The following is an appeal sent by various anti-war movements of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia and Indigenous activists to the United Nations in October 2022. The signees address the Russian Federation’s current mobilization order and its impact on Indigenous communities in the Sakha Republic. They call on the UN for assistance with Indigenous draftees needing asylum and seek solidarity and support from the international community. They make known their fervent denouncement of the violence and destabilization Russia has wrecked upon Ukraine in its unjust war on the sovereign nation. The undersigned self-identified anti-war movements and activists are Asians of Russia, Free Yakutia Foundation, Sakha Pacifist Association, Sakha Against the War, Ethnic Minorities of Russia against War (London), Yakutia for Peace, Politsakha, Voices of Indigenous People of Russian Federation (Berlin), Anna Gomboeva, Asya Arkhipova, Aleksandr Popov, and others.
October 10, 2022
We, the undersigned public organizations, anti-war activists, and residents of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) call on the United Nations to urgently consider the problem of the ongoing ethnocide of the peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) by the government of the Russian Federation. We ask the OHCHR to take measures to protect the lives of the Indigenous Peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and their political, legal, economic, social, and cultural rights.
Since 2014, the Russian Federation has been pursuing an aggressive military policy against the sovereign state of Ukraine and its people. On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine with the objective of annexing its territory. During this war, the Russian authorities purposefully have been using Indigenous ethnic minorities from national republics as “cannon fodder”. This is evidenced by numerous independent studies conducted by anti-war movements led by nationals of the Russian Federation, among them Asians of Russia, Free Buryatia Foundation, Free Yakutia Foundation, Sakha Pacifist Association, Sakha vs War, New Tuva, Free Kalmykia, and others, who share gathered information through their social networks and channels on Instagram, Telegram, YouTube. Data collection is carried out manually by volunteers of the aforementioned movements and foundations due to the complete absence of official reliable statistics from the Russian authorities. According to estimates of anti-war activists, the death rate of soldiers from national republics exceeds the death rate of soldiers from the central regions of Russia by tens of times. Based on the collected statistical data on the mortality of military soldiers, national republics are in the lead: Buryatia, Tyva, North Ossetia, Dagestan, Kalmykia, and Sakha (Yakutia).
The situation deteriorated sharply after the “partial” mobilization announced by Mr. V. Putin on September 21, 2022. The mobilization turned an already dire situation into a concerted policy of ethnic cleansing of Indigenous Peoples, among them the peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). We are witnessing a disproportionate mobilization of the Indigenous Peoples of Russia. So far, a total of 4,750 people from the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) are subject to the first wave of mobilization – this is 1.66% of all able-bodied men in the republic. Overall, less than 1 million people live in the republic, of which only 45% are representatives of the Indigenous population: Evens, Evenks, Dolgans, Yukagirs, Chukchi, and Sakha.
The Russian government has planned several waves of mobilization. The unstable political situation in the country allows us to presume that the Kremlin will declare full-scale martial law on the territory of the Russian Federation, which will lead to full mobilization and the subsequent drafting of all able-bodied men from the national republics. Thus, there is a threat of drastic reduction of the male population of these regions, among them the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) – one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world (0.32 people per square kilometer) that has one of the harshest living conditions on permafrost with temperatures dropping to -70°C in winter. In such difficult life conditions, when all able-bodied men are taken away, it will be almost impossible for the remaining women, the elderly, and children to survive in the extreme climate of the North, to engage in traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, reindeer herding, cattle breeding, as well as to maintain a household, get firewood and drinking water.
Mobilization in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is carried out forcibly with numerous violations of human rights and human dignity in general. The authorities come to the homes of local residents, take the men in the middle of the night by force and send them to war. Under armed convoy, with the help of threats and intimidation, fathers with many children, 60-year-old men, cancer patients, people with disabilities, students, as well as reindeer herders from the Far North are sent to war. Men are called to war while at work, walking on the street, gathering in public places, and inside their own homes. There are cases when up to 70 people are drafted from small settlements with a population of 300 inhabitants, i.e., almost all able-bodied men. The men being drafted are not trained and often do not undergo proper medical examinations. They are not provided with equipment, helmets, bulletproof vests, uniforms, shoes, medicines and first aid supplies. The entire financial burden of drafting a soldier falls on his family, which frequently has no other options than to take a loan from financial organizations in order to equip a mobilized relative.
