Fearing front-line deployment, some Russians resist conscription

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Several young Russians have fled the country, fearing that they would be sent to the front line as conscripts [File: Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP]

As rumours of martial law spread across Russia in early March, some young men abruptly left their homeland, fearing they would be conscripted and sent to the battlefield in Ukraine.
They are among thousands of people who have fled Russia since February 24, as a crackdown grows on anti-war sentiment.

Ivan*, 17, flew to Turkey on Monday from Russia.

“I don’t think it’s normal that in the 21st century, a person can be taken against their will to serve in the army for an entire year. Right now conscripts are being sent to the front line, and I am categorically against the ‘military operation’ carried out by my country,” he told Al Jazeera, ironically using the state-approved terminology for the war.

After initially insisting that only professional soldiers were fighting in Ukraine, Russia’s defence ministry has since admitted conscripts have been deployed, with some captured or killed.

Russia has had a system of conscription since tsarist times, when recruits could be press-ganged into service for up to 15 years. But modern conscription dates back to the Soviet era.

Every able-bodied man aged 18-27, in theory, has to serve one year, and draft-dodgers face heavy fines and up to two years’ imprisonment.

Students, convicts, and family members of killed soldiers are exempt, while single fathers and carers for disabled family members can have their service deferred.

And in practice, others have before been able to skip conscription. Those who had the means could avoid the draft by paying bribes, showing doctors’ letters proving they were medically unfit, feigning insanity or falsifying university attendance.

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