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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mothers Ready to Drag Soldier Sons From Front

When Tatyana Skorodumova learned about a week ago that her 19-year-old son, Gera, was being sent with his military unit to Dagestan, she knew that she had to try to bring him home before he found himself in the middle of the fighting in Chechnya.

Her son, less than a year into his military service, is stationed in Ivanovo, about 400 kilometers northeast of Moscow.

"My father went to visit him last week and returned in tears [with the news of the unit's pending departure for Dagestan]," said Skorodumova, 44, who works as a cleaning lady at a food store in Korolyov, a town in the Moscow region.

"I just cannot let this happen to him," she said Tuesday.

Skorodumova is just one of dozens of worried mothers who in recent weeks have come to the office of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, an influential advocacy group whose activists advise them on "how to save their sons' lives."

The telephone at the committee's Moscow office has been ringing off the hook with calls from hundreds of mothers across Russia.

Committee activists help locate individual soldiers and then recommend that the mothers go to the conflict regions themselves and bring their sons back home. "A mother will always find a way. We don't need to give advice on how to do that," Maria Fedulova, a committee activist, said.

President Boris Yeltsin gave the mothers some extra ammunition by issuing a presidential decree Sept. 16 saying that soldiers don't have to take part in combat operations during peacetime unless they volunteer or have served for more than one year.

Many first-year conscripts are among the thousands of soldiers who have been deployed in Dagestan and along the Chechen border, the committee says.

Mothers also make use of other regulations that provide for soldiers to be stationed close to their parents in certain cases, such as when the parents are disabled or if one of them is dead.

Fedulova said mothers usually first try, on the basis of these legal arguments, to persuade their son's commanders to transfer them out of the conflict zone. If that doesn't work, they often pass their sons civilian clothes and arrange for them to desert, often with the help of locals, the activist said.

"We are choosing between life and death," committee spokes-woman Valentina Melnikova said. "In this situation, only parents can protect their sons from the state."

Since the fighting began in Dagestan in August, 40 soldiers have been brought home by their parents, Fedulova said. During the 1994-96 Chechen war, mothers brought out 3,500 soldiers.

During the current conflict, some mothers have traveled to Mozdok, some 100 kilometers from the Chechen border, to fetch their sons. Others prefer to help them desert before they are sent to the Caucasus.

Another visitor to the committee Tuesday was Lyudmila Konovalova, whose son, Dima, 18, has been under arrest since she brought him home rather than allow him to join his unit in Dagestan.

Her son, who began his military service only in June, was serving in the artillery troops in Mulino, in the Nizhny Novgorod region. When his unit was moved to Dagestan in September, he was on leave, recovering in a hospital from a severe beating he received while serving in his unit.

Instead of allowing him to join the other soldiers, Konovalova brought him home to Moscow and turned him in to military prosecutors.

Once mothers have brought their sons home, they often turn to the Soldiers' Mothers Committee for legal help in dealing with military authorities.

Under Russian law, soldiers cannot be convicted of deserting if they prove they had a good reason for leaving their unit or if they can show that they were wrongly sent into combat.

In many cases, the committee says, charges against deserters who turn themselves in are dropped.