Since the beginning of mobilization in the Russian Federation, 17 people have already died from health problems, violent death, and suicide at the collection points where men were compulsorily held before being sent to war. In the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) on October 9, a mobilized man died while trying to escape from the military commissariat, where he was detained against his will. There are more and more such cases every day.
At the moment, 3816 people have been forcibly mobilized from the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). This number was calculated manually by the volunteers of the anti-war movements since the state authorities of the Russian Federation hide the statistics of mobilization by region. Information about the mobilization comes to volunteers directly from relatives of the mobilized men, as well as from the lists of the mobilized that have leaked to the Internet.
The Arctic parts of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), whose population is mainly composed of Indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North – Dolgans, Evenks, Evens, Chukchi, Yukaghirs, all of whom are officially recognized by UNESCO as endangered, are currently the most severely affected. Particularly in these areas, the most active mobilization is carried out.
The President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky agrees with the opinion about ethnic cleansing now occurring in Russia. On September 25, 2022, he made a statement that Russia was using mobilization to destroy representatives of the Indigenous Peoples of the occupied Crimea, as well as the Caucasus, Siberia, and other territories of the Russian Federation: “Criminal mobilization is used by Russia not only to prolong the suffering of people in Ukraine and to further destabilize the world but also to physically destroy men – members of Indigenous Peoples who live in territories temporarily controlled by the Russian Federation”.
A similar point of view was expressed by Mykhailo Podolyak, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine: “Disproportionate mass forced mobilization in the national republics of Russia – Buryatia and Yakutia – is a real ethnic cleansing of the local population by Moscow”.
In addition, it is the representatives of the national republics that the state media of the Russian Federation present as the main person of this aggressive war, blaming them for all the brutality and violence taking place on the territory of Ukraine by Russian troops. This policy is carried out by the Kremlin purposefully in order to spread defamatory information and destroy the reputation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation in order to deprive them of their right to self-determination in the future. On October 5, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine appealed to the international community with Resolution No. 8105 on supporting the right to self-determination of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and generally recognized norms and principles of international law. The appeal states that implementing its colonial imperialist policy, Russia has been committing genocide of enslaved peoples for centuries, and in the aggressive war against Ukraine, the Russian authorities also carry out genocide of the peoples of the Russian Federation, in particular using mobilization as a means to achieve this goal. In this regard, the Verkhovna Rada called on the entire democratic world community to pay attention to the problem of recognizing the right to self-determination of the Peoples of the Russian Federation and support their national liberation movements.
After the announced mobilization, more than a thousand men left the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), not wanting to become murderers and occupiers. Anti-war volunteers have created a mutual support chat in the Telegram messenger with more than 4,000 participants from the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) who have already left or will soon leave the country due to these circumstances. Many of them left their families, wives, children, and elderly parents in an attempt to escape from forced mobilization to neighboring countries, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia. The choice of countries is explained by the relative geographical proximity and the fact that these states allow Russian citizens to enter without a visa and, in some cases, without an international passport.
Many people in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) do not have the above-mentioned “international passport” – a document certifying the identity of a citizen when leaving the country. This is the second passport with a limited expiration date, sold by the Russian authorities to their citizens for the right to travel abroad at a state duty of up to 5,000 rubles (62 USD at the exchange rate on February 23, 2022). With an average real salary of 45,000 rubles in the republic (559.6 USD at the exchange rate as of February 23, 2022), residents do not have the financial opportunity to travel to another country, and even the payment of state duty for getting an international passport for each family member is a significant financial burden for the vast majority of the population.
The situation is also complicated by the economic and geographical isolation of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), which is located at a considerable distance from the central regions of the Russian Federation. Given this factor, it is important to emphasize that at the moment it has become almost impossible to get out of the republic: there are no direct flights to other countries. The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is not properly provided with road transportation infrastructure. There is no unifying railway network on the territory of the republic, small aviation is not developed, and there is no bridge over the Lena River dividing the republic into two parts. In most regions of the republic there is no access to mobile communications and the Internet, through which people could have access to reliable and up-to-date information about the beginning and continuation of mobilization, as well as about ways to avoid the draft. Winter will soon come in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) with frosts and temperatures dropping to -70°C, and Indigenous Peoples will be trapped in the captivity of ice and aggressive Russian politics.
