Partial Mobilization: Twelve Stories

What can we do in the face of conscription? What does “patriotic duty” mean in a country waging a criminal war? Remarks from six Russian men and women about their choices and their ideas of patriotism

Leonid, IT professional, 31 y.o. :

I have been against the war from the beginning but have not actively promoted my ideas. I haven’t been going to rallies or writing posts on social networks. I could always tell friends and relatives my point of view, but it was humanist, rather than political. I am convinced that military conflict as such is a crime against humanity.

I don’t find the justifications for this war, such as border protection, convincing. In deeper political and historical discussions, some arguments are hard to disagree with: NATO, America, their invasions of different countries. But we were the ones who invaded a sovereign state, manipulated the facts, and violated the collective treaty under which its borders were fixed and confirmed. In essence, we are commiting a crime.

I have served in the army, I have my military identification card, and I could be called up in the first wave of mobilization. I have not yet received call-up papers, but I am well aware that they can come at any time. I have left the country and don’t plan to return soon. The first thing I will try to do is to get legal status for residence, and rent an apartment.

I regret that I did not leave earlier, because it was easy to understand where things were going: we were losing at the front, we had to solve our problems somehow, and we were not going to change our goals. … Five minutes after Putin announced the mobilization, I was already booking a plane ticket. After that, I spent the day in information agony. There was a feeling that the borders could be closed at any moment. Crossing the border also seemed risky, because I could have received call-up papers there. Now lawyers and human rights activists are trying to explain the procedures to people, but in those first hours there was complete chaos. I departed with only one backpack. It was the most challenging night of my life.

Only now, I’m beginning to think clearly and look at things without panicking. No one understands what’s going on: people can be restricted from leaving at any moment. One must realize that we live in an unlawful state, which is the worst thing. Even if you do everything according to the law, it means nothing.

I don’t think the authorities have a clear plan. Russia doesn’t want to resolve the conflict peacefully and not on its terms. Neither do Ukraine and the West, which supports it. Therefore, the situation will unfold further. How much resources it will take from the Russian authorities, to continue to act according to their interests, depends on the reaction of Ukraine and the West. We can not predict any of this. I’m sure we should not suppose the authorities just needed the draft for this particular moment, and that the situation is not going to deteriorate.

I think there is nothing patriotic about going to this war. I understand patriotism as love for your homeland, your country. It’s when you wish it a promising future, when you want to live and raise your children in it. If you think the way the authorities do, then going to war might be a patriotic action for you. If your understanding of patriotism is similar to mine, then, on the contrary, going to war is acting against your homeland.

Svetlana, interior designer, 57 y.o.:

I have a very hostile attitude towards the war in Ukraine. I have always stated my position openly. I went to anti-war rallies in spring. I believe Ukraine is an independent state, and there can be no justification for aggression against it. Since the start of the war, I have not shied away from open conversations; on the contrary, I think it is essential to start them. For example, I went to the local Council of Deputies. In March, seven out of the ten members signed an appeal supporting the president’s actions. I asked them: “Who among the deputies will volunteer for the war?” And when they told me that none of them were going to, I spoke about it in all the neighbors’ chats in the district.

I came from a military family; my mother worked at a gunpowder factory, and my father worked in military construction. I lived in military towns. My brother was also an engineer in the army. After that, he couldn’t work as a civilian, and I witnessed the tragedy of that man. After so many years of obeying orders, he could no longer take responsibility for his own actions. I am against the new circle of militarization we are now entering because it will be tough to crawl out of. For these militarized men to return to a normal life, where they need to take the initiative and responsibility, will be very hard. We will lose a whole generation again.

The announcement of mobilization directly affected my family. I have three children. My middle son served in the army in the missile corps.The first morning after the announcement, someone rang our doorbell and told me that they had brought call-up papers for him. I didn’t open the door. My son is away from home for now, but is inside the country. My elder daughter was returning from Georgia with her husband. They learned about mobilization when they were ten kilometers away from the Russian border, so they turned around and went to Tbilisi. My youngest son is 17 and a half years old; in six months, he will be liable for military service, which worries me a lot. I brought up my children so they understood that you couldn’t just kill people. We have always believed that protecting our borders is necessary, but attacking other countries is unacceptable.

I went to a protest with a relative of mine, who is also a mother. We clapped and shouted “No War”. However, I understand that peaceful rallies have been going on for a decade but are now ineffective. I don’t know how to influence the authorities, except by speaking out on social media and making my position known to others.

Since the announcement of mobilization, I have not noticed people changing their views on the war. Those who stand under the shower of TV propaganda continue to hold on to their positions. I was talking to a neighbor, and she said that two of her boys received call-up papers, and went to the military registration office without trying to avoid conscription. To be honest, I don’t see any progress in their minds. Yes, I have read that people are watching TV less, but how on earth people can listen to this aggression all the time, I don’t know.

When Mstislav Rostropovich was in exile, and was asked about his feelings towards his homeland, he said: “I haven’t paid for the blankets yet.” He meant the blankets he was covered with in the train carriage during the war, when he was a child, which saved him from freezing to death. I believe that patriotism is the need to give back to fellow citizens who do you good. To be patriotic means to be of service to the people who have given me a lot, the elderly among them, and to the professional community. I certainly do not see patriotism as military intervention in neighboring states. The goals of this war are incomprehensible to me. What the authorities are now calling for is criminal.

Petr, student, 21 y.o.

I’ve always been against this war, and I went out to protest right away [the first day of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine]. I help the protesters as a volunteer for OVD-Info. Every day I stream the news and talk about the war on Instagram. I believe this war is unjust; it shouldn’t be happening.

I have a military identification card, category “B”, which means that I am not eligible for call-up in peacetime. Besides, I am a student, and according to Putin’s decree published yesterday, students are not drafted [for the period of their study], but again there is no reason to trust him. Perhaps, this leaves me more time to flee, although at the moment I’m no longer sure I would be able to do it. My family members don’t know what to do either. I have a father and two brothers. The risks for me are unclear, as they are for everybody.

I will try to dodge the draft in every possible way. I’ve just submitted an application for alternative civilian service, so that when I get a draft notice, I could send it to appropriate organizations [draft board, draft officers, etc.], seeking to slow down the process and gain some time. My actual address differs from the one officially stated as a place of permanent residence, so the police may or may not know where I currently live. I’m trying to find a way to study online, and not to attend the university, because that’s the place where I’m most obviously supposed to be found. It’s quite difficult for me to flee right away, but if there are opportunities in future, I’ll leave.

I didn’t believe that the mobilization would be announced in such an explicit, open way. It was shocking. Paradoxically, I’m now in such absurdly high spirits, because, like at the beginning of the invasion, I feel that every action I take matters, even if it’s just a small step. Of course, everyone I know feels miserable and doesn’t know what to do. There are some people, including my classmates, who really believe that mobilization won’t affect them — they think that 300,000 people will be drafted and that’s all, and there’s no reason to panic. I do not understand how people can think this way, after all the lies the state has fed us for six months. At the same time, I haven’t not yet encountered anyone willing to go to war, thank God.

I do not believe that serving the state as it is now could be called patriotism. Perhaps patriotism — although I wouldn’t use that word myself — is someone’s love for their native land. I don’t feel this way about Moscow, because it is a city that has been continuously adapted for the needs of the authorities. There are CCTV cameras on every other block. Everything has been set up to catch those who protest, and constrain public spaces. As for other cities or national republics, patriotism probably seems to be more relevant, but this patriotism does not mean that one has to show up at the military commissariat. Patriotism could be manifested in the form of protest, when you go and defend your native land and its people from the authorities herding these people to the slaughter.