When Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of Russian men last September, it took a week for Adam Kalinin—not his real name—to decide that the best thing to do was move into the forest.
From the beginning, the computer scientist was against the war, for which he received a fine and spent two weeks in detention after pasting a sign saying “No to war” on the wall of his apartment building.
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So when Russia announced the call for up to 300,000 men to help turn around the war it was losing, Kalinin didn’t want to risk being sent to the front lines to kill Ukrainians.
Unlike hundreds of thousands of other people, however, I didn’t want to leave the country. Three things kept him in Russia: friends, financial constraints and the anxiety of leaving what he knows.
“Leaving outside of what I know would have been very difficult,” Kalinin, who is in his thirties, told the BBC. “It’s not exactly comfortable here either, but psychologically it would be very difficult to get out.”
In this way, he took the unusual step of saying goodbye to his wife and heading to the forest, where he has lived in a tent for almost four months.
use a antenna tied to a tree to access the internet and solar panels for energy.
He has endured temperatures as low as -11C and subsists on the food his wife regularly brings him.
Living off the radar, he says, is the best way he can think of to avoid being drafted. If the authorities can’t serve him a summons in person, he can’t be forced to go to war.
“If they’re physically unable to grab me and take me to the draft office, that’s almost a total defense against mobilization or other harassment.”
Somehow Kalinin continues his life as before. Still working eight hours a day at the same job, although during the winter, with limited daylight, he doesn’t have enough solar power to work full days, so he makes up his hours on the weekends.
Some of his colleagues are now in Kazakhstan, having also left Russia when the mobilization began, but their internet connection via a long-range antenna attached to a pine tree is reliable enough that communication is not a problem.
Kalinin enjoys life in the great outdoors, and has spent many of his last vacations camping in southern Russia with his wife. When he made the decision to move permanently to the forest, he already had much of the equipment he needed.
His wife, who visited Kalinin’s camp for a couple of days in the new year, plays an important role in his survival. She brings him groceries every three weeks to a drop-off point where they can briefly meet in person. Kalinin then takes the supplies to a safe place that he visits every few days to stock up. He cooks using a makeshift wood stove.
“I have oatmeal, buckwheat, tea, coffee, sugar. There are not enough fresh fruits and vegetables, of course, but it’s not bad,” he says.
Kalinin’s new home is a great ice fishing tent. When he first arrived in the forest, he set up two camps five minutes apart; one with internet access where he worked, the other in a more sheltered place where he slept.
As winter approached and the weather turned colder, he brought the two areas together to live and work under one roof.
Recently, the temperature dropped to -11C, colder than I expected. But now that the days are getting longer again and the snow is starting to melt, she plans to stay where she is.
Although Kalinin has not been called up, he says the situation is constantly changing and he fears that he will receive a call in the future. Officially, computer scientists like Kalinin are exempt from conscription, but there are plenty of reports of similar exemptions being ignored in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization on September 21shortly after the Ukrainian lightning counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region in which it recaptured thousands of square kilometers of territory from Russian troops.
Putin then said that the mobilization was necessary to defend Russia from the West. But many in the country protested and chaotic scenes broke out at Russia’s borders as hundreds of thousands of people decided to flee.
The draft had a profound impact on Russia. Until then, many Russians had been able to carry on with their lives just as they had before the war. It is true that some Western companies disappeared and sanctions made financial transactions difficult, but the direct impact on society had been mostly limited.
The mobilization brought the war to the doors of many Russian families. Suddenly sons, fathers and brothers were sent to the front lines at short notice, often with poor equipment and minimal training. If the conflict had seemed distant before, now it was almost impossible to ignore.
However, public acts of protest are rare inside Russia, something that has been criticized in Ukraine and in the West. But Kalinin says that people are rightly afraid of what may happen to them.
“We have a totalitarian state which has become very powerful. In the last six months, laws have been enacted at an incredible rate. If a person now speaks out against the war, the state will persecute them.”
Kalinin’s life in the forest has given him a level of popularity online, where 17,000 people follow his almost daily updates on Telegram. He posts videos and photos of his surroundings, his daily routine, and how he organizes his camp. Many of the posts are about chopping wood.
Kalinin says that not much of his former life is lost. He claims to be an introvert who doesn’t mind being alone, although he misses her wife and would like to see her more often. However, he points out that his current situation is still preferable to being sent to the front or to prison.
“I’ve changed so much that the kinds of things that I might have missed have faded away,” he says. “Things that seemed important before are not so important anymore. There are people in a much worse situation than ours.”
I am Jack Morton and I work in 24 News Recorder. I mostly cover world news and I have also authored 24 news recorder. I find this work highly interesting and it allows me to keep up with current events happening around the world.