At the beginning of the mobilization in Russia, Liliya Vezhevatova slept little. Many friends and acquaintances asked her to help men leave the country. Vezhevatowa herself now lives in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and is the coordinator of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance (Feministskoye Antivoyennoye Soprotiwleniye – FAS).

More than 222,000 people have already been called up as part of the “partial mobilization”, as it is officially called in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently declared.

According to Novaya Gazeta Europe, more than 260,000 men have left the country since the announcement of the mobilization to avoid being drafted.

The flight of men was a new task for feminists. “We gave advice, bought tickets, organized buses and accommodated people,” Vezhevatowa recalls. “Most of the men left between September 21 and 26.”

Several hundred FAS activists in Russia and abroad are involved in the work. She herself helped 60 men to leave Russia.

FAS activist Lelja Nordik reports something similar about conscientious objectors: “Dozens of people who wanted to avoid being drafted into the Russian army or who wanted to help relatives contacted me. I informed them about human rights and put them in touch with activists who could organize a trip. I bought plane tickets, looked for rides or temporary accommodation,” says Nordik.

She says that most of those willing to flee have long since left, but that there are other men who are still preparing to leave the country.

The first to have had to be taken out of the country were trans people or people who had been arrested during protests, because they are most threatened by the regime, says Vezhevatowa: “It was feared that security forces would take them home with draft notices.”

Helpers picked up the fugitives at the Russian-Georgian border and housed them in apartments rented by activists.

“Some joked that they now had no place to sleep themselves,” says Vezhevatowa. She is convinced that women are the foundation of Russian civil society today because they come together quickly and help effectively.

Natalia Kovylyaeva is convinced that the FAS is the most important institution that brought forth the feminist movement in Russia. According to the political scientist from the University of Tartu in Estonia, at the beginning of 2022 there were about 57 feminist groups in Russia in about 30 regions of the country.

Many of them formed the FAS as early as February 25, the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Today, according to Kovylyaeva, the movement is active in 100 cities in Russia and abroad.

FAS currently has more than 40,000 followers on Telegram. Its members organize anti-war protests, wear black clothes on the streets, spread anti-war memes on social networks, write “No to war” on ruble bills and publish the newspaper Shenskaya Pravda (Women’s Truth).

“Shenskaya Pravda is an independent anti-war newspaper that you can show your mothers and grandmothers without feeling ashamed,” it said on Twitter, where the newspaper is available for download.

The FAS activists also carry out actions such as “Mariupol 5000”. They set up hundreds of memorial stones in the courtyards of houses in Russia for the people killed in the eastern Ukrainian city.

“Feminists provide refugees with legal, psychological and material assistance, help them to move and look after activists who are physically burned out,” says Kovylyaeva.

The movement is organized horizontally and activists can set up their own association in each city. “This makes the FAS more adaptable and allows for new tactics and strategies. The hydra has several heads, and if you cut off one, ten new ones will grow,” says Natalia Kovylyaeva.

She believes that the FAS also stands out from other initiatives through creative forms of protest: “The feminists address people in a format that they can understand and address the war and its consequences in a language that large parts of the population can understand.”

However, the researcher admits that the attitude towards feminists in Russia has always been very negative. Only a few are aware of what they stand for: “It is difficult to say to what extent attitudes have changed, but feminists have found common ground with large parts of the population,” believes Kovylyaeva. In her opinion, the FAS has become a tangible political force opposed to war, patriarchy, authoritarianism and militarism.

“While the Putin regime crushed other opposition forces, no one took feminists seriously, including opposition politicians,” says the researcher. But the feminists gradually built up a network.

In the meantime, however, says activist Vezhevatowa, many activists have left Russia because they had served prison sentences after the anti-war protests in February and wanted to avoid the risk of further imprisonment. She herself was arrested twice, after which she moved to Yerevan in March. According to the FAS coordinator, however, exile enables them to continue coordination and safe work.

Since the number of draft notices has fallen, the FAS activists have been concentrating on informing the Russians. They call for no notifications and to stay away from the recruitment offices. But the situation is sad and difficult, says Wezhevatowa: “Male gender socialization is in people’s heads and some mothers even convince their sons that they will be cowards and deserters if they don’t go to war.”

In the past, Russian feminists have certainly been insulted by many a man, says Vezhevatova, but emphasizes: “When people are in need and fleeing death, it is not entirely correct to remind them of their past behavior. Also, behind each of the men we are getting out of Russia, there are women – mothers, wives, sisters – and children too.”

Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk

Author: Irina Chevtayeva

On Monday, February 24th, it was exactly eight months ago that Russia invaded the neighboring country. Russia claims Ukraine is planning to detonate a nuclear-contaminated bomb. As a result, ministers are keenly on the phone, experts are concerned. An overview of what happened during the night and a view of the day.

Vladimir Putin sends 300,000 new recruits to Ukraine. Many of them come to the front without proper training. A unit directly from the Ukraine explains exactly what that means. The fighters whine about the lies of the commanders.

The original of this article “Feminists help men escape” comes from Deutsche Welle.