Russia is grabbing men off the street to fight in Ukraine

Russian men, conscripted to fight in Ukraine, say goodbye to family members at a recruiting office in Moscow on Oct. 7. (Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Police and military officers swooped down on a Moscow business center this past week unannounced. They were looking for men to fight in Ukraine — and they seized nearly every one they saw. Some musicians, rehearsing. A courier there to deliver a parcel. A man from a Moscow service agency, very drunk, in his mid-50s, with a walking disability.

“I have no idea why they took him,” said Alexei, who, like dozens of others in the office complex, was rounded up and taken to the nearest military enlistment office, part of a harsh new phase in the Russian drive.

In cities and towns across Russia, men of fighting age are going into hiding to avoid the officials who are seizing them and sending them to fight in Ukraine.

Police and military press-gangs in recent days have snatched men off the streets and outside Metro stations. They’ve lurked in apartment building lobbies to hand out military summonses. They’ve raided office blocks and hostels. They’ve invaded cafes and restaurants, blocking the exits.

At a predawn sweep on the Mipstroy1 construction company dormitories on Thursday, they took more than 200 men. On Oct. 9, they rounded up dozens at a Moscow shelter for the homeless.

The press-gangs appear to descend at random. It is terrifying — and, at times, comically haphazard. Alexei, a 30-something pacifist, lives with his cat and, until he was hauled off, enjoyed hanging out with friends in bars, cafes and parks, going to concerts and planning his next holiday in Europe. (He and others in this report spoke on the condition that his last name be withheld out of concern for his safety. The Washington Post has confirmed the raid, but could not independently verify the details he provided.)

An official barged into Alexei’s office on Tuesday. Two police officers and several plainclothes military officials arrived and demanded his identification. They ordered him to go with them quietly “or we will use force,” he said.

“I was panicking,” he said. “I’d never been detained before. Everyone knows that if you are detained by the police in Russia, it’s very bad.”