<<previous  | index  |  next>>

Official Diet for Conscript Soldiers

(Rations per day unless otherwise indicated)

Bread of a mix of rye flour and wheat flour (quality no. 1)

350 grams

Bread of wheat flour (quality no. 1)

400 grams

Wheat flour (quality no. 2)

10 grams

Various cereals (such as oatmeal, barley, etc.)

120 grams


40 grams


200 grams


120 grams

Rendered animal fats, margarine


Vegetable oil


Cow butter


Cow milk


Chicken eggs

4 per week


70 grams

White salt

20 grams


1.2 grams

Bay leave




Mustard powder




Tomato paste


Potato and vegetable













Cucumber, Tomatoes, Roots, Greens


Fruit Juices or Soft Drinks

50 or 65

Concentrate of Fruit Extracts or Dried Fruits

30 or 20

The Military Code of Conduct, which regulates the rights and obligations of soldiers, stipulates that conscripts are entitled to three warm meals per day.30 It encourages variety in the diet and states that when officers determine the menu they should take into consideration not only the type of combat preparation the troops are engaged in and availability of food supplies but also the wishes of the troops themselves.31 The Code further states that, before every meal, officers must check the quality of the food, the quantity of individual portions, and sanitary conditions in the canteen and kitchen.32

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires governments to “progressively achieve the full realization of the right to adequate food.” The U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has indicated that diets should include “a mix of nutrients for physical and mental growth, development and maintenance, and physical activity that are in compliance with human physiological needs at all stages throughout the life cycle and according to gender and occupation.”33

While the Military Code of Conduct does not reference the ICESCR, its nutritional standard should be seen as interpretive of the standards contained in the ICESCR. The government is therefore obliged, from the perspective of international law, to take all reasonable steps to ensure observance of these standards. Digression from the standard without well-founded reasons thus constitutes a violation of the right to adequate food. Human Rights Watch also believes that regular digressions from the official standard risk rendering the diet insufficient in calories, protein, and other nutrients as Russia’s nutritional standard appears adequate but by no means generous. This is particularly true considering the level of physical activity that can be expected from conscripts in the armed forces and the physiological needs of the age group most conscripts belong to.

Actual Diet

The actual diet of conscripts generally falls well short of these detailed rules. Conscripts generally described a persistent lack of meat and vegetables, poor quality of the food served to them, and a steady, monotonous diet of macaroni or potato and cabbage. They also said officers generally reduce the official procedure to check the food’s quality and quantity to a pointless formality, when they observed it at all.

Several conscripts told Human Rights Watch that meals were not checked for quality and quantity in their units at all, others said the procedure was performed regularly but was reduced to a formality. Anton S. told Human Rights Watch: “They would serve one plate with everything we were supposed to get, and put it on display. However, the plates we got looked nothing like it.”34

Typical Meals

On the basis of the testimony of the conscripts interviewed for this report, Human Rights Watch has reconstructed the “typical” meal of the conscript soldier:


Practically all conscripts said breakfast consisted of porridge, made of millet, rice or barley grains, and several pieces of bread, both white and dark, butter, and tea. Some conscripts said there regularly was fried fish in the porridge. A number of conscripts said they regularly had to give the white bread and butter to senior soldiers. A few complained that the bread had gone or was about to go moldy, or that the slices were so thin “you could see through them.”


All conscripts said soup was the standard first course for lunch, followed by porridge, (mashed) potato or macaroni, a few slices of bread and butter, and tea or compote. Only a few conscripts said they regularly received meat, fish or salad with lunch. Most said the soup was very watery (“They just put a hose in the cauldron and turned on the water”) with a few small pieces of cabbage or potato floating in it, and sometimes little chunks of fat or, rarely, meat. The few conscripts who said they regularly received meat often complained that it was of inferior quality: all gristle, mostly fat, or poor quality canned beef stew (in Russian: tushenka). Quite a few conscripts received fish on a regular basis although several complained about its quality, saying it had begun to rot and smelled foul. Some conscripts also complained about the quality of the potatoes or said the mashed potato was made of an instant mix. Very few conscripts received any green vegetables other than plain cabbage, although a few said they got beet salad. Several conscripts said the meat, bread, and butter were often confiscated by senior soldiers.


