Illustration: Boris Khmelny / Mediazona
In June, an unemployed Russian man from a town in the Urals tried to sign an army contract, hoping to earn money promised by the authorities—but failed his medical examination. In late September the mobilisation was announced and the man was drafted and quickly sent off to the front lines, without any training. His daughter tells Mediazona that he was unable to solve any of his financial problems: not only did he need to buy his own gear, but upon arrival at the Luhansk People’s Republic, the soldiers spent all their remaining cash on building materials as they needed some kind of protection from the cold.
During the pandemic, Pyotr Seleznev, 47, saw his tourism business suffer greatly. A native of Novouralsk in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia, 1,000 miles east of Moscow, Pyotr watched his business incur steady losses over the past two years. When Russia’s war with Ukraine broke out, his international logistics company suffered a tremendous blow. Seleznev started having money problems, and in June, desperate, he went to the local military draft office—he wanted to sign an army contract and go to war.
“My father went to the draft office and said: ‘I want to go to war because, people say, you pay a lot of money here,’” his daughter Svetlana recounts. According to her, Seleznev had “limited information about what was happening at the front.” It seemed to him, “that it was fun there, the Russians were winning, and we had no casualties.”
In June, Seleznev failed the medical examination: army doctors discovered problems with his blood pressure. He was told conclusively that he was only partially fit for service due to the state of his health. “In August, even before the mobilisation, my father received a call and was told that he was fit to be sent to the front after all,” says the daughter. “We have a paper certificate at home that says he is not fit due to health reasons, but someone changed this in the system to ‘fit.’”
At the same time, in August, Seleznev was called to the military draft office. According to his daughter, he told them that he had already found another job at a factory producing spare parts for military vehicles, and he no longer wanted to fight. “Then the officials office let off a bit,” says Svetlana.
But on September 24, after the mobilisation began, Seleznev’s daughter recalls that her father got a call from the draft office, “because he’d been there already.”
“They said: ‘Oh, you wanted to go to war. You’re fit. Pack your things, and let’s go.’”
According to his daughter, Seleznev told his family that he would not “run away from the service,” because all his friends “are these conservatives who were saying, ‘If we receive a summons, we will go, and if we don’t, we won’t go.’” But his friends, unlike him, were not summoned. “He went [to the draft office,] and they piled him in, roughly speaking,” says Svetlana. Eventually, Seleznev managed to get five days of delay so that he could buy himself a sleeping bag and some gear.
On September 29, Seleznev was taken to the closest major city, Yekaterinburg, to get assigned to a unit. From there, he was supposed to go to the town of Yelan for training.
Seleznev called his wife from Yekaterinburg and told her there were about 1,500 men at the distribution centre, mobilised from all over the region. He waited for about six hours, and when it was his turn to register, it turned out that he and a couple of his new pals were not on the list. “I would have gone home at that moment,” says Seleznev’s daughter. “If you’re not on the list, you’re not drafted.” Her father stayed, and eventually he was registered on the spot.
Seleznev spent a lot of time completing registration survey, so he did not leave for Yelan in time and was left to spend the night in Yekaterinburg, Svetlana says, “with his brothers in arms and misery.” And the next morning, instead of the training centre, the mobilised men were sent to Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. There, the men were given uniforms, divided into detachments, and without preparation—as Seleznev secretly managed to inform his family on the phone—sent to the Luhansk region.
“My father was a self-employed businessman for many years. He told us about a guy he met there, who used to work as a traffic cop. They are all almost fifty, and everyone has a lot of health issues,” says Svetlana. “I mean, these are not soldiers like we imagine… who can run, be active. My father and those who are with him now, at most, can sit somewhere and sort papers. They really needed to go through at least some training.”
Svetlana emphasises that her father was motivated to go to the front “not only because in this case he wouldn’t be imprisoned for evasion, but also because they promised money. A one-time payment of 300 thousand and another 290 thousand monthly for service.”
“But the most interesting thing is,” she continues, “as soon as he left, the State Duma withdrew the decree on the payment of these 300 thousand. And the monthly 290 thousand probably won’t come through either. He told us on the phone that neither him, nor anyone he has met, has signed any contracts. What is the basis of them being there? What exactly will they be doing? And how much will they get paid?”
The last time Seleznev contacted his family was on the afternoon of October 3, from a new number. He told his wife that he and the other mobilised men were brought to the Luhansk People’s Republic, and that they had bought building materials with their own money to build “some kind of shelter, so they wouldn’t freeze to death.” Svetlana says. “They were not allocated any housing. No barracks, no tents. Nothing.”
“He told my mom that he ran out of money,” says Svetlana. “The payroll cards that they recieved before the flight to Rostov-on-Don were not activated. It’s just a plastic card that he can’t do anything with. And my mom and I can’t even send him money. He’s also going to run out of money on the SIM card he bought there. And someone told him that it’s also impossible to pay for the connection from Russia, so he won’t even be able to call us anymore.”
By Irina Kravtsova
Editor: Maria Klimova
Translation: Jack McClelland
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