“Keep up the good work, sisters” The women behind “The Way Home” Telegram channel mobilizing for soldiers’ return from Ukraine
Алла Константинова
“Keep up the good work, sisters” The women behind “The Way Home” Telegram channel mobilizing for soldiers’ return from Ukraine
7 December 2023, 19:43

Relatives of the mobilized men in Moscow, November 7, 2023. Photo: “The Way Home” channel

In Russia, authorities keep sending men to the front lines, while “military reporters,” also known as milbloggers, tell their mothers and wives that the mobilized are “engaged until the conclusion of the special military operation.” Women opposing this state of affairs are also fighting—against officials and the police. Their requests to organize protests are denied, they receive formulaic responses to their appeals, and endure home visits from police for “preventive talks.” One of the largest Telegram channels for the wives of the mobilized, “The Way Home,” (“Put Domoi” in Russian), has been marked as “fake” by Telegram. Propagandists allege its ties to foreign intelligence and warn against trusting it. Mediazona spoke with women who met through “The Way Home” and are now jointly fighting for the return of their husbands from the front.

“The Way Home” gained widespread attention about a month ago following a demonstration by relatives of conscripted soldiers in Moscow on November 7. That day, around 30 women joined a Communist Party rally at Manezhnaya Square near Kremlin, brandishing banners and demanding the return of their husbands from war in Ukraine. The idea to join the rally was suggested through the Telegram channel.

The protest lasted approximately five minutes before police intervention. Nonetheless, the channel’s post read, “We are being heard, keep up the good work, sisters,” signalling a determination to continue their activism.

Subsequently, protests by the mobilized men’s wives began facing nationwide bans. Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk in Siberia were among the first to deny permission for similar demonstrations, citing sanitary regulations and Vladimir Putin’s mobilization decree respectively. Later, Moscow’s city administration declined to approve a rally planned for November 25 at Teatralnaya Square, ostensibly due to the “epidemiological situation.”

“We’ve been written off, we won’t return from here.” People behind the channel

Kristina Arkhipova, living in the Saratov region and an economist by education, is one of the administrators of “The Way Home.” As she speaks to Mediazona, the sounds of a fussy child are audible in the background.

“When my husband was mobilized on October 26 last year, our son was just a year old,” Kristina recounts. “He received the draft notice almost immediately after the mobilization began and foolishly signed it. I told him not to sign, but people from rural areas are naive. And with that signature, he sealed his fate.”

Her husband spent just over a month in wait before being sent to war. According to Kristina, after a brief stay at a training unit, he found himself in Luhansk. The fear in her husband’s voice was evident when he called from there. “Once, they were taken to the ‘yellow zone,’ where they were under shelling. They had neither weapons nor proper clothing. They were left there and abandoned,” Arkhipova recalls. “He told me they had to find somewhere to spend the night themselves.”

At the military draft office, her husband was told he would be on the front “for three to four months, a maximum of half a year.” When asked whether her husband wanted to fight at all, she pauses: “He wasn’t particularly interested in politics, but at the training camp, they were heavily indoctrinated, told that there were fascists in Ukraine.” It was only after three months that he “realized they were being used as cannon fodder,” explains Arkhipova.

Kristina prefers not to disclose her husband’s current location or the military unit he is in. She only mentions that her husband, who initially joined the war as an infantryman, was retrained within three weeks and is now attached to a different branch.

“The hardest period was in the summer,” she says. “They were under fire from the first days they arrived there, and comrades began to die left and right in the summer when they were literally thrown into the inferno. He told me about the death of his commander; they were close. It seemed he was in cover, but a shell hit directly, and he couldn’t dodge it. The guy was 23 years old, a contract soldier.”

Kristina reveals that her husband is aware she administers the widely-discussed Telegram channel.

“But I don’t tell him much,” she says. “There’s no time for it. He’s strong too, tries not to express his pain to others. But there are times when he says: ‘We’ve just been written off; we won’t return from here.’ ”

“We are betrayed and exterminated by our own.” What the wives of the mobilized demand

Kristina explains that she is not the sole administrator of “The Way Home,” but she fears revealing the exact number of administrators. She met other wives of the mobilized in the Telegram channel “Bringing the Boys Back” (“Vernyom Rebyat” in Russian), created in June this year by a Novosibirsk resident, Olga Kats, who was trying to bring her younger brother back from the war. In November, the channel stopped updating; in the last post, Olga announced that her 25-year-old brother, Alexander, had died. “My heart is broken,” she wrote. “That’s it for me.”

“The Way Home” was launched on June 20, 2023. The channel currently has over 30,500 subscribers, with an additional 5,000 in a reserve channel. According to Arkhipova, there are about thirty regional “The Way Home” subchannels, but access to them is temporarily restricted for safety reasons.

Kristina shares that the group’s “boiling point” was reached this autumn when they realized “the state had no intention of returning their men.” She lists the places where she and other wives have been sending appeals for months, unsuccessfully: the Ministry of Defence, the State Duma, the office of the human rights ombudswoman—all of which, she says, sent back formulaic responses.

On November 12, a manifesto appeared, in which relatives of soldiers called for a complete demobilization in the country. Two weeks later, a link to a petition against indefinite mobilization was posted. Kristina Arkhipova emphasizes that “The Way Home” differs from other communities of mobilized wives because they demand complete demobilization, not just rotation of troops.