Most conscripts said they ate porridge, mashed potato or macaroni, bread, butter and tea for dinner. Some also regularly received fish. Conscripts expressed the same concerns over the quality of the dinners as over lunches.

Missing Foods

Foods most frequently missing from conscripts’ diets were meat, eggs, green vegetables (except cabbage), and sometimes fish. Many conscripts complained about a lack of sugar, although it was unclear whether the quantities of sugar they received in their tea matched the official norm. The fact that certain food items are routinely absent from conscripts’ diet risks rendering it insufficient in nutritional value. Conscripts also frequently described their diet as monotonous, saying they received almost the exact same diet every day. This contravenes the spirit of the official standard, which prescribes and encourages variety, and the international standard as interpreted by the U.N. Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.35 For example, Dmitrii Kosov said he and his fellow conscripts mainly ate macaroni: “Macaroni with macaroni, macaroni with bread, macaroni in the soup... They apparently had a lot of it.”36 Many other conscripts said they constantly ate potatos and never saw any pasta. Another conscript said: “They fed us cabbage, cabbage and more cabbage...”37

Concerns about Quality and Hygiene

Many conscripts complained that the quality of the food they received was poor, or about apparently unsanitary conditions in kitchens or canteens.38 These complaints primarily concerned the following issues:39

  • Insects and other pests in food. A number of conscripts complained of worms, larvae, ants, and other insects in their soup, bread, meat, fish, and porridge. For example, Alexander Kaiankin said: “The bread was of low quality. If you’d cut it open, ants would sometimes crawl around inside.”40 Another conscript said, “we had worms in our porridge... Once I found a cockroach in my compote.”41 Yet another mentioned “white worms” in his porridge.42

  • Spoiled foods. Several conscripts were fed spoiled foods, including bread, potatoes, fish, meat, and eggs. One said: “I peeled potatoes when I had kitchen duty. They were all squashy...”43 Another conscript said he received mashed potato made of expired potato mix: “It was old. On the labels on the bags you could see they were expired, maybe by six months. Some of it had already gone bad.”44 Ilia B. said that he and his peers were frequently given rotten fish for lunch: “[We could tell that the fish was bad] both by smell and color. Nobody ate it, except for the pigs.”45

  • Lack of hygiene. Many conscripts reported unsanitary conditions in kitchens or canteens at their bases. Several said they had found cockroaches in their food or drinks. One conscript said the salted pork rind (in Russian: salo) he and his fellow soldiers received was regularly full of hair.46 Another said he regularly found sand in his soup.47

  • Low quality meat. The conscripts who did receive meat in their diet often complained that the meat was in fact fat or mostly gristle, and was inedible. Vladimir Z. told Human Rights Watch: “[It’s the kind of] meat that when you can pull it out of your mouth and let go of it, it snaps back. It’s impossible to chew it.”48 Several other conscripts said they were given meat from the strategic reserves49 that had been frozen for several decades.50 In the words of one of them, “the meat was older than I am.”51 Many conscripts also said they received tinned stewed meat, or tushenka—widely recognized as inferior to meat but not necessarily so in nutritional value. A retired colonel told Human Rights Watch that substituting tushenka for fresh meat to fulfill the military’s dietary requirements for meat is a widespread and “old army specialty.”52 The retired colonel also confirmed that officers frequently take meat out of the strategic reserve when they do not have fresh meat in their warehouses.

Five Examples: Four Bad and One Good

Example 1: Aleksei Dryganov (Unit 01375, Mga, Leningrad Province)

Breakfast: Porridge or potato. Two pieces of white bread, one piece of brown bread, twenty-five grams of butter, a cup of tea. We had to give our tea, white bread, and butter to senior soldiers. So we ended up eating one hundred grams of potato and a piece of brown bread. The potato was boiled without peeling.

