KYIV, Ukraine – In the occupied city of Kherson, some Ukrainian men believe that if they break their arms, the Russians may not be forced to serve them. Others are hiding in the basements. Some were trying to run even though they were banned from leaving the city, residents said, and almost everyone was scared.
“People are panicking,” says Katerina, 30, “First they search our house, and now the Russians will send our people into their army. All of this is against the law but very real for us.”
As the Kremlin’s enlisted forces faced protests across Russia for a fifth day, new signs of protest and fear emerged on Sunday in the country’s occupied territories in Ukraine. .
The drive to force Ukrainians to fight other Ukrainians is part of a broader, if risky, effort by Moscow to mobilize hundreds of thousands of new fighters as its forces suffer massive casualties. and struggled to contain Ukraine’s advances to the east and south.
It comes at the same time as a Russian-orchestrated vote that is setting the stage for the Kremlin to split Ukraine through an annexation that has been widely condemned around the world.
The results of the mock referendum underway are expected to be announced on Tuesday. The predicted result: a majority of people in four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizka – “voted” to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Then-Russian President Putin was supposed to declare in the coming days that these areas belong to Russia and are therefore protected by the might of the country’s full arsenal, including a nuclear arsenal. the world’s largest.
At the same time, Russian military officials continue to place a network of obstructions across their entire country, spanning the northern half of the hemisphere, so that hundreds of thousands of soldiers are enlisted, many likely soon to be enlisted. dispatched to Ukraine. .
Despite draconian laws against dissidents and the arrest of thousands of Russians protesting against “partial mobilization” in recent days, scattered protests continued on Sunday. Japan, with reports of widespread unrest in Dagestan, a republic in the Caucasus region of southern Russia. The police fired into the air to clear a protest, according to the video that went viral on social networksand Russian social media channels reported that some villages had refused to comply with the dispatch order.
According to the Federal Customs Service, amid rumors that Mr Putin might close the country’s borders completely, an exodus from the country continues, with a row of 2,500 cars reported at the border. Russia-Georgia on Sunday, according to the Federal Customs Service.
Putin has resisted ordering the mobilization for months, but his decision underscores the Kremlin’s struggles on the battlefield, where more than 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded in just over seven months. US officials estimate. It is the biggest escalation of the war since Moscow began an all-out invasion in February, and it underscores Putin’s commitment to a protracted struggle to bend Ukraine to his will. he.
In a speech on Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine urged the Russian people to avoid mobilization in any way, including by surrendering to Ukraine’s captivity.
“We saw that people, especially, in Dagestan, started fighting for their lives,” he said. “We see that they begin to understand that this is the question of their life. Why did their husbands, brothers, sons have to die in this war? In a fight one wants. “
The brutality of the Russian campaign in Ukraine has been proven by mass graves found in Iziumtorture chambers used in Kupiansk and traces of death by Russian soldiers in Bucha. Human rights groups, United Nations investigators, international journalists and Western officials have all documented the path of destruction left by the Russian occupation forces after they drove them out.
But the latest attempt to stop Ukrainian men who don’t want to fight and kill other Ukrainians has added a new element of terror to the already harsh existence under Russian rule in occupied Ukraine. .
Although the Kremlin has spent eight years stoking separatist sentiment in Russia-controlled eastern regions of Ukraine since 2014, the brutality of the invasion has almost certainly undermined it even in Russia. that and a compulsive motive can weaken it further.
According to witnesses and Ukrainian officials, in two southern regions controlled by Russian forces, Kherson and Zaporizka, all males between the ages of 18 and 35 were banned from leaving the country, and many were ordered military service report.
“Many people are calling us and asking if we can help them evacuate,” Halyna Odnorih, a coordinator in the city of Zaporizhzhia for people who have escaped occupied areas, said in a statement. Sunday interview. “But unfortunately we can’t.”
Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of the occupied city of Melitopol, said on Sunday that men could no longer go out of Zaporizhzhia, and he urged those looking to avoid Russia’s bondage “to leave. Crimea, then to the European Union or Georgia and then back to Ukraine. “
“Because everyone is definitely going to be taken off the streets and mobilized,” he said.
In eastern Ukraine, the situation is more complicated as Russia has occupied parts of Luhansk and Donetsk since 2014 and the ranks of Kremlin-backed rebels there for years have been filled with Moscow sympathizers. . However, the proxies of Russia there had to force soldiers to enlist because casualties had increased.
According to rights groups, Crimean officials and witnesses, Russia is also stepping up arrest efforts in Crimea, the southern peninsula it illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
These groups say the Russian military has disproportionately assembled the Crimean Tatars, an ethnic group that has faced oppressive of Russian officials “with the express objective of completely silencing dissent on the peninsula,” according to a 2017 report by Human Rights Watch.
Alim Aliev, founder of the Crimean human rights organization SOS, said that 80% of orders to summon the Russian Army in Crimea were issued to the Crimean Tatars.
“It is a war crime that could lead to the genocide of the Crimean Tatars,” he said. “We advise people not to go to public gatherings, not to receive notices and not to go to military committees.”
Tamila Tasheva, the representative of the President of Ukraine in Crimea, said on Sunday that the local military junta had issued 1,500 draft notices to the Crimean Tatars through visits to homes and places of work, including whole market.
She said that while the “partial deployment” announced by the Kremlin was supposed to affect only those who had served in the military, local Russian authorities did not even bother to pretend to ask enlisted people from the Tatar community if they have ever been in the army.
Mykhailo Podolyak, Zelensky’s senior adviser, called the operation in Crimea “a real ethnic genocide and a huge tragedy for the entire nation”.
He said on Sunday: “Forcing citizens to join a war in the occupied areas is nothing more than Moscow’s attempt to clear the territory of disloyal people.
Ukrainian officials see Russia’s efforts to win over Ukrainians as further proof that the Kremlin’s ultimate goals are the same as those that Zelensky warned about when the war began.
“Russia wants to turn Ukraine into silent slaves,” he said in April in a speech to the United Nations Security Council.
As Moscow moves ahead with plans to annex parts of Ukraine, Kyiv has called for another emergency meeting of the Security Council this week.
The recruitment of ill-willed soldiers presents clear risks for Russia. Military analysts have said that conscripts from Luhansk and Donetsk were part of a force whose dramatic collapse in the northeastern region of Kharkiv this month allowed Ukraine to launch its most successful offensive operation. in the war.
Ukrainian intelligence service said last week that Ukrainian recruits sent by Russia to fight in Kherson had “refused to participate in combat missions”. Citing intercepted communications and interviews with relatives, the agency said that Russian commanders had threatened to send conscripts “to the front lines without weapons if they refused to obey orders.” .”
Anna Lukinova Reporting contributions from Kyiv, Ukraine.