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‘If you croak, we’ll say you killed yourself.’ A 20-year-old Moscow conscript went on a hunger strike and refused to wear a uniform or follow orders. Two weeks later, he was discharged and came home.
The 20-year-old Anton Gnedovets worked as a milling machine operator at the Bauman MGTU, a Moscow technology school. When drafted into the Russian army, he went on a hunger strike, refusing to wear a uniform or obey orders. Within two weeks, he succeeded in getting discharged from the army, and came home. Our story in a concise version of a longer article published in Russian by Mediazona.
Anton Gnedovets completed his mandatory army service in the fall of 2021. Since March 2022, he worked as a milling machine operator at the Bauman University, a well-known technology school in Moscow. His employer, Bauman MGTU, is officially registered as a defense industry organization. Gnedovets’s employment there entitled him to a draft deferral under the Russian mobilization law.
On October 3, Anton was at work when he received two notices. One of them was a draft summons. The other was a notice from his employer that certified his eligibility for exemption from the draft. The next morning, he set out for the draft office, planning to present both documents and get his exemption squared away. “I thought they’d rubber-stamp the exemption and send me home,” he says.
The draft office reviewed his documents — and declared that his exemption certificate was fake. Anton was placed on a bus together with the other conscripts, and sent to the army base in Naro-Fominsk. There, all the newly-mobilized soldiers received uniforms.
Late at night, the mobilized men arrived at the military unit stationed in the village of Selyatino. “The next morning,” Anton recalls, “it began”:
Everybody rise, officers walking around and ordering everyone to change their clothes. I didn’t follow the order, and refused to wear the uniform.
The officers summoned him to the headquarters and began to threaten that they’d “send him to the front line had have him shot.” Apart from that, they didn’t quite know what to do with him. Anton was shown a bed at the far end of the barracks, and told to “lie there and rot.” He declared a hunger strike. The people in charge replied: “If you croak, we’ll say you killed yourself.”
Gnedovets spent about a week in Selyatino. Other conscripts there complained that their military training was “weak,” and that some platoons were getting no instruction at all. They also complained about having to buy their own gear. Then he overheard two officers talking about two other conscripts in the unit, who had cut their veins and died.
I was the first person who began to protest. So, the other guys began to watch me, as if to say, really, is that something you can do. So, the officers began to pressure everyone. With me, they used threats; with others, it was violence. They beat one guy and locked him in a hot drying room for the night.
Sometime after October 10, Gnedovets and around 30 other conscripts, who were all refusing to serve, were moved to another unit in the Moscow area. When they reported to the headquarters, the officers gave them a talk about how it’s time to “stop rebelling and start serving.” Of the 30 protesting men, only four did not give in to pressure.
On October 19, Anton was dismissed from the unit, partly because his mother was actively appealing his mobilization while he was in the barracks. Without waiting for the official transport, his called a taxi, and came home.
Anton Gnedovets was not the only Bauman MGTU employee to be drafted despite his exemption. Denis Ganzhin, a 44-year-old electrician who also worked for the university, was mobilized, regardless of his exemption certificate, and sent to Belarus on October 24.
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