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‘Light a candle for your husband and get the hell out of my office’

A Moscow draft board chief is mobilising marksmen under the accelerated programme — it takes him several minutes to turn a man into a marksman

Fariza Dudarova, correspondent for Novaya Gazeta. Europe

Draft board of the Moscow Tsaritsyno district. Photo: Yandex.Maps

Several men mobilised in Moscow have complained about unlawful actions taken by the chief of the Tsaritsyno district draft office, Viktor Kuznetsov. Men have reported that the military chief had changed their military specialities, putting them on the marksmen list. Allegedly, that was done so the draftees could be accepted into the Strategic Rocket Forces military unit, which currently only lacks new marksmen. The chief’s signature made people that have never held a weapon in their hands into marksmen.

Novaya Gazeta Europe talked to the mobilised men and their wives about what is going on at the Tsaritsyno district draft office.

A 28-year-old concrete worker from Altai’s town of Novoaltaysk, Vladislav Kalinichenko, came to Moscow one and a half months ago for a business trip; he planned to stay in the Russian capital till the middle of November. However, his plans were disrupted by mobilisation: on 13 October, policemen came to the hostel Vladislav was staying at with his colleagues — according to the policemen themselves, they were “searching for [mobilisation] evaders”.

“Policemen came by to check our documents. They took our passports and didn’t give them back. They said: ‘You will get them back from the draft board representatives, they are waiting downstairs.’ We went down to the first floor, and they made us go sit in a police van. In there, they straight up copied the info from our passports onto blank draft notices, in front of us. We all came down in shorts. They said: ‘Well, go dress, we will now all go to the draft board,’” Vladislav recalls.

Vladislav and his roommate were taken to the Tsaritsyno district draft office. There, according to the man, a compulsory medical examination was not conducted properly for the two draftees, and they were immediately given documents stating that they were fit for military service.

“We told them that we weren’t locals, that we came for a business trip, that we were registered at draft offices of our towns, and that draft notices had to be handed out there,” Vladislav says. “But they didn’t react in any way.”

The man did not have his military card with him, he left it at home in Novoaltaysk. However, that was not a problem for the chief of the Tsaritsyno district draft office, Viktor Kuznetsov: he issued Vladislav a new military card, ignoring all existent legal procedures.

On the same day, a 33-year-old engineer from Moscow Igor Zhadanov came to the draft board, after having received a mobilisation notice. His military speciality is sailor-cableman; furthermore, due to his mental characteristics, he has never held a weapon in his hands, even while serving in the army. The man was handed the notice at his workplace.

The queue to the Tsaritsyno district draft office. Photo: Yandex.Maps

“As a law-abiding citizen, he signed for the notice, that was on 13 October,” his wife Darya says. “By 9AM of the same day, he was at the Tsaritsyno district draft office. He told them that he has a wife with a musculoskeletal system disability, that he himself suffers from congenital heart disease, and that his military speciality is sailor-cableman. He told all of this personally to chief Kuznetsov; there were so many factors that would allow to leave him alone till the next [mobilisation] wave, when his speciality would be needed. To all of this, Kuznetsov responded that he didn’t care, he had a quota to fulfil, that he would draft contorted, cross-eyed, and disabled people too. The medical commission, thereby, was conducted improperly, everyone was immediately deemed fit for military service.”

A 31-year-old Moscow native Sergey Chernikov was also mobilised. A draft notice was put in his mailbox. He has a narrow military speciality: senior mechanic of aircraft and helicopter radiocommunication equipment. According to Sergey, being a “law-abiding citizen” that he is, he showed up to the Tsaritsyno district draft office on 13 October; by that point, other men that had received notices were already there.

“On 13 October, there were many people at the draft board. We were asked if we had any health complaints. Those who had stayed quiet remained in their seats — [the employees] started drawing up documents for their mobilisation. Those who had said yes were sent to undergo a medical commission, if it could be called that. It’s hard to call it a medical commission: they looked at us, nodded their heads, and said: ‘Well, great, you’re fit for service.’ My examination lasted longer, because it’s been 10 years since I served, my eyesight has gotten worse, and due to my eyesight, my fitness category changed to the second [from of the first]. My eyesight is -8, which means I’m not fit for service during peacetime. When I returned from the medical commission, I informed our draft chief of this. He told me that currently we were in wartime, not peacetime, so I was fit for service,” Sergey recounts.

All the men “fit” for service were told to come back to the draft office on 15 October, thus, they were given a day to pack. On 15 October, the mobilised men were taken to a youth military-patriotic education training centre Avangard. Commanders from different military units came to the centre to pick which draftees they would take for their units. Mostly, only the draftees with the speciality of a marksman were picked. The rest were told that they and their military specialities were for now not needed by Russian troops.

