‘I’d be facing 15 years in prison’

A Russian draftee on his escape from the army, the Russian regime, and hope

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Last September, hundreds of thousands of Russian reservists were drafted into the military following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation order for the war in Ukraine. The man in this video is one of the few draftees who successfully deserted.

Novaya-Europe spoke to him about his life before the war, why he deserted the Russian military, and his future.

“Hello, my name is Ivan. I was drafted into the military last September. I’d now be facing 15 years in prison for desertion.”

“When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, I was way beyond shocked, to say the least. Nobody expected that. When the Russian troops were on the outskirts of Kyiv, it felt like there was no more hope.”

“When Putin declared mobilisation in September 2022, they started handing out draft notices the very next day. I also received one. It was very hard to go to sleep that night. I came to the local draft office; it took them just 30 minutes to assign me to the airborne forces. My position was assistant machine gunner. Then they sent us to a warehouse and gave us our uniforms. Some conscripts weren’t given boots as there were no matching sizes.”

“Everyone reacted differently to what was going on. There was one guy who kept banging his head against a metal door. We were deployed to Ukraine in November and were expected to counter-attack. We spent our nights in cellars, and some even had to sleep in the forest despite it being minus 20-25°C outside. As we had to stay in position, we couldn’t shower for days and were all covered in mud.”

“We didn’t even cook food initially and ate our ratios, but we soon ran out of those. Some guys were literally starving and stole food from people’s cellars. It’s easy to start drinking in a situation like this.”

“You understand how horrible war is when you’re being shelled. Your hands start shaking. There were two brothers, and one of them was killed in a trench, his body was buried under the dirt. Twenty people were wounded.”

“I didn’t want to contribute to the war effort. I was against the whole thing from day one. When I was deployed in Ukraine, I was able to receive Ukrainian radio transmissions. They mentioned this “I Want to Live” project. So, one of the options was to cross the contact line [and surrender]. There’s one more organisation that helps [Russian servicemen] leave the frontline. The route I used was pretty interesting, but I’d rather keep it secret because others might be using it.”

“So, I deserted. I’d be facing up to 15 years in jail if I’d been caught. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal my name. Where I am now is still not my final destination, and I fear they might catch me. If they do, I think they’ll put me on trial and then send me back [to the frontlines].”

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