In the town of Podporozhye, five hundred miles from Moscow, officials at the military draft office are meeting to decide whether local resident Mikhail Ashichev should be mobilised and sent to Ukraine.
Mikhail argues his case.
“I’m not a pacifist,” he explains. “If a country was trying to occupy my Motherland, or commit aggression against Russia, I would go straight to the military enlistment office and sign up, without waiting for my call-up papers. But in this particular case I believe that there is no military threat to my Motherland.”
“But our Motherland is in danger,” one of the officials insists.
“My Motherland wasn’t in danger before 24 February,” replies Mikhail, referring to the date on which Russia invaded Ukraine.
Mikhail, 34, is a mechanic. Despite Russia becoming an increasingly authoritarian state, in which civil and human rights have been curtailed, Mikhail argues that the Russian constitution gives him the right to be a conscientious objector. He refuses to fight in Ukraine.
“While I was standing there saying those things I was very nervous,” Mikhail tells me. “But when I watched the video back, on the contrary I saw fear in the eyes of the people who were listening to me. I think that’s because they’re used to treating people as objects which they can move from one place to another, or just order around. Suddenly there was I saying the things I was saying.
“Then came the threats. ‘We’ll tell the police about this and they’ll investigate,’ they said. I get the feeling that these people are terrified of losing control. They’re used to controlling everything.”
According to Vladimir Putin, more than 220,000 Russian reservists have been called up since the Russian president declared “partial mobilisation” last month. Although the Kremlin leader has indicated that the mobilisation drive will end soon, the Kremlin has declined to name a specific date.
In recent days Russian state TV has broadcast images of mobilised men undergoing training in Russia, complete with patriotic soundbites from some of the draftees. This week President Putin was shown allegedly meeting mobilised soldiers at a training ground in the Ryazan region, an attempt to rally public support for the mobilisation effort.