National | Protest

Fears Russian military draft targets ethnic minorities

Video: Muslim minority women in the Russian state of Makhachkala, Dagestan shout 'no to war' as they protest President Vladimir Putin's military mobilization of 300,000 forces.  / Novaya Gazeta

'Dmitry' is in a small town in eastern Russia of around 1000 people when he first speaks to Te Ao Māori News. He says his bags are packed but he's not sure for where.

“I am not sure whether it is better to leave” he says.

The 37-year-old is part of a Muslim ethnic minority in the small town within the Russian Federation, where some men as old as 52 have been drafted into the Kremlin’s military mobilisation in Ukraine, he says.

‘My eyesight is bad’ he says, which should exclude him from the draft under current legislation. He’s also never even held a weapon - but medical conditions don’t seem to be stopping minorities receiving ‘povestka’ or draft papers.

When Vladimir Putin announced his "partial military mobilisation" on television last Wednesday, the Russian president said the draft would only cover 300,000 reservists and former military personnel but Dmitry says people in his village believe they might be being targeted.

Queues of people fleeing the Russian military draft have flooded the country's borders into Finland, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Mongolia / Sky News

"Everyone here of fighting age is drafted. There is talk about why that is, especially by the women."

Protests and general unrest have broken out across Russia, with some 2,500 arrested.

Many military offices have been defaced or firebombed. A man shot himself and 15 others dead in a school on Tuesday and another man shot and wounded commanding officers who were serving draft papers.

In a video recorded as he was being led away, he said he would rather fight for his life in jail than in Ukraine.

Videos posted to social media geo-located to the predominantly Muslim region of Dagestan show women in Makhachkala, the capital, pleading with police outside a theatre.

“Why are you taking our children? Who attacked who? It’s Russia that attacked Ukraine,” they can be heard saying in the video. Groups of women then begin chanting 'No war'."

Russian president Vladimir Putin has announced a partial military draft after his soldiers suffered major setbacks in their campaign to take control of much of the Karkiv region in north-eastern Ukraine. / Channel 4

Another video that has since gone viral on the Telegram messaging network popular with Russians, shows villagers heckling a military commander as he explains why his own son won’t be drafted.

Makhachkala mayor Salman Dadayev has called for calm, “I urge you not to “commit illegal acts, each of which will be assessed by the law enforcement agencies for legal consequences,” Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said, quoting the mayor.

Russian authorities claim the unrest is being stirred up by anti-Kremlin governments in Ukraine and the west.

Dadayev told people not to “succumb to the provocations of persons engaged in anti-state activities”.

In a separate video, filmed in the town of Endirei in Dagestan, a police officer is seen firing his rifle into the air in an apparent attempt to disperse protesters.

The revolt comes as Russia’s borders with neighbouring countries like Kazakhstan, Georgia and Mongolia have been flooded with people fleeing the draft.

Aerial footage of the road into Georgia shows chaotic scenes with miles-long queues; Georgian border authorities say they have admitted tens of thousands of people each day.

Dmitry's WhatsApp and Telegram accounts are no longer active after receiving his povestka Monday / Te Ao Māori News

Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia and has visa-free travel with the Kremlin through the Schengen programme says it is planning to enact legislation to slow or halt the flow of Russians into the country, as it fears for its own security, or retaliatory action from Moscow.

Dmitry says he’s not really sure what to do.

“Legally, I do not have any restrictions to cross the border,” he said.

“However, yesterday, we started hearing news that some men who were trying to leave Russia were stopped, checked and not allowed to leave”.

Like many in his region, he also says he doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to travel to Europe, or elsewhere, without a visa to work.

“Moreover I do not know where I could go to.”

Dmitry’s mother says he received his povestka on Monday. Neither his WhatsApp nor Telegram accounts have been responded to since then.

The names and locations in this article have been randomised to avoid backlash from state authorities.

Public Interest Journalism