A day after President Vladimir Putin announced a draft that could bring 300,000 civilians into military service, thousands of Russians across the country received draft papers on Thursday, and some were marched to buses and planes for training — and perhaps a trip into military service soon Frontlines in Ukraine.
According to interviews, Russian news reports and social media posts, Putin’s escalation in the war effort resonated across the country. As the day wore on, it became increasingly clear that Putin’s decision had ripped open the cocoon that protected much of Russian society from their leader’s invasion of a neighbor.
Mothers, wives and children bade a tearful farewell in remote regions as officials — in some cases ordinary schoolteachers — delivered draft notices to homes and apartment blocks. In mountainous eastern Siberia, Russian news media reported, school buses were confiscated to take troops to training grounds.
Russian officials said conscription was limited to those with combat experience. But the net seemed wider, and some men decided it was best to push the envelope.
Yanina Nimayeva, a journalist from the Buryatia region of Siberia, said her husband, a father of five and an emergency room worker in the region’s capital, was inexplicably called up. She said he received a summons to an urgent meeting at 4 a.m. where it was announced that a train had been organized to take men to the city of Chita.
“My husband is 38 years old, he is not in the reserve, he did not serve,” Nimayeva said in a video addressed to regional officials.
Despite the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent, protests erupted across Russia on Wednesday night in response to Putin’s move, with at least 1,312 people arrested, according to human rights organization OVD-Info. More protests were reported Thursday, including in Dagestan, an impoverished southern Russian region, where anti-movement protesters blocked a federal highway.
“When we fought in 1941 to 1945 – the was a war,” yelled one man in a video of an angry crowd that was shared widely on social media. “And now it’s not war, it’s politics.”
Military-age men clogged airports and border crossings to escape, and some ended up in distant cities like Istanbul and Namangan, Uzbekistan. “We have decided that we no longer want to live in this country,” said a reservist after arriving in Turkey.
Historians said it was the first time since World War II that the Kremlin had declared a war mobilization. However, Putin’s spokesman claimed on Thursday that officials would continue to describe the invasion he ordered as only a “military special operation” and not a war.
In Moscow, where there have been reports of conscription of young professionals with no military experience, a Russian lawyer, Grigory V. Vaypan, compared Thursday’s shock to February Centre County Report, the day Putin’s invasion began.
“Then the war started there,” he said. “Now it started here too.”
Despite Russia’s challenges on the front lines, where Ukrainian troops often outnumbered Russian soldiers, Putin has long refused to call for military service, fearing a domestic backlash, analysts say. Despite its authoritarian rule and increased crackdown on dissidents this year, the Kremlin has been keeping a close eye on public opinion and has tried to avoid protests.
A backlash did indeed erupt after Putin’s speech on Wednesday, although there were no immediate signs that a nationwide anti-election campaign movement was emerging. In the city of Baksan, in the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria, more than 100 people gathered near the city hall to protest against the conscription of their loved ones, said a local activist, who asked that his name be withheld for his safety .
“Kabardino-Balkaria woke up horrified yesterday, like the rest of Russia,” Ibragim Yaganov, a regional activist now in Poland, told the New York Times. “The war that was on TV somewhere far away suddenly came to people’s homes.”
Insults, accusations and talk of war crimes flew at the United Nations Thursday as the Security Council met. The meeting was convened to discuss evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses by Russian forces, but Russian diplomats attempted to reverse the narrative and portray Russia as the aggrieved party.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Ukraine had launched an “attack” on ethnic Russians in the Donbass region and said the aim of the countries supplying arms to Ukraine was to prolong the conflict and “to Russia.” wear down and weaken”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “Tell President Putin to end the horror he started.” It was the first time before the war that he and Lavrov were in the same room together.
In Moscow, where OVD-Info reported 538 arrests at anti-war rallies on Wednesday, authorities developed a novel method to discourage protests: handing out draft summonses to demonstrators. According to OVD-Info, they did so in at least six Moscow police stations where anti-war demonstrators were taken.
One protester, Mikhail, 29, said he was held at a Moscow police station for 8 1/2 hours. The Times withholds his last name for his safety. At the ward, Mikhail said, an officer wrote him a draft and threatened him with jail time if he refused. He refused anyway and went into hiding after his release.
“You stand there wondering whether you should go and fight and die there or spend 20 years in prison,” Mikhail said in an interview. “It’s a pretty tricky question to ask yourself head-on, a question that shouldn’t be asked that way — especially if you haven’t done anything wrong.”
To neutralize dissatisfaction, Putin said on Wednesday that conscripts would be paid like contract soldiers. According to Russian news reports, this meant conscripts could earn more than $3,000 a month, five times the average Russian salary.
While some Russian men fled conscription, others seemed to have resigned themselves to their fate. A correspondent for Novaya Gazeta – the independent newspaper whose license the Russian government revoked this month – wrote that he “does not want to kill anyone” but that if he were drafted he would be doing his duty.
“How am I supposed to look my parents in the eye when they send their younger son away and I, the elder, manage to sit it out?” wrote correspondent Ivan Zhilin. “What does my future look like now? Kill or be killed?”