Monday, 16 July 2012

Vitaly Danilenko- Soldier in an alien land

A Russian soldier who grew up in the USA has deserted his conscript service in Siberia, reports Russia's channel 1.

Vitaly Danilenko had spent his first sixteen years in Alaska before moving with his parents to Russia’s eastern Altai region just two years ago. When he turned eighteen he was sent to be a conscript soldier in Novosibirsk in Siberia.

After just two weeks with the unit he deserted. He has apparently called his sister to say he is alright but that he won’t be going back to the army. Despite intensive phone calls and searches Vitaly’s number is unavailable and his whereabouts are unknown.

The main problem seems to be the huge language barrier faced by the eighteen year old. He had not learnt much Russian by the time he was conscripted. That meant, as his fellow soldiers said, that he couldn’t interact with his officers or other soldiers. When it came to his swearing in ceremony Vitaly had to painstakingly memorise each syllable of his oath. Some of his fellow soldiers tried to speak to him in English.

His parents had tried to explain to officers about his language barrier and requested that he be given some other duty. But they hadn’t been told that if they had wanted that they should have applied for it at least half a year before. They were informed that Vitaly had no way out and that Russian conscription law knows no concept of a ‘language barrier.’

Vitaly’s commander says that he struggled with his language barrier. He was given extra sessions with a psychologist but he was mostly silent in them. His commander went on to say that he didn’t understand why Vitaly couldn’t talk to him. His parents explained that he was shy but his commander says that, “other soldiers managed to talk with me, so why is Vitaly afraid? Apparently the language barrier still has an effect.”

There are no reports of problems or bullying at the base.

Thousands of conscripts reportedly flee their units annually due to bullying and poor conditions. In 2009 official statistics showed that 149 Russian soldiers killed themselves. Soldiers' families say that complaints rarely get anywhere. More soldiers die each year in reported accidents and incidents. The Committee of Soldiers Mothers, a group set up to try and protect the rights of soldiers, says many of these suicides and deaths are just cover ups for the fact that soldiers are beaten to death. In 2012 Ruslan Aiderkhanov, a conscript from Russia's central Chelyabinsk region was raped and tortured to death by his seniors. The lone witness who testified against the alleged perpetrators, Danil Chalkin was later found shot dead in his military base. A contract soldier, Alikbek Musabekov was later arrested in connection with the incident.

Unofficial figures put the number of Russian army deserters being searched for in 2011 as high as ten thousand. Russia's ministry of defence says the statistics relating to desertion are closed information. A criminal case is underway into Vitaly’s desertion. If found guilty he could face up to seven years in prison.  

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