They refused to fight for Russia. The law did not treat them kindly

They refused to fight for Russia. The law did not treat them kindly.

An officer in the Federal Guard Service, responsible for protecting Russian President Vladimir Putin, decided last fall to avoid combat in Ukraine by sneaking across the southern border into Kazakhstan.

The officer, Major Mikhail Zhilin, disguised himself as a mushroom picker, dressed in camouflage, and carried two small bottles of cognac so he could drown himself and then act drunk and confused if he encountered the Russian border patrol.

In the dark, the slim and fit Major made his way across the forested boundary without incident but was arrested on the other side.

"Freedom is not given to people so easily," he told his wife, Ekaterina Jelena, months later, after Kazakhstan rejected his request for political asylum and sent him back to Russia to face trial for desertion.

"He had these romantic notions when he first started his military academy," Jelena said in a recent interview, describing perceptions drawn from Russian literature about the honor and pride inherent in defending your homeland. "But everything soured when the war started."

Gelin is among hundreds of Russian men who have faced criminal charges for becoming anti-war since Moscow's all-out invasion of Ukraine last year. Some evade the draft, while those already serve in the desert or refuse orders to redeploy to Ukraine's chaotic, bloody battlefields.

In 2022, 1,121 people were convicted of evading military conscription, according to a tally from Russia's Supreme Court, compared to an average of about 600 in recent years. Before the war, the vast majority were fined, not imprisoned. Russia recently passed a measure that makes it difficult to avoid a draft call-up.

In addition, criminal cases have been filed against more than 1,000 soldiers, mostly for abandoning their units, according to an extensive judicial survey by Mediazona, an independent Russian news outlet. Anticipating trouble in September, when hundreds of thousands of civilians were mobilized, Russia toughened penalties for being without permission.

The maximum penalty has been doubled to 10 years for the so-called "departure to Sochi." (SOCH is a Russian acronym for AWOL, but the expression is a play on the name Sochi, the Black Sea haven for the country's elite and the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.) to 10 years.

This did not prevent the Russian men from going to great lengths to avoid combat. One officer said he was shot in the leg as part of an agreement between several soldiers to attack each other and then claimed they were wounded in the crossfire. Considered a hero of many events on the battlefield, it took him six months to recover, at which point he decided to flee.

An increasing amount of information about the military, including new statistics on crimes involving military service, is shrouded in secrecy by the Kremlin, so the numbers are undoubtedly higher than what is available. But the number of cases without permission accelerated after the general mobilization, according to Medizona. Several lawyers defending the soldiers said that many criminal cases involved soldiers who refused orders to go into battle, which led to confrontations with their commanders.

One of the lawyers, Dmitry Kovalenko, is being held by the families of more than ten soldiers who say they were thrown into pits, called "zindans," near the front line after refusing to fight. "People realize that they are not ready - that their leaders are not ready, that they have to dive blind, not knowing where or why," he said.

He said intimidation is leaders' first reaction, so that treatment can be harsh. He said two soldiers he defended were locked in a container last summer without food or water. At one point, about 300 conscripts who refused to fight last year were kept in a basement in eastern Ukraine, where they were called "pigs," not fed, and not allowed to go to the toilet or shower, according to Astra, an independent news outlet, and other Russian news organizations. , citing relatives. A group of Wagner's mercenaries threatened to execute those who rejected it, and there were sporadic reports that they were shot.

In theory, Russian law allows conscientious objectors to perform alternative services, but it is rarely granted. Those accused of refusing to fight are sometimes given suspended sentences, meaning they can be redeployed.

0/Post a Comment/Comments