‘It’s a 100% mobilization’: day one of Russia’s drive to build its army | Russia

ssubpoena delivered to eligible men at midnight. Educators insisted on handing out draft announcements. Men are given an hour to pack up and show up at the trekking centers. Women sob as they sent their husbands and sons away to fight in the Russian war in Ukraine.

The first full day of Russia’s first mobilization since World War II caused emotional clashes at conscription centers and even signs of protest, while it appears Russia could be considering much more than the 300,000 new conscripts claimed by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu .

A woman in a small village in the Zakamensky region of Buryatia, in eastern Siberia, said she first sensed something amiss when the dogs started barking around midnight.

In a community of 450 people, the village chief walked from house to house, looking for more than 20 concept announcements. As the men gathered before leaving the next morning, some drank vodka, while others hugged and told them to stay safe. Women wept and made the sign of the cross over the small minibus that carried them away.

A military recruiting poster
Activists in Buryatia said they did not understand why local officials recruited so aggressively. Photo: Ayuna Shagdurova

“It’s not a partial mobilization, it’s a 100% mobilization,” said Alexandra Garmazhapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, an activist group that has reported on conscription in the region. In the past day, she said, she and her colleagues had received and identified more than 3,000 reports from povestkaor design documents, which are delivered in Buryatia within just 24 hours after Vladimir Putin announced the draft.

Despite assurances that Russia would seek men who had recently served in the military and had combat experience, activists pointed to a number of cases of men in their 50s receiving draft announcements.

A woman said a 52-year-old relative had given birth a povestka shortly before the president announced the draft the previous day.

A man pours vodka into a cup
As the men gathered before leaving the city of Zakamensk, some drank vodka, while others hugged each other and told them to stay safe. Photo: Ayuna Shagdurova

Yanina Nimayeva, a journalist from Ulan-Ude in Buryatia, complained that her 38-year-old husband had been given a draft order despite never having served in the army.

“Don’t you have five children?” they asked him. My husband laughed and said ‘yes, five kids’. “Well, okay, expect your draft documents,” she said.

“I understand we have a quota. Our republic must muster 4,000 soldiers,” Nimayeva said in a video addressed to the regional governor. “But some parameters and principles of this partial mobilization must be observed.”

In a televised interview on Wednesday, Shoigu said Russia would attack 300,000 conscripts, mostly those with recent military experience. But the actual number in an order signed by Putin is secret.

Some think it could be much higher. The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta Europe reported that a source in the presidential government said Russia wanted to draft more than 1 million people for the military. That reporting has not been confirmed by other news channels.

But video and anecdotal evidence from across Russia has shown large drafts happening even in small towns, suggesting the numbers could be much higher.

Many are located in Russia’s ethnic minority republics, reinforcing the feeling that the country relies disproportionately on ethnic minorities to provide its main fighting force in Ukraine. Those regions have also suffered a disproportionate number of deaths and casualties from the war.

Cows cross quiet road in Zakamensk
Cities such as Zakamensk reported that large numbers of men were called up, reinforcing the feeling that disproportionate reliance is placed on Russia’s “ethnic minority republics” to fight in Ukraine. Photo: Ayuna Shagdurova

In Neryungri, the second largest city in Sakha, also known as Yakutia, video footage appeared to show dozens of men gathered at the Gornyak football stadium and loaded onto buses en route to recruitment centers as family members said goodbye in tears. Many of the men appeared to be between 30 and 40 years old.

“They have already distributed draft messages to workers from Kolmar and Mechel” (two major mining companies with operations in the region), said the activist who posted the video. “They’ve been handing out concept announcements all night.”

A video appeared in Dagestan showing people angrily confronting a civil servant advocating conscription in a recruitment center.

The official said her son had been fighting in Ukraine since February.

“You are fighting for the future of your children,” the woman, who was not identified, shouted to a crowd outside a municipal building.

“We don’t have a present, what kind of future are you talking about?” a man in the crowd responded.

A man stands in line for the tow bus in Buryatia
Some men reportedly only got an hour’s notice to pack their things. Photo: Ayuna Shagdurova

In Moscow, hundreds of people gathered to protest in the center of Arbat Street after Putin announced the mobilization. Police officers reportedly began issuing draft notices to those they had detained during the protest.

Among them was Artem Krieger, a young reporter for the Sota Vision news channel, who was detained despite being there to cover the protests.

“All the men, absolutely everyone, got a concept announcement,” Krieger said during an interview with TV Rain from the back of a police van. That included men who had never served in the military, he said, who were now required to appear at their local recruiting centers.

In a telephone conversation with journalists, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared to confirm that the police were handing draft announcements to detainees. “It’s not against the law,” he said.

The scope of mobilization across Russia is staggering. A video showed more than 100 potential conscripts queuing behind an An-12 plane at an airport in Khurba in far eastern Khabarovsk.

In Buryatia, activists said they did not understand why local officials recruited so aggressively, with students from local universities receiving draft announcements while in class.

One idea was that the local governor was eager to meet his quota “like a schoolboy for teacher Putin,” Garmazhapova said.

Another theory, she said, was that it was done to “punish Buryatia”.

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