Anatoly could have avoided the military draft.
On the eve of his call-up, the mechanic received a phone call from a local doctor looking to get his tyres changed for the coming winter.
When Anatoly explained he had received a draft notice, the doctor offered to cook him up a fake diagnosis for a deferral. But Anatoly turned him down.
Instead, he dutifully attended the military recruitment office in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.
In the first interview with a newly mobilised Russian soldier to appear in the Western press, Anatoly told The Telegraph of the chaos behind Moscow’s efforts to rush men into battle and prop up their fast collapsing front lines.
‘Recruits are drunk or not in a great shape’
“There were about 40 people inside: half of them drunk or not in a great shape,” Anatoly, who did not want to use his real name for fear of recriminations, said by phone.
“There were also older men who clutched at files with medical records – hoping to dodge it, I guess. The military recruiter asked me how I felt and if I had any complaints. I said I’m fine.”
At the recruitment office, he was met by an officer who warned him that he was going to have to buy most of his equipment himself.
He said that the officer told him: “Take everything with you, even cooking utensils, a sleeping bag. If the family can bring a mattress to the training centre, great!”
In recent days, images of mobilised Russian men sleeping on the floor at bare army barracks or relatives handing over bags full of groceries over the fence to an army base hosting new recruits have flooded social media.
They have proved a vivid illustration of how unprepared the Russian army is for the hundreds of thousands of new recruits.
In some instances, the chaos appears to have led to violence.
At a military unit outside Moscow, contract soldiers tried to steal phones and other possessions from mobilised men who fought back and beat them up. Police were eventually sent in to break up the brawl that involved more than 20 men.
The mobilisation that was announced two weeks ago turned the war glorified by state TV into a reality for almost every Russian family.
Anatoly offered a somewhat contradictory mix of explanations for why he did not resist joining the army, despite having a very sober view about the futility of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The professional car mechanic did 12-month compulsory military service in 2015-16, having left the army with the speciality of a military sniper. On his WhatsApp account, Anatoly had as a profile picture an iconic Soviet Second World War-era poster reading “Motherland is calling you”.
He knew full well what the mobilisation meant for him: “As soon as I heard about it, I knew I would be pretty much the first on the list.”
He made the most of his last day before deployment. Between errands and last-minute shopping, Anatoly proposed to his long-time girlfriend, and they got married the same afternoon.
Anatoly reasoned that running away would change nothing.
“What’s going to happen if everyone flees? Then this [war] will never end,” he said, carefully avoiding the word for “war”, now forbidden in Russia.
“It doesn’t even matter how I feel about it. We’re hostages of this situation,” he said. “I wasn’t the one who got us into this mess, but maybe I can help? If you don’t send anyone there, it’s not going to finish just like that. If I sit at home, it would be even worse.”
Lies peddled by Russian state media – from Ukrainian Nazis to Russian speakers yearning to be liberated – are not convincing for the car mechanic.
His childhood friend recently came back from Ukraine with stories of an increasingly hostile population and Russian soldiers so scared of saboteurs, they walked around villages only in groups.
Anatoly is clear-eyed both about the Ukrainians’ hostility towards Russia – “Our people would do the same if foreign troops were walking in our streets” – and shares no enthusiasm about last week’s annexation of swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine.
“We’re going to end up subsidising those regions. So the idea was to just go and smash it all in pieces and then spend our own money rebuilding it?”
The morning after he spoke to The Telegraph, he took a bus to the Novosibirsk Military Command College, the same place reported to have overcrowded conditions and a lack of basic necessities.
Videos that emerged last weekend showed several rows of army tents pitched in a clearing in the forest as dozens of men in winter camouflage jackets carried firewood in the rain. Temperatures in the area were set to drop below zero at night.
In other footage, groups of men dressed in their own clothes were seen chatting to the governor of the Irkutsk region, saying about 50 people had been forced to sleep on the floor at the community centre and had not had a proper bath in three days.
When The Telegraph checked back on Anatoly following his call-up, he had changed his profile photo to one of him in camouflage. He neither answered the phone nor replied to any more of The Telegraph’s messages.