Vodka in the gateway is definitely a better option.
During a recent trip to Montenegro, I needed a transfer. I searched, as usual, in local chats. I found what I was looking for. Driver Oleg, a very nice man, a Moscow resident. More precisely, a former Moscow resident. We had to spend more than an hour on the road, so we started talking.
“You probably left after the start of the war?”
“No,” he says, “literally a couple of months before it started. Luckily.”
It turned out that Oleg was not just a relocatee, or a fugitive from mobilization. For many years he raised potential “mobilized freshmen”: he worked at a cadet school as an officer-educator. And a few months before the war, his wife said: I feel like nothing good will happen here, let’s leave. “Where should we go?” Oleg was surprised back then. “We have a normal life: we have a job, an apartment, a car, the children are grown.” But the wife kept insisting: let’s at least leave for the winter first, and then we’ll see.
On the eve of the New Year 2022, Oleg took a vacation at his own expense for three months. Montenegro is not just visa-free for Russians — they can live there for years without legalization. The main thing is to cross the border once a month and enter again, “reset to zero”. That's how many people live there. So they decided to go there before spring. And at the end of February, Oleg wrote a resignation letter and sent it by email, no longer thinking about the wording with which he would be fired. Since then they have lived like this — he works as a driver, earns good money during the season, but, of course, it is difficult off season. However, he doesn’t regret anything.
“You see,” said Oleg, “I didn’t just work in order to receive a salary and feed my family. I was proud of my work. If you knew what kind of contingent we have there: orphans, troubled teenagers, children from large families, from disadvantaged families. And with us they are on state support, under supervision all the time. They study, train, in warmth and care. I thought we were doing a noble thing: if this or that guy hadn’t come to us, he would have started drinking like his parents, or taking drugs, and then he would have gone to prison. And we are kind of like the saviors of young, fragile souls in difficult circumstances. And suddenly it turned out that we were not doing a noble deed, but raising cannon fodder! Now I am ashamed of my own blindness. I won't go back there.”
There are few people like Oleg: those who understood, who found the strength to give up their previous comfortable living, leave and start a new, very difficult life. Most of his colleagues either still haven’t realized that they are raising cannon fodder, not free citizens, or they understood and became even prouder, or they shut up and silently lined up under the letter Z, instilling false ideas in their children.
While we were driving, I listened to Oleg’s story and thought about Belarusian children — about those who are sent to military-patriotic clubs under the same slogan — “it’s better than drinking vodka in the gateways” and “we need to distract children from the street.” Moreover, most often parents enroll their children in such clubs. Voluntarily, not under torture or by court verdict. With the best of intentions. And there, children are taught the words “Zmagars” and “Banderites” as curse words and are told what a great honor it is to grow up as a patriot and go to die for Putin or Lukashenka. Moreover, they, Lukashenka and Putin, Moscow and Minsk, are not even separated — as if they were two heads of the same dragon. Who knows which of the heads these children will have to die for — just in case, let them honor both.
It was not for nothing that Lukashenka signed the decree “On the development of military-patriotic clubs” in May 2022, when the war in Ukraine had been going on for three months and it became clear that cannon fodder was the only thing the Russian army was rich in. Just in case, you need to get fodder at home and make supplies for the winter. Dry and salt it for the sake of wastage and linkage. And this spring, state media proudly wrote that under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense there are 29 military-patriotic clubs, which include two thousand children. And this is without taking into account the Orthodox military-patriotic clubs at the dioceses — all these “Peresvets”, “Slavs” and other sorts of “Vityaz”. Everything is the same there, only they also pray in addition. And another 755 school military-patriotic clubs, which include 11 thousand children. And the total is the size of the division. Can you imagine a division of teenagers who have had it drilled into their heads that they must die for the dictator? And that's the best case scenario. The worst is — they must kill for the dictator.
No, vodka in the gateway is definitely a better option.
Iryna Khalip, exclusively for Charter97.org