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'Just military exercises, right?' Russian families ask before sending men off to the army

Women were sharing a last kiss, holding hands or exchanging a final word with departing men through a metal barrier separating the reservists from the street.

September 28, 2022 / 07:50 PM IST
Reservists drafted during the partial mobilisation say goodbye to relatives and friends as they depart a recruiting station in Saint Petersburg on September 27.

Reservists drafted during the partial mobilisation say goodbye to relatives and friends as they depart a recruiting station in Saint Petersburg on September 27.


Outside an army recruitment centre in Saint Petersburg, women and children embrace Russian men called up to fight in Ukraine, whispering among each other where their loved ones will be sent.

Some at the send-off are holding out hope their husbands, sons or fathers won't be deployed to the frontlines of the Kremlin's seven-month "special military operation" in Ukraine.

"These are just military exercises, right?" a woman in her 60s asks a relative next to her.

Around her, women are sharing a last kiss, holding hands or exchanging a final word with departing men through a metal barrier separating the reservists from the street.

"I think so, yes -- military exercises. I don't know," 55-year-old Svetlana Antonova replied, hoping to reassure the woman.

"I think they'll be taken to a training camp. I don't know. No one knows. I think they'll be in the rear."

Her 27-year-old son presented himself at the draft centre Tuesday, less than one week after President Vladimir Putin called up hundreds of thousands of reservists for Ukraine.

Read more: One last hug: Russian women bid farewell to men after Putin's military call-up

The call-up sparked demonstrations in Moscow and an exodus of men abroad.

At the army centre in southern Saint Petersburg, AFP journalists saw men between 20 and 40 years old.

Nikita, a 25-year-old reservist, held hands with his 22-year-old fiancee Alina through the barrier. She had tears in her eyes.

"I don't know what to say. I'm in shock," Alina said without taking her eyes off her fiance.

Nikita stroked her hair through the metal bars.

He said he was "not surprised" to receive the summons last Saturday but that his relatives were.

"Well if you have to go, you have to go," he said.

Read more: Vladimir Putin expected to proclaim annexation of Ukraine territory within days

- 'Nowhere to run' -

For Galina, 65, and her family, her son-in-law's call-up was a particularly hard blow because her daughter is undergoing cancer treatment.

With the 42-year-old drafted and her daughter in chemotherapy, Galina will be a principal carer for the couple's 12-year-old son.

She took her grandson, Misha, to bid goodbye to his father, a builder, who was previously in the army.

"I don't know how we'll manage," she said, holding Misha's hand.

"How long they are taking them for, or where, we don't know."

Galina said some families were told the men would be taken to a training ground in the region.

She added that the family did not consider escaping the mobilisation, like tens of thousands of Russians who rushed to leave the country.

"There was nowhere for us to run," she told AFP.
AFP