Danila Daavydov stated that he fled Russia within weeks of the Kremlin sending troops to Ukraine. He feared being forced into fighting in a war he does not support.
A 22-year-old digital artist, who was living in St Petersburg, said that Russia was putting pressure on him and other young people to join the military as the conflict drags on.
Davydov said that he didn’t want his country to go to war, or to prison, and that he decided to leave. He spoke from Kazakhstan, where he is currently working.
According to rights advocates and lawyers, he is one of many young Russian men who are seeking to avoid mandatory military service in Russia since February’s conflict with Ukraine. This is a sign of the Russian society’s ambivalence towards the conflict.
According to Reuters interviews, some young men are fleeing the country, while others seek advice on obtaining exemptions and other avenues. Others ignore their summonses in the hope that authorities won’t pursue them.
This is despite the possibility of being fined or even sentenced to up to two years imprisonment in a country that requires military service for young men between 18 and 27. One man said to Reuters that refusing fights has caused tensions with his family who feel military service is a young man’s duty.
Davydov stated that he was able take himself off the military service registry and leave the country due to a job offer overseas. Davydov said he would like to be able to return home someday, but he regrets that it might not happen soon. “I love Russia, and miss it very deeply.”
The Kremlin asked questions of the defense ministry. They didn’t respond when I requested comment on draft avoidance and how it affects the Russian armed forces. According to the ministry’s website, “service in the navy and army is an honorable duty that confers significant advantages in the future.”
Moscow claims it is carrying out a special military operation, and it is progressing as planned. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called those who defend Russia heroes. He said they are preventing Russian-speakers being persecuted and stopping a Western plot to destroy Russia. He described Russians who thought more like the West than Russia in March as “traitors.”
Russia sent thousands to Ukraine on February 24, embarking upon Europe’s largest ground invasion since World War Two. The war with Russia has been reduced to an artillery battle between Moscow and Kyiv. This was in response to Russia’s withdrawal from the area of Kyiv.
Putin is betting on a professional military that has suffered significant losses during the war, according to the West. Putin could use conscripts, mobilize Russian society, or scale back his ambitions if the army is unable to recruit enough contract soldiers.
While Putin has stated repeatedly that conscripts shouldn’t fight in the Ukraine conflict but the defense ministry said in March that some had. A military prosecutor revealed to the parliament last month that 600 conscripts were drawn into the conflict, and that approximately a dozen officers were disciplined.
Ukraine has implemented martial law. Men aged 18-60 are prohibited from leaving the country. Kyiv declares it will fight until the end against unprovoked imperial land grabs.
Russia has been a major European power since Peter the Great made Russia a powerful nation. Russia’s rulers have relied heavily on conscription to maintain their vast military, which is one of the largest fighting forces in the world. Conscription is a one-year service for men of military age. Russia drafts approximately 260,000 men each year in a twice-yearly process. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Russia’s combined armed forces number around 900,000.
It is well-known that you can avoid the draft. This includes legitimate options like deferring your service, studying and claiming medical exemptions. Four lawyers and rights advocacy groups offer legal advice to young men, and have noticed an increase in the number of them seeking assistance. Two of them said that this was mostly from people living in large cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg.
Dmitry Lutsenko (a Russian living in Cyprus) is the co-director of Release, which provides legal advice for free. According to him, the number of people who have joined a Telegram group that provides advice on how to avoid conscription has risen to over 1,000 from 200 before the conflict.
According to the group, it has seen a ten-fold increase in people asking for alternative service. This is compared to 40 last year. Many people are afraid. Sergei Krivenko who is the head of the organisation, stated that they don’t want them to join an army that is fighting.
Denis Koksharov (chairman of the Prizyvnik legal organization) stated that he saw a roughly 50% rise in people seeking advice about avoiding military service during the conflict. He did not specify the numbers. The number of requests has declined since then, and the organisation has recently seen an increase in the number young men who want to fight.
Koksharov said that the fluctuations were due to people getting used to the current environment and an increase of people “displaying patriotism.”
Fyodor Strelin (27-year-old St Petersburg native) said that he had protested against war in the immediate aftermath, but decided to leave Russia in February.
Strelin, now in Tbilisi the capital of Georgia, said that he previously avoided the draft due to his shortsightedness. However, he chose to leave Russia because he was concerned about general mobilization. He said, “I miss home and for now, I feel like I have lost my place in my life.”
According to six young lawyers, rights advocates, and men who were summoned to military service, some young men are refusing to answer the call.
Kirill, a 26 year-old Russian technology worker, stated that he was sent a conscription summons and then a call asking him to attend a medical. He hasn’t responded as he doesn’t support Russia’s operations in Ukraine.
This has created tension with some relatives and friends who support the war and believe that everyone should serve their country, stated Kirill, who requested his surname not to be used. “The Ukrainian people are like brothers. He said that he knows many people in Ukraine and couldn’t support such actions.
According to Kirill, police visited Kirill’s home in June while he was away and asked his mother why her son was not serving his military service. Reuters was unable to confirm Kirill’s story. Reuters tried to reach the Russian interior ministry’s media relations office. Another number was provided by the person who answered the phone, but it went unanswered after multiple attempts. Reuters also sent an electronic mail, but was not answered by an automated system.
According to Western allies and Kyiv, Russia has lost as many soldiers as the 15,000 Soviets who died in the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989. Moscow has not updated its official casualty figures since March, when it stated that 1,351 Russian soldiers were killed and thousands more had been injured since the beginning of the military campaign against Ukraine.
Russia appears to be looking for more combatants. Putin signed a law in May that lifted the 40-year-old age limit for those who wanted to join the Russian military. The change was made to attract people who are skilled in engineering and advanced military equipment.
A Russian man in his 30s told Reuters that he was called by telephone to report to a military station to clarify some personal details. He was asked about his military service by an unidentified male in military clothes. He was offered $300,000 roubles ($5,000 per month) if he signed up for the fight in Ukraine.
Reuters could not independently verify the account.
He said that he had declined the offer as he wasn’t a professional soldier and hadn’t fired a shot since his service.
He said: “What good is 300,000 rubles to a man who’s dead?”
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