Lunch: Watery soup with one cabbage leaf and two potatoes. Senior soldiers took the rest. He did not specify what that rest was.

Dinner: Porridge or potato. Senior soldiers took the rest. He did not specify what that rest was, although in a general comment he said: “When they gave us meat or fish, the senior soldiers took it away.”

Example 2: Alexander Sukhanov (Unit 32087, Pesochnoe, Leningrad Province)

Breakfast: Stuffed cabbage or porridge. A glass of tea or compote. Two pieces of brown bread, one piece of white bread. “The porridge was spread out over plate so it looked like it was a lot.”

Lunch: Soup, usually borsch (beet soup). Mashed potato with fried fish. A piece of brown bread, and a piece of white bread. Compote. “The soup was not really borsch: It did not have any beets and was not even red. In fact, it was just transparent [water with] two potatoes and two pieces of cabbage.”

Dinner: Mashed potato and fried fish. A piece of brown bread and a piece of white bread. Tea. “The fish was o.k. The potato was old and spoiled.”

“We constantly had the same diet...”

Example 3: Vadim S. (Unit 12670 – Volgograd)

Breakfast: Mashed potato with fish. Tea. Butter.

Lunch: Soup or borsch. Porridge or rice. “We never got meat separately. You can see pieces of meat somewhere in the porridge. If you find it, you can have it.”

Dinner: In winter, constantly inedible sour cabbage. “For dinner we would just drink tea with butter and leave.” In summer, potato and fish. “Food was fine in summer.”

“We sit down at the table, which is set for six people. There is a bucket with porridge, a tea kettle with tea, bread on a plate, and fish on a plate...” “You first serve the senior soldier first until he says ‘enough’...” “We tried to make sure everyone had enough but it depended on the [senior soldier]. With regard to butter, it is the rule of the army [that the senior soldier gets it]...” “We got some salad: salted cucumber or grated beet...”

Example 4: Aleksei K. (Unit 61918, Totskoe, Orenburg Province)

Breakfast: Cabbage or millet porridge. Bread. Tea. “They sometimes gave us salted cucumbers with the porridge. The cucumbers had a strange consistency.”

Lunch: Soup with millet and cabbage. As a second course: Cabbage and tea without sugar. Bread.

Dinner: Porridge. Compote or tea. Bread.

“They fed us cabbage, cabbage, and more cabbage...” “The bread we got had been especially treated for long-life. It was dark color, had a strange smell, and did not taste good. It was a weird feeling to eat it: it doesn’t fill you up even if you eat a large chunk.” “We got no butter. They told us butter was bad for you...Once we got macaroni. Some big shot visited us, a major-general or something... That time they gave us macaroni. Good portions and, interestingly, on plastic plates.”

The exception that proves the rule: Example 5: Andrei Z. (Unit 41581, Sverdlovsk Province)

Breakfast: Porridge. Two pieces of white bread and two pieces of brown bread. Butter. Tea. Second course: Goulash or fried fish, with potato, buckwheat, or barley or millet porridge. “We usually had goulash in the morning and fried fish in evening.”

Lunch: On Tuesdays and Fridays, milk soup with rice or pasta. Varying salads every day: tomatoes, cucumber, fresh beets with garnish, always with vegetable oil. Compote. “When we had porridge for lunch, we had mashed potato for dinner.” “We got fruit juice from a pack twice a week—175 grams...”

Dinner: Porridge. Fried fish. Two pieces of white bread and two pieces of brown bread. Butter. Tea.

“We had meat everyday...” “The head of the canteen made up a menu for each week, depending on products we had in store...” “He was always present when the food was distributed and we always received the standard ration...” “We sometimes got eggs, although not as frequently as we were supposed to.”

