Photo: official page of Karelia governor Artur Parfenchikov

“Do you need to eliminate law-abiding citizens?” Revelations of the wife of a mobilized soldier

Thousands of Russian women whose husbands have been sent to the war with Ukraine are demanding the return of their loved ones home. They create petitions, write to lawmakers and take to street protests. They are ignored and bullied on social media, while their husbands on the front line receive threats from commanders. Barents Observer spoke with a wife of a mobilized soldier and tried to understand how people in Russia support the state, knowing that it is deceiving them.
January 09, 2024


Paulina from Moscow is raising her one-year-old daughter alone: her husband was taken to the war with Ukraine in October 2022, when their baby was three months old. Since then, she’s been waiting for her husband to return. She is a member of the informal movement “Put domoi” (“The Way Home”), runs her own YouTube channel and actively calls for demobilization.

Where is your husband now?

“My husband is part of an assault operation right now. I haven’t heard from him for two weeks now, I don’t know where he is.”

Did you see him after he was sent to Ukraine?

“He’s been on leave twice, and he was in the unit for retraining once. He was lucky because there were guys in his platoon who were not given a leave at all.”

“He has changed a lot physically. At the age of 30, he turned gray, went bald, got many wrinkles, and became more irritable. I understand that this behavior will be corrected in civilian life.”

Did your spouse try to avoid mobilization? Did you ever think about leaving, for example?


“There was this thought that since the state called, you had to go. After all, he had done his compulsory military service and taken the oath. And if they hadn’t taken him, they would have taken someone else. And there was hope that they would not be deceived. That he would serve for six months in territorial defense, as he was promised. At least, there were such rumors, and it was spoken about officially. But they forgot about these promises.”

“We came to the military registration and enlistment office with documents confirming that he had worked at an IT company and that his daughter was born three months ago. But at that time the company left the Russian market, and he was unemployed for some time. He also brought documents proving that he has a master’s degree in applied physics. He did his compulsory service in the scientific company, at the headquarters, as a senior office operator. In other words, there were documents showing that he had no military experience whatsoever. But they took him anyway.”

Do you understand what he is fighting for?

“I didn’t have any thoughts about this, I had just given birth to a child… And my husband, yes, he did have some idea of his own. Judging by the way Ukraine had behaved over the past 10 years – there were NATO instructors and Zelensky threatened with a “dirty bomb”. (The Barents Observer has not found any confirmation that the Ukrainian president threatened to use nuclear weapons; Russian propaganda attributed these intentions to him. In addition, after the start of the war, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Ukraine was preparing a provocation using a “dirty bomb”).

In fact, Russia simply took the first step before we were attacked. My husband had the idea that if we didn’t attack now, they would attack us. In general, he understood why the state decided to launch the special operation, and therefore calmly went to pack his things.

What is his mood now?

“Even those guys who had patriotic feelings – everything for victory, the Nazis must be destroyed… – even these guys are tired. No matter how energized a warrior is, if he is not allowed to rest, the person will begin to deflate. Even the most ardent fans of the war,  are ready for a truce, peace, surrender 15 months later [after mobilization]…”

“Shoigu and Putin say that they have recruited a lot of contract soldiers. I don’t know where they are, because my husband personally hardly sees any contract soldiers [at the front], there are only the mobilized ones there.”

“Every month we send them huge parcels with food at our own expense, because they are not getting food. We buy drones ourselves. Everyone says that the mobilized are millionaires, but we spend most of the salaries to equip the guys.”

Dispatch of the mobilized from the Arkhangelsk region. Photo from the page of regional governor Alexander Tsybulsky


The Way Home movement, of which you are a member, has taken an active political position and clearly criticizes the Russian government. Do you agree with them?

“These are flesh-and-blood people, they have the right to their opinion. I take a neutral position. Everyone has a different attitude towards the SVO (Special military operation – that’s what the Russian state calls the war in Ukraine. BO) and towards the authorities. If I start ranting – you are so and so, give me back my husband – no one will return my husband. The authorities do not negotiate with the opposition. There will definitely be no benefit, there will only be negativity towards us. Also, unnecessary people will cling to us – those who want to rock the country with our hands. It is necessary to take a more careful approach in guiding the authorities towards replacing the mobilized.”

Is it true that soldiers whose wives demand demobilization receive threats?

“There is one girl, they came to her husband and forced him to record a video saying that he was there [at the front] voluntarily and did not want to go home.”

Is the command really more terrifying than Ukrainian shells?

“My husband is a believer; he believes that God protects him, and there is a lot of evidence for this. In general, they say that there are a lot of military police there, and if you try to rock the boat, you will be shot and listed as missing in action. I don’t know how true this is.”

In mid-December, there was a call-in with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Thousands of people asked questions about demobilization and some of these questions even reached the airwaves. Did you watch the broadcast?

“I watched the first 15 minutes. Putin did not say a word about those mobilized – except that they fight well and that among them there are 14 Heroes of Russia (although he did not indicate how many were nominated posthumously). As soon as I heard this, I turned it off: I considered it unnecessary to waste my nervous system on this.”

“If we talk about emotions, I was incredibly offended, I had a feeling of betrayal and disappointment. If we think logically, it was not only the Russians and our allies who watched the call-in. Our enemies did it too. It would have been wrong for the leadership to indicate when the mobilized soldiers would be withdrawn, because the enemy is not asleep, and a column of mobilized soldiers heading home could have been attacked. He should have simply indicated clear time frames for the mobilized… At least he said that the mobilized need to be remembered and replaced.”

“But he couldn’t say that, because the Russian authorities had previously clearly stated that they were not going to demobilize anyone. Where do these hopes come from that they will still be allowed to go home?”

“All the same, Putin is a person who can change his mind and his decisions. This has happened more than once. For example, he said that there would be no mobilization, but then there was mobilization. It’s the same now: he says that there will be no demobilization, and then there’s demobilization in six months. It would be ideal.”

Vladimir Putin during the call-in. Photo: Kremlin press service


Hope dies last. The wives and mothers of the mobilized hope that their letters and their protests will be seen and heard. To support the population, Putin could change his decision.

How do you feel about the fact that former prisoners are released home after six months of service?

“I think this is a betrayal of your own people. It is very sad that those who did not flee to Kazakhstan, who followed the call of the Motherland, turned out to be worse than criminals. This is downright disappointing. I would like to ask – why? Do you need to exterminate law-abiding citizens who are patriotic?”

Given what you just said, don’t you have the feeling that the Russian state is simply deceiving you?

“I don’t feel that I’ve been deceived – I don’t watch TV. It is quite possible that the goals of the special operation are not those which are publicly stated. Perhaps the leadership does not want to give away any secrets. Maybe there are some personal ambitions regarding these territories… Many people are annoyed by my position: I am very neutral about everything that the state does as long as it does not concern me personally. My husband has done his duty to his homeland – go ahead and bring him back. If you have any other plans, implement them with the hands of someone other than my husband.”

“Keeping people who don’t want to be there is also not very safe for the state itself. In a year they can shoot their commanders there and go home. More precisely, they are unlikely to want to return home, but then the family suddenly moves somewhere abroad. But this is just my opinion, I emphasize. Not that of my husband.”



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