While brave Ukrainians continue to relentlessly defend their right to existence, freedom and democracy, Moscow’s restaurants are filled with glamorous Instagram influencers indulging in their Sunday brunch. If you were to visit the largest and richest Russian cities, you would not believe that you are located in a country that is currently perpetrating a full-scale war. It’s all business and entertainment as usual.
However, if you were to visit Buryatia, which is in Eastern Siberia, or any other ethnic republic in Russia populated by the indigenous Asian peoples who were conquered and colonized by the Russian Empire, you would see what some activists are calling a genocide of racial and ethnic minorities.
What is currently known as the Russian Federation is home to nearly 200 ethnicities who were all conquered and colonized by the Russian Empire. Yet, Putin continues to promote his policy of ‘russkiy mir’ or Russian world. On the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow’s residents were complaining about new visa restrictions and the closing of McDonald’s, the people of Buryatia, Dagestan, Sakha Republic and others were preparing to relive the historical trauma of their ancestors. Knowing the colonizer’s perpetual policy of coercion of racial minorities to fight its wars, communities began to organize in protest against the invasion or flee the country. The day of Russia’s invasion marked the day of unity of Russia’s racial minorities against the war in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s imperialism and racism.
Ever since the first colonization of Siberia and Central Asia, Russia has been exploiting indigenous populations for wars that they have had no involvement in. The Russian Empire began to draft Central Asian and Siberian men in 1916 during World War I. The people of those regions had no connection to Europe or the war. They did not want to fight for their own recent conquerors. Revolts sprung up all across Central Asia, initiating the turning point of the national liberation movement. The protests were crushed by the imperial forces and their machine guns, ultimately resulting in the loss of about 270,000 lives.
Just like that, on Sept. 24, 2022, history began to repeat itself. Putin announced ‘partial mobilization.’ The Russian army, failing its mission in Ukraine, is now coercing everyday citizens to fight for Putin’s imperial regime. Federal officials show up with military summons across Siberia and Dagestan, at what appears to be significantly higher rates than elsewhere in Russia. Despite the official policy of only drafting men with military experience of appropriate age and ability, men are drafted regardless of age, military record or medical history.
Activists at the Free Buryatia Foundation suspect that the burden of the mobilization — and the war itself — is falling on poor, ethnic minority regions to avoid triggering popular anger in Moscow. In fact, BBC found that 10 times more soldiers from Dagestan have died in the war than those from Moscow. Buryats constitute only 0.3% of Russia’s population but take up 2.8% of those officially killed.
Mongolia’s former president has expressed his solidarity with Ukraine and declared that Putin’s regime is using the Siberian indigeneous peoples as “cannon fodder” to advance the Russian invasion. He has urged these communities to escape the mobilization and “senseless killings and destruction” ignited by Putin. Protests have erupted all over the republics with women being at the forefront of the demonstrations.
Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of the men being forcefully taken to the ‘meat grinder’ have united in the fight against the local authorities, despite police brutality and 15-year prison sentences. Since the announcement of mobilization, the women have rallied against it, saying “No to mobilization! No to genocide!” and “Give back our grandfathers!” They rise up despite the constant fear circulated by the authorities and the media. Crying and screaming fill the towns of the republics as hundreds of women, desperate to protect their families, are shoved into police wagons. They continue to protest, and the police continue to exercise violence in response. Nonetheless, Moscow’s restaurants, malls and amusement parks are still full of happy faces, too scared to speak up and too uninterested in anything but their own comfort.
The shelling in Ukraine goes on, Russia’s cruelty persists and anti-genocide protests are brutally suppressed. I shed many tears while writing this article. Watching the lack of leadership in the Russian opposition and the fear and disinterest from the overwhelming majority of Moscow residents, I am pessimistic about the success of the anti-war movement in Russia despite the perseverance of the women and men in the ethnic republics. The terror and the genocide will continue, and the only way to stop it is by demanding the international community’s unceasing support and aid for Ukraine. Only Ukraine’s imminent and invincible victory will stop the terrorist state of the Russian Federation.