Hazing and the Right to Food

Hazing prevents conscripts from receiving a diet that meets official standards and causes conscripts to go hungry. In canteens in military units across Russia, senior conscripts routinely take food from junior conscripts or severely restrict the amount of time for eating. Officers are not present during mealtimes to maintain order in canteens.53

Too Little Time to Eat

Informally, senior conscripts have the authority to determine when meals are over; when they finish, they order everyone else to stop eating as well. Almost half the conscripts interviewed for this report complained that for part or all of their military service senior conscripts routinely gave them so little time to eat—by most descriptions between one-and-a-half and five minutes—that they were forced to either practically inhale their food or leave half of it uneaten. Senior conscripts physically abuse or humiliate junior conscripts who take uneaten food with them. In some cases, senior conscripts were served first and started eating while first-year conscripts were waiting to get their food. In other cases, senior soldiers skipped soup and went straight to seconds.54 In both scenarios, the senior soldiers ordered everyone to stop eating as soon as they were done. Training conscripts to consume food quickly may be a legitimate element of field training. But this was clearly not the purpose in the numerous cases examined by Human Rights Watch.

Senior conscripts generally enter the canteen and are served first while junior conscripts wait for their food. Vladimir P. told Human Rights Watch:

The dedy started eating first. As soon as the dedy finish eating they go out and make us get up. They don’t care if you finished eating or not. There were times when the last person to sit down had just filled his plate and had about half a minute left... There were times when we remained hungry.55

Describing another scenario, a conscript told Human Rights Watch: “The dedy don’t eat soup, only second course, and we would eat soup and then time was up. During lunch, we didn’t have enough time to eat the second course.”56 In Maksim Komlev’s words, “when they only took the second course, they quickly ate it and said: ‘Company, lunch is over!’”

While some said they learned to eat quickly, others said no matter how hard they tried, they were unable to finish their meals. For example, Ilia B. described the scene in his canteen:

They gave us (ten junior conscripts) 1.5 minutes to eat our first and second course. Nobody ate the soup because it was too hot. We immediately ate the seconds. As we entered the canteen, a sergeant stood by the entrance and looked at his stopwatch and yelled: “Your minute has ended! Carry out the plates.”57

Conscripts said that they were sometimes tempted to put bread or other food in their pockets after senior soldiers had declared mealtime over. One said that a “feeling of hunger was there all the time, twenty-four hours a day.... There were problems because of it. People took bread with them, although you’re not supposed to.”58 Those who were caught carrying food out of the canteen faced disciplinary punishment. One conscript recounted:

You sometimes could not finish your food. And if you take something with you, [ you’re in trouble]. Once, they caught one of us, he had a piece of bread in his pocket. They smeared a thick layer of toothpaste on the bread and forced him to eat it. He didn’t brush his teeth for the next two months, couldn’t bear the sight of it, but he finished the piece. What else could he do?59

Another conscript said that when someone in his unit was caught bringing bread out of the canteen, senior soldiers brought a lot of bread to the barracks that evening: “They said: ‘Now you’re going to eat.’ So you eat one, two, three loaves, until you feel really awful.”60

Confiscating Food

Every fourth conscript interviewed about their diet in the military stated that senior soldiers had confiscated their food during mealtime, mostly white bread, butter, and meat. Aleksei Dryganov told Human Rights Watch:

We gave our tea to the senior conscripts, as well as our bread and butter, leaving us only 100 grams of potato and a piece of black bread. In the evening, the same story. The meat was taken right away. You wouldn’t even get to the table before they take it from you.61

Another conscript said: “They gave us buns and [the dedy] took them away from someone. If a ded felt like having a second bun, he’d just walk up and take it. Nobody would tell him anything.”62 In some units senior conscripts systematically confiscated food, in others the practice was less common. One conscript said: “The dedy sometimes took the butter. If you managed to put it on your bread they left it to you but if you weren’t quick enough you’d say goodbye to your butter.”63 Another said: “They only took our butter, sometimes also an egg. They would give us two, one they took. But that was rare.”64

Two conscripts who fled the same unit together said in separate interviews that the senior soldiers forced them to save their pieces of white bread and hand them over later. They described the punishment that was imposed if a conscript ate the bread himself:

