Personal Photos Leaked From Belarus Show Life In Post-Soviet Military

Belarus River

Photo: Alexander Mihalkovich

The Belarus army is a conscript force, burdened by ancient equipment and traditions instilled by the Stalinist regime of the 20th century.The following photos were made public by Alexander Mihalkovich who introduced them to the web at large along with a string of tweets from a Belarusian conscript called Max (not his real name).

See Max’s photos >

Max’s intention was to use his time in service to film army life, but it was difficult even keeping a point-and-shoot in his pocket to take the following shots.

Life for recruits is harsh, according to Max, and the officers above them rule with a draconian vigor that’s almost as shocking as Max’s claim that his salary amounted to only about $16. Max says he was with the 5th Spetsnaz Airborne brigade, which we were unable to find reference to after 2008.

When we wrote Alexander Mihalkovich, the publisher, he responded with the following pictures, titles, and this explanation:

The Belarusian army considers itself as a successor to the Soviet army. It maintains the same archaic  traditions between soldiers and officers. Equipment dates back to the 1960-70’s, already out-of-date, is still used. The soldiers (even the ones from Special Forces) just clean the grounds of the Military Unit, repair old barracks and equipment most of the time. Army life seems like a children labour camp or even prison. Army customs are based on old-timer soldiers dominating over recruits, forced to take up all the work at the Unit. Young soldiers are able to tolerate all the humiliations and hard work only because of army archaic traditions, the thought of them dominating over new recruits in future and teenager idealism.

Every man of 18-27 year old has to serve 548 days in the army. Many people wonder if it is necessary and whether young men benefit, or it is just a waste their time. But the majority of the patriarchal society thinks that the army toughens up young boys and makes them real men.

For a deeper look into his daily life check out Max’s tweets and additional photos here.

Max's family hosts a feast before sending him off to the army — dinners like this are common in Belarus where every son between 18 and 25 gets sent off to serve

Relatives see their young men off at the train station — For Max it is a long trip, in very ancient train cars to the Special Forces Military Base

Here conscripts chat on the local train outside the military unit — they're getting close to where they'll spend the next 12 to 18 months of their lives

As they get close all the food brought from home gets shared before the officers on base dump it in the trash or eat it themselves

A military ritual inherited from Soviet times — recruits all keep their heads shaved

As part of their training all new recruits make this 25 mile march

Here a soldier guards his bed brought outside during a fire alarm

After 30 days recruits take an oath to the motherland and their relatives come from all over the country to watch

Back to quarters after a long day in the cold — 13 below zero outside — the barracks have no hot water or showers

22 hours without sleep guarding the Armory — some soldiers pull this duty every other day

A quick break during daily snow clean up

The pace of unit 5 Special Forces is so high this soldier falls asleep after sitting momentarily in a chair

Some things are the same in every branch of military in the world — push-ups — a standard 55 for 5 Special Forces — knocked out here outside the gates of the military base

After 18 months troops finish their compulsory enlistment and break every rule they've been forced to follow for the past year-and-a-half — guys with college degrees serve only one year

On the way home the guys focus on the girls waiting to meet them — most will marry after the army, thinking if a girl can wait 547 days she will make a good wife

And just as it began — a feast welcomes Max home — all festivities are dedicated to his official departure from the army and beginning his new, real life at home

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