On 20 October, chief Kuznetsov sent the unclaimed men to the Strategic Rocket Forces military unit located in the city of Noginsk, Moscow region. According to the men, they were once again told that they were not suitable.

“The commanders said that they only needed marksmen, and it’s impossible to train those in a week or two, that would mean sending them to certain death. They would not be assuming such responsibility. The Strategic Rocket Forces command called the draft board, demanding the mobilised men be taken back and put on the registry lists, until their military specialities were needed. Kuznetsov responded, saying that he would not take the draftees back. By that point, the Strategic Rocket Forces commanders had already put all the men on a bus. Kuznetsov called them and told them to not let the bus exit the military unit. As a result, three people with rifles were guarding the bus with our men in it,” Darya recounts the events.

The bus with the “unwanted” draftees stood unmoving near the military unit from lunchtime to 10PM. According to the men inside, they were not even allowed to go to the bathroom. At 10PM, Viktor Kuznetsov finally arrived at the unit. He let the men exit the bus and told them that he would change their military specialities.

Igor’s wife Darya provided Novaya Gazeta Europe with a recording of the conversation between Kuznetsov and the mobilised men. “Young men, according to the replacement register, all of you are marksmen,” he tells them.

“Does your military card state a weapon?” he asks one of the draftees. The man responds with a no. “Now, a Kalashnikov rifle will be written in. According to the replacement register, every serviceman will become a marksman.”

“What is a ‘replacement register’? What is it?” the men ask.

“Exactly what it sounds like. A zero point of separation — that’s a marksman. Don’t get it? Can’t help you. I will repeat myself: anyone who wishes to file a report stating that he refuses to perform the duties of a citizen drafted under mobilisation, I propose you take a step forward. You file the report [about refusal to carry out duties], I take you back, and you will be handed to the military investigation department. Those interested, take a step forward. [No one steps forward — editor’s note.] Then I consider the matter closed,” Kuznetsov says, emphasising every word.

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According to Sergey, all the men present told Kuznetsov that they were ready to perform their law-dictated duties, if the army needed the use of their military specialities, — but they were no marksmen:

“Kuznetsov replied, saying that anyone who served in the army was a marksman: senior mechanic is a marksman, sailor is a marksman, diver is a marksman. After that, all of us said that we didn’t agree with his actions. The lieutenant from the Strategic Rocket Forces Prosecutor’s Office present there also told Kuznetsov that his actions were unlawful. We asked him not to spoil our military cards. He replied, saying that he was a military commissar and that, during wartime, he was allowed to do anything he considered necessary. And he added that he would write in the marksman speciality into all of our military cards, after which all of us would be left in the unit, to serve,” Sergey recalls.

Neither the draftees nor the representative of the Prosecutor’s Office present were able to influence Kuznetsov’s actions: he collected the military cards and wrote in the new military speciality — marksman.

According to law, a new military speciality can be added to a military card only by a military unit chief after a draftee voluntarily signs an agreement form and undergoes training, i.e. learns the new speciality. At least 500 hours should be allocated for training in such cases.

According to Igor, the lieutenant present during the incident reported back to his commanders about what had happened and told the draftees that the commanders would not assume such responsibility, that the men would not be accepted into the military unit without their consent. Unlike Kuznetsov, representatives of the military unit in Noginsk acted properly with the draftees: the night after Kuznetsov had left, they were taken to sleep in a sanatorium. The next morning, they were brought back to the military unit.

According to Vladislav’s wife, Natalia, representatives of the unit refused to take in the men even after Kuznetsov had written the new specialities in their military cards. The evening of October 21, the men were put on a bus again and taken back to draft offices. There were 13 men in total: 10 from the Tsaritsyno district draft office and three from the Ostankino district draft office — their specialities were also deemed unfit at the unit — so they all were sent back to Moscow’s draft offices together. The three men who had been taken back to the Ostankino district draft office were easily put on the register by the local chief and allowed to go home. The rest were taken to the Tsaritsyno district draft office and to Kuznetsov.

There, the men were met by policemen who told them that Kuznetsov had banned the draftees from entering the territory of the draft board. Policemen said that the mobilised could go home, but in that case they would be considered deserters, seeing as they would have left the military unit by their own volition, according to Kuznetsov.