Sometimes when you are hungry, you eat the piece of white bread, which you’re supposed to give away. And you pay for that. If you don’t bring it, they say: “Go to the drying room.” And there you get [beaten]. Several guys went to hospital because of it.”65

The other conscript expanded: “God forbid that anyone sees you eat a piece of white bread. They wake you up at night, and they make you do knee bends and pushups, and you get beaten over the head with a stool, or an iron rod.”66

The Government’s Response

Poor nutrition and arbitrary denial of food has plagued first-year conscripts for years. Yet, the Russian government does not acknowledge these problems and has apparently not taken any steps to address them. In response to repeated requests from Human Rights Watch for a meeting to discuss these issues, Deputy Minister of Defense V. Isakov sent a three-page letter to Human Rights Watch denying the existence of both problems. In his letter, the deputy minister describes the control procedures provided for in the Military Code of Conduct and states that “with such functional control over the provision of food in military units, such a problem as senior conscripts confiscating food from junior conscripts does not exist.” In an apparent denial of the practice of senior conscripts limiting the eating time of junior ones, the deputy minister stated that “the eating time in each military unit is determined by its commander.” The deputy minister also apologized for the “impossibility to have a meeting in the near future.”67

30 See article 227 of the Code of Military Conduct. See also: V.N. Dubrovin and Yu.I. Migachev, “Materialnoe obespechenie I sotsialnaia zashchita voennosluzhashchikh, grazhdan, uvolennykh s voennoi sluzhby, chlenov ikh semei” (Material Provision and Social Protection of Servicemen, Retired Servicemen, and their Families), Moscow, 2000, page 65.

31 See V.N. Dubrovin and Yu.I. Migachev, page 65.

32 The Code states in article 240:


Before the food is distributed, the medical doctor (or his assistant), together with the regiment’s duty officer, are required to check the quality of the food, weigh the individual portions, and check the sanitary conditions of the canteen, the plates and dishes and kitchen ware. After a conclusion by the doctor (or his assistant), the commander of the regiment or, at his instruction, one of his deputies) tries the food.

The results of the check are recorded into the book of record on control of the quality of prepared food.


33 General Comment 12. The Right to Adequate Food, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, para. 9.

34 Human Rights Watch interview with Anton S., July 31, 2003, St. Petersburg. S. served in unit 6716 (Lembolovo, Leningrad Province) of the Ministry of Interior’s troops. Anton S. is a pseudonym.

35 For example, internal regulations state: “In order to ensure variation of the diet it is permitted to replace certain food items with others in accordance with relevant rules...” (V.N. Dubrovin and Yu.I. Migachev, page 65).

36 Human Rights Watch interview with Dmitrii Kosov, April 11, 2002, St. Petersburg. Kosov served in the Ministry of Defense’s unit 12744 in Osinovoe Roshche, Leningrad Province.

37 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei K., October 4, 2002, Volgograd. K. served in units 37115 (Krasnodar Region) and 61918 (Totskoe, Orenburg Province). Aleksei K. is a pseudonym.

38 Serving low quality food prepared in unsanitary conditions may violate the requirement that food provided be “free from adverse substances” (General Comment 12. The Right to Adequate Food, Economic and Social Council, para. 10).

39 A number of conscripts also complained that they received porridge made of the chaff of rice (in Russian: сечка) and ground chaff of grains (in Russian: droblenka). While chaff may not please the taste buds, it does contain numerous nutrients.

40 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Kaiankin, April 18, 2002, Sosnovo, Leningrad Province. Kaiankin served in the Ministry of Defense’s unit 22336 in Volgograd Province.

41 Human Rights Watch interview with Roman Davydov, April 13, 2002, St. Petersburg. Davydov served in two Ministry of Defense units in the Russian Far East, among them unit 52594.

42 Human Rights Watch interview with Egor Z., October 5, 2002, Volgograd. Z. served in unit 6688 in the Northern Caucasus. Egor Z. is a pseudonym.

43 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Sukhanov, April 17, 2002, St. Petersburg. Sukhanov served in the Ministry of Defense’s construction unit 32087 in St. Petersburg.

