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Fears among draft-age Russian youths are fueled by the war in Ukraine

Many young Russian draft-age Russians are becoming more nervous about the possibility of being sent to combat as Moscow's forces slow down in Ukraine. 

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Fears among draft-age Russian youths are fueled by the war in Ukraine

An annual spring conscription, which began Friday, aims to gather 134.500 men for a year of military service.

Sergei Shoigu, Defense Minister, pledged this week at a meeting with military brass that new recruits would not be sent to "hot spots" or front lines.

Many Russians who recalled the wars in Chechnya's southern republic in the 1990s and 2000s when thousands of young men were poorly trained, were skeptical of the statement.

"I don’t trust them when he says they won’t send conscripts to combat. Vladislav, 22, said that they lie all the times. He is finishing his studies and worries about the draft. Fearing reprisals, he requested that his last name be kept off the list.

All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 must serve one-year in the military. However, a large number avoid the draft due to health reasons or are granted deferments to students. Moscow and other large cities have a high percentage of men who skip the draft.

While President Vladimir Putin and his officials claim that conscripts weren't involved with what Russian authorities refer to as "the special military operations in Ukraine", many of them appeared to have been held during the initial days. Some videos emerged out of Ukraine showing captured Russians calling their parents and being uploaded to social media.

One of the prisoner's mothers claimed that she recognized her son, a 20-year-old draftee, in a video, even though he was blindfolded.

I recognized him by his lips and his chin. "You know, I would recognize him by his fingers," the woman said. She asked for security reasons to remain anonymous and chose to identify herself only as Lyubov. I breastfed him. "I raised him."

The Defense Ministry was forced back to its original statements, admitting that conscripts had been sent to Ukraine "by error" and taken into custody while serving in a supply unit far from the front.

Some conscripts may have been forced to sign military contracts before the invasion. This allowed them to go into combat, a duty normally reserved for army volunteers. Some captured soldiers claimed that their commanding officers told them they were going to a military exercise, but then they suddenly found themselves fighting for Ukraine.

Lyudmila Narusova, a member the Russian parliament's upper house, spoke about a 100-strong company that was forced to sign such contracts. They were then sent into combat zones. Only four of them survived. Her allegation was not confirmed by military officials.

Svetlana Agapitova, St. Petersburg's human rights commissioner, stated Wednesday that seven relatives had written to her complaining about the forced signing of contracts and their being sent to Ukraine without their consent. Two of them had already been returned to Russia, she said.

The Kremlin has been increasing the number of contract volunteers soldiers in its efforts to modernize and enhance the readiness of the army. Over 400,000 contract soldiers are now part of the 1 million-strong force, with 147,000 serving in the infantry. These numbers may not be enough to support operations if the war drags out.

The Kremlin may face a dilemma: Continue fighting with a small number of troops and watch the offensive stall; or, try to rebuild the ranks with a larger draft and risk public outrage which could fuel anti-draft sentiments and destabilize political conditions. This was the case during the fighting in Chechnya.

Dmitry, a 25 year-old IT specialist, has a deferment which should keep him from the draft for medical reasons. He is still anxious, as are many others, because he fears that authorities might suddenly waive certain deferments in order to boost the military.

"I hate war. Dmitry said that it was a complete disaster. He also requested not to be identified by his last name for fear of reprisals. "I am afraid that the government might change the rules, and I could face them." They have been saying for months they won't attack Ukraine. So why should I believe what they are saying about the draft right now?

The draft was to be facilitated by legislation that would allow military recruiters more ease in calling up conscripts. However, the bill is currently on hold.

It did not diminish the anxiety of the public.

Alexei Tabalov is a lawyer who advises conscripts. He said that medical panels at recruitment offices often admit young people who should be exempted from service due to illness. Their attitudes may become more difficult, he said.

Tabalov stated that it was possible for doctors to ignore conscripts' ailments and declare them fit for military service.

There are concerns that the government might try to impose a martial law to ban Russians from leaving the country, and force them to fight, similar to what happened in Ukraine.

Tabalov stated that he has received many calls from people who fear mobilization. "People are now afraid of everything in this scenario. The law on mobilization must be analyzed.

According to military officials, there are enough contract soldiers for the army to support the mission in Ukraine. The Kremlin strongly denies any such plans. Despite this, many Russians are skeptical about the denials of officials, considering their track record.

Tabalov asked, "What trust can there be if Putin declares one day that conscripts won't be sent there...and then the Defense Ministry recognizes they were there?"

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, urged Russian parents to not allow their sons to join the draft.

He said, "We don't need new dead people here," in his nighttime video address. He switched from Ukrainian to Russian. Take care of your children to prevent them from becoming villains. Don't send them to the military. Keep them alive as best you can. You can do it at home.

A law currently allows for 21-months of alternative civil service in hospitals, nursing home, and other facilities for people who consider military duty to be incompatible with their beliefs. However, military conscription offices tend to ignore requests for such service.

Tabalov stated that his group received a lot more inquiries after the war started. This was due to the fact that the alternative service law is vaguely drafted and allows military officials the ability to reject applications.

He said, "We are concerned that in the current militarist atmosphere, military conscription officers can take a harder attitude and reject appeals to the alternative civil service."


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