In Russia's Buryatia, home to the native Buryat population, Vladimir Putin’s ‘partial mobilization’ looks more like a raid: draft papers are being delivered late at night and handed out indiscriminately to everyone, including those who by law should not be getting them. The regional authorities have admitted that draft papers have been served on 70 fathers of large families. In at least one case, they tried to draft a man who died two years ago. Mediazona tells the story of mobilisation in the region with at least 275 casualties from the war.
On the night of September 22, no one in Buryatia could fall asleep. Zealous draft officials were roaming around from one house to another looking for men. Of those caught, many were given just half an hour to grab their stuff before they would be taken to the army assembly centers. Human rights activists calculated that 3,000 to 5,000 people were mobilised within 24 hours.
“People of Buryatia haven’t slept last night. People living in the smallest single street villages started texting me. They were saying 20–30 men were being drafted from each village,” says Victoria Maladaeva, vice president of the Svobodnaya Buryatia anti-war foundation. She adds: “450 people were taken from Eravna. Many Buryats live in Zabaykalsky Krai [, a neighboring region in the Russian Far East]. Locals also told us about men being bussed out. Later, our foundation published explainers, and we urged everyone to send them to as many people as possible because the government was trying to grab anyone and everyone.”
According to Maladaeva, some “were given half an hour to get their stuff packed.” After, they were immediately taken away from their homes and to other districts, later transferred to to Ulan-Ude, the republic’s largest city, or Kyakhta, where 37th Separate guards motorised rifle brigade is based.
“Nobody expected that mobilisation would start immediately,” says Maladaeva. “Besides, during his inauguration ceremony the day before, the head of the republic [Alexei Tsydenov] was pretentiously eloquent about ‘Buryatia’s future’ and so on and so forth. And that same night, he was sending Buryatya’s citizens off to their deaths.”
Maladaeva says that the authorities would draft all men, no matter the age. “I got several messages about families where every male member received a notice: son-in-law, husband, son, and father. The scale of [the madness] shocked everyone.”
Maladeeva says that at the beginning of the invasion, Buryatia’s military units were “among the first to be thrust into battle.” She notes that the neighboring city, Irkutsk, was spared of this experience. According to her, many ethnic Buryats who were yet to receive their draft papers headed to the border with Mongolia.
“They just had to flee spending three to four hours in queues at the border. We want to ask the Mongolian government to set up a humanitarian corridor and refrain from closing the border, because sending all the men to the war amounts to genocide. Right now, activists are working on this,” Maladaeva says.
According to the activist, draft papers were delivered not only by recruitment officials but also by various civil servants and teachers. “At least three Ulan-Ude schools didn’t function the following day because they were turned into mobilisation centers. On chat groups, teachers were instructing the parents not to bring kids to school, which meant teachers were also involved,” Maladaeva adds.
“A colleague of my husband, Fedorov, called him and asked, ‘Where are you? You were supposed to receive the draft papers today.’ Near the end of the conversation, he asked: ‘You’ve got five kids, right?’. And he laughed,” says Ulan-Ude citizen Yanina Nimaeva in a widely shared video.
Her husband Alexander is 38 years old, he works at the civil emergency service department in Ulan-Ude. The man did not serve in the army, is a father to five children from two marriages, all underage: the younger twins are almost 3, the eldest daughter is 14.
His wife told Mediazona that some two hours after Fedorov’s 9pm call, Alexander got another call, from an employee of the regional sports ministry. The lady did not say her name.
“By four in the morning you must come to DK Rassvet concert hall, and by 2pm you shall be on the train to Chita [in Zabaykalsky Krai],” the official says on a taped recording of the call.
Alexander refused to answer the question about his whereabouts and promised to call back. “She told him that she was ready to come anywhere,” Nimaeva says with a bitter smile. The lady said: ‘I'm already on my way to the district.’ They launched this full-scale administrative resource campaign to deliver draft papers in the shortest span of time possible. Looks like a lot of Ulan-Ude locals were visited that night.”
