Sarcasm, scepticism in Ukraine over Russia’s partial mobilisation

Ukrainians say Moscow’s latest move to deploy more troops does not fill them with fear.

A billboard promoting contract army service with an image of a serviceman and the slogan reading "Serving Russia is a real job" sits in Saint Petersburg.
A billboard promoting contract army service with a slogan reading 'serving Russia is a real job' [Olga Maltseva/AFP]

Kyiv, Ukraine – Kseniya Borodenko does not care about the fate of a single Russian soldier fighting in Ukraine.

“More fertiliser for our soil,” the 33-year-old sales manager told Al Jazeera in central Kyiv, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to mobilise more troops on Wednesday morning.

But the fate of Ukrainian servicemen, who will have to deal with new throngs of what she calls “Rashists” – a neologism that combines “Russian” and “fascist” – does worry her.

“Our boys will die fighting this scum,” said Borodenko, whose elder brother Roman volunteered to fight pro-Russian separatists in 2014 and re-enlisted in March. “Even if we lose one of ours for a hundred of theirs, it will be tragic.”

A community leader from the Kyiv-controlled part of the southeastern Donetsk region echoed her opinion.

“The disposal of the Rashists will be more intensive,” said Nadiya Gordiyuk, who had to leave her town of New York, which lies just kilometres from the front line, because of heavy Russian shelling.

However, “in case of escalation due to the mobilisation, many more civilians in [Ukraine’s] east, which [Russians] came to supposedly protect, will die. This is really scary,” she told Al Jazeera.

Ihor Trubenok, a sound engineer from Kyiv, put his feelings more bluntly.

“Ukrainian people have no other option but to kill Russian occupiers,” he said. “And since there are no other options, we don’t give a **** about who they mobilise.”

To Ukrainians soldiers, the mobilised Russians are not a problem – at least, so far.

“If they are taught and turned into a team, it will take several months, and we can take a smoke break,” a Ukrainian serviceman told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

“If there is no team building, and they are sent straight to the frontline – there will be nothing but a silly massacre. It is unpleasant, it is boring, but it isn’t something we should fear like a serious problem.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin makes an address, dedicated to a military conflict with Ukraine, in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ‘special military operation’ [Russian Presidential Press Service/Kremlin via Reuters]

Special military operation

On February 24, Putin declared a “special military operation” to “protect” the Russian-speaking and ethnic Russian residents of eastern and southern Ukraine.

“In February, the world saw an imposing predator who reasoned with a self-complacent smile about the need to punish Russia’s enemies who overstepped their limits,” Ukrainian psychologist Svetlana Chunikhina, vice president of the Association of Political Psychologists, a group in Kyiv, told Al Jazeera.

Putin’s posture then was symmetrical, his back resting comfortably on the back of his chair, his arms wide apart and relaxed rather than tense, she said.

But on Wednesday, Chunikhina noticed he was in the same office, at the same table – looking “frightened” and “pitiful”.

“We see a man clutching his desk with his hands, with asymmetrically lifted shoulders and head pulled into his shoulders, ready to either jump or flee,” she said.

People gather at a tram stop.
People gather at a tram stop in front of a board that reads: ‘Glory to heroes of Russia!’ [Anton Vaganov/Reuters]

Meanwhile, Ukrainian leaders are far from scared by the prospect of fighting a much larger army.

“It’s the 210th day of the three-day-long-war,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Twitter, referring to the Kremlin’s initial plan of a blitzkrieg.

He said that instead of “destroying Ukraine”, average Russians got the mobilisation order, sealed borders, blocked bank accounts and the possibility of jail sentences for “desertion”.

And convicts, he added, were recruited to fight on the front lines because of losses of manpower.

“Everything goes according to the plan, isn’t it? Life has a great sense of humour,” Podolyak concluded sarcastically.

Other officials are more preoccupied with the forcible enlistment of Ukrainians who live in Russia-occupied areas in eastern and southern regions and have received Russian passports – voluntarily or under pressure.

“They risk being sent to kill their own,” Vitaliy Kim, governor of the southern Mykolaiv region, said in televised remarks.

A truer form of patriotism-driven mobilisation in Russia is hardly possible because average Russians do not understand what their men are being sacrificed for, a Ukrainian observer said.

“One can’t explain to a resident of a Russian backwater that Americans want to seize his hut – but the war has to be waged against Ukrainians,” Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera.

Russia will also struggle to switch its economy, which Kushch says is based on mass consumption, to a wartime mode.

“It [is] in the mass consumption format, [it is] not an ideological society like that in the USSR or North Korea,” he said.

Vladimir Putin
Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu [File:Sputnik/Alexei Danichev/Pool via Reuters]

Elated by the news

Meanwhile, the Kremlin publicly supported plans for annexation “referendums” in the Ukrainian regions Russia occupies, held by Moscow-backed separatists.

One senior rebel warned that Putin’s mobilisation plans will force Kyiv to spur up its counteroffensive in the eastern and southern regions Russia occupied in the spring.

“Now, the enemy [Ukraine] will have to seize the moment, and try to move us until there are results of decisions” made in the Kremlin, Alexander Khodakovsky, who commands the East separatist battalion in the rebel-controlled part of Donetsk, wrote on Telegram.

A former separatist “defence official” said that Putin’s announcement would help deter the Ukrainian counteroffensive and put an end to Western military aid to Kyiv.

“In case Russia shows its will, then the West will have to go back to the positions it had been in back in February, and in no way help defend Ukraine militarily,” Igor Strelkov, a former “defence minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told the 360 television channel in Russia.

However, the controversial “referendums”, which are not recognised as legitimate by most countries, will not attract enough Ukrainians who genuinely want to “join” Russia, Ukrainian officials claim.

Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor of the Russia-occupied southern city of Melitopol, said that on Tuesday, pro-Moscow “authorities” herded some 500 people to a community centre to create a fake background for a television story on Kremlin-controlled television.

“Most of them were not from Melitopol; they were bused in as extras,” Fyodorov wrote on Telegram.

Source: Al Jazeera