The number of Russian deserters is rising. Thousands of men continue escaping the country, desperate to avoid military service. DW spoke to two of them.
Nikita glances around, afraid he might get caught. The young Russian has drawn his hood deep over his face and is wearing is an inconspicuous outfit. Nikita, which is not his real name, has spent the last few months living in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi.
Nikita was studying in the Russian capital Moscow until February. He'd signed a contract with the Russian army, which said the defense ministry would pay for his degree and ensure he had got a place to live at the student dormitory. In return, he promised to serve three years in the Russian army. Arrangements like these are not uncommon in Russia.
"At the time, I signed the contract out of stupidity," he told DW. "Many things were not clear to me. Okay, I thought, I'll waste three years in the army, but I'll get a degree in return."
When Nikita received a draft notice, he decided to quit the army. The military, however, refused his request and offered a compromise. "They transferred me to a command center where I was supposed to help the commander with the paperwork," Nikita recalled. "In September I got another job working with military technology and was tasked with repelling the enemy in case of an attack."
Nikita realized he could be sent to fight in Ukraine at any moment, so he decided to flee Russia to neighboring Georgia. "I didn't want to go to war, he told DW. "Escaping was my only chance." Nikita was well aware of the risk of deserting. "I will have to hide from Russia for the rest of my life, I will never be able to return," he said. "I'm not afraid of dying or ending up in prison, I just don't want to kill people."