I’m abroad staying with friends… but I may never return to Russia

·4 min read
Billboards, like this one in Saint Petersburg, promoting entry into the Russian army are on the increase across Russia - OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP
Billboards, like this one in Saint Petersburg, promoting entry into the Russian army are on the increase across Russia - OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP

For men across Russia, the war in Ukraine felt like a world away, safe in the knowledge it would be left to the professionals. On Wednesday that all changed as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilisation of 300,000 reservists.

While Russia’s defence minister said the call will apply to those who have served, have combat experience or have special military skills, Putin’s order was vague, prompting fears it will be open to interpretation. Aleksandr G, a Russian Army reservist, speaks to The Telegraph anonymously due to safety concerns:

On Tuesday I went to bed late. Like many other Russians that night, I was waiting for Vladimir Putin's delayed address, where he was set to announce mobilisation.

The news catches me while I'm abroad. I had been planning to stay with friends for a couple of days but now it seems it was a one-way trip. I try to drive away the thought that I will not return to Russia.

Like most men in Russia, I have a military rank. I’m a sergeant and an army reservist. We have compulsory military service - you are required to serve for a year after turning 18. You can reduce this to just a month if you join the military training centre at university. This is how I got my rank.

In theory as a military centre graduate, I am a reservist of the second category. This means that during a mobilisation I should be called not with the first, but with the second wave of recruits.

But the decree on mobilisation issued on Wednesday is formulated in such a way that everyone could be called up. The seventh paragraph of the decree - concerning the numbers to be mobilised - is classified. The government says that 300,000 bayonets need to be assembled. I don't believe them.

There have been a number of protests, like this one in Moscow, since Vladimir Putin announced his partial mobilisation policy - AFP/ALEXANDER NEMENOV
There have been a number of protests, like this one in Moscow, since Vladimir Putin announced his partial mobilisation policy - AFP/ALEXANDER NEMENOV

They say there isn't a war, but there is. They say there are no conscript soldiers on the battlefield, but dozens of them have died. They said they would not occupy anything. Now Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are preparing referendums on joining Russia. They promised that there would be no mobilisation. Yesterday we woke up to find we had been deceived again.

Since the beginning of the war, I, like many Russian men, have been thinking about what to do in this scenario. For a long time, these considerations seemed as abstract as thinking about where to hide in the event of a nuclear war. In general, there were three options: Hide, go to jail or fight.

On Wednesday, this question abruptly ceased to be theoretical. It became terrible and real. The decision cut life into before and after.

I imagined opening a mailbox in Moscow to find a call up paper there. It is impossible to ignore. According to the new law, adopted the day before the mobilisation announcement, service evaders can go to prison for years. And I don't want to fight. I know what war is. What is happening in Ukraine now is a cruel extermination of both Russians and Ukrainians.

A woman in Moscow is arrested for protesting against the changes to mobilisation laws announced by Vladimir Putin - ALEXANDER NEMENOV /AFP
A woman in Moscow is arrested for protesting against the changes to mobilisation laws announced by Vladimir Putin - ALEXANDER NEMENOV /AFP

I also wonder what supporters of the war are thinking. The military commissar is coming knocking on the door of everyone - the Z-patriot and the war critic alike.

In a matter of hours, air tickets to countries where Russian carriers could still fly sold out. Dozens of my friends are looking for tickets, housing, packing, moving deep into Russia, away from their place of registration. My parents, my girlfriend, my friends, my colleagues and even my boss called me to say not to come back.

"Those who managed to get tickets in advance and who had money are now landing in Istanbul, Tbilisi, Yerevan - anywhere that call up papers could not be delivered. Among them are those who until recently toasted Putin's health.

Most Russians cannot enter the EU. Those who wanted to restrict visas say that visiting is a privilege. But right now, it is also a means of survival.

I never rejoiced in either Russian or Ukrainian failures on the battlefield. Because failures and even victories mean deaths. More deaths on both sides. I am for the war to be ended immediately and against everything that prolongs it. Recently I have been re-reading Ernest Hemingway's journalism. I came across his 1936 Esquire article about Mussolini’s campaign in Ethiopia.

These are my thoughts today: "Poor men’s sons all over Italy are foot soldiers, as poor men’s sons all over the world are always foot soldiers. And me, I wish the foot soldiers luck; but I wish they could learn who is their enemy — and why."