Conscripts in the Russian-backed Donbas region are said to have been dispatched into front-line fighting with a rifle called a Mosin, with the Kremlin relying on weapons stocks dating to the Second World War.
Vladimir Putin’s forces have struggled against fierce Ukrainian resistance and a steady supply of modern weaponry from Western allies.
After nearly six weeks of war, Moscow has claimed only limited territorial gains and while notching up significant losses in terms of vehicles, weapons and troops.
Nato estimates that up to 15,000 Russian soldiers may have been killed in the fighting, while Kyiv claims the death toll could have exceeded 18,000.
Having suffered heavy losses, Russia’s military is said to be calling on volunteers nearing retirement to come forward in two Siberian cities: Chelyabinsk and Tyumen.
Russian media reported that the expanded reservist force was needed to fill a wide range of battlefield roles including tank commanders, snipers and engineers – with the army aiming to recruit volunteers as old as 60.
Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency reported that several Donbas draftees had been issued with bolt-action Mosin rifles, which were developed in the 1880s.
Unverified images and video shared on social media also showed Donbas fighters with the weapon, which went out of production decades ago.
On Friday, Russia began its annual spring conscription, which aimed at rounding up 134,500 men for a one-year tour of military duty.
Russian officials have said new recruits will not be sent to the front lines or "hot spots", but many Russians fear they will be drawn into the war.
The issue of conscripts' involvement in Russia's military campaign with Ukraine is highly sensitive.
Earlier in March, the Russian defence ministry acknowledged that some had been sent to Ukraine after Mr Putin had denied this on various occasions, saying only professional soldiers and officers had been sent in.
All Russian men aged 18-27 must serve one year in the military, but many avoid service for health reasons or deferments granted to university students.
Additional reporting by agencies
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