Civil service still not an alternative to army
But for many of those who have chosen menial work over conscription, there is no question whether the choice was worth it.
Pavel and Vasily say their least favorite part of the job at the nursing home is washing the bodies of the dead and changing their clothes. There is little to enjoy in the alternative service they chose, but they believe it is better than holding a gun.
“The Bible says don't carry a weapon, and I don't. This way, I at least can be of some use to my country,” Vasily said.
All men who are serving at the same nursing home have religious beliefs. Russian law says you can avoid the army and opt for alternative service if you prove your religious or pacifist views.
But what if one does not have proof – just a clear understanding that they do not belong in the military?
Konstantin Mustafin's application for alternative service was rejected by officials. They said his arguments did not stand for his convictions. Kostantin went to court, lost the case, and he is now waiting for the judges to rule on his appeal.
“I do want to serve my country, but not in the military. My dad died at the age of 39 from brain cancer. He'd gone through constant bullying in the army, they beat him on the head all the time,” Konstantin said, explaining his unwillingness to serve in the military.
In Russia, the number of those who choose to serve the community rather than the army is less than 1 percent of all those recruited. Ever since the option was introduced six years ago, the number has been shrinking.
Twenty-one months of hard dirty work instead of twelve months in the military – community service is very unpopular in Russia. Many believe that looking after the elderly, or cleaning the streets, is unbecoming for a real man who wants to serve his country.
This is how a senior official explains the shrinking number of those choosing an alternative to the army:
“I think every young man from his childhood wants to experience life in the military, it's probably in their blood,” said Vasily Smirnov, head of the main recruiting department of the Russian Armed Forces.
It is certainly not in Konstantin's blood, who says his work as a teacher, which is what he is trained for, would do much more good for the country.