( Russia, 1990s )
Photo from the Russian website ‘No to War’ )
“Guess what. I got a notice from the draft board. They need more ‘cannon-fodder’ in Chechnya.”
All lads from 18 to 27 years old were required to serve in army for 3 years, unless they were lucky enough to get into the University. Then they could do a weekly military training course at the university instead. Ivan was not that lucky.
“But they surely can’t take you. Not with all your health issues. Your medical notes are longer than Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’!”
“They are taking everyone – with no brains, eyes, ears, arms, legs… As long as you have teeth to fight Chechens with. Do you remember Michael?”
“The one who just had a baby-son?”
“Yes. Michael was hiding for a few months to avoid military service. He was just caught by two military guys with Kalashnikovs and a policeman. He bribed a young lad there to pass a note to his wife Anna. She is devastated.”
“My God, Ivan! You can’t go there. If Chechens do not chop your head off, you’ll hang yourself from bullying. How much would that cost to ‘get rejected’ on medical grounds?”
“Two thousands US dollars I’ve heard.”
The only income I had was a monthly scholarship that all A+ students were getting at the University – forty thousand Russian roubles a month which was around two US dollars.
“Look, don’t give up. We’ll find the way out of it.”
I started looking for any job that could generate some income. Finally I got an offer to sell felt pens and pencils from door to door. I was given a buddy for my first run. He boasted that he could sell anything to anyone. He surely could. I felt that people were ready to buy anything off him not to see him again. He could intimidate anyone with just one piercing look of his black eyes. He served in Afghanistan and told me about his comrades, who never came back.
“Good luck!”- he said to me at the end of the run. “Remember – never enter the offices of the ‘security’ guys, or you will be raped and might be killed.”
The whole city was sub-divided among so-called ‘security’ companies. Every business, no matter how small, was paying them to avoid being visited by boys in balaclavas from the same ‘security’ companies. Very ‘secure’ arrangement.
All my spare time I was spending walking from office to office, trying to sell these silly pens. It did not go that well, but I could make a few dollars on a good day. I’ve done all the offices around my place and started going to other suburbs. One day I came across an office with a friendly picture of the sun. “Sun Inc.” was written on the sign. I knocked on the door and waited for a while. No one opened the door. I pushed the door open and entered the hall. It was empty. I saw another door at the end of the door, which was half-open. I knocked on the door, then pushed it open and entered the room. There were two guys sitting in the room. One of them was around forty, the other – a young lad in his twenties.
“Hi, princess,” – the younger lad’s eyes slid down my body with a lascivious look. “Welcome, welcome…”
“Sorry, it must be the wrong address.” – I stammered out and started moving slowly backwards. Suddenly the door behind me slammed – another young lad was standing by the door. I took a quick look at the windows – all curtains were drawn, but I spotted metal bars on the windows. There was no escape.
“Well, well, you, bitch” – a young lad came towards me. “You are in the right place at the right time.” He lifted my chin with his finger. “You’ll be licking my ass, Miss Clever.” He kept taunting me, but I ignored his voice. The only voice I could hear was Ivan’s: “One at a time. Stay calm. One at a time. Stay calm….”
“One at a time. Boss first.” – I said quietly and moved towards the older guy, sitting at the desk. The young lad laughed.
“Leave her to me,” – the boss pointed to the door. Both younger lads disappeared.
The boss stood up and came towards me. He looked into my eyes and ripped my jacket off. I flinched and closed my eyes.
“Is that really so disgusting?”
“How do you think?”
“How old are you?”
“My daughter would turn nineteen tomorrow. She had brown eyes, just like you,” – he paused. “She was run over by some bastards and left dying on the road like a dog…”
“And how old are you?”
“My dad turned forty eight this year. He got four chickens and two hundred eggs instead of his wages last week. He can afford neither a hospital bill nor a coffin for me.”
He looked at me and turned away to the window. Dead silence enveloped the room.
“Let’s go,” – he came to me and pushed me towards the door.
Two lads with greedy wolf’s eyes were waiting in the hall. My knees started trembling.
“Back off, lads. This girl is mine,” – the boss put his hand on my shoulder.
“Go!” – he gently pushed me towards the front door.
( Photo by Corvinus )
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Human Rights Watch Reports:
- The Wrongs of Passage: Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of New Recruits in the Russian Armed Forces
- To Serve Without Health: Inadequate Nutrition and Health Care in the Russian Armed Forces
- Conscription Through Detention In Russia’s Armed Forces
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I was killed in the army – Case study by The Mother’s Right Foundation
“I was killed in the army” – faces and stories of 18-20 year old Russian soldiers – victims of dedovshina (bullying), who never came home.
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