just got out of the dance’ “Many men in our village have received a call. The atmosphere is gloomy, the streets are empty. Some let themselves be carried away like zombies, others hide. And some get drunk. I am 58 and run a small hotel. I have served in the military and know that methods have not changed since the [Soviet] war in Afghanistan. When I was a student, all students had to undergo a military medical examination every six months. Such a committee once sent me to the army. I was eighteen, they accused me of having long hair and wearing wide-leg jeans and of being ashamed of my contemporaries in Afghanistan giving their lives. “In the end I went, I didn’t say no either. I didn’t end up in Afghanistan, but with a missile division. After the army I went back to university, but I had lost interest. I became a news photographer and again ended up in all kinds of wars that broke out in the former USSR and Eastern Europe and later Chechnya. I saw how the Russian army worked. War destroys the world around you, but also your inner world. I also had a lot of trouble with the fact that life in the big cities went on as usual, while people were dying. “My son turned eighteen during the second Chechen war and I was terrified that he would also be sent to the army. I secured an exemption for his bad eyesight. For that I had to pay the doctors and the army a lot of money, but it was worth it. He is now 34 and lives in Saint Petersburg. Men of that age are in high demand in the military, even without military experience. My son only knows soldiers from YouTube. After the mobilization announcement, he couldn’t sleep anymore, he was in a panic. He eventually left for Kazakhstan, via Omsk in Siberia to Astana. He just got out of the dance. Men who do not get away are now trying to escape through Belarus, but that is dangerous because Belarusian President Lukashenko is sending them back.” Konstantin Ilin (37) and Roman Matvejev (36) from Moscow, fled to Uzbekistan: ‘My parents think we’ll be coming home soon’ “We have zero experience with the army, but they are calling everyone and the mobilization is a complete chaos, so that is no guarantee at all. We knew we had to flee, especially when we heard about the referendum in the Donbas and that the borders could be closed. We don’t want to fight, we’ve always been against the war. At Roman’s work, 51 employees were mobilized in one day. He immediately resigned. We bought tickets for Samarkand in Uzbekistan. The living is cheaper, the people are friendly and speak Russian. At the airport we got questions, but we were just let through. The officer smiled a little, it feels like he saved our lives. Also read Chaos in Russia after mobilization: men with call-up letters and long lines for borders “We were very stressed before we left. We had to leave everything behind and say goodbye to our family. The shock is so great that we don’t really realize how big the impact of all this is yet. We have no hope of returning, in Russia we can no longer breathe. A sick man with a sick plan pulls the strings in Russia. If you talk openly about Ukraine, you risk up to 15 years in prison. There is total lawlessness. Our parents don’t understand. They support us, but also think that we are wasting money on an ‘adventure’ and that we will be home soon. “We will stay in Samarkand for a month so that we can open an account and get to our Russian bank account. We have cash, but it’s running out and rents have skyrocketed here. We want to go to Europe, Germany or Austria maybe. And we want to get married. We’ve wanted that for a long time, but in Russia it’s impossible. Also because of our orientation we are not safe there. More repressive laws against gays have recently been passed. If you’re openly gay and live together like us, you risk big trouble.” Russian reservists say goodbye to their families in Bataysk, near the city of Rostov. Photo Arkady Budnitsky/EPA Aleksandr Vladikavkaz (39), North Ossetia: ‘We know death. we are not afraid’ “All over North Ossetia people have received military calls. Of course they report, what else? A few acquaintances have already started their military training, but I don’t know how they are doing now. “In our region there is no panic, no one fleeing. In the rows further down here on the border with Georgia, 98 percent are Russians from other regions. I don’t understand why they want to leave. The Ossetian people have participated in military operations on several occasions in the past. The men are not afraid, for they know very well how to handle weapons. In Russia, the men learn that one day they must take up arms to protect their homeland. The homeland is your family, your children and your parents. Ukraine felt far away for the people here, it was none of our business. But now it’s getting serious. It is clear that NATO and the US are stirring things up. It is no longer a battle between Russians and Ukrainians, but much bigger. “I have a family and I don’t want anything to happen to them. My children are small, what if they grow up without a father? And what if the Ukrainians invade our country, like the fascists in the Second World War? They can lock up our women, or worse. If the choice is between fighting fascism now or waiting for the consequences, then it is better to fight now. Of course the women are panicking, but women just think differently. I know men who have fought in Chechnya, in Syria in counter-terror operations in Dagestan. We know death. We are not afraid.” A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 4, 2022