“The guys stood there for three hours, they kept calling the Prosecutor’s Office, the hotline of the Defence Ministry,” Darya says. “I also called the police, everything was documented. After that, the captain from the Strategic Rocket Forces military unit who was accompanying the draftees contacted his unit. The unit resolved the problem by issuing an order stating that the guys were released from duty until 24 October. Everyone signed the document, so accordingly, they all came back to the draft board at 10AM on 24 October. I went with my husband. As soon as the guys entered the draft office, Kuznetsov at once left the building and drove away. After that, they were communicating with Kuznetsov’s assistants. They were the ones to tell the men: ‘In accordance with your new specialties, you will still go to the front as marksmen.’ They were given repeat draft notices for 2 November, so they would come back and, accordingly, be divided among the units as marksmen. Despite the fact that mobilisation allegedly had come to an end by that point; all of this is illegal, no sane commander will assume such responsibility. Only if Kuznetsov makes them through his connections; he’s already scared everyone by saying that he’s friends with Maxim Loktev, the current chief military commissar of Moscow and his ex-boss. He’s just trying to terrorise the guys mentally. A person feels his complete impunity, he thinks that he’s a tsar, a god, that everyone owes him. I’m a wife, I’m disabled, I came to him personally, crying, asking: ‘What do we do? My husband didn’t even have the time to give me the power of attorney.’ Kuznetsov told me, and this is a direct quote: ‘The only thing I can advise you, honey, is to light a candle for your husband and get the hell out of my office.’”

On 24 October, Sergey recorded the happenings at the draft board on tape. Employees of the Tsaritsyno district draft office called the police due to “illegal recording on the territory of a classified object”. Sergey was taken to a police department where he was kept for three hours, he was let go after writing an explanatory note.

“At this point, we are trying to protect ourselves from the unlawful actions of Kuznetsov and the draft board employees. We filed a joint complaint to the Prosecutor General’s Office, to the Garrison Prosecutor’s Office, to the City Prosecutor’s Office. We made an appointment with Kuznetsov’s chief Loktev, during which we will be asserting our rights. We submitted a message to the Presidential Administration, and to the Moscow Mayor website. Basically, we’re trying to protect ourselves as much as we can,” Sergey says.

Natalia, Vladislav’s wife, has a law degree. While still in Novoaltaysk with their 9-year-old son, she is trying to protect her husband in accordance with the law; she has not seen her husband in several months.

“Kuznetsov is not giving up, he issued them draft notices for 2 November. I wrote to the military unit, asking them to give us a written explanation on what grounds there are for, first of all, mobilising residents of other regions in Moscow, secondly, for making changes in their military specialities and military cards. I don’t know what they’ll respond with. I have a law degree, I’m trying to obtain justice by law, but I’m worried that my husband is very… impatient, he starts getting angry and saying: ‘Enough of this, I will go [to war].’ It gets tiring fighting outrageous behaviour, all this stress… Who wants to go to war right now? Why should a concrete worker go to war instead of actual servicemen? He and I live in a military town, every evening I see servicemen going to sleep peacefully, they get good paychecks, social benefits, and guarantees from the state. Meanwhile, civilians are for some reason being sent to war. So the question is: when we go to a hospital, it’s not a pianist operating on us, it’s a surgeon; then why are civilians taking up arms?” Natalia wonders.

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Her husband Vladislav says that he really is tired of all the squabbles with the draft board: “We told Kuznetsov that we’re not refusing to go to war. If I was legally drafted under my speciality, I would go, of course, but from my town, after seeing my family, and not like this, when I’m on a business trip, and I’m being drafted in such a lawless way. I tell everyone: I’m not going to run. Why would I run? So I could be put on the wanted list and be put in their jail? And in 1941, if our grandfathers had run, where would we be right now? I don’t follow politics… It’s just that if I don’t go now, then my son will go in the future, why would I want that?”

Sergey agrees with Vladislav: he will try to protect himself from Kuznetsov’s actions, but he is ready to go to war under legal draft:

“I’m a person who never runs from anything. If my Homeland asks me to defend its borders, then it needs me. If I’m needed, I have to show up. I am not against any actions of my government,” Sergey says.

Igor’s wife Darya notes that, due to Kuznetsov’s actions, her husband has basically been deprived of all his rights: he is not considered a civilian, he cannot work (his employment contract has been suspended), he cannot leave. “He can’t even apply for another job. I’m disabled, I also don’t currently work. So there’s no way out for us.”

On 28 October, the protagonists of this story were supposed to meet with colonel Maxim Loktev, the current chief military commissar of Moscow but he ended up cancelling the meeting. He also closed off his calendar for any further appointments for the next week.

This means that on 2 November, all 10 men could end up in military units serving as marksmen which they are not.

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