“At meetings with the working group in the State Duma, we were urged to think about who would replace our men at the front,” she recalls. “We told them, ‘Why should we lure someone in place of our own?’ ”

In their appeal for signatures, the wives of the mobilized write that “no one is safe from their fate” and criticize Vladimir Putin.

“How absurd everything happening now is,” the message reads. “2024, the president declared the Year of the Family. Ironic, considering wives cry without husbands, children grow up without fathers, and many are already orphans. Meanwhile, a Satanist cannibal, reoffending after his first sentence, is released after six months, redeeming his serial killings in the ‘special military operation.’ Our president sure has a sense of humor! What are our boys redeeming for the 15th month now?”

However, the manifesto’s authors hope “the president will hear [their] pleas” and write that they will “retreat” only when their husbands return home.

“We are betrayed and exterminated by our own. <…> We’ve been fucked over, and so will you be. All this time, we were only shown a facade of lazy stability, reliability, security. We remember how the president promised that reservists wouldn’t be called up, that tasks in the ‘SMO’ are carried out only by professional volunteers. Then our loved ones were taken to Ukraine,” the channel states. The president’s promises are called “empty,” and mobilization “a terrible mistake.”

“We’ll crush you into the asphalt.” Accusations of working for foreign intelligence

On November 16, the Telegram channel of Vladimir Solovyov, the major state media pundit, published a list of anti-war resources allegedly created by foreign intelligence services, which included the “The Way Home.” Kristina reveals that since then, she often saw online discussions suggesting that the wives of the mobilized couldn’t have written the manifesto themselves and must have done it under someone else’s supervision.

“We, the girls, are economists, lawyers, marketers,” she reflects. “We have higher education, have worked in our fields, and continuously learn and develop. There’s a stereotype that if you’re a mobilized soldier’s wife, you must be a housewife. Plus, during this time, we’ve analyzed so many laws, all these dismissals, meetings with State Duma deputies...”

On November 30, Telegram itself marked the main “The Way Home” channel as “fake,” and soon the same label appeared in groups from the Omsk, Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk regions, Krasnoyarsk and Krasnodar krai. Pro-government blogger Ilya Remeslo then reported that the app’s developers heeded his complaint.

“He sicced people on us who mass-reported the channel,” Kristina says, spreading her hands and showing screenshots of threatening messages that flooded the channel’s bot following posts by Solovyov and Remeslo.

“You bunch of whores and sluts, as soon as one of you bitches shows your face in public, we’ll crush you sluts into the asphalt!” one of these messages reads. “You can shove your fucking petition up your cunts. And after that, we’ll hang you bitches too!”

Kristina Arkhipova also mentions that personal accounts of “The Way Home” administrators were attempted to be hacked several times, even though they are not listed on the Telegram channel. Some women fear that their protests might also have repercussions on their husbands. “Of course, it’s scary,” she nervously laughs. “But what can we do? This is a fight for life.”

“Return my husband! I’m fed up!” Police visits

On November 15, police officers visited at least six residents of the Kemerovo region who were advocating for demobilization, as reported by IStories. The wives of the mobilized said the officers warned them about the consequences of participating in unauthorized actions and even forced some to show their phones and Telegram subscriptions.

“I don’t know how they found us. Our numbers are hidden. We were supposed to gather in Kemerovo, but only 60 people were up for it, so we decided not to submit,” one woman told IStories. “They told us to join the Novosibirsk chat. I don’t understand why they came to us when we ultimately didn’t plan to gather anymore. They probably decided to nip it in the bud, in case we went to an unauthorized rally after being denied permission for a sanctioned one.”

Authorities in Novosibirsk also didn’t allow a rally planned for November 19. Instead, relatives of the mobilized were invited to meet with officials at the Novosibirsk House of Culture. On the same day, a similar rally was supposed to take place in Krasnoyarsk, but Valentina Vorontsova, an assistant to regional legislative assembly deputy Elena Penzina and newly appointed administrator of a chat for the wives of the mobilized, deleted the chat.

On November 28, police visited two members of “The Way Home. Ulyanovsk” after they put stickers on their cars saying, “Return my husband! I’m fed up!” and posted a video in the group. According to 7×7, the police issued a warning to the wives, threatening them with a charge of “discrediting” the army.

Ekaterina Sevastyanova, another wife of a mobilized soldier, told Mediazona that on December 1, two police officers also visited her home (she asked not to specify the city). They first showed her a photo of herself at the November 7 rally of mobilized wives in Moscow, in which Sevastyanova participated.

“They rang the bell at half-past nine in the evening, I opened the door, and there was a man in civilian clothes and another in the uniform of a major. They introduced themselves and showed me their badges. They said, ‘We want to tell you not to participate in unauthorized actions.’ I told them, ‘I don’t participate in unauthorized ones,’ ” Sevastyanova explained.

Ekaterina said she told the officers that, unlike her husband, she does not support “everything that is happening.” They even argued about it when he received the draft notice, she clarified.

“The police said, ‘Well, if it weren’t for this, the enemies would have come to us.’ I told them, ‘I can’t agree with you.’ And they said, ‘Well, your husband, since he’s getting paid, must have a needed military specialty.’ I asked, ‘Why didn’t you go then?’ ‘If we had been called, we would have gone, but we are more needed here,’ they said. We talked for about fifteen minutes. At the end, they said, ‘Please don’t be offended,’ and left.”

Editor: Maria Klimova

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