The problems of Russian deserters
Many Russian defectors do not have passports and their names are on international warrants. Even so, they are trying to find their way abroad. The three deserters were talking about Deutsche Welle about their fates and beliefs. Below is the text taken from DV.
Oktoberfest is in full swing in Munich. We meet Vasilij in a quiet park on the outskirts of the city. He has been in Germany for almost a month and is one of the first Russian defectors who managed to enter the country legally. This young man says he feels safe in Germany, but fears for his family in Russia. That's why he doesn't want his real name to be published. In Russia, whose authorities are looking for him for desertion, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Basil is an artilleryman. He studied at the military academy and committed himself to long-term service in the Russian army. But he had long been disappointed with her. His attempts to leave the army were unsuccessful. When Russia invaded Ukraine, he was ordered to the battlefield.
They said: "Get ready, we're running out of people," Vasilij recalls. But he refused. "I am of Ukrainian origin," he told his superior: "My father is Ukrainian, I will not fight against my people."
Despite all the threats of his superior, Basil did not go to the battlefield. But he wasn't fired from his unit because of it. As Vasiliy and other deserters told DV, it was not easy to leave the Russian army even before September 21, 2022, when President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization. And after that, they say, it became completely impossible. The penalties for unauthorized leaving the barracks and desertion have been increased to ten and 15 years in prison.
There was no way out," Vasilij says. "I received a call from the command and they told me: Either you will go to the battlefield or we will initiate criminal proceedings against you, in which case you will end up behind bars, from where you will be sent to war anyway. "Because of all this, Basil decided to escape from Russia.
According to the organization "Go by the Forest", which helps Russians who want to avoid mobilization and go to war, more than 500 deserters left the country after the announcement of mobilization. And these are only those who turned to human rights activists. The real numbers are probably many times higher.
Most men flee first to Kazakhstan or Armenia. One of them is Liaison Officer Victor. He does not want to publish his real name either. Unlike Vasili, he was a participant in Russian military operations against Ukraine.
During a video call from Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, Viktor says he tried to leave the army. But in February 2022, he will go to a military exercise held in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which Russia has annexed. Already on February 24, his unit participated in the Russian invasion.
"They woke us up at five in the morning, lined us up and said: 'It starts!' But they didn't tell us where we were going," recalls Victor. "At that moment it was simply impossible to resist." If someone went forward, the Ukrainians would shoot at him, and if he ran back, his people would catch him," says Viktor.
He was on Ukrainian territory until the summer of 2022. "I saw the executed prisoners of war and heard the appropriate orders from the commander of the units," he says, but assures: "Nothing like what happened in Bucha has ever happened." He learned about the massacres of civilians in Ukraine, as he says, only at the end of April 2022, when he managed to get access to the Internet. "After that I reconsidered a lot," he says.
Evgeny, an officer in a special unit, was also sent to the Ukrainian border in February 2022 for a military exercise. He comes from a poor family, and the army enabled him to progress in society. "We hoped and believed that there would be no war," he recalled in February 2022. "We thought Putin was a murderer and a thief, but not a fanatic who would start a war. But things turned out to be different." Evgeny admits.
On February 24, he and his unit crossed the border with Ukraine. They came to Brvari near Kyiv. "It was all very sad for us. On March 30, almost the entire company died," he says, talking about the fighting. "When we were near Kiev, we did not take prisoners because there was no way to take them to Russia, so they were killed. The Ukrainian side acted in the same way, he says.
Evgeniy assures that he himself did not participate in the murders. "I am ready to answer before the court. My conscience is clear. "I participated in military activities, I shot, but I was also shot," he says.
After the failed Russian offensive near Kiev, Yevgeny's unit was moved to Donbass. So that he could leave there, he shot himself in the leg. "We wounded each other near the Ukrainian positions and said that the Ukrainians were shooting at us. They believed us and we were transferred to a hospital in Russia," says Evgeniy.
Victor received a leave of absence in mid-August 2022. In the barracks, he tried to get a discharge from the army, but failed before the mobilization was announced. Both officers eventually fled to Kazakhstan. Because of the criminal proceedings against them in Russia, they could not get a job in Kazakhstan, they even had to register their mobile phones and bank accounts in other people's names. They also feared that Kazakhstan might extradite them to Russia.
"I see three possibilities for myself: France, Germany or the United States." Because those countries issue temporary travel documents. "After all, none of us have a passport," Victor says.
He has already contacted the embassies of these and other Western countries several times, but so far it has all been unsuccessful.
"The German Federal Ministry of the Interior announced in May 2022 that deserters from the Russian army will receive refugee protection because it can be assumed that their desertion will be perceived as a political act against the war and therefore their prosecution constitutes political persecution," says Rudi Friedrich , director of the association Connection eV
This association, based in Offenbach, supports those who refuse to participate in the war at the international level. Along with other NGOs, he is calling on the European Parliament and EU member states to protect those who refuse to fight for Putin. It is considered that they should be issued humanitarian visas.
Vasilij is one of the first deserters who managed to come from Kazakhstan to Europe without a passport. He managed to get a job as a programmer in a German IT company. The German Embassy in Kazakhstan issued him a temporary travel document for foreigners with a work visa. It was not easy to find a company that would accept a deserter without a passport, Vasilij admits and adds that it was even more difficult to leave Kazakhstan.
During the first attempt, he was removed from the plane because his name was on the international warrant. Vasilij recounts how his five-year-old daughter ran from one border officer to another and begged: "Let daddy go!" The next day, thanks to his lawyer Yernar Koshanov, he was able to leave the country. "It turns out that there are certain conditions under which this is possible," Vasilij says without giving details and adds: "There is a way out."
Now he is already adjusting to life in Germany and talks enthusiastically about his new job. Vasilij works on video game development. He is grateful to Germany for issuing the visa and to Kazakhstan for permission to leave the country. Despite the risks to his family, he decided to publish his story of desertion so that others would have a chance to escape that bloody war.
"To all deserters, to all those who are on the battlefield and who are desperate, I want to say that everything is possible. You should not fight and act against your conscience. You can resist participation in these crimes," Vasilij says.