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A mobilized pacifist seeks to do alternative service The story of Kirill Berezin, who took a taxi home from the front then turned himself in
Kirill Berezin, a 27-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, who tried unsuccessfully to obtain a transfer to alternative civilian service after he was drafted, escaped from a military unit in the village of Khokhlovo, in the Belgorod region.
Upon returning home, according to the BBC’s Russian Service, he immediately turned himself in to the Russian Investigative Committee. He also asked the Committee to bring his commander to justice for threatening murder and abusing his powers.
Kirill Berezin, who holds pacifist views, received a summons three days after the beginning of mobilization in Russia. He decided to go to the enlistment office, to request that he be reassigned to alternative civilian service. “They took my passport and military ID before I could even open my mouth,” he told the BBC Russian Service.
Berezin was sent to a combat unit in the village of Kamenka, outside of Vyborg. The mobilized men were taken out to the training grounds once in four days. At target practice, Berezin was told to fire 30 shots “at the target,” which he couldn’t see because of poor vision — he didn’t have his glasses with him.
On September 28, the conscripts were sent to the Belgorod region by train. The journey took three days. There, they were placed in a temporary camp in the village of Khokhlovo. There wasn’t enough room for everyone in the tents. Some, including Berezin, had to sleep outside
On October 2, the conscripts were given weapons and taken again to a training ground. They were supposed to be sent to the front on October 5, but Berezin refused to take his combat equipment and filed a report about transferring to alternative service.
Berezin was summoned to appear before Lieutenant Colonel Anatoly Smerdov, the chief of staff of military unit 02511 (permanent place of deployment — the village of Kamenka in the Vyborg part of the Leningrad region).
According to Berezin, Smerdov threatened to “knock his teeth out.” “He held his fist near my face and said that now he’d **** [force me].” Berezin told BBC’s Russian Service that the chief of staff said “why do normal boys have to die while you, **** carrion, get to live?”
Berezin appealed in court for his mobilization to be declared illegal, but his appeal was denied. Berezin says that Lieutenant Colonel Smerdov threatened him and promised to send him to the front. “I told him that while the court was deliberating I couldn’t be sent anywhere. He said he’d give me a rifle butt to the head and, while I was unconscious, shove me in a Kamaz [a Russian truck brand],” the conscript said.
When Berezin learned that his unit was being moved from Khokhlovo (the officers didn’t say when or where the unit would go), he decided to flee. “I did not want to go into the unknown under the leadership of a man who threatened me,” Berezin said.
Berezin left the unit without difficulty, leaving his uniform and knapsack in a tent so no one would start looking for him immediately. He went to a store, which had taxis nearby. There, he negotiated with a driver to take him as far as St. Petersburg for 35,000 rubles ($560). Within 22 hours, he was home.
In St. Petersburg, Berezin immediately headed to the Investigative Committee. His confession made it possible to determine when he arrived there. An article on “unauthorized abandonment of a unit” states that if the service member is missing for fewer than two days, he cannot be held criminally responsible.
At that time, Berezin also wrote a report about Lieutenant Colonel Smerdov. The Committee decided to conduct two checks — one about the officer’s actions, and one about the AWOL conscript. At the time of the check, Berezin was assigned to a combat unit on Vasilyevsky Island in St. Petersburg.
Berezin’s lawyer, Nikifor Ivanov, intends to secure his client a transfer to alternative service and is preparing an appeal:
Berezin is not refusing to serve, he is even willing to be a cook, a clerk at headquarters, or a hospital orderly, he just will not take up arms and use them to inflict harm on any other person or, especially, to kill any other person.
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