44 Human Rights Watch interview with Vasilii S., October 4, 2002, Uriupinsk, Volgograd Province. Several other conscripts also said they ate mashed potato made out of potato mix.

45 Human Rights Watch interview with Ilia B., October 29, 2002, Novokuznetsk. B. served in a Ministry of Defense unit eastern Siberia. Ilia B. is a pseudonym.

46 Human Rights Watch interview with Vasilii B. , October 17, 2002, Novosibirsk. B. served in a training unit in Pereslavl-Zalesskii, Yaroslavl Province, and in a rocket troops unit in Uzhur, Krasnoyarsk Region.

47 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Kaiankin, April 18, 2002, Sosnovo, Leningrad Province.

48 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Z., November 4, 2002, Cheliabinsk. Z. served in unit 69771 in Sverdlovsk Province and in an unknown unit in Shadrinsk, Cheliabinsk Province. Vladimir Z. is a pseudonym.

49 During the Cold War, the Soviet armed forces maintained a food supply for the eventuality of war. These supplies are popularly known as “strategic reserves.”

50 The effects of long-term freezing of food items are not well known. Most of nutrition experts seem to agree that freezing up to one year should not affect most foods if they are properly wrapped and protected from the more deteriorating effect of air. In the case of fruits and vegetables, there seems to be a consensus that the kind of freezing now done in Western industrialized countries actually preserves nutrients very well compared to other means of storage. See, e.g., the main dietary guidance document of the U.S. government, which notes that most frozen foods are rich in nutrient content: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans--Fifth Edition," (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2000), online at (retrieved October 10, 2003).

51 Human Rights Watch interview with Roman Davydov, April 13, 2002, St. Petersburg.

52 Human Rights Watch interview with Sergei Podolskii, a retired colonel and head of the nongovernmental organization For Military Reform, November 28, 2001.

53 Article 240 of the Military Code of Conduct, see also footnote 25.

54 Conscripts described two different eating arrangements: In some cases, pots and dishes were put on tables and conscripts served themselves, in others conscripts stood in line to receive a plate in a cafeteria style arrangement.

55 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir P., September 30, 2002, Volgograd. P. served in unit 47084 in Vladikavkaz. Vladimir Z. is a pseudonym.

56 Human Rights Watch interview with Anatolii Z. , November 7, 2002, Cheliabinsk. Z. served in units 54076 in Novoaltaisk and 25626 in Cheliabinsk of the railroad troops. Anatolii Z. is a pseudonym.

57 Human Rights Watch interview with Ilia B., October 29, 2002, Novokuznetsk.

58 Human Rights Watch interview with Denis Ivanov, April 17, 2002, St. Petersburg.

59 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei K., October 4, 2002, Uriupinsk, Volgograd Province.

60 Human Rights Watch interview with Vasilii B. , October 17, 2002, Novosibirsk.

61 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei Dryganov, April 10, 2002, St. Petersburg.

62 Human Rights Watch interview with Andrei D., November 3, 2002, Cheliabinsk. D. served in unknown units in Chebarkul (Cheliabinsk Province) and Verkhnaia Pyshma (Sverdlovsk Province). Andrei D. is a pseudonym.

63 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Z., November 4, 2002, Cheliabinsk.

64 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei Koshelev, April 12, 2002, St. Petersburg. Koshelev served in units 6716 (Lembolovo, Leningrad Province) and 6718 of the Ministry of Interior’s troops.

65 Human Rights Watch interview with Anton A., April 18, 2002, St. Petersburg. A. served in unit 51046 of the railroad troops in Mga, Leningrad Province. Anton A. is a pseudonym.

66 Human Rights Watch interview with Stepan M., April 18, 2002, St. Petersburg. M. served in unit 51046 of the railroad troops in Mga, Leningrad Province. Stepan M. is a pseudonym.

67 Letter from V. Isakov, deputy minister of defense, to A. Neistat, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, dated June 25, 2003, No. 163/VNK/292.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

November 2003