From The Economist:
In late September, soon after Vladimir Putin announced that there would be nationwide conscription in Russia, I overheard my 14-year-old student ask his father about it. “At what age do they take people to Ukraine?” the boy said, anxiously. His father wrapped him in a hug, reassuring him that he was too young. In all the months I’d been the family’s live-in tutor, I’d never seen my boss display so much affection to his children.
The boy used to be a lot more gung-ho. When the “special military operation” in Ukraine first started in February he would sternly repeat the government line to me (Russia was strong and good, Ukraine wasn’t a real country). At school he and his friends would tell patriotic jokes. Recently, though, I’d noticed that the memes he forwarded weren’t all pro-Russian – some had even come from the Ukrainian side. The other day he made me watch a TikTok of Ukrainian soldiers imitating characters from a popular video game, followed by more clips of him and his friends trying to recreate their moves. I asked him if they realised it was Ukrainian soldiers they were emulating. He shrugged.
A more serious message seems to be cutting through the jumble of social-media posts. When we were going through his homework shortly after the hug I witnessed, my student abruptly said: “I think Russia is losing the war.” I asked why he thought that. “That’s just what I heard. I think nobody wants to fight there.” We moved on, but the gravity of what he’d said lingered.
. . . .
This teenager is not the only one whose patriotic certainty has faded since the war’s early days. A giant “Z” – the symbol of support for Putin’s invasion – that someone had painted across the front of a building in the city has now gone. People make snide remarks about Russia’s progress on the battlefield, and they go unchallenged. The draft has changed the atmosphere.
Men are becoming less visible in Russia: hundreds of thousands have been conscripted and many more are fleeing conscription. At a café I recently overheard a table of women gossiping about their boyfriends in Turkey. The army isn’t held in much esteem these days (“Russian soldiers are supposed to be the second-best in the world but I think my husband is only third or fourth,” runs one joke) so little shame is attached to draft-dodging.
Some women I know whose partners have left the country are discovering new reserves of toughness. One friend is doing two jobs so that she can send money to her boyfriend, who is lying low in Turkey without an income. She’s so relieved he’s safe from the draft that she doesn’t even seem to register how tired she is. Another is doing the same for her boyfriend. “He supported me for ten years, now it’s my turn,” she says.
. . . .
Others left behind are distraught. One friend called me in tears to say her half-brother had received his summons and was going to Ukraine at the end of October. “He is terrified. He cried with my father when he got the letter. He is too young,” she said. She is convinced he is going to die.
I don’t know any men who have gone to fight, but my boss’s bodyguard, a fit man in his early 30s, is clearly expecting the summons. In the days following the announcement he kept going off to take phone calls in private. We recently found ourselves alone together and I asked him what he was planning to do. “I am stuck here. We don’t speak English,” he said. “My job here is great. In Turkey, what can I do?” He hopes he will at least have a chance to get his wife pregnant before he’s called up.
Link to the rest at The Economist