‘I will cross the border tonight’: Russians flee after news of draft | Russia

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H.Our after Vladimir Putin first announced and shocked Russia mobilization Since World War II, Oleg received draft documents in his mailbox and ordered them to go to the local recruitment center in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan.

As a 29-year-old Russian reserve sergeant, he said he always knew he would be first in line if mobilization was declared, but held out hope that he would not be forced to fight in a war. Ukraine.

“My heart sank when I got the call,” he said. “But I knew I had no time to despair.”

He quickly packed his things and booked a one-way ticket to Orenburg, a city in southern Russia near the border with Kazakhstan.

“Tonight we will cross the border by car,” he said in a telephone interview from the airport in Orenburg on Thursday. “I don’t know when I will set foot in Russia again,” he added, referring to the prison sentences Russian men face for avoiding the draft.

Oleg said he was leaving his wife, who was expecting a baby next week. “I will miss the most important day of my life. But I will not allow Putin to turn me into a murderer in a war that I do not want to participate in.”

The Kremlin’s decision to announce a partial mobilization has prompted a rush to leave the country among men of military age, sparking a new, possibly unprecedented brain drain in the coming days and weeks. There is a possibility.

The Guardian spoke to more than a dozen men and women who have left Russia since Putin announced the so-called partial mobilization, or are planning to do so in the next few days.

Options for escape are limited, they say.Earlier this week, four of the five EU countries bordering Russia announced They no longer allow Russians to enter the country on tourist visas.


Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul, Yerevan, Tashkent and Baku, capitals of the country where Russians can enter visa-free, sold out the following week, while the cheapest one-way flight from Moscow to Dubai costs around 370,000 rubles ( 5,000 pounds). ) – Too expensive in most cases.

And like Oleg, there are so many who have been forced to ingeniously drive to some of the few land borders still open to Russians.

Finnish border guards said they were the last EU member state to still allow Russians to enter on tourist visas. they noticed While there are “exceptional numbers” of Russian citizens trying to cross the border at night, eyewitnesses say the borders between Russia, Georgia and Russia and Mongolia are “collapsed” in overwhelming traffic. rice field.

“We are seeing even bigger departures than when the war began,” said Ira Lobanovskaya “Guide to the Free World” An NGO that helps Russians who oppose the war leave the country.

She said her website has been visited more than 1.5 million times since Putin’s speech on Wednesday. Lobanovskaya estimates that more than 70,000 Russians who have used the group’s services have already left the country or have specific plans to leave.

“People buying one-way tickets. As long as the mobilization continues, they won’t be coming back,” she said.

Many who are still in Russia will feel that time has run out. At least three regions have already announced that they will close their borders to drafted men.

Border guards at Russian airports have also reportedly begun interrogating departing male passengers about their military service status and checking their return tickets.

After thousands of Russians rallied against the war and mobilization on Wednesday, protesters took to the streets as their own troops committed human rights abuses in Bucha, Irpin, and countless other towns across Ukraine. Some took to social media to criticize him for not speaking up earlier.

Police entered on Wednesday to detain participants in unauthorized protests against partial mobilization in central St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Anatoly Maltsev/EPA

Igor, a 26-year-old IT professional from St. Petersburg, said he plans to fly to Vladikavkaz next week and drive to Georgia, another popular evacuation route used by Russians. I was. “When Putin launched his invasion, I participated in anti-war demonstrations, but the authorities just put everyone in jail.”

Some of the protesters detained in Moscow were later given draft notices while in custody, he said. monitor group OVD, It also underlies the dangers ordinary Russians face on the streets.

“I think the only way I can personally help Ukraine now is not to fight there,” Igor said.

There was also call For the EU to help Russians looking for a way out of the draft.

Anitta Hipper, the European Commission’s spokeswoman for internal affairs, said the bloc would meet to discuss issuing humanitarian visas to Russians fleeing mobilization. But she said on Thursday that the Baltics were not prepared to automatically offer asylum to Russians who escaped conscription.

Even the men Putin has vowed not to call, even those with no military experience, are packing their bags.

Russian police detaining protesters
Russian police detaining protesters against partial mobilization. Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

They point to the ambiguity of Putin’s mobilization law and to his earlier broken promises not to call for mobilization.

“Putin lied that there would be no mobilization,” said 23-year-old Anton, a student in Moscow. refer In his March 8 International Women’s Day speech, the president insisted that he would not raise reserve forces to fight in Ukraine. “Why won’t he lie again about this partial mobilization?”

Fears are rising after independent website Novaya Gazeta Europe reportbased on its government sources, the mobilization order allows the Ministry of Defense to muster 1,000,000 men instead of the 300,000 announced by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday.

So far, the majority of Russians leaving the country are men, Lobanovskaya said.

The Guardian also spoke to a number of women, mostly medical workers, who similarly decided to leave the country after reports began trickling in that Russia was calling medical professionals to the front lines.

“Doctors know they have a duty to treat people. That’s our duty,” said Dr. Tatyana, a doctor from Irkutsk who bought a ticket to Baku next week. “But I believe that if this terrible war ended sooner, fewer people would die.”

The mobilization also seems to have taken by surprise some of the very people the regime relies on to sustain its war effort.

“For me, mobilization is a different thing,” said Ilya, 29, a mid-level official in the Moscow government. “Tomorrow I will go to Kazakhstan.”

The son of a Western-sanctioned oligarch, the man said he plans to return to Russia after studying abroad for the family business, but no longer intends to do so.

“Well, one thing is clear,” he said in a short text interview. “I’m not going back to Russia anytime soon.”

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