School’s out for summer Universities and draft boards fight over Russia’s incoming graduate students

Russian Defense Ministry / Instagram

In a new investigative report, Novaya Gazeta journalist Alexandra Dzhordzhevich examines how Russia’s draft boards sometimes ignore conscription exceptions for university students, terrifying young people and sparking legal battles with schools. At the heart of these disputes is the summer break between undergraduate and graduate studies, known as “postgraduate holidays” in Russia, where the military drafts roughly 135,000 men between the ages of 18 and 27, every year from April 1 to July 15. Students rely on this vacation period to ward off eligibility for conscription in the summer, but Novaya Gazeta found that some draft boards pursue them, nevertheless. Meduza summarizes the story here.

Quotas vary and a draft board’s location heavily influences how aggressive it is about summoning and reviewing potential conscripts. Officials do not share these numbers with the public. The Defense Ministry told Novaya Gazeta that this information is classified and also emphasized that students’ draft deferrals expire once their educational programs end. Spokespeople also noted that enlistment commissions answer to local government officials and operate independently from the Defense Ministry.

While quotas drive some draft boards to pursue young men with legitimate postgraduate deferrals, universities are quick to defend their students, even if it means litigation. In these lawsuits, Russia’s courts typically side with schools and students over draft boards. “The enlistment offices are always making life difficult for us, but we’re not giving you over to anyone. We’ll go to court, if necessary,” a university administrator told one student who spoke to Novaya Gazeta.

In the past, some conscription offices have summoned students for medical review, even though they have draft deferrals for education. Earlier this year, on June 6, however, a new law entered into force that exempts these students from visits to medical commissions.

Human rights workers in St. Petersburg say students with conscription deferrals are better off filing complaints when draft boards summon them. Refusing to show up at all can make matters worse, warns Oksana Paramonova. “The thing is that sometimes enlistment offices’ summons are technically legal when military registration documents need to be reviewed. This is legal at any time. The problem is that you show up and they send you to the medical commission instead of reviewing your documents. You need to be ready for this and refuse to go for the exam. Just show them your deferral and cite the law,” Paramonova told Novaya Gazeta.

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Summary by Kevin Rothrock


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