Farewell to the Mobilized

Russian Conscripts on Passenger Transport with Crowd Nearby © Sarah Lindemann-Komarova https://miro.medium.com/max/1100/1*g049h0EVQsCfpcQ4ChktgQ.jpeg | https://echosiberia.medium.com/

Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2022
From: Sarah Lindemann-Komarova <echosiberia@gmail.com>
Subject: Farewell to the Mobilized

Farewell to the Mobilized
By Sarah Lindemann-Komarova

Has lived in Siberia since 1992. Was a community development activist for 20 years. Currently, focuses on research and writing.

Text with photos: echosiberia.medium.com/farewell-to-the-mobilized-11502c0d93c8

October 22 was an unseasonably warm Saturday night in the Altai Republic. 8PM and thousands of well-wishers crowded the Victory Square to see their mobilized men off. The first of two ceremonies, this one was for men from the outlying districts. Many of them are Altai and this will be their second farewell of the day.

The first came in the morning with a sendoff from their villages. The one I attended the mobilized young men stood on one side of the road smoking and palling if they were waiting outside school for the bell to ring. One young woman hung onto the arm of her man. The children and grandchildren of these men will see pictures where the line is straightened and a few of the men have wrapped their arms around each other with big smiles while others stare with looks of duty and resignation into the cameras.

On the other side of the road relatives were distraught and silent except for comforting those who were crying. Both sides of the road shared a disbelief that this was happening. A short speech by the Mayor, final hugs, and the minibus pulled away with very sad people left behind waving and horns honking.

As farewell number two began there were surprisingly few tears at Victory Square. Those devastated by this parting hold them back. The focus here is on how proud they are of their husband, son, brother, friend. There are scattered conversations among the crowd that includes many who just wanted to be supportive, “are you seeing someone off?” “Yes, my son in law”, “Contract?” “No, mobilized”. A mother explaining to her young son “these men are going off to something terrifying”.

There were also surprisingly few flags and the ceremony was kept to a civilized 30 minutes. Music was a mix of patriotic and hard rock. The usual suspects spoke, there was no self-indulgence. The Governor defined their purpose, “… to protect the Motherland, its sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity” that will now include Kherson and Zaporozhets as well as the Donbass, Luhansk, and Crimea. A returned participant in the special military operation and recipient of the Order of Courage told the mobilized, “We had a motto, ‘No one but us’, now that applies to all of Russia!”.

Born in 1936, Boris Konduleevich Alushkin, Chairman of the Republican Council of Veterans and the Union of Journalists, reflected on a childhood memory “I was a first-grader, when we had to see off our fathers and older brothers during the Great Patriotic War. Together with grandmothers and mothers, we remained in the rear. Today the situation has arisen so that you have to go to the front line of Russia’s defense. You can rely on us. We will take care of your children, families…. Today, the entire Altai Mountains and Russia, representatives of all faiths, are praying for you. I wish you to return to Altai with victory, may the great achievement of our older generation keep you safe.”

Then came the call to board the buses, the final final goodbye. The friends slap backs, laugh, “we’ll be meeting you soon there”, and hug. A small crowd surrounded a not so young man as everyone got a proper, individual goodbye. The longest is for what seemed to be his wife who can no longer hold back her tears as he bends down to the grandchildren and then back up to hug the friends and other relatives.

A couple of wives and girlfriends lingered inside the buses until they were forced to leave when they were fully loaded. Outside, small children sat on shoulders for a last wave to Daddy, brother, or Uncle. Here, as in the morning, there is a contrast between the people going, band of brothers camaraderie, and those staying many of whom have finally allowed themselves to cry. Everyone waved goodbye as the buses pulled out for the 450 km trip to Novosibirsk where the mobilized will spend the next month training.

As this scene played out, “Farewell of Slavianka” blasted from the loudspeakers . The doleful march was written to honor the women seeing their men off to the First Balkans War. A reminder, as if one was needed, that this ritual has been repeated throughout history. There are undoubtedly wives, children, fathers, mothers, and friends waving goodbye to their loved ones in Ukraine. Some of those getting on the buses in Ukraine may be relatives or friends of those getting on the buses on this unseasonably warm Saturday night in the Altai Republic.

[featured image © Sarah Lindemann-Komarova miro.medium.com/max/1100/1*g049h0EVQsCfpcQ4ChktgQ.jpeg | echosiberia.medium.com/]