Interview with a sister of a St. Petersburg man who was drafted and killed in action two weeks later. “Paper”

Andrei Nikiforov, an attorney who worked at Nevskaya College of Lawyers, received a draft notice two days after “partial mobilization” was announced. His military service lasted for two weeks: he was “trained” in three days, then sent away to Belgorod where he had to buy his own equipment, then to the occupied territories where he was killed in combat.

Nikiforov’s family were told he died on the 7th of October near Lysychansk. Andrei’s relatives found out four other combatants were killed, and he alone was identified. Of Nikiforov’s seven known fellow soldiers, only two survived.

The husband and the son of Andrei’s sister Yulia Kuznetsova both also received draft notices. has talked to her about Nikiforov’s dispatch to the frontline, what he told her while on his way there, what is known about the deceased fellow soldiers of his, and why his family is going to court.

— We are a large family. I am the oldest sister. Andrei was my middle brother, he was 40. We also have younger brothers.

The media mentioned Andrei’s wife, but they’d been divorced for seven years. He graduated from the [Saint Petersburg] State University of Water Communications and then worked as a police investigator. He was an attorney at the Nevskaya College of Lawyers when he was drafted.

Andrei was living at our place at the time the notice came. He was at work, and our sister signed the notice. Andrei received the notice when he came back home from work. What could he do? He went to the Primorsky District drafting office on the following day, September 23.

They wanted to pull him in right away, but gave him time to settle current matters, which he had the right for. He did that in one day, and on the 24th they took him to the district’s special drafting station. We were keeping in contact, he called us and texted: “Take it easy, girls! Everything’s all right!”

We were very close: being siblings meant a lot to us. We lived in the same apartment, and so it [Andrei’s death] came as a shock. It felt like it happened right before our eyes.

— I don’t know anything about their training at Kamenka [military base near Saint Petersburg]: he didn’t tell us. He was there for just three days. After September 27, Andrei rarely got in touch. He spent three days traveling to Belgorod by way of Vologda and Astrakhan. The train made several stops when more cars with drafted guys were coupled to it.

On the 1st of October he made a call from Belgorod. He’d mailed us his passport and other guys’ ids. “All good,” he said. Andrei was already going into the middle of the action: that we found out from our younger brother who’d texted with him. Andrei told him: “Say nothing to the girls. If they ask, it’s all good.”

He made another call from the combat area on October 2. That was a scene of fighting and all that. They were allowed to make calls; their [own phones] were probably jammed. They were given phones to call home, so everyone used the same phone.

We later got in contact with mothers of several other guys: those whose ids Andrei had mailed to us. We’re keeping in touch. He said: “Yulia, wait for mail, you’ll get the passports.” I still don’t know why he mailed them. Maybe he realized something… I don’t know…

The last time we talked was on the 4th of October. He said: “I’m going to Belgorod.” They were taken there by cars to buy equipment. We wired him some money, as he told us. That was in the afternoon. They came to Belgorod and bought helmets, knives and other equipment, as much as they were able to.

On the same day, Andrei wished his daughter a happy birthday. And that was that: we lost touch with him and never heard from him again.

— On the 12th of October we were informed that Andrei had died five days prior, on the 7th of October, near Lysychansk in those DNR and LNR [self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas]. I was knocked out by the news.

We got in touch with the mothers to hand the ids over to them. Some boys who were in the same area are in the infirmary. Their parents made calls, gave first and last names. They were told: “Alive,” and that was that, loss of signal. There’s no other information about the guys.

As of today, there’s still no word, we’re keeping in touch with their mothers. Of the seven boys whose ids we received, only two are alive.

The boys who survived have reached out to the Military Prosecutor’s office. They’re figuring out what has happened and why, how did they end up there.

We’re all in shock, as are other parents. I’m talking to the mother [of one of the draftees]: she’s already [reached out] to the Prosecutor’s office, but she just gets bounced everywhere.

They [the draftees’ mothers] are going to look into it and figure it out, of course. What on Earth is going on? They had no dog tags for sure. As we found out, Andrei was only id’d because he had papers on him. That’s why they sent him back and gave him to us.

Many other bodies remain without a name, and no one knows what’s going on with them and where. We were lucky he [Andrei] was identified and had papers. We were told: you should be happy his face was intact. We’re thankful that at least we got to get the “cargo 200” [Russian military jargon for zinc coffins containing soldiers killed in combat] and got to give him a proper burial. This is our dear Andrei. At least he’s with us in Petersburg… At least they brought him back…

It was a beautiful funeral. He was buried as a hero. District officials came, fellow soldiers came, guys from Kamenka, too. It was exceptional, and we calmed down a bit. Of course, the questions remain: how, why? Why did he stay so little at the military base, why did they have to buy body armor themselves?

— After Andrei, draft notices also came for my husband and my son. We’re deeply shocked by what’s going on. It’s a nightmare. I’m all wound up.

I’m telling you upfront: we didn’t sign the notices. They have been issued and registered, but we didn’t sign them. We’ve talked to lawyers. I have a child with a disability, too. There is no decree yet that people like us can’t be drafted.

It’s still pending.

We have no [papers] to challenge the draft order. And we’re outraged about those notices. What’s going on in those recruiting offices, is there any oversight, do they keep track of anything? Andrei’s body hadn’t even arrived yet, and they were already sending us new notices. I just can’t wrap my head around this. It’s a disgrace. I feel like crying and shouting. Do they want to wipe out our whole family with this drafting of theirs?

I am saying, as a human being, that our family is in mourning. All was normal when I saw Andrei off on September 24. We woke up, had breakfast, Andrei had his tea, I was helping my child pack for school, then he [Andrei] left for the draft station. And that was that, you know? Can’t wrap my head around it. So I don’t know how to respond to any of that, I’m just shocked.

— We keep terms with Andrei’s ex wife. She said she was going to do something, go to a lawyer. She wants to find some legal pathway, because there’s nothing normal about the situation. The draft office said we need to go to the district court to raise the issue. Or wait for that decree to be signed.

The [drafting office] staff are “paper people.” They can see what’s going on from their armchairs. Their brains must be melting from all the fat. We were affected by this, but how many stories like ours are out there? Just think about it.

[Andrei’s] wife wants to know how he ended up there, why he didn’t have any training. Also, the month of birth was wrong on the draft notice when we received it. We came to the station first thing in the morning, thinking the notice was for a namesake with a different birth date. They told us it was just a paperwork error. And that’s that.

Some important people gave speeches at the funeral and said Andrei had died on the 9th. We were stunned to hear that. In the papers, the cross against his name has the date October 7. Think about it: he’s just been buried and they’re saying Andrei was a hero who died on October 9. They can’t even cite the right date of death, can they?

We didn’t say anything because we were all stunned. Even the plaque says it was the 7th. How disrespectful is that? Just shocking. It’s just some numbers for them, on the draft notice and now at the cemetery.

We don’t even know how many people are there [at the frontline] now. It takes a toll on your nervous system, just listening to the news… Some money is being set aside for the draft, but they end up there butt-naked, excuse my language. And have to buy everything for themselves.

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