Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilization” of citizens for the war in Ukraine has already triggered sweeping changes for many Russians, as men called up say emotional goodbyes to their families, while others try to flee, struggling to cross land borders or buy air tickets abroad.
For many of those leaving, the reason is the same: to avoid being drafted into Putin’s brutal and halting assault on neighboring Ukraine. But the circumstances surrounding their decisions – and the difficulties of leaving home – are deeply personal to each one.
For Ivan, a man who said he was a Russian reserve officer and left his country for Belarus on Thursday, the motivation was clear: “I don’t support what’s happening, so I decided I had to leave immediately.” told CNN.
“I felt like the doors were closing, and if I didn’t leave right away, I might not be able to leave later,” Ivan said, adding that he was thinking of a close friend at home with two small children who, unlike him, was unable to pack up and go.
Alexey, a 29-year-old man who arrived in Georgia from Russia by bus on Thursday, told CNN the decision was partly down to his roots. “(Half of) my family is Ukrainian… I’m not in reserve right now for this wave of mobilization, but I think if this continues, all the men will be qualified,” he said.
Putin said on Wednesday that 300,000 reservists would be called up as Moscow seeks to replenish exhausted forces after a successful counteroffensive by Kiev this month. The move is expected to shift the scope of Russia’s invasion from an offensive largely waged by volunteers to one that involves a wider swath of its population.
The announcement has set off a ruckus for some Russians, with social media chatter on platforms such as Telegram erupting with people frantically trying to figure out how to get seats in vehicles heading to the borders, with some even discussing cycling.
Long lines of traffic have formed at land border crossings in several countries, according to video footage. Images on Kazakh media websites appeared to show vehicles parked near the Russia-Kazakhstan border.
In one, posted by Kazakh media Tengri News, a person can be heard saying their vehicle has been “stopped for 10 hours” in Russia’s Saratov region as they try to reach Kazakhstan. “Endless cars. Everyone is running. Everyone is fleeing Russia,” the person in the video can be heard saying. CNN cannot independently verify the videos.
In the arrivals hall of Istanbul airport, 18-year-old student Daniel told CNN about his plans to wait in Turkey. He flew to the country on Friday for what was supposed to be a pre-booked holiday, but since the announcement of the mobilization, he has had to deal with a new life in the country.
“We are young, we can learn and build a new life. We want to be helpful. For now it’s vacation and wait,” he said of his plans with his girlfriend. “As I am a student, technically I am not mobilized, but it can change. And we know that our government lies to us. We are just meat for them”, commented Daniel.
Software engineer Roman told CNN he hastily bought his ticket to Turkey minutes after Putin’s rallying speech. He intends to go to Portugal, where he obtained the visa. “War is terrible. I am strongly against this war. Everyone I know is against it. My friends, my family, nobody wants this war. Only politics want this war,” he said, adding that the woman had to stay in Russia for not having seen Portuguese.
“The only plan is to survive. I’m just scared,” she added.
Another Russian citizen, who did not want to be named, described the war as useless and cruel, “it should never have started. And I feel sorry for the Ukrainians – I sympathize with them.” The divorcee will fly to Israel on Saturday without her two children, who are still in Russia. “I hope to bring them to me when I’m settled,” she said. “I’ll try to get them out because that’s certainly not the place for them.”
On Thursday, Kazakhstan’s Committee on National Security released a statement saying the borders were “under special control” but operating normally amid an “increase in the number of foreign nationals” entering the country.
The number of passenger vehicles entering Kazakhstan from Russia has increased by 20% since Sept. 21, the country’s State Revenue Committee said in a separate statement.
On Finland’s eastern border with Russia, traffic intensified overnight on Thursday, according to the Finnish border guard. Earlier that day, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament her government was ready to take steps to “end” Russian tourism and transit through Finland, according to Finnish public broadcaster Yle.
Many of those who left appeared to be men. Women are not part of Russia’s recruitment.
Travel agency websites also showed a dramatic increase in demand for flights to places where Russians do not need a visa. Flight sales platforms indicate that direct flights to these countries sold out at least until Friday, while anecdotal reports indicated that people were having trouble finding ways to get out far beyond that time.
At least two Russians who left the country, one by land and one by air, told CNN that the departed men were being questioned by Russian authorities, with questions including whether they had military training and others about Russia and Ukraine.
“It was like normal passport control, but all the men in line were stopped and asked additional questions. They took several of us into a room and asked questions mostly about (our) military training,” Vadim, a Russian who arrived in Georgia by air, told CNN.
Within Russia’s borders, the mobilization that some sought to escape appeared to be already under way.
Social media videos showed the first phase of partial mobilization in several Russian regions, especially in the Caucasus and the Far East, far from Russia’s wealthy metropolitan areas.
In the Russian city of Neryungi, in the Far East, families said goodbye to a large group of men as they boarded buses, as can be seen in images posted on a community video channel. Many people are visibly emotional in the video, including a woman crying and hugging her husband goodbye as he takes his daughter’s hand from the bus window.
Another image shows a group of around 100 newly deployed soldiers waiting at Magadan airport in the Russian Far East alongside a transport aircraft.
Videos of the cable showed another mobilized group of men awaiting transport, allegedly in Amginskiy Uliss, in the Yakutiya region, a vast Siberian territory. Much closer to the Ukrainian border, a mob gathered near the town of Belgorod to drive out a group of newly mobilized men. As they board the bus, a boy yells “Bye, Daddy!” and starts to cry. CNN was unable to independently verify the videos. In other scenes circulating on social media, tensions around recruitment were high.
In Dagestan, in the Caucasus, a furious argument broke out in a conscription office, according to a video. One woman said her son had been struggling since February. She was told by a man that she shouldn’t have sent him, she replied, “Your grandfather fought so you could live”, to which the man replied, “Back then it was war, now it’s politics”.
challenge and detention
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on Russians to protest against partial military deployment. Thousands of Russian soldiers “died in this war in six months.
Tens of thousands are injured and maimed. Want more? No? Then protest. Fight back. To escape. Or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are options for you to survive,” Zelensky said in his daily video address to his country.
Addressing the anti-war protests that erupted across Russia on Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader said: “(the Russian people) understand that they have been deceived.” But dissent is typically quickly crushed in Russia, and authorities have placed further restrictions on free speech after the Ukraine invasion.
Police quickly quelled Wednesday’s demonstrations, which were mostly small-scale protests. More than 1,300 people have been detained by authorities in at least 38 cities, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info. Some of these protesters were immediately drafted into the military after their arrests, according to the group’s spokeswoman Maria Kuznetsova, who told CNN by phone on Wednesday that at least four police stations in Moscow some of the arrested protesters were being recruited.
Earlier this week, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, amended the law on military service, setting the prison term to up to 15 years for violating military service duties – such as desertion and evasion from service, according to with the state news agency. TASS
Ivan, the reservist who spoke to CNN after leaving the country this week, described the feeling of hopelessness felt by many in Russia after recent events. “It’s bad because a lot of my friends, a lot of people don’t support the war and feel threatened by what’s happening, and there’s no democratic way to really stop it, not even declare your protest,” he said. said
*With input from Masho Lomashvili, Tim Lister and Uliana Pavlova
Source: CNN Brasil