SYou stand in front of supermarkets, barracks, fences, in parking lots or on a street. Sometimes they speak demandingly, sometimes imploringly into the cameras. Wives, mothers and sisters of Russian recruits who were mobilized and sent to war turn to the governors of their regions, to Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, and above all to President Vladimir Putin. They ask for help for their husbands, sons, brothers.
Such video appeals have been piling up for about a month, and the Russian Internet is full of them. They are also testimonies of disappointment. A woman from the Vladimir region east of Moscow told other relatives that Putin and Shoygu had promised that only experienced soldiers would be sent to the front. “Our soldiers”, on the other hand, were neither prepared nor armed, nor provided with food and warm clothing, and landed “directly in the combat zone” in Ukraine.
A woman from Volgograd in southern Russia, representing her group, appealed to Putin as “guarantors of constitutional rights and human freedoms” to withdraw her husbands, who are “not professional soldiers” and completely inexperienced, from the front lines.
Appeals spread despite censorship
Then the mother of a man who had just been “wounded in the head” by shrapnel speaks. She wears a headscarf and keeps struggling for words. Her son is being treated in the military hospital, but is to be sent back to the front immediately afterwards. He was ill even before he joined the military, and she has documents about four hospital stays. The mother holds up papers; they come in a plastic bag, like the kind you get at a fruit and veg store.
A typical picture emerges from dozens of appeals, which are spread past the censors via social networks and Telegram channels: recruits are driven to a place on the front in Donbass and have to “dig in” there. There are far too few shovels there. Also too little or no food and drink – and hardly any weapons beyond assault rifles. The commanders abandon the recruits and cannot be reached. The enemy fires artillery. In some appeals, women speak of dead and wounded. The figures are difficult to verify, but the overall picture is clear. It’s gloomy.
In times of need, women turn to Putin. “We are not asking for our men to be taken home,” says the main speaker in the video from Volgograd. “Our men are not cowards, not deserters” but “deliberately moved out to protect their homeland”. Hence the dissociation from the hundreds of thousands of Russians who fled their country because of the war and mobilization, and the traditional image of the man who acts decisively without hesitation or questioning orders. Accordingly, there are rarely individual fathers or brothers next to the numerous women in the request videos.
In this way, the image of the men fighting for Russia takes on a dependent, almost childlike quality. “They are not professional soldiers,” the Volgograd native complains about the recruits. “They have not completed the path that would allow them to feel safe on the front lines. We beg you, Vladimir Vladimirovich: take control of our situation. Clarify that. We know that only you can help us.” In the traditional Russian scheme, the president and supreme commander as a “good tsar” protects people from incompetent, corrupt, “bad boyars” from his entourage, in this case the military.
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