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Young Latvians face an uncertain future


In Latvia, the war in Ukraine has rekindled fears of being attacked by Moscow’s forces. The youngest citizens of this little-known Baltic country, which shares a nearly 300km-long border with Russia, now fear becoming a collateral victim of Moscow’s war.

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“To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about all this. And I keep telling myself that I won’t be drawn.” Janis is 24, lives in Riga, Latvia’s capital, and like all young Latvian men aged between 18 and 27, he can now be drafted for the mandatory 11-month military service. 

The Latvian government reintroduced compulsory military service in July 2023 amid fears of invasion by neighbouring Russia. The first two waves of recruits were made up of volunteers, but since the end of January 2024, selection has been by lottery.

600 euros a month for volunteers

“If I have to enlist for 11 months, I’ll probably have to leave my flat because I won’t be able to afford the rent,” worries Janis. Although there are a few end-of-service bonuses, recruits only receive 600 euros a month if they volunteer and half that if they are randomly drawn. 

Since February 2022, Latvia has been suffering the indirect consequences of a war that is taking place several hundred kilometres away. “It’s created a lot of stress. We talk about it all the time, with this feeling that we can no longer predict anything,” says the young Latvian.

More than a third of the population is Russian-speaking

Ieva shares the same observation. This 20-year-old also feels the everyday repercussions of the conflict, but for reasons different from Jānis’s: she is part of the country’s Russian-speaking community.

Latvia became independent following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, yet to this day more than a third of the population speak Russian as their mother tongue.

This is a consequence of the different occupations of the country by Russian forces, and of the large movement of people between Baltic countries and Russia. 

“Part of my family is Russian-speaking, we speak Russian among ourselves because my grandmother doesn’t speak Latvian, even though she’s lived here all her life. However, if anyone asks me, I say that I am Latvian and I feel Latvian,” Ieva says. 

The war in Ukraine has made everyday life and living conditions more difficult for Latvia’s Russian speakers, some of whom are now facing deportation. 

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, Ieva and Janis talk about the growing tensions between Latvia’s different communities, but also how proud they remain of their country, which is little known to the rest of the world. Watch the video to hear their full account.

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