As Russia’s war with Ukraine continues, many different groups of people have been displaced by the violence – including some Russians. Not every Russian is in favor of Putin’s decision to move in on Ukraine. While there are people who support the war, many Russian citizens aren’t so sure. Even members of Russia’s political elite have begun to voice doubts as Russia’s performance in the war has kind of nosedived.
And one major group that’s shown reluctance toward the war is Russia’s young men. In September, Putin announced plans to send 300,000 more men to war through a drafting process. After the announcement, demonstrations all over Russia broke out, leading to the arrests of over 2,000 people. And tens of thousands scrambled to escape conscription by getting out of the country ASAP. “Many people I know upended their lives and left the country within a day of Putin announcing mobilization,” said a 23-year-old Russian named Roman.
“I left Russia because I lost all hope,” said 44-year-old Sergei. Many headed for neighboring Kazakhstan, and some headed as far as South Korea. Two even ended up in Alaska after crossing the Bering Sea by boat, landing on a remote Alaskan island where they appealed for asylum. In South Korea, most of the young men who’ve arrived have been denied entry.
As these young men tell their stories, it becomes clear that many are homesick, longing to return to Russia. But, at the same time, they don’t want to fight – whether for fear for their lives, because they don’t support the war or both. Roman P. says after the mobilization was announced, “I considered my options: die in Putin’s war refusing to fight or die in prison. I don’t want to kill anyone for no reason, especially not for Putin.”
Even though many long for home, they may not be welcome back when the war is over. According to psychologist Nikita Rakhimov, who created a site to connect Russians avoiding conscription, many who’ve left are branded “traitors for Russia” by friends and family. Plus, there’s no telling how Putin’s government will respond to deserters that return. “I feel very sad, because, actually, I love Russia,” a 25-year-old told NBC News in Kazakhstan.