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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Draftees Face Future in Dread

The faint odor of denial wafted through the corridors of the Moscow City Draft Board. It smelled like vodka, and it was.

Moscow anticipates sending some 6,000 of its 18-year-olds into military service this fall and Tuesday morning, 500 came to draft headquarters as civilians and left as soldiers. A nip -- or maybe a gulp -- from the bottle beforehand helped take the edge off.

With draft dodging and deferrals slicing into the Russian military more severely than ever, these young men were rarities -- the ones who did not, or could not, avoid the draft. But that didn't mean they were happy about it.

"I don't want to serve in the army. It's a waste of time. I've got better things to do with my year-and-a-half," said Dmitry Lefatov. "But there's a Russian saying: 'The sooner you get in, the sooner you get out.'"

Among the range of assignments handed out -- the armed forces distribute recruits to fill gaps in the field -- two words were dreaded most: border guards.

The pogranichniki, as they are known, are most likely to serve in a "hot spot" like Tajikistan, where conflict rages along the border with Afghanistan. Last year, 40 guards were killed along the Tajik-Afghan border, according to local reports.

"They'll cut your head off on the border," Lefatov said. "I don't want to go there. I want to live." Lefatov got his wish. He's headed off to the Military Space Force, which means he'll be working at a military launch pad.

Though Lefatov's grim mood prevailed, Ilya Semokov was eager to serve. Somokov's father and grandfather were soldiers, and now it was his turn.

"A man ought to serve," he said with pride. As for those who "buy their way out of the army," he said, well, they're not men. "It's not right."

According to figures published last week in Rossiskaya Gazeta, the government's official newspaper, 28,000 Russian youths have eluded service this year. Add that to the nearly 70 percent of men nation-wide who win deferrals due to their family, health or educational situation, and you get 19 soldiers for every 100 eligible, according to the Ministry of Defense.

Local officials said they have not yet counted how many have evaded the fall draft, but about 4,000 Muscovites sidestepped the spring call-up simply by enrolling in an appropriate school and winning a deferral.

President Boris Yeltsin said Monday that he expects the army to shed 385,000 men this year to reach a total of 1,917,400 by Jan. 1, but the actual number of servicemen is estimated to be far lower, around 1.5 million, largely due to draft dodging.

Colonel Vladimir Dobrovolsky, the draft board's deputy director blamed stricter health tests for eroding the ranks of eligible soldiers, but Valentina Popova wished they were even higher. Though her son Gennady has chronic back pain, his neighborhood draft doctor told him he had to serve. Tuesday, Popova was appealing to the doctors at headquarters.

"Even if he were healthy, I wouldn't want him to serve," she said.