In the fourth week of partial mobilization, which began on September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that it would soon be completed. However, he did not give the exact date. In Moscow, the recruitment offices have since been closed, but they are still active in many regions of the country. According to official figures, 300,000 citizens are to be drafted into the Russian army. Of these, 222,000 have already been called up, according to Putin.
Many of the men who have been hiding from conscription since the end of September have now left Russia. How do your wives who stayed in Russia feel? Three told DW their story. Their names have been changed for security reasons.
Daria, a copywriter from Chelyabinsk in the southeastern Urals, had not been interested in politics at all until recently: “I couldn’t bring myself to find out what was fake and what was real.” Viewing the war as a disaster, she tried not to think of him. She simply suppressed the problem. But when the partial mobilization began, Daria became afraid for her husband Alexei. She studied the laws and decided with him that he should leave the country.
Alexei went to Kazakhstan because he is allowed to stay there without a passport, which he does not have. Before his departure, Daria did not sleep for nights. She took care of all the preparations, took care of the papers, looked for an apartment for her husband and figured out which border crossing was best for him to use.
Alexei followed his wife’s plan and crossed the border without any problems. Now he lives in an apartment in the Kazakh capital Astana and works there as a photographer. “In terms of work, contacts and prospects, things are even better there than in Chelyabinsk,” says Daria.
She continues to help her husband from afar: she ordered pillows, a blanket, bed linen and a kettle for his new home via an online shop and also sent a package with winter clothes. One problem is the internet, which does not work so well for Alexei in Kazakhstan and does not allow for regular video calls.
Daria, meanwhile, applied for a passport and wants to go to her husband soon because she fears that the Russian authorities could close the borders because of the imposition of martial law in Donbass: “I don’t even want to think that I will stay here and he is there . It’s very hard and sad. We have a great relationship, we’ve been together since 2017.” In this situation, however, the young woman is happy that she and her husband are still childless.
Now she only worries about her parents, who live in Chelyabinsk: “They are patriotic, I can’t change their minds because they have to live here. In Kazakhstan, all the problems my husband faces can be solved. Here you have the feeling that everything is on fire.”
When the partial mobilization was ordered by Vladimir Putin, Olga from Murmask in the far north immediately thought that it wouldn’t stop there and that everyone capable of military service would be called up. Therefore, she and her husband Artyom decided that he should leave the country. His family was not happy with this decision, but did not interfere. Artyom’s mother has a house in the Donetsk region. She wants this region to become Russian, but with minimal casualties. And Artyom’s father thinks his son should have gone to war.
Olga helped her husband to sort out everything that remained to be done in Murmansk. “We had to talk to family and raise money for the trip. We looked for tickets but there weren’t any left. Artjom packed himself. He knows about tourism. He took a backpack, a sleeping bag, warm underwear, a first aid kit and groceries.”
Artyom left Murmansk on September 27 and reached Kazakhstan two days later. Throughout the trip, it was not clear if Russia was closing its borders. “It’s good that he’s gone now. At least now I’m not worried that they’ll catch him and call him up,” admits Olga. Her husband now has a residence permit in Kazakhstan. He lives in an apartment in Almaty with other men he traveled with. Now Artyom is looking for opportunities to start his own company.
Olga and Artyom have a four-year-old son. For the family it is the first separation in such a long time. They continue to make important decisions together, but now via Messenger. Due to the poor internet connection, video calls are rarely possible. That’s why they record videos for each other. “Our son still doesn’t understand where his dad is. When he sees videos of him, he cries and then wants to talk to him. He misses his dad,” says Olga.
She herself continues her usual life as an educator. “Despite all the terrible news, you’re in a daily grind,” says Olga. On the one hand she wants to go to her husband, but she finds it difficult to give up her usual life. “My husband and I have talked about selling the apartment, but I’m not ready. I don’t know what has to happen for me to give up everything and go. A rocket would probably have to land here first, then I would probably run away immediately.”
Elena is a psychologist living in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia. When partial mobilization began, she and her husband decided that he and their son should flee to Armenia. The couple’s son was released from the Russian army this summer – after completing his military service – and is studying at a university. “He will be among the first to mobilize. I don’t want to jeopardize my son’s life and health,” says Elena.
The company, for which Elena’s husband works remotely, moved to the Armenian capital Yerevan when the war broke out. So it was clear where the journey should go. They just had to get there somehow. Elena feared that her husband and son would not be able to leave Russia before the borders were closed. Therefore, already on September 24, they drove to the Georgian border.
In those days, Elena was a kind of “logistics center” for her son and husband. “Before that, I was sort of depressed and down. But when solutions came up, I got a boost of energy,” the woman recalls. Her husband and son managed to cross the border in one day, which Elena says has now become a family legend.
Now her husband and son are settling in Yerevan and getting used to Armenian cuisine. There are difficulties with the money transfer, and it is still unclear how her son will continue his studies at the Russian university. Despite the breakup, Elena is doing better now. “You are safe now. Bad things are not happening to our family, but to our country. We prepare ourselves for everything, but these problems will not break us, they will weld us together more,” says the woman.
At the end of October she wants to visit her husband and son and bring them warm clothes. However, she is not yet planning a final move to Yerevan. In Arkhangelsk she is socially involved and wants to do this for as long as possible.
About the women who send their husbands to war, Elena says: “They think that this war is something like the Great Patriotic War.” She believes that women in Russia are now less at risk than men: “We can do that Taking the place of men and making decisions that may affect a change in the country’s politics. But women cannot stop the war.”
Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk
Author: Katerina Shmeleva
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The original of this article “What women say about deserters” comes from Deutsche Welle.