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Russian conscientious objector's mother speaks

Marina Baranovskaya
October 6, 2022

As Russian men who refuse to fight in the invasion of Ukraine continue to flee their country, DW speaks to a mother about her misgivings about the war and what the chances are of women going out en masse to protest.

Long line of men and some women on foot and in cars stand at the border to Kazakhstan
Her son joined hundreds of thousands of men who've fled to Kazakhstan and elsewhereImage: DW

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization for his invasion of Ukraine in September, hundreds of thousands of men have fled to neighboring countries such as Georgia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Many did not wait to be called up before leaving.

There have also been protests against conscription across Russia, which have been heavily suppressed by the police.

Irina Ivanova, who asked that her real name not be used for safety reasons, told DW that, despite the desperate situation, she hopes to salvage at least part of herself and her family. 

DW: Can you tell us where your son is? 

Irina Ivanova: My son is in Kazakhstan and is currently organizing his life for the foreseeable future. Perhaps he will also go to the consulates of other countries to apply for visas.

Did he leave Russia because of the draft?

No, we had anticipated the events because he could have been among the first to be conscripted. He is about 30, studying, and has served in the army already. At first, they said that students would not be mobilized but people from military committees and the police kept turning up at the university. So we decided overnight that he should leave. My son bought tickets and traveled to a city on the border with Kazakhstan. We knew that it would not be possible to cross the border legally. A friend of mine helped him and waited until he had passed all the controls and had gotten into a car on the other side.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have sought refuge in neighboring states. Why did the mobilization come as such a shock? People lived for seven months as if there were no war in Ukraine.

That is not true. Everyone knows that there is a war in Ukraine. But everyone has their daily lives. Those who went to war in Ukraine were people with different reasons: ideological, financial or some kind of inner conviction. But now the authorities have made decisions over the heads of people and many do not agree. They are escaping so that they do not have to be part of all this.

A queue of Russian men in Kazakhstan
Russian men have arrived en masse in KazakhstanImage: Madija Torebaewa/DW

What is your opinion on the fact that some countries are closing their borders to Russian citizens?

On the one hand, their concerns are understandable. On the other, I am disappointed that all Russians are being refused entry and not only those who are to blame for all this. People are being rejected more because of fear and because of a political boycott: Russia is the aggressor, and thus all Russians are aggressors. But people should be looked at individually — me, my son, my friends, my friends' sons. They are not aggressors and invaders. They are protesting in every possible way. This is the bane of all those who disagree with Russian policy.

Many people abroad think that Russians should not run away from the problem but fight against it.

I don't see a way for people themselves to bring an end to what is happening here. How can we do that? Men are escaping because they don't want to sully their hands with blood. Women, like me, have stayed. What can we do? Maybe we will be driven to a rebellion and there will be a women's uprising. There have been many examples in the past.

There have only been major women's protests in Dagestan and Sakha. Why not in major cities such as Moscow?

I talk about this all the time with friends and colleagues. Although we have different opinions, we agree on one thing: We are responsible for our children. I went to all the protests, vigils and demonstrations. But I always made sure not to come under the batons of the police because I have two other children, who are still minors. There are millions of people like me. If for some reason we are no longer here, the lives of our families and our children will also be destroyed. In small republics, such as Dagestan or Sakha, there is a strong sense of family and clan solidarity. Muscovites like me do not have anyone behind us. We don't want to live the way we have to live today, but we can't do anything about it. This is our greatest tragedy and misfortune.

Long queue of cars at the border between Russia and Georgia
Georgia is a popular destination for Russians trying to dodge the draft Image: AP/picture alliance

What reactions to the mobilization have you observed among your friends and overall in the country?

Everyone in my circle of friends is horrified and rejects this war. I hate the state that has usurped my homeland. I have probably been repeating this phrase for 20 years already. But I also know that in the regions, in depressed towns, in villages, where information arrives in twisted form and only via the state TV and radio stations, there are very different views. It is a huge territory, and people are prepared to support all of this. Here, we feel we are the minority.

What future do you see for your country? And for yourself?

I do not see any future in today's Russia. We don't have a leader whom we could follow. They have all been removed. Nobody is trying to become a leader anymore. We don't have any means of influence anymore. We can only reject and resist everything. We can at least attempt to rescue part of our family and ourselves.

This interview was originally conducted in Russian by Marina Baranovskaya. It has been condensed for clarity.

Russia: Protests against Putin's mobilization