Late Sunday night, Ilya, a 38-year-old Muscovite, hobbled to the front door on crutches to find two officers handing him a draft notice.
Pointing to the cast on his broken leg from a fall down the stairs a few weeks ago, Elijah refused to sign the document, cursed the officer and slammed the door.
“I told them, ‘Why don’t you go where the Russian warships go? Russian invasion Ukraine later sank.
“What did the Ukrainians do to me? I have a lot of friends there. What should I do, go and shoot their relatives? Are they serious?”
nearly a week after the president Vladimir Putin Announcing the “partial” mobilization of reservists to strengthen his forces in Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russians refused to enlist, in the biggest backlash to the Kremlin since the invasion began in February.
With some exceptions, only healthy adult men with combat experience are eligible, but the Kremlin acknowledged on Monday that the draft would have a far bigger impact on the population than Putin had promised – shattering a well-maintained appearance that made Life for most Russians went on. as usual.
The move prompted some refusal, others to protest, and many more to flee the country, where flights have been sold out for days and long queues have formed at Russian land border crossings.
The Kremlin can no longer rely on the acquiescence or indifference of the Russians and faces a dilemma. Further repression of society — dissent over the war has been largely outlawed since March — could further erode support for the war.
But the pullback after Putin annexed four regions in southeastern Ukraine and threatened the West with nuclear weapons could open room for more instability.
“They only know how to use violence to implement their ideas. Violence, war and mobilization are not part of the social contract,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They are destroying their base of social support, these people are apathetic and allowed to go on with their lives. This is a huge mistake.”
The most high-profile protests against Putin’s decree took place in Dagestan, an impoverished region in the North Caucasus mountains that has sent a disproportionate number of men to fight in Ukraine.
On Sunday and Monday, people in several cities in Dagestan chanted “No war!”, blocked a key highway and sparred with officials. Videos posted on social media showed women scuffles with police, several violent detentions and apparent attacks on protesters by mob groups.
A doctor in Makhachkala said some patients had asked her to grant them medical exemptions so they could avoid conscription. “On the day they announced the mobilization, everyone started whispering in the queues, the shops and the buses,” she said. “There’s been news – everyone has heard that someone they know has been chosen. Of course people are not happy.”
The doctor, who asked not to be named, said authorities had begun recruiting medical staff, including nurses, in Dagestan, prompting some of her friends and relatives to flee to Kazakhstan. “We’re going to hide and run. We’re not going to open doors, we’re not going to the draft office, we’re not going to take notices. We’ve talked,” she said.
There is also evidence that officials are using the draft notice to retaliate against those arrested for protesting the war.
Andrei, an 18-year-old student whose last name was chosen not to be published by the Financial Times, was detained at a demonstration in central Moscow last week and taken to a police station. After several hours there, around 1 a.m., he and the other young men were told to go upstairs, where an officer wrote a draft notice.
They tried to refuse to sign, but a policeman threatened them with overnight detention and other consequences. Seeing a youth leave the station immediately after signing it, others, including Andrei, followed suit. A copy of his draft notice was seen by the Financial Times.
Under Russian law, conscripts must be notified in person. The penalty for not obeying a subpoena is a fine.
The young men signed their draft notices but did not go to the office the next day, Andre said, adding that they knew their rights and they would not be held criminally responsible.
Also, as a student, he should defer his military service obligations.
“In any case, I don’t meet the criteria for mobilization,” Andrei said. “My main theory is that this is done to scare people, or to catch stupid people.”
Many have tried to avoid conscription by fleeing the country amid widespread rumors that Russia will limit the departure of men of military age.
The Kremlin and Defense Ministry said on Monday there were no plans to close the border, a sign they were trying to quell widespread public panic and blamed the anger on overzealous local authorities.
On Sunday, Vladimir Soloviev, the head of the belligerent state TV talk, jokingly called for the execution of unscrupulous draft officials. Shortly after, a man was shot dead in Ust-Ilimsk in eastern Siberia by a man who was reportedly furious at the enlistment of a substandard friend.
Some officials have called on Russia to let those who want to leave.
“Let the running rat run. The ship will be ours, it is gaining strength and clearly heading towards its goal,” Russia’s election commissioner Ella Pamfilova said on Monday.
On Monday, officials at some airports and border posts on the land border with Kazakhstan said they had received lists of people banned from leaving the country.
Alexander, 33, who works for a European company in Moscow, said he was denied boarding a flight to Turkey with his girlfriend at the capital’s Vnukovo airport on Monday. The Financial Times saw a copy of Alexander’s withdrawal ban.
“They were very polite. They told me that because of the mobilization, the recruitment office had forbidden me from leaving Russia,” even though he never served in the military, Alexander said.
“All the other guys on the bench have the same problem. They’re flying to the Seychelles, the Maldives, they’re on their honeymoon with their wives and kids. That’s it – the men can’t leave.”
Other Russians resisted the draft by dodging officials trying to issue subpoenas.
Lev, 27, who lives on the outskirts of Moscow, quit his job and left home after officials put his call for papers in the mailbox. He said he decided to avoid his registered address but remain in the country, fearing he would be caught at the border and handed a draft notice.
“Putin’s ‘special military operation’ just destroyed my life and any chance I had,” he said. “Now he really wants to take my life.”
Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Berlin