Russian men are rushing to leave the nation in order to evade military service in the Ukraine war. Queues have emerged at border crossings since Vladimir Putin declared a partial military mobilization on Wednesday, which may result in the mobilization of 300,000 men.
Credit: OLIVIER MORIN
According to the Kremlin, stories of fighting-age males fleeing are overblown. However, near the border with Georgia, lines of cars spanning tens of kilometers have emerged, including men attempting to flee the conflict.
One unnamed man told reporters at the border that immediately after Putin's speech, he grabbed his passport and hurried to the border without carrying anything else since he was among those who may be sent to war.
Some witnesses estimated a 5km long line of vehicles at the Upper Lars gate, while another group said it took seven hours to cross the border. Video from the situation showed several drivers abandoning their cars or trucks as traffic was halted.
Georgia is one of the few neighboring nations that Russians may visit without a visa. Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, requires a visa for travel and also observed an uptick in traffic overnight - but claimed it was manageable.
Other air-accessible locations, like Istanbul, Belgrade, and Dubai, saw ticket costs jump immediately after the military call-up was announced, with some destinations fully sold out. According to Turkish media, one-way ticket sales have skyrocketed, while remaining flights to non-visa countries may cost thousands of dollars.
On Thursday, Germany's interior minister said that Russians avoiding the conscription would be welcomed in her country.
Deserters who face "extreme persecution," according to Nancy Faeser, will be protected on a case-by-case basis after security checks. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic, on the other hand, said they would not take in fleeing Russians.
'I'll break my arm, my leg... anything to get out of the draft.'
Sergei, not his actual name, has already been summoned.
The 26-year-old Ph.D. student and lecturer was awaiting a grocery delivery the night before Putin's speech when two men in civilian clothing approached him and handed him military paperwork to sign.
The Kremlin said that only those who had served in the military and had specific talents and combat experience would be called up.
Sergei, on the other hand, has no military experience, and his stepfather is concerned since evading conscription is a criminal offense in Russia.
On Tuesday, demonstrations erupted in major Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, resulting in 1,300 arrests.
There were also claims from Russia that some of those imprisoned for demonstrating were given conscription documents while in police custody. When questioned about the claims, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated it was not against the law.
During his nighttime speech on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky encouraged Russians to oppose mobilization.
In reference to Russian casualties in the conflict, he stated: "Do you want more? No? Then protest. Resist. Run away. Alternatively, submit to Ukrainian captivity."
Inside Russia, the response to military mobilization has been exceptionally strong.
In its Wednesday morning briefing, the UK Ministry of Defence highlighted that the call-up "is likely to prove very unpopular with segments of the Russian public."
"Putin is willing to take significant political risks in order to generate much-needed fighting power. The action basically admits that Russia has run out of willing recruits to fight in Ukraine", it said.
Even if successful, hurdles remain, and new troops are unlikely to be ready for battle for many months, according to the military intelligence brief.
Russian authorities claim that the call-up would be confined to individuals who have already served in the military and will not result in widespread conscription.
However, there is concern inside Russia that the military mobilization may be more extensive than officially reported.
The independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which relocated its operations to Europe in the aftermath of the post-war media crackdown, stated that Vladimir Putin's proclamation has one extra line that has been classified and kept secret.
According to an unidentified government source, the secret paragraph allows for a call-up of up to a million people rather than the estimated 300,000.