MOSCOW, Russia: Russian lawyers and civil society organizations have been swamped by panic-stricken requests by young men seeking help to avoid being drafted since President Vladimir Putin announced on Sept. 21 that 300,000 men would be mobilized to boost Russia's flagging war effort.
While hundreds of thousands of Russians have reportedly fled to Kazakhstan, Georgia and Finland, others remain in Russia, hiding from military recruiters, praying they will not be summoned or hoping for exemptions from service.
"We are working round the clock," said Sergei Krivenko, who runs a group of some 10 lawyers, called Citizen. Army. Law.
"People are being torn from their normal lives," he said. "This is a mobilization without time limit during a war. It could last months or years. People may not return ... Leaving the army is pretty much impossible. The only way is death, injury or prison for disobeying orders," he said, as quoted by Reuters.
Additionally, implementation of the mobilization has been chaotic. Though billed as enlisting those with military experience and required specialities, the conscription has often appeared to disregard individuals' service records, health, student status or even age.
On social media, tip sheets on how to avoid being mobilized circulate, alongside forms for claiming medical exemptions or becoming a conscientious objector and instructions for filling them out.
"Those coming to us are panicked. They don't understand what is happening," said Krivenko.
"They are calling up anyone. And the law allows them to recruit anyone."
Dmitry Lutsenko, who helps run a group called Release, which offers legal advice and information, said, "The best way to avoid conscription is to leave Russia now," according to Reuters.
The second best option is to hide, he said. "Avoid signing a summons... avoid military offices. The legal punishment for not going is a small fine and I don't know of anyone who has been fined yet."