A day after President Vladimir Putin announced a call that could wipe out 300,000 civilians in 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 to the front lines in Ukraine soon. .
Putin’s escalation of the war effort reverberated across the country, according to interviews, Russian news reports and social media posts. 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 a neighbor’s invasion by their leader.
Mothers, wives and children in remote areas said goodbye in tears, while civil servants—in some cases ordinary schoolteachers—delivered design letters to houses and apartment buildings. In mountainous eastern Siberia, Russian news media reported, school buses were requisitioned to move troops to training grounds.
Russian officials said the call would be limited to those with combat experience. But the net seemed wider and some men decided it was best to go to the border.
Yanina Nimayeva, a journalist from the Buryatia region of Siberia, said her husband, a father of five and an emergency department worker in the regional capital, had been inexplicably summoned. She said he had received a call for an urgent meeting at 4 a.m., where it was announced that a train had been organized to take men to the town of Chita.
“My husband is 38 years old, he is not on the reserve, he has not served,” 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 decision, which saw at least 1,312 people arrested, according to human rights watchdog OVD-Info. More protests were reported on Thursday, including in Dagestan, an impoverished southern Russian region where anti-draft protesters blocked a federal highway.
“When we fought in 1941 to 1945 — That was a war,” one man shouted in a video of an angry mob that was widely shared on social media. “And now it’s not a war, it’s politics.”
Military-age men clogged airports and border crossings as they tried to flee, and some ended up in distant cities such as Istanbul and Namangan, Uzbekistan. “We have decided that we do not want to live in this country anymore,” said a reservist after arriving in Turkey.
Historians said it was the first time since World War II that the Kremlin declared a wartime mobilization. However, Putin’s spokesman insisted on Thursday that officials would continue to refer to the invasion he ordered as just a “special military operation” and not a war.
In Moscow, where there were reports of young professionals with no military experience being drafted in, a Russian lawyer, Grigory V. Vaypan, compared Thursday’s shock to February 24, 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 outnumber Russian soldiers, Putin long resisted declaring conscription because he feared a domestic backlash, analysts say. Despite its authoritarian rule and redoubled crackdown on dissent this year, the Kremlin has been closely monitoring public opinion and has tried to avoid protests.
After Putin’s speech on Wednesday, there was indeed a response, although there was no immediate sign that a nationwide anti-design movement was emerging. In the town of Baksan in the Kabardino-Balkaria region of the North Caucasus, more than 100 people gathered near the city government to protest against the conscription of their loved ones, said a local activist who asked to be remembered for his safety. .
“Kabardino-Balkaria, like the rest of Russia, woke up yesterday in horror,” Ibragim Jaganov, an activist from the region who is now in Poland, told The New York Times. “The war, which was on TV somewhere far away, suddenly came to people’s homes.”
At the United Nations on Thursday, insults, accusations and talk of war crimes accelerated as the Security Council met. The meeting was called to discuss evidence of war crimes and human rights violations by Russian troops, but Russian diplomats tried to turn the story around, calling Russia the aggrieved party.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed Ukraine carried out “an attack” on ethnic Russians in the Donbas region, saying that the aim of countries supplying arms to Ukraine was to prolong the conflict and to “end Russia”. to make and weaken”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “Tell President Putin to stop 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 devised a new way to discourage protests: handing over draft summonses to protesters. They did this in at least six Moscow police stations where anti-war protesters were taken, according to OVD-Info.
One protester, Mikhail, 29, said he was held at a Moscow police station for 8-1/2 hours. The Times is withholding his last name for his safety. At the station, Mikhail said, an officer wrote him a draft message and threatened him with jail time if he refused. He refused anyway and went into hiding after his release.
“You stand there and wonder if you should go there and fight and die, or spend 20 years in prison,” Mikhail said in an interview. “This is a rather complicated question when confronted directly with it, one that you shouldn’t ask in this way — especially if you haven’t done anything wrong.”
In an effort to neutralize the discontent, Putin said on Wednesday that those called up would be paid on an equal footing with contract soldiers. Russian news reports said this meant conscripts could earn more than $3,000 a month, five times the average Russian salary.
While some Russian men fled the prospect of conscription, others seemed resigned to their fate. A correspondent for Novaya Gazeta — the independent newspaper whose license was revoked this month by the Russian government — wrote that he “wanted to kill no one” but that if called up, he would do his duty.
“How will I look my parents in the eye if they send their youngest son away and I, the oldest, manage to sit it out?” the correspondent, Ivan Zhilin, wrote. “What is my future now? To kill or to be killed?”