The Daily Telegraph
Moscow deceit means I have to get out of my Russian homeland to survive or end up in jail
On Tuesday I went to bed late. Like many other Russians that night, I was waiting for Vladimir Putin’s delayed address, in which he was set to announce mobilisation.
The news catches me while I’m abroad. I had been planning to stay with friends for a couple of days but now it seems it was a one-way trip. I try to drive away the thought that I will not return to Russia.
Like most men in Russia, I have a military rank. I’m a sergeant and an army reservist. We have compulsory military service – you are required to serve for a year after turning 18. You can reduce this to just a month if you join the military training centre at university. This is how I got my rank.
In theory, as a military centre graduate, I am a reservist of the second category. This means that during a mobilisation, I should be called not with the first but with the second wave of recruits. But the decree on mobilisation issued yesterday is formulated in such a way that everyone could be called up. The seventh paragraph of the decree – concerning the numbers to be mobilised – is classified.
The government says 300,000 bayonets need to be assembled. I don’t believe them. They say there isn’t a war, but there is. They say there are no conscript soldiers on the battlefield, but dozens of them have died. They said they would not occupy anything. Now Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are preparing referendums on joining Russia. They promised that there would be no mobilisation. Yesterday we woke up to find we had been deceived again.
Since the beginning of the war, I, like many Russian men, have been thinking about what to do in this scenario. For a long time, these considerations seemed as abstract as thinking about where to hide in the event of a nuclear war.
In general, there were three options: hide, go to jail or fight. Yesterday, this question abruptly ceased to be theoretical. It became terrible and real. The decision cut life into before and after. I imagined opening a mailbox in Moscow to find a call-up paper there. It is impossible to ignore. According to the new law, adopted the day before the mobilisation announcement, service evaders can go to prison for years. And I don’t want to fight. I know what war is. What is happening in Ukraine now is a cruel extermination of both Russians and Ukrainians.
I also wonder what supporters of the war are thinking. The military commissar is coming knocking on the door of everyone – the Z-patriot and the war critic alike.
In a matter of hours, air tickets to countries where Russian carriers could still fly sold out. Dozens of my friends are looking for tickets, housing, packing, moving deep into Russia, away from their place of registration.
‘Those with money are now flying anywhere that call-up papers cannot be delivered’
My parents, my girlfriend, my friends, my colleagues and even my boss called me to say not to come back. Those who managed to get tickets in advance and who had money are now landing in Istanbul, Tbilisi, Yerevan – anywhere that call-up papers cannot be delivered. Among them are those who, until recently, toasted Putin’s health.
Most Russians cannot enter the EU. Those restricting visas say that visiting is a privilege. But right now, it is also a means of survival. I never rejoiced in either Russian or Ukrainian failures on the battlefield because that means deaths on both sides. I am for the war to be ended immediately and against everything that prolongs it.
Recently I have been re-reading Ernest Hemingway’s journalism. I came across his 1936 Esquire article about Mussolini’s campaign in Ethiopia. These are my thoughts today: “Poor men’s sons all over Italy are foot soldiers, as poor men’s sons all over the world are always foot soldiers.
“And me, I wish the foot soldiers luck but I wish they could learn who is their enemy – and why.”