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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A First Look At Russia's Ukraine War Veterans, Struggling Back On The Homefront

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have taken part in the war. On returning, many face difficulties to return to normal life and finding work, as independent Russian news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories reports.

Image of a Man waiting in line at Military Employment Office of the Russian Armed Forces​

Man waiting in line at an employment office in Moscow

Vazhnyye Istorii

MOSCOW — Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of Russians have taken part in the war. They range from professional soldiers, National Guardsmen, reservists and conscripts to mercenaries of illegal armed groups, including former prisoners.

The exact number of those who survived and returned home is unknown. In the past year alone, about 50,000 citizens received the status “combat veteran”. The actual number of returnees from the front is far higher, but it is often extremely difficult to obtain veteran status and veteran benefits.

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Russian independent news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories noticed that now some participants in the war in Ukraine are trying to find work through popular online job boards like the Russian site “Avito” and use their combat experience to boost their resumes.

iStories talked to them about their attempts to adapt to civilian life, to find civilian work, and why it is often easier for them to imagine themselves back at the front than in normal life.

Dmitry, ex-mercenary of Wagner PMC, 31

When I returned from the war, my wife looked at me and said: “I stopped loving you. I didn’t want to wait. You went there of your own free will; I divorced you while you were at war.”

The court could not send a summons to me in Ukraine, so they divorced us in absentia.

My wife did not approve of my participation in the war. She did not initially know, it was a surprise for her. She thought I was going to serve in a special unit, but she didn’t know about PMCs and Ukraine. I chose not to tell her. I didn’t want her to get angry. Plus, I didn't go there to die. As they say, do not be afraid of death, and death will not come for you. I did not even consider the option that I could die.

I actually want to return to the front.

My motivation was based on ideological principles — I didn’t want all this muck coming to our city, I didn't want my wife or children getting hurt.

Now I need to work a little somewhere and, if it doesn’t work out, go back to the war. While I was fighting, I had such a rush, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. The very fulfillment of simple tasks brought me pleasure, although we were constantly in the line of fire and being attacked, but we got a high from it.

I myself am from the border city of the Belgorod region, which is now under shelling from Ukraine, but when I got home, I was offered to work with a data collection terminal in a logistics company in warehouses in Voronezh, and I have done three days for them.

I returned in March; I only started looking for a job in May. I went to war, because you can’t get a good job these days without a military ID. You won't get a job in a colony, or in a private security company. I wanted to join some kind of power organization, I was tired of trade. After serving in the PMC, I have the main note on my military ID: “Government awards received.” Now I can go into the army, even into the National Guard, even into the police. There you have a lot of weight and respect. More than just a simple worker…

I don’t know if I will stay in Voronezh. I will if I can improve my personal life. I suffer from mood swings now, freak out, get in a car and just drive for hours. After the war my character and disposition changed. I get angry easily. I don’t trust anyone anymore.

I have never had depression. I have always been a positive person and have remained a positive person there. But things have changed, I get nightmares at night. For the first month and a half, I slept half an hour or an hour a day, because it was too quiet, it was unnerving.

I actually want to return to the front. I want to avenge friends and comrades who lost their lives there. And those who continue fighting must be supported, because there is a brotherhood in Private Military Companies; we don’t leave our people behind.

Image of \u200bMen doing written tests at the Single Military Employment Office of the Russian Armed Forces

Men doing written tests at an employment office in Moscow

Mikhail Tereshchenko / ZUMA

Denis Nevalenny, former contract soldier, 21

Some employers will look at a person and absolutely cannot understand what he has gone through. A person can be skilled, but he is a mess in his head. At first, it was like this for me: I was sitting at home, but it didn’t feel like I was home; my head was still there, at the front. Some employers understand this and give you a chance, some don't.

I'm currently trying to find a part time job while I'm studying. At job interviews, participation in the war does not really affect much. No one said anything against me or praised me.

I'm a mechanical engineering student and so it should be easy for me to find a job.

I graduated from a pedagogical college, and after that I was drafted into the army. I didn't even get my diploma. After my term ended, I stayed to serve on a contract. Then I went to the military exercises at the Ukrainian border in late 2021, and was sent into Ukraine in February 2022. I spent almost seven months in Ukraine, and at the end [of the contract] I was sent home.

Everyone thought we were just going to the military exercises. But in their hearts, deep down, everyone perfectly understood what would actually happen. If I refused, it would be a violation of my contract and the oath I made when I joined the army. My goal, my purpose is to protect. Disobeying the commander-in-chief is the worst of sins in the military.

When it was possible to leave the service before mobilization, I left. I have nothing against the war, on the contrary, I want to go back. But I have parents who won't let me. I'm back and no one will let me go there. This is natural and understandable. I have my whole life ahead of me, but if necessary, if they force me back to the front, I will go.

I have become attached to the army in the sense that it is like a team, like a family, everyone stands up for each other. A citizen is different, here, let's be honest. It’s every man for himself, nobody cares about each other. In the army, there is a kind of brotherhood, so many people want to return. Not only because it's kind of hard in civilian life, but simply because in the army everyone is united.

Alexander, ex-contract worker, 37

Finding a job after returning from the war is not that hard, but, you know, military life takes its toll, and the average salary is not at all up to par. It’s terrible, in fact. It doesn’t even compare to a military wage.

I am from Petrozavodsk, but have moved to St. Petersburg, I am trying to find a job. There is a lot of work here, but there is no high-paying one at all! I have a family, child, mortgage, car…. A standard wage does not allow one adult man to pay all this.

At times, I just wanted to drop everything and run away.

Before the war I did a lot of different jobs. I had a small IT company, something else on the sly, a little bit here, a little bit there.

I served in the army under a contract, but went to the war as a volunteer.

How I got into the army is a long story. After I got divorced, I decided I wanted a change of life. But while at war, I realized deep down I’m a family man, and now it is tricky finding a girl who will be with someone in the military.

I'm trying to get settled in St. Petersburg, but so far everything is in vain, it's difficult. I worked at a supermarket, but the work was 16-17 hours a day, so I didn’t have time to spend with my family. I've just started as a truck driver. I transported some tanks to the front. But then these end up being long business trips, and I have a family, I’d rather be at home.

I'm used to the fact that the army has stable payments and long holidays. And here you need to save huge amounts for the same vacation. There is basically no stability here.

The war was scary, of course. But somehow I managed to pull myself together. At first, I kept asking myself: “How did I end up here?! Why did I choose to come?!” It was very difficult: we were given rusty weapons and didn’t have enough cartridges. At times, I just wanted to drop everything and run away. But I don’t regret the experience as a whole, I saw other parts of life I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. As they say, everything is for the best. Plus, I earn a decent amount of money.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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