The couple turned off their phones for the night because they didn’want to be located—they don’t live at the address of their registration due to ongoing renovations. And in the morning of September 22, the recruitement officials showed up at that apartment.
“Once the worker had opened the door, they went inside, realised that Alexander wasn’t there, asked where he was, and left,” Yanina says.
Her husband’s boss had already contacted her asking to take the video down, but she refused. “They just say, ‘Oh, you must have misunderstood something. He has five children, they won’t take him. Delete the post’,” she recalls.
Nimaeva said that the boss started grooming her husband two months ago when the local authorities asked managers at local businesses to provide lists of employees ready to sign up for the “special military operation.”
“His boss, Valery Vildavsky, tried to persuade him over the phone: ‘Well, you’re so young, why don’t you sign up and serve your country?’” Alexander refused. The boss called three times, but Sasha refused three times,” the wife says.
Yanina, Alexander and their two children are now living in a ‘secret’ apartment. Alexander did not go to work that day. The family now hopes “to wait out” the peak of the mobilisation.
“We see that call-up papers are being delivered to those who had never served and who have no combat experience,” she said. They hand the draft papers to 45-year-old people. I think we need to wait it out, it will get sorted somehow.”
Natalia Smirnova from Ulan-Ude describes how at around eight o’clock in the morning of September 22 she got a call from her dead brother’s wife. The widow said that recruitement officials had arrived with draft papers for 40-year-old Alexander Bezdorozhny who had died of COVID 2 years ago. His son, also Alexander, lives at the same apartment.
“They asked, ‘Does Bezdorozhny Alexander Alexandrovich live here? We are from the military recruitment center’.” She replied, “Yes, but my son Sasha is 17 years old.” Natalia hadn’t realized that the call-up notice was for her dead husband.”
The widow let the officials in the apartment, they sat down at the table and took out the papers with the date of birth of Bezdorozhny the father.
“She said, ‘But he had died, don’t you know?’, Natalia continues, “They asked again ‘How come… He died?” After that they said they would ‘check the info’, apologised and left.”
“Do not ignore instructions, learn how to apply bandages, how to provide first aid, because people die of blood loss,” a man in the uniform reads out loud from a sheet of paper to rows of men sitting in front of him. The video was published by Victoria Maladaeva on September 22. “Men die because someone can’t apply bandage. This is real, guys. You are going to war!”
On that day, she posted several more videos of confused military officers giving speeches and reading from papers in front of their ragtag recruits.
“I’m calling out a name, you get on the bus, and no one gets off the bus,” the officer says, “You will be allowed to have a cigarette when leaving the village of Kurumkan. The bus will make a stop, you will be allowed to go to the restroom and to smoke.”
People of Baikal reported that in the morning of September 22, buses with mobilised men from all over Buryatia were arriving at the Ulan-Ude recruitment center on Shumyatsky Street.
“We were given a verbal order to pull the mobilised from their beds, put them in buses, and bring them to the center immediately,” said an anonymous employee of one of the district administrations of Buryatia. “Then everyone was to be sent to Ulan-Ude.”
A student of Buryat State University, Ulan-Ude, told the Village that on the morning of September 22, Russian National guard soldiers and military police came to his classroom. “They were taking students away right in the middle of the class,” he said. The press secretary of the regional government confirmed that recruitment officers manned ‘alert stations’ in 11 schools.
At least three thousand men have already been mobilised in the region, Free Buryatia told TV Rain channel. Dorjo Dugarov of the Buryat Democratic Movement told the TV channel that up to five thousand people were mobilised overnight. Activists issued a statement urging recruits “not to take part in Russia’s war crimes,” as well as “to sabotage and refuse to mobilise.”
“They were so cunning, acted swiftly so that the people would not have a chance to prepare,” said a Buryat activist and blogger named Bair.
The activist said that the government employees tried to catch people by surprise. People were pulled out of their beds at night, officers waited for them in the morning by their houses and at grocery stores. They did so, he said, “so no one had time to figure out what to do: refuse, argue or go to the court.”
“It looked like some police operation. It’s kinda like the times of the Second World War,” said Bair.
Translation: Nastia Am
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