“But I won’t die like a dog, but like a hero”

Hundreds of HIV-positive Russians are fighting Ukraine (many are in Wagner PMC detachments). Nestka tells how they got into the army — and what doctors think about it

12:32, 25 May 2023Source: 

Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Despite  the statements of the Russian authorities that HIV-positive people are not sent to the war with Ukraine, in reality there are at least hundreds of contract soldiers, mobilized and volunteers with this diagnosis at the front. This is reported by patient associations, employees of NGOs and AIDS centers, relatives of combatants and the military themselves. Some Russians do not notify military registration and enlistment offices about infectious chronic diseases. Others do not know about their diagnoses and go to fight. The Layout publication tells how and why HIV-positive Russians go to war. With permission from Meduza, this text is published in full.

“If I hadn’t shown a certificate from the AIDS center, I would have already run and fought”

“There is no longer any selection, they already take hepatitis, and HIV, and everything else, and no certificates are needed,” one of the users.

“God, what a nightmare! Well, absolutely such hepatitis patients and with HIV would not be taken. They wouldn’t set up other guys, ”another answered her. A third person joined the discussion:

I can assume that the blood of a healthy fighter with the blood of a sick person can mix as a result of a mass injury or assistance to each other. That’s just it, that with the slightest scratch [you can get infected], but here they get such injuries. And how not to worry when the healthy is fighting next to the sick! I have nothing against sick guys, but imagine: being left without an arm and getting sick with HIV is generally trash!

The women’s surprise is understandable: both the RF Armed Forces and Wagner PMC recruiters point to a positive HIV status as an obstacle to participation in hostilities. At the beginning of the “partial mobilization”, human rights activists  explained that among the grounds for exemption from conscription there is HIV infection in the stage of secondary diseases (stages 2B, 4 A-4 B, 5). With her, conscripts must receive category D – not fit for military service. But with HIV in the stage of primary manifestations (stages 1, 2 A, 2 B, 3), the conscript may have category C, and the exemption did not apply to it. However, in the spring of 2023, six months after the start of mobilization, the General Staff and the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Defense, according  to telegram channel “Military Advocates”, extended the restriction to people with HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis B and C, who have category B.

One way or another, from the very beginning of the mobilization, HIV-positive Russians  received  summons and continue to receive until now – because the military registration and enlistment offices are not aware of their current health. Local military commissars had to prove that a person had HIV status at all, and explain that a diagnosis exempts a person from mobilization: “My brother is 38 years old. HIV+. The military commissar in a telephone conversation simply said, “What difference does it make where you die?”, ”  lawyer Pavel Chikov quoted the appeals of citizens.

According to him, one of the HIV+ interlocutors of Verstka received a summons in September 2022, being a patient of a rehabilitation center for drug addicts in the Urals. The head of the center where he was staying himself organized his visit to the AIDS center for a certificate that he was HIV-positive: “You won’t go anywhere, what kind of army and war are you,” recalls Igor M.

I thought the procedure would be like this: I’ll come to the draft board, show this certificate and I won’t have to go anywhere else. But at the military registration and enlistment office they told me to come with things immediately to the collection point. I arrived, there was a crowd of women who asked me for a military ID. Nobody asked about my health at all: I have arms and legs – I’m fit. Only because I knew that I had HIV did I start looking for some doctor there to show me a certificate from the AIDS center. If I had not done this, I would have already run and fought.

“They judge not by whether you have HIV, but by whether you are a man or not”

While some HIV-positive conscripts tried to avoid being sent to the front, others, on the contrary, were eager to go to war themselves, but were refused by the military enlistment offices and PMCs. For example, a consultant at an HIV-servicing NGO in Novosibirsk told about a client who wanted to follow her brother to Ukraine to serve with him. The military registration and enlistment office found out about his HIV status and “deployed”; PMCs were also denied employment.

According to Nestka’s interlocutors, it is usually enough not to  tell  the military commissar that you have HIV, and the way to Ukraine is open. Oleksandr K., a businessman from Siberia and a reserve officer, decided to go to Ukraine “to see what was going on there”. According to him, he did not tell anyone in the military registration and enlistment office about his HIV status – and they did not ask him.

I am 59, since December 2017 with HIV. I never use protection so I wasn’t surprised. I started drinking therapy  as soon as I found out. Why take the risk? I read about it, we are all literate people, I understood how it should be, I didn’t waste time.

A retired captain, Alexander has been in business for the last thirty years, but when the military registration and enlistment offices “threw a cry” that there were “not enough normal officers” in the war, Alexander came to sign up as a volunteer. “They immediately told me what date I was leaving, I brought the necessary documents, they had a personal file,” Alexander said. – They didn’t look at health – who needs us, volunteers? Only to the Motherland.”

When the infectious disease doctor at the AIDS Center found out about Alexander’s intentions, she told him to get tested for viral load and immune status. It turned out that, according to the tests, he was in excellent physical condition, and the doctor gave him therapy for six months in advance. This is rare – usually in AIDS centers they give pills for a period of one to three months, depending on the availability of supplies. “But they gave me half a year before, because I am “my own”, I always bring tea and coffee to the reception,” Alexander adds.

He did not worry that there would be difficulties with taking therapy at the front: “Pills discipline well. Every morning at 8:30 I had breakfast and a pill. One a day. Near Kherson we were fighting with dill. I was in command more, I didn’t lie in the trenches: I put people on four points, then I did the rotation. There was plenty of free time.”

Alexander did not tell any of his colleagues that he had HIV. Whether there were other HIV-positive among his subordinates, he does not know.

If anyone saw that I was taking pills, I would say that these are vitamins. When mines and shells fly, no one cares who takes what. Maybe it’s anxiety pills. And why should anyone talk about HIV? Live, fight side by side. They judge not by whether you have HIV or not, but by how you behave, whether you are a man or not. If you are not a drug addict, not a drunkard, who will be affected by your HIV infection?

After the end of the three-month contract, Alexander returned to civilian life. As he says, despite the physical form, age still made itself felt: “But if it really needs to be, the Motherland will say, then I will go again. I have a Motherland that gave me everything, for me it is sacred.

A psychologist from one of the AIDS Centers in the Urals also talks about HIV-positive people participating in hostilities. According to him, military personnel have long ceased to be transferred to the reserve if they were suddenly diagnosed with HIV. Yes, and officially the military medical commission can individually  recognize  a person with HIV fit for military service with minor restrictions. If a person is recognized as partially fit for military service, he has the right to early dismissal from the army, but is not obliged to use this right.

About those who complain that they allegedly were not taken to fight because of HIV, Alexander K. is skeptical:

Anyone who says that they are not volunteered with HIV is bullshit. In one day you are issued without certificates, without anything. There are no problems. Nobody cares about HIV, as long as there is no hepatitis. And who is afraid that a person with HIV will infect someone in the same trench – well, they are there, fucking with each other. What kind of crazy nonsense?

(C)MEDUZA 2023

One comment

Enter comments here: