Russia and Ukraine: A Russian hides in a frozen forest to avoid participating in the war

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  • Ben Tobias
  • BBC News

25 minutes ago

image copyright Adam Kalinin

photo comment,

Adam Kalinin has been living in a Russian forest for nearly four months to avoid being called up for military service and the war against Ukraine.

Within a week of Vladimir Putin announcing a partial mobilization of Russian men last year, Adam Kalinin (not his real name) decided his best option was to move to the woods.

The IT expert was opposed to the war from the start, and had to pay a fine and spend two weeks in prison for putting a “No to war” poster on one of the walls of his apartment building.

So, when Russia announced it was calling up 300,000 men to help turn a war it was losing, Kalinin didn’t want to risk being sent to the front lines to kill Ukrainians.

But, unlike hundreds of thousands of other Russians, he did not want to leave his country.

Three things kept him in the country: friends, financial constraints, and the uneasiness of giving up everything he knew.

“Leaving the country was a difficult step outside my comfort zone,” Kalinin told the BBC. “It’s not entirely comfortable here, but nevertheless, leaving is very difficult psychologically.”

Kalinin, who is in his 30s, uses a tree antenna to go online and solar panels for power.

He sometimes has to endure temperatures of -11 degrees Celsius, and survives on food supplies that his wife brings him regularly.

He says hiding out of sight is the best way he has been able to avoid being drafted. If the authorities cannot hand him over to the army in person, they cannot compel him to participate in the war.

“If they can’t take me by the hand and send me to the draft office, that’s 99 percent protecting me from mobilization or any form of harassment,” says Kalinin.

Kalinin continues his life more or less as usual. He still works eight hours a day at the same job, but during the winter, with his short daylight hours, he doesn’t get enough solar energy to work full time, so he makes up for the lost hours on the weekend.

Some of his colleagues now live in Kazakhstan, having left Russia as soon as the soldiers began mobilizing, but the internet coverage he gets from the long-range antenna attached to a pine tree is good coverage that he can rely on for his communications without encountering any problems.

Kalinin also loves spending time in the bosom of nature, as he used to spend his holidays camping in southern Russia with his wife. When he made his decision to move into the wilderness permanently, he already had the majority of the equipment he needed.

image copyright Adam Kalinin

photo comment,

Kalinin says he does not know how long his stay in the forest will last

Kalinin’s wife, who spent two days with him in his camp over the New Year holidays, plays a big role in his survival. She brings him supplies every three weeks, and they meet quickly at an agreed-upon place. Then he carries the supplies to a safe place that he visits every few days to replenish. Kalinin cooks his food using a homemade wood-fueled stove.

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“I have oats, buckwheat, tea, coffee and sugar. Of course I don’t get enough fresh fruit and vegetables, but it’s not bad,” he says.

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Kalinin’s new house is a large tent of the type used when fishing from frozen water. When he first came into the forest, he made two camps five minutes’ walk from each other. One of these two camps has internet where he works, and the other is in a more hidden location where he sleeps.

As winter approached and the weather got colder, he merged the two camps, living and working under one roof.

Recently, the temperature dropped to 11 degrees below grade, a drop that exceeded his expectations. But for now, with the daylight hours getting shorter again and the snow starting to thaw, Kalinin plans to stay where he is.

Although he did not receive the call-up order for military service, he says that the situation is constantly changing, and he fears that he will receive it in the future. Officially, IT workers like Kalinin are exempt from conscription, but there are numerous reports from Russia of similar exemptions being ignored.

The Russian President had announced the military mobilization on September 21 of last year, shortly after the surprise counterattack launched by Ukraine in the Kharkiv region, during which it regained control of thousands of square kilometers of territory from the grip of Russian forces.

Mobilization, says Kalinin, was necessary to defend Russia against the West. But many in the country objected, and there were scenes of chaos on Russia’s borders, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing.

The summoning of the soldier had a profound effect on Russia. Before its announcement, many Russian citizens were able to continue their lives as they were before the war. It is true that some Western brands have disappeared from the country, and the sanctions imposed on them have made financial procedures difficult, but the direct impact on society has been limited.

However, the mobilization made the war a tangible reality for many Russian families. Suddenly, many fathers, brothers and sons were deployed to the front lines of the war within a short period, and most of the time they were not given enough training and the equipment they were given was of poor quality. If conflict seemed distant before, now it is impossible to ignore.

However, public protests are rare in Russia – something Ukraine and the West have criticized. But Kalinin says people are right to be afraid of what might happen to them if they pretend.

“We have a dictatorial state that has become very strong. Over the past six months, new laws have been implemented at an unbelievable pace. If someone publicly criticizes the war, the state goes after him.”

Inside view of Kalinin's tent

image copyright Adam Kalinin

photo comment,

A tent used when out fishing from the frozen flats became Kalinin’s workplace and sleeping place

Kalinin’s life in the woods has earned him a measure of popularity on the Internet, with nearly 17,000 people following his almost daily posts on Telegram. Kalinin posts photos and videos of his surroundings, his daily routine, and how he organizes his camp. There are also many shots of him chopping wood.

Kalinin says he doesn’t miss many details of his former life. He describes himself as an introverted person who does not mind loneliness, although he misses his wife and would like to be able to see her for longer periods. But he notes that he still prefers his current situation to going to the front lines of war or going to prison.

And he concludes by saying, “I have changed so much, that the things I thought I would miss faded away and became on the sidelines..Things that seemed important in the past no longer have the same effect. There are people in much worse conditions than ours.”

Tree stumps covered in snow

image copyright Adam Kalinin

photo comment,

Kalinin says the snow has begun to melt as the daylight hours begin to increase

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