The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is the largest administrative-territorial unit in the world and the largest subject of the Russian Federation. The total area of its territory is more than 3083523 square kilometers (1190555 square miles). Rich in diamonds, oil, gas, gold, silver, and other resources, it is the largest raw material region of the Russian Federation. More than 1.5 thousand mineral deposits and thousands of mineral raw materials have been found on the territory of the republic. At the same time, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) does not have the right to control its own natural resources, subsoil, and lands after the provision on its sovereignty was withdrawn from the Constitution of the Republic in 2009 under pressure from Mr. V. Putin. Similar deprivation of sovereignty occurred in all national republics and autonomous districts of the Russian Federation, which affected the realities of the Indigenous Peoples inhabiting their ancestral lands on these territories.
In addition, the Indigenous Peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) as well as the Indigenous Peoples of other national republics on the territory of the Russian Federation are systematically subjected to aggression and persecution on the grounds of racism and xenophobia, both by the ethnic Russian majority and the state itself. Representatives of Indigenous Peoples of non-Slavic appearance are subjected to such types of discrimination as refusal to rent housing or vacancies, as well as physical and verbal abuse, often with fatal consequences. Racism is officially enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, where the ethnic Russian people are declared a state-forming titular nation, from which it follows that the rest of the people, according to Moscow, are secondary and second-rate.
In 2007, Russia also did not adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the UN General Assembly, which ensures the rights of Indigenous Peoples to the lands, territories, and natural resources that they traditionally owned. The rejection of the declaration by the Russian side clearly indicates that the national republics inhabited by Indigenous Peoples are only raw materials appendages obliged to feed Moscow.
On the lands of Indigenous Peoples, the Russian government conducts large-scale extraction of resources, which are not regulated by any environmental and human rights organizations. Nature exploitation often leads to environmental disasters, pollution of rivers and lakes with drinking water, fires, and soil depletion. As a result, the Indigenous people of the Republic suffer from oncological and genetic congenital diseases.
On September 16, 2022, the Russian Federation completely withdrew from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In conditions of total legal isolation and disconnection from the system of international law, we ask you to pay attention to Moscow’s repressive attitude towards anti-war activists who are being persecuted, fined, and imprisoned (musician and political activist Aikhal Ammosov, politician Anatoly Nogovitsyn), punitive medicine (shaman Alexander Gabyshev), torture and intimidation. The participants of peaceful anti-war demonstrations are forcefully dispersed, fined, sued, and imprisoned without access to food, drink, medical care, or the right to contact their relatives under conditions that are unsafe for their health.
In this appeal, we ask to open humanitarian corridors supported by international human rights organizations for the Indigenous population of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to relocate men to the territories of safe states, as well as to support them with documents and give them the status of “refugees”.
We, the colonized Indigenous Peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) – Evenks, Evens, Dolgans, Chukchi, Yukaghirs, Sakha, who have been under the occupation of Russia since the 17th century – are hostages of the Kremlin’s aggressive colonial policy. Our lands are used as a source of raw materials for the life support of Moscow, our rights to self-determination and freedom are not recognized by the Russian authorities, our anti-war and liberation movement leaders are persecuted by the Russian state bodies since the times of the Russian Empire, during to the repressive policy of the Soviet Union and now under the dictatorship of Mr. V. Putin.
We ask you to draw the attention of all member states of the United Nations to the problem of ethnocide of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation.
Anti-war movements Asians of Russia, Free Yakutia Foundation, Sakha Pacifist Association, Sakha Against the War, Ethnic Minorities of Russia against War (London), Yakutia for Peace, Politsakha, Voices of Indigenous People of Russian Federation (Berlin), Anna Gomboeva, Asya Arkhipova, Aleksandr Popov, and others
Photos courtesy of Vadim Skryabin.