Russia’s hasty deployment of conscripts to the front lines of the war in Ukraine has provoked public rebukes from the women of their families despite Kremlin claims that only well-trained reservists are in the fight.
“The guys were being shot at from all sides, they were trapped, and they were killed,” a woman of Vologda, a city north of Moscow, said in a video translated by the Insider, an independent “Russia-focused” media outlet. “The time has come to act, not to think and wait for everyone to be chopped up in this bloody meat grinder! Please bring our husbands and our sons back from this hell!”
The Vologda petition is one of several indications that Russian officials feel some measure of domestic political pressure on account of the high casualty rates in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilization” of conscripts to stem the tide of a Ukrainian counteroffensive this fall, but Ukrainian forces continue to batter the beleaguered Russian formations, spurring Russian civilians to put pressure on local politicians — as evidenced by multiple videos that surfaced on social media this week.
“The situation is as such, our husbands reached out today for the first time in a week, asking for help,” another unnamed woman said, according to the War Translated Project, during an exchange with an official in Kursk, a city south of Moscow. “They describe the situation as such: They’re not all thrown in there, but transferred in parts. … No one is coming back. … I just have one question, can this somehow be stopped until the circumstances are clarified. So someone could give him an order, so they wouldn’t be thrown in there like meat?”
The local official explained to the “dear women” that regional governors can’t interfere with military decisions. “They make decisions, they set objectives, corresponding to the directions where cover is needed, where breakthroughs are possible,” he said. “Obviously, forces are gathered in these directions to cover them. And if today a governor makes a call and says, ‘Hey, commander, don’t send anyone’ — Who is even going to listen to him?”
Still, Putin and other Russian officials have made apparent efforts to convince Russian citizens that they are working to minimize casualties. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has participated in multiple public government briefings — one with Putin, another with a subordinate — in which Russian authorities emphasized that “it is necessary to send only well-trained and well-equipped fighters” to Ukraine, as he put it to Putin last month.
“At present, the most important thing is the outfit, training, and cohesion [of our troops],” Putin said to Shoigu. “And everything to do with making people feel confident if they have to take part directly in combat.”
The defense chief reiterated that point in another videotaped conversation with Russian Army Gen. Sergey Surovikin this week. “I am drawing your attention to the training and deployment of the called-up servicemen,” Shoigu said. “Before being sent to active combat areas, it is necessary to deploy them behind the front lines where joint training should be conducted with personnel who have combat experience. Only those servicemen with skills in their military specialties should be sent to the front line.”
The reality of the Russian mobilization has been more reckless, according to families who have reported that their relatives were killed within as few as 10 days of being called up for the draft.
“The [draftees’] training was conducted at a very low level — they went to the shooting range four times,” the Vologda women said in their video, according to the Insider, adding that the men were on the front lines “without shovels, without equipment, without everything.”
The Vologda women described a friendly fire incident that they said took place on Nov. 1, exactly one month after their relatives were mobilized.
“The guys came under the strongest and deadliest artillery fire from the AFU, were subjected to mortar shelling and drone attacks,” they said. “The guys were being shot at from all sides, they were trapped, and they were killed. Both the enemy and our artillery were shooting at our guys.”
The translation does not indicate where the events are alleged to have taken place. The complaints surfaced as Shoigu and Surovikin announced that Russian troops would abandon Kherson, a key city on the western side of the Dnieper River, where Ukrainian forces have maneuvered their artillery to pound the Russian troops while restricting their ability to coordinate with Russian forces on the eastern side of the Dnieper.
“I understand that this is a very uneasy decision,” Surovikin told Shoigu in the broadcast video. “At the same time, we will preserve, which is the most important thing, the lives of our servicemen and, as a whole, the combat capability of the group of forces, which is inexpedient to be kept in a limited area on the right bank.”
There continues to be intense fighting in the other regions of eastern Ukraine that Putin has tried to claim, as Ukrainian officials acknowledge.
“The situation is difficult on the entire front. In some areas, brutal positional battles continue, as before, and it is especially difficult — also as before in the Donetsk region,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “The activity of the occupiers there remains at an extremely high level — dozens of attacks every day. They suffer extremely large-scale losses, but their order has not changed — to reach the administrative border of the Donetsk region. We do not give up a single centimeter of our land there. And I thank all our heroes who are holding positions in Donbas.”
Putin’s strongman in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has declared the war in Ukraine to be a “great jihad” in a bid to drum up recruitment among Russia’s Chechen Muslims.
“You all should be at the military recruiting office and joining those units that are fighting now,” Kadyrov said in a series of late October social media posts. “How can you sleep peacefully at home tonight? I am very surprised at you. Why aren’t you gathering by the thousands in mosques, at military recruiting offices and units? What kind of people are you? What will you tell your families? You will be among those men who are living off their wives.”
In that context, Russian officials seem to have little patience for the appeals of the Russian women at their town halls.
“Once again, I came to defend the lads, so they’ll be saved,” one of the women in Kursk said during a testy exchange.
The local official was quick with a dismissive reply: “Take an assault rifle and defend them!”