Tension was in the air as a long trail of cars lined up near the checkpoint at Petkuhovo, on the Russian-Kazakhstan border, on Friday night.
Andrei Alekseev, a 27-year-old engineer from the city of Yekaterinburg, was among the many men in line fleeing Russia after President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization orders.
Some were lucky enough to hear of mobilization orders from abroad. Ilya, 35, was on vacation with his family in Turkey when he received a text from his co-workers in Kurgan, a town in Russia’s Ural region, informing him that his office had received a draft letter for him.
His wife and son returned to Russia while he stayed in Turkey. “I don’t want war, I don’t want to die for the ambitions of others, I don’t want to prove anything to anyone, it was a difficult decision not to return to Russia, very difficult, I don’t know. when now I can see my family, my loved ones,” Ilya told CNN .
Ilya served in the Russian army years ago, so he’s considered in the reserve. “I’m lost and I don’t know what to do, how to support my family being so far away from them. I’m in debt from these sudden forced decisions and I’m just morally exhausted,” he said.
Since the beginning of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, economic sanctions on Russia have made any international transaction almost impossible. Ilya said he wants to be reunited with his family.
In Russia, those who fled by car had to go through Russian and Kazakh border controls, which lasted about two hours.
Alekseev woke up to the news of Putin’s mobilization order on Wednesday morning and knew he had to get out of Russia. He met with his friends that night to discuss his next steps and decided to avoid taking any risks and leave Russia with no plans in mind.
On Saturday, Putin signed the law on military service, establishing a prison sentence of up to 10 years for evading military service due to mobilization and up to 15 years in prison for desertion in wartime.
The legal changes also introduce concepts of “mobilization, martial law and wartime” into the Russian Penal Code. Putin also signed a decree granting university students a postponement of mobilization.
“At the border, all the men were asked if they served in the army and what their rank of military service is,” Alekseev told CNN .
“I felt that the border guards were very understanding, however, I had friends who crossed the border into Kazakhstan at a different checkpoint and were met with tiresome questions, it took seven hours to cross,” he told.
Suffering heavy losses in Ukraine this month amid Ukraine’s counter-offensive, Putin upped the ante this week with the draft and his support for referendums in Ukraine’s occupied territories.
The decree signed by Putin appears to allow for a broader mobilization than he suggested in the speech that aired on Wednesday. According to the speech, 300,000 reservists would be called to the front, breaking their promises at the beginning of the war that there would be no mobilization. However, the decree itself does not set a limit on how many people can be mobilized.
“The mobilization is called ‘partial’, but no parameter of this bias, neither geographical nor in terms of criteria, is specified,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist, wrote on her social media page.
“According to this text, anyone can be summoned, except workers in the military-industrial complex.”
Men ages 18 to 60 across Russia are now facing mobilization as reservists to fight Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
Once Alekseev and his wife crossed into Kazakhstan, they found that all hotels in the border towns were booked, so the couple drove to Astana, the country’s capital, where they are now looking for an apartment.
“Three days ago, I didn’t think I would be in Kazakhstan and looking for an apartment here. We are planning to stay for two months, then maybe go to Uzbekistan to renew the period of stay, I will look for work in international companies,” he told CNN.
Kirill Ponomarev, 23, who also fled Russia across the border into Kazakhstan, said he struggled to reserve a ticket. The night before Putin’s speech, he was looking for tickets out of Russia.
“For some reason, I couldn’t buy tickets the night before while waiting for Putin’s speech. And then I fell asleep without buying a ticket, when I woke up, ticket prices shot up,” Ponomarev told CNN .
Men rushed across borders exchanging tips on Telegram channels and among friends. One-way flights from Russia sold out within hours of the announcement of the mobilization.
Four of the five EU countries bordering Russia have banned Russians on tourist visas from entering, while queues to cross Russia’s land borders to former Soviet countries Kazakhstan, Georgia and Armenia take more than 24 hours to cross. .
The Kremlin scoffed at the Russians’ reactions calling it a “hysterical and overly emotional reaction”.
Meanwhile, protests erupted across Russia on Wednesday and brutal arrests followed with reports of detained protesters receiving draft letters at police stations. According to independent monitoring group OVD-Info, more than 1,300 people have been detained by authorities in at least 43 cities across Russia.
While all men under 60 in Russia now share the fear of being drafted, Putin’s mobilization disproportionately affects Russia’s poorest and most ethnically diverse regions, according to Alexandra Garmazhapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, who spoke to CNN .
“In Buriacia, mobilization is not partial, everyone is mobilized. They invite students, retirees, parents of many children, people with disabilities,” she said.
Garmazhapova, whose organization provides legal assistance to mobilized men and their relatives, says that every day she hears multiple stories of people being called up regardless of age, military background or health conditions.
“Yesterday afternoon, a taxi driver went to refuel the car, and when I was at a gas station, a bus passed with the recruits,” she told CNN .
“The bus stopped abruptly when they saw him and put him on this bus. They gave him nothing to take, nothing. His car was left at this gas station, then relatives took him away,” she said.
Those men who were left behind in Russia now take extra care when leaving home. Kirill, a 27-year-old IT professional from St. Petersburg who declined to give his last name, said he is starting to think about moving after most of his friends have already received draft letters.
“I love St. Petersburg, but I’m starting to think about moving. Today I have lived another day and tomorrow it may not be safe to take a taxi without the risk of being summoned,” Kirill told CNN .
“For now, I’m keeping an eye on the situation and how it develops. For me, going to war or going to prison are ‘bad options, so I hope I can avoid both’,” he said.
Kirill, who is half-Ukrainian, said he cannot imagine going to war and killing Ukrainians. “I will not be able to explain my actions to relatives who are in Ukraine. We talk every day,” he said.
Source: CNN Brasil