Young men from north Russian navy towns refuse to fight. Many face years in jail for desertion

By - April 17, 2024 The Independent Barents Observer

The Kola Peninsula is among Russia’s most militarized regions and several closed military towns are located along its remote Arctic coast. Hundreds of local men have gone to fight in Ukraine, among them also many submariners.

Still, judging from figures from the Zaozersk Military Court, the local opposition to war in growing.

Figures obtained by the Russian version of the Barents Observer show that 50 men have been convicted for their refusal to join the Armed Forces over the past year. Since the start of the full-scale onslaught on Ukraine in February 2022, the number is 76.

The verdicts are based on articles 337, 228 and 339 in the Russian Criminal Code, all of them connected to refusal to serve in the military, including desertion.

Before the start of the war, the number of cases were 7,5 times lower. 

The data from the military court does not specify the names of the indicted, nor their place of residency. But it is likely that the lion’s share of the men come from the naval base of Zaozersk and neighboring towns.

Among the «refusniks» – men that refuse to join the Army – is Dmitry Vasilets, who got 2,2 years behind bars for his unwillingness to go to war. He was in June 2023 declared political prisoner by human rights organisation Memorial.

“I am senior lieutenant Dmitry Vasilets,” the political prisoner tells NO.Media in a video interview. Screenshot from video

The senior lieutenant was sent to Ukraine in the early phase of the war. After five months on occupied land, Vasilets got a leave and never returned to the battlefield.

The figures from the court in Zaozersk correspond with discoveries made by the newspaper MediaZona. Journalists from the newspaper searched thought publicly available records of military garrison and district courts and found a major increase in the number of cases against “refuseniks.” Only in March 2024, 684 such sentences were passed by Russian military courts.

Zaozersk today has a population of about 7,700 people. It is known for its powerful nuclear submarine bases that today includes attack subs of the Yaren-class, among them the brand new K-560 Severodvinsk and K-561 Kazan.

There are five military courts in the Murmansk region; in Murmansk City, Severomorsk, Polyarny, Gadzhievo and Zaozersk.