In August alone, three Russian soldiers committed suicide. According to their families and soldiers’ rights defence groups, these deaths were caused by “dedovshchina,” an extremely brutal form of hazing dating back to the Soviet era which remains common today. Our Observer, a 25-year-old man currently doing his military service, tells us about his harrowing experience.
 
On August 23, a young recruit shot himself in the head, just two months after beginning his military service in the region of Volvograd, in eastern Russia. He left a letter explaining that he could no longer endure the threats and taunts he was subjected to. Before him, on August 1 and 6 respectively, two other soldiers in different parts of the country committed suicide by hanging.
 
Suicide is not a new phenomenon in Russia’s army. The only official statistics date back to 2009, when the Ministry of Defence announced that 149 soldiers had killed themselves that year. Victims’ families say their complaints rarely lead anywhere and if they do, investigations generally conclude that the soldier was psychologically unstable.
 
According to a group of soldiers’ mothers who have banded together to defend soldiers’ rights, “dedovshchina” is moral and physical torture, pure and simple. Some even suspect these suicides could be staged to cover up incidents where new recruits were beaten to death.

“We're beaten without any reason”

Slava (not his real name) is a 25-year-old man doing his military service in the region of Volvograd.
 
I went into the army just after finishing my law degree. The army has strict disciplinary rules on paper, but in reality nobody follows them. This is not surprising – the army is a mirror of society. All of the problems plaguing Russia can be found in the army.
 
As soon as we new recruits arrived, the humiliation began. Nearly every night, after lights out, we were woken up by older soldiers. They forced us to do physical exercises – push-ups, knee-bends and so on – for hours on end. Those who stopped without permission were beaten. We were also beaten without any reason. They did this to break our will and make us obedient, so they could then make us do their work for them.
 
Video posted on Youtube.
Video posted on Youtube.
 
 
“Locals gang up on soldiers from other parts of Russia”
 
Officers often send soldiers to work at construction sites, and pocket all the money they earn. They don’t pay the soldiers and often don’t feed them, either. They also steal from younger soldiers when they’re away. So we have to carry all our belongings with us. We’ve taken to walking around with our razors, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes sticking out of our pockets.
 
The problem is aggravated by the size of Russia. In some parts of the country, like in North Caucasus, soldiers who are locals gang up on those that come from other parts of Russia. The locals don’t get hazed; they start hazing others from day one. And vice versa – guys from other regions are often still hazed even after they have been around for a long time.
 
Vidéo postée sur Youtube.
 
Soldiers humiliated and beat young recruits in a military barrack near Saint Petersburg. This video was published online in mid-august. Video posted on YouTube.
 
“Our commander told us, ‘Come complain to me instead. I’ll start by
smashing your nose in’”
 
Many soldiers commit suicide because of the hazing. Some run away, sometimes travelling for hundreds of kilometers by foot. One soldier in our unit ran away and sought help from the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers. After that, the unit commander gathered us all on the drill field and told us that anyone who complains to a human rights organization, or to anyone else, would have very serious problems. ‘If you have any problems,’ the commander told us, ‘come complain to me instead. I’ll start by smashing your nose in.’ Officers hate it when any problems become public. Once, Russia’s president came to visit our unit, so they hid everyone who had visible bruises in a cellar for several days, without any food.”
 
Soldiers from North Caucasus paint the word 'Daghestan' (a republic in North Caucasus) on the heads of younger soldiers.
 
'Ingush is Power." The Ingush are a native ethnic group of North Caucasus. Photos published on the website Odnoklasniki.ru
Post written with freelance journalist Ostap Karmodi.