In poor rural Buryatia, Russia’s partial mobilization has been hit hard

LONDON, September 23 (Reuters) – (This story was updated on September 23 to correct the name and age of the student quoted in the last three paragraphs to Nastya, 21, not Aryuna, 19.)

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization to bolster the combat armies in Ukraine, officials arrived at the home of Alexander Bezdorzhny with draft papers ordering him to submit himself for service.

But they were calling a dead man.

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Bezdorozhny, who suffered from chronic inflammation in the lungs, died at the age of 40 in December 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while on a ventilator in a hospital in his Siberian hometown of Ulan-Ude, northern Mongolia, sister Natalia Semyonova said. to Reuters.

“It pains me that the state did not remember him until after his death,” Semyonova, a professional musician and activist in Ulan-Ude, told Reuters.

He was sick and never served in the army.”

In Buryatia, a mostly rural area wrapped around the southern shore of Lake Baikal, the mobilization has seen some men recruit regardless of their age, military record or medical history, according to interviews with local residents, rights activists and even statements by local officials.

Buryat rights activists suspect that the burden of the mobilization – and the war itself – falls on impoverished ethnic minority areas to avoid provoking popular anger in the capital, Moscow, 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) away.

Putin always asserts that Russia, where hundreds of ethnic groups have lived for centuries alongside the majority Slavic population, is a multiethnic country and that soldiers of any race are heroes if they fight for Russia.

Shortly after Putin announced the mobilization on Wednesday, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said it was not for all citizens, only military reservists who previously served in the Russian army and have combat experience or specialized military skills.

This was the protest against the mobilization in Buryatia, although on Friday Governor Alexei Tsidanov issued a statement explaining that those who did not serve in the army or who had medical exemptions would not be mobilized, although he admitted that some draft notifications had been given to those Men.

“Since this morning, 70 people who have received a summons have been sent home, both from crowd points and from military units,” Tsidanov wrote on Telegram.

If errors occur, he said, people should “inform the representatives of the military enlistment office at the collection point of the supporting documents.”

The Ulan-Ude project office and the Ministry of Defense in Moscow did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.

regional mobilization

“There is nothing biased about the mobilization in Buryatia,” said Alexandra Garmashapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, an organization that provides legal aid to those mobilized. “They take everyone.”

Her foundation has collected hundreds of appeals for help from residents whose relatives have been given filling papers. She said many of them were over the age of 40, and had medical conditions that should make them ineligible for service.

Garmazhapova estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 residents of the district were conscripted on the first night of conscription. In many cases, she said, officials distributed summonses during the night.

The independent news website Lodi Baikala (People of Lake Baikal) estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 people were likely to mobilize, out of a total population of 978,000.

A resident of Buryatia village in Urungwe, which had a population of 1,700 in 2010, told Reuters that 106 men from the village had been mobilized. This person refused to reveal his identity.

Reuters was not able to verify the numbers of recruits in the village or in the wider area.

According to Garmashapova, the massive round of mobilization in Buryatia, where about a third of the population belongs to the Buryat ethnicity, who are mostly Buddhists closely related to the Mongolians, is a deliberate political choice by local authorities looking to please the Kremlin.

“The Federal Center is trying not to touch Saint Petersburg and Moscow, because in Moscow there can be protests against the Kremlin,” she said.

Greater death toll

According to publicly available data on military casualties collected by the Russian investigative outlet iStories, the Buryatia region and the North Caucasus region of Dagestan, both poorer than average and with large non-ethnic Russian populations, have suffered some of the highest casualty rates since the Kremlin order troops entered to Ukraine on February 24, with 259 and 277 soldiers killed, respectively.

According to iStories, Moscow has suffered only 10 deaths.

The Defense Ministry, which said on Wednesday that nearly 6,000 Russian soldiers had been killed since February 24, did not release any regional breakdown of casualty figures.

According to Garmashapova, some Buryat residents have responded to the conscription threat by trying to cross into neighboring Mongolia, where Russians can stay for 30 days without a visa. And video footage on social media, Thursday, which Reuters could not verify, showed the appearance of a long tail at crossing points on the far borders.

Others prefer to take their chances at home.

Nastya, a 21-year-old student in Ulan-Ude who requested that her last name be withheld, showed Reuters a photo of draft papers handed Thursday to her father, a 45-year-old journalist who has never served in the military. short sighted account.

Nastya, the only child, said she and her father, her only remaining father, agreed to ignore the subpoena, risking a possible fine, while they hire a lawyer to try to get an exemption.

“We decided to take the risk,” she said. “I don’t want to lose my father.”

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(Reuters report) Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Frances Kerry

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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