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‘I’m convinced there’s nothing legal about any of this’ The whole of Russian mobilization in one man’s story

Source: Bumaga
Mikhail Tereshchenko / TASS

It’s well known by now that Russia’s “partial” (in fact total) mobilization affected many beyond the reserves and people with prior combat experience, the groups Vladimir Putin said would be called up in his September 21 announcement. There are many instances of summonses arriving for people who are entitled to an exemption, like fathers of multiple children and people with serious health conditions. It happened to 28-year-old Egor (his name has been changed) who was drafted in Petersburg though he has kidney disease. He was sent to a military training camp where, he says, one conscript committed suicide and two others died of heart attacks. The publication Bumaga spoke to Egor and found out how he was called up and how he avoided being sent to the front. Here, with Bumaga’s permission, is Egor’s account.

Egor’s health problems started during his mandatory military service, though he should have been exempt

In the middle of the 2010s I did my mandatory service, even though I shouldn’t have been called up. Even during the initial medical exam (which all men undergo in order to get a registration certificate), I had headaches and a number of issues related to the arteries that supply blood to the brain, the consequences of a brain hemorrhage. Earlier, in the 2000s, I received disability status for about two years following a traumatic head and spinal injury.

When I was called up at that point, the medical commission was really hesitant. But in the end, based on the fact that one of my conditions had mysteriously disappeared (though I still had it the year before), they decided I should serve.

As I explained later, the medics didn’t note anywhere that I had a history of cerebral hemorrhage or issues with blood supply to the brain. I was assigned to a fitness group for conscripts with diseases that do not prevent military service. That, of course, was itself a violation. During my mandatory service, because of bad drinking water and cold, I developed kidney problems. At the time they seemed insignificant.

Before conscription, my kidneys were totally normal. About a year after my mandatory service, I was looking for work and discovered health problems during a physical exam for Russian Railways. They suspected kidney stones. At the end of the 2010s I was hospitalized for the first time with acute pain and obstruction of the urinary tract.

Now whoever is to blame can’t be found. But I personally think the root of the evil lies primarily with the draft commission, which sent me to mandatory service.

I still have problems with my head – I have frequent, severe headaches. I’ve fainted on the metro. In 12 years it’s happened seven or eight times.

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Egor was drafted with a summons signed by another person, and sent to a unit without another exam

In my civilian life I sell children’s wheelchairs, and also as a hobby, mostly for free, I give psychological consultations.

[In September 2022] I got a summons that another person had already signed (he rents an apartment that’s registered to me). 

I was not pleased. But I didn’t hide from anyone, I appeared as the summons said with a packet of documents. I wanted to explain the mistake at the enlistment office: I can’t be drafted because of a large number of health issues. [Bumaga’s editors have seen copies of Egor’s medical records and they support his claim that he is unfit for mobilization.] The military commissar refused to listen to me and announced that they’d do another exam on the unit in Kamenka. [The medical examination should have been carried out in the enlistment office.]

I wound up in Kamenka, where the unit was stationed, at the end of September. Town representatives told me that I would be serving in the infantry, even though it was incompatible with my diagnoses. I’ll be in constant pain if I serve in open areas in fall or winter. But they assured me that the medical commission would start working only on October 3.

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The atmosphere on the unit where at least three conscripts died

In Kamenka, it was not clear what was going on in the military unit itself. There was no leadership, three or four officers were trying to run everything. They themselves, those poor guys, slept three to five hours a night because, in addition to dealing with personnel, they had mountains of paperwork. That’s another question, not about my problems but about the state’s. As it turned out, the state was just not ready for mobilization on any level.

There were several emergency incidents in Kamenka with fatal outcomes. Two conscripts had heart failure, one of them was named Aleksey. If he hadn’t died, he would have gone the following day for an exam at the Military Medical Academy.

Another one shot himself during target practice. It’s lucky he didn’t decide to shoot others. His finger didn’t remain on the trigger when the gun fell, so no one was hurt. I heard about other deaths, but they’re not verified.

Death by mobilization

One from a ‘blood clot,’ another by suicide The Russian conscripts who died without going to war

Death by mobilization

One from a ‘blood clot,’ another by suicide The Russian conscripts who died without going to war

The mental state of conscripts and contract soldiers

After that conscript shot himself, a psychological service started working in the unit. It began referring people with panic attacks, depression, and anxiety disorders to the Military Medical Hospital. This didn’t happen before the suicide.

I’m a psychologist myself by training. I experienced all this particularly acutely. On smoke breaks, more than one person said he’d come talk to me. And guys came, surprisingly.

The contract soldiers have already been under fire, they go [to the front] like it’s just a day at work. They came to me with everyday problems, like family relationships. As a rule, many who complain of psychological problems experience cognitive dissonance. Like, they were against the war, but now they’re for it [because they’re being sent to fight]. Most of all they come because they fear death, of course. Many are horrified. They’ve held a gun only because they took an oath to do it. People don’t want to kill. Or die.

In terms of negative trends, I noticed that after the target practice incident, many began to avoid more guarded people. It’s alarming, because those guys need the opposite – special attention, support, possibly medical help. But a lot of them won’t ask for it themselves. And that can have tragic results.

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Egor was almost sent to the front without any training, but instead he wound up in the hospital

The day after I got to the unit, I made my medical documents public. They were received without enthusiasm. But on Monday, October 3, the first day the medical commission was working, I was given a referral to a neurosurgeon and a urologist at the Military Medical Academy – in ten days. In addition [to chronic health issues,] I got an infection which made my feet swell up, and I couldn’t stand or put on shoes. Thanks to that, I was exempted from firearms and tactical training.

The problem was that in all that time only two cars left for the Military Medical Academy. They had eight seats each, none of which I got. And then, within a few days I was on the list of people leaving for Belgorod. At the very least it smacks of idiocy and wasted money. I repeat, I did not go through even the most minimal training because of my injured legs.

The day before the departure, I was supposed to be taken to the Academy, but at the last minute my name was replaced by another – the heart failure case. From stress and, I confess, from fear that I’d be sent [to war] the next day, I got a [kidney] stone. The doctor on duty, a surgeon, made a very quick and accurate diagnosis, performed aesthesia, and called an ambulance. I thought the spasm was psychosomatic, but a work-up showed that it wasn’t.  

I’m now in the hospital in Vyborg. It’s very unclear what I should do when I’m discharged, how to get to either the unit or the Military Medical Academy. But it will become clear in time. My case, obviously, is not as outrageous as, for example, the mobilization of the father of four young children. But I’m still convinced that there’s nothing legal about any of this.

Abridged translation by Emily Laskin

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