More than 8,000 residents of Saint Petersburg have received a summons to military recruitment offices. Some of them are hiding from the mobilization, but some of those called up have already left for training camps or for the front lines of the military operation. What’s more, many have families left behind, as deferments are given only to fathers who have at least four children under the age of 16.
Paperpaper.ru spoke with two women from Saint Petersburg whose husbands recently left for the war about why the men hadn’t tried to avoid the mobilization and how the lives of their families have changed since.
— When the mobilization was announced on Sept. 21, we honestly thought that it was all a lie. We believed it only when the summons came.
My husband is a factory worker. He had completed his military conscription, with a specialization in canine training — but he had no combat experience. We have a newborn child who just turned one month old on Sept. 28, and an elder daughter who is six years old. My husband is the only breadwinner, as I am not working while on maternity leave.
The summons came to our house on Sept. 24. On the 26th, my husband collected all the documents and went to the military registration and enlistment office. I was in a panic and didn’t want to let him go because I felt that this would be a one-way journey. But he signed the summons and knew that he could be imprisoned for evasion, that he could be held criminally liable. All told, I was scared but he went anyway. He said, “I’m going to find out.” He went there and never came back.
Paperpaper.ru notes that evasion can result in either criminal or administrative charges with a fine of 500–3,000 rubles, or roughly $8–50. But many Russian people were confused when a new law was signed by the State Duma on Sept. 20 that introduced the term “mobilization” into the Russian law system and hardened responsibility for crimes committed during mobilization. Due to misinformation and a general misunderstanding of law, many people were tricked into believing they could go to prison for refusing to serve, which is not true.
He was absolutely sure that they would give him a deferment. And in the military registration and enlistment office, no one even looked at the documents [about the children]. They said, “You are going to serve.” They put him on a bus and took him away. He only had time to call me so that I could come and quickly pick up the documents. He says: “It’s done; they’re taking me.”
We didn’t have time to buy anything for him, but it seemed like we didn’t need to — he said that they would give them almost everything. He just asked me to bring him warm socks, underwear, a flip-phone, slippers and some snacks. Now he is near Saint Petersburg, in the small town of Sertolovo, and we can still call each other. He says that there are a lot of mobilized men in the unit now, that there is nowhere to sleep and that it’s a mess. He’s in shock and doesn’t know what will happen next. I’m in shock, too.
I’m in a rather tough situation: I don’t have people who can support me. I only have a brother, but he has his own children and there is no time for me. I lost my mother in 2020 and my father in 2021. I don’t have anyone besides my husband. And I had a difficult birth and severe complications after it. I also need to take care of my health, and, again, I can’t do anything because there is no one to leave my child with.
We have debts that I will have to pay because I don’t think that we will be given any deferments for our payments or any kind of loan forgiveness. I have no money and I can’t go to work either since I have a baby and no relatives. I need to figure it out all by myself, so I wish he [her husband] could somehow return or at least get a postponement for six months.
Our oldest daughter is six years old. I told her how it is and didn’t hide the fact that her dad had gone to fight. She burst into tears and said she loved dad and that she wanted him to come home. I’m holding on for the kids now. However, my husband still has one living brother, but he has cerebral palsy, as well as his elderly mother living alone.
I tried to find out where to get the official paperwork stating that my husband had been mobilized, and in the military registration and enlistment office, they said: “We don’t issue them.” I wonder: How can I get help? How can I prove that he was taken? If I just say he was, no one would believe me.
I wrote a message to Aleksandr Beglov [the mayor of Saint Petersburg] on VKontakte [a Russian social network], in which I described the situation — that I have a newborn baby and if something happens to my husband, then I wouldn’t know how to survive. I wrote on Sept. 30, and he answered me, asked for my phone number and promised to call back.
I don’t understand: If there are specially trained people in our country who can and should fight, why are civilians being sent? They should send only those who come voluntarily, and not people with families and babies. I don’t want this war to go on at all. I reevaluated my view of the state — it calls up people with newborns and also makes them buy their own uniforms! (Paperpaper.ru notes that many who have been mobilized complain that they have had to buy expensive equipment with their own money.) Our country helps everyone, but not us.
— When the mobilization was announced, I honestly didn’t believe it at all. We were making jokes like: “I saw a piece of paper in the mailbox, and for the first time I was glad it was an electricity bill.” But, of course, there were already thoughts that we wouldn’t be an exception.
My husband is a junior sergeant and commander of a “Grad” combat vehicle. We don’t live in the region where he is officially registered, but it turned out that the military commissioner where he is registered found his [her husband’s] sister on Sept. 24. When my husband’s relatives wrote to me that his summons had arrived, the ground fell out from under my feet. The whole world turned upside down. My first thought was, “I’m going with him! I can’t be here without him.”
There wasn’t a single thought about evading or hiding somewhere. We know that if someone needs to find something, they will — and in that case, the consequences could be worse.
My husband is very interested in politics and the war. He constantly reads all sorts of news articles and watches analysts. He told me something about what was happening, but I tried not to delve into it. I thought the less you know, the better you sleep. I’ve always wondered: Why can’t people just negotiate? Why do people need so much money, power, resources, land? I imagined the one last person sitting on this heap of goods and no single living soul anymore besides them. So, what would he do next? He defeated everyone and now has everything, but he is alone and there’s no one even to brag to!
While he was getting everything ready to leave, I was in some kind of trance. I couldn’t pull myself together for the first day, but for my husband’s sake, I had to. My husband was also worried, of course, but he tried to protect me — he laughed it off and tried to make me laugh.
There were only two days to pack. On Sept. 26, my husband came to the military registration and enlistment office, and by the 28th, he was already leaving. We bought almost everything ourselves. My husband already knew what to take with him. He was prepared and well-read. Our budget wasn’t hit hard because our friends and relatives helped. We had to buy tickets to his hometown, but it was nothing. If we are talking about the comfort of a loved one, then nothing is too much. Money is just paper; life and health are priceless.
We were crying when we saw him off, and many friends came. When I saw how others there had children crying and saying that they wanted to be with their dads, my heart bled. My husband kept a brave face. But after he departed, I was back to panic and complete uncertainty, because for the next two days, they [the army commanders] couldn’t even determine where to take them [the mobilized men] — they arrive somewhere, but then there is no place for them, they are turned around, and they go on to the next place. And it was only on Sept. 29 that my husband told me that they were going to “boot camp” in the Rostov region, that they had been given all the ammunition and that they had not slept for almost two days. And already on Sept. 30, [they were sent] to Lugansk [Ukranian: Luhansk].
Now, I try to keep up with everything that is happening. And most importantly, I try not to show my husband that I am worried, and not to voice all sorts of silly thoughts, because I understand perfectly well that it’s a hundred times harder for him there, and I don’t want to upset him.
I don’t even want to guess what will happen next, and it’s scary to think about the future. For now, we are mainly dreaming that everything will end quickly and safely, that he will come back, we will get married and have kids. These thoughts help keep me from going crazy.
Cover photo: Andrei Samsonov / TASS
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