Vladimir Putin’s ‘partial mobilisation’ of citizens for his war in Ukraine has already sparked sweeping changes for many Russians, as conscripted men bid emotional farewells to their families, while others attempt to flee, rushing to cross land borders or buy air out tickets.
For many of those leaving, the reason is the same: to avoid being drafted into Putin’s brutal and hesitant assault on neighboring Ukraine. But the circumstances surrounding their decisions — and the difficulties of leaving home — are deeply personal to each.
For Ivan, a man who said he is an officer in the Russian reserves and left his country for Belarus on Thursday, the motivation was clear: “I can’t stand what’s going on, so I just decided that I have to leave right away,” he said. told CNN.
“I felt like the doors were closing and if I didn’t leave immediately 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, were unable to pack up and leave.
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 am not in reserve now, for this wave of mobilization, but I think that if it continues, all the men will be qualified,” he said.
Putin said on Wednesday that 300,000 reservists would be drafted in, as Moscow seeks to replenish depleted forces after a successful counteroffensive from Kyiv this month. This decision is expected to change the scope of the Russian invasion, moving from a largely volunteer-led offensive to one that involves a larger portion of its population.
The announcement sparked a stampede for some Russians, with social media discussions on platforms like Telegram exploding with people frantically trying to figure out how to get seats in vehicles heading for the borders, some even discussing going by bike.
Long lines of traffic have formed at land border crossings in several countries, video footage shows. Images on Kazakh media websites appeared to show backed-up vehicles near the Russian-Kazakh border. In one, published by Kazakh outlet Tengri News, a person can be heard saying their vehicle has been “standstill for 10 hours” in Russia’s Saratov region as they attempt to get to go to Kazakhstan.
“Endless cars. Everyone is running. Everyone is on the run from Russia,” the person in the video can be heard saying. CNN cannot independently verify the videos.
On Thursday, Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee issued a statement saying the borders were “under special control” but operating normally amid an “increase in the number of foreign citizens” entering the country. The number of passenger vehicles entering Kazakhstan from Russia has increased by 20% since September 21, the country’s national revenue commission said in a separate statement.
On Finland’s eastern border with Russia, traffic intensified overnight Thursday, according to the Finnish border guard. Earlier today, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament that her government was ready to take action to “end” Russian tourism and transit through Finland, according to Finnish state broadcaster Yle.
Many of those leaving appeared to be men. Women are not part of the Russian conscription.
Travel agency websites have also shown a dramatic increase in demand for flights to places where Russians do not require visas. Flight sales websites say direct flights to these countries sold out at least until Friday, while anecdotal reports said people were struggling to find ways to get away much beyond that. period.
At least two Russians who left the country, one by land and the other by air, told CNN that the men leaving were questioned by Russian authorities, including whether they had undergone training military and others on Russia and Ukraine.
“It was like regular passport control, but every man in the queue was stopped and asked additional questions. They took us to a room and asked us questions mainly about (our) (training ) military,” Vadim, a Russian who arrived in Georgia by air, told CNN.
Within Russian borders, the mobilization from which some sought to escape seemed already underway.
Videos on social networks showed the first phase of the partial mobilization in several Russian regions, in particular in the Caucasus and the Far East, far from the rich Russian metropolises.
In the town of Neryungi in Russia’s Far East, families waved goodbye to a large group of men as they boarded buses, footage posted on a community video channel showed. Many people are visibly emotional in the video, including a woman who cries and kisses her husband goodbye, as he reaches out for her daughter through the bus window.
Another shows a group of about 100 newly mobilized soldiers waiting at Magadan airport in the Russian Far East, next to a transport plane. Telegram videos showed another group of mobilized men awaiting transport, allegedly in Amginskiy Uliss in the Yakutiya region, a vast territory in Siberia.
Much closer to the Ukrainian border, a crowd gathered near the town of Belgorod to see a group of newly mobilized men. As they board a bus, a boy shouts “Goodbye, Dad!” and starts crying. CNN was unable to independently verify the videos.
In other scenes circulating on social media, tensions around conscription were running high.
In Dagestan in the Caucasus, a furious argument broke out in an enlistment office, according to a video. A woman said her son had been fighting since February. To a man who told her she shouldn’t have sent him, she replied, “Your grandfather fought so you could live,” to which the man replied, “A Back then it was war, now it’s politics.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on Russians to protest against the partial military mobilization.
Thousands of Russian soldiers “died in this war in six months. Tens of thousands are injured and maimed. Want more? Nope? So protest. To defend oneself. Run away. Or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are options for you to survive,” Zelensky said in his daily video address in 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 cheated.”
But dissent is generally quickly suppressed in Russia, and authorities have imposed new constraints on free speech after the invasion of Ukraine.
Police quickly cracked down on Wednesday’s protests, which were mostly small-scale demonstrations. More than 1,300 people have been arrested by authorities in at least 38 cities, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
Some of those protesters were immediately drafted into the military after their arrest, 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 enrolled.
Earlier this week, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, amended the law on military service, setting the prison sentence at 15 years for violation of military service duties – such as desertion and escape of the service, according to the state news agency. CASS.
Ivan, the reservist who spoke to CNN after leaving the country this week, described the sense of desperation felt by many Russians following recent events.
“It hurts because a lot of my friends, a lot of people don’t support the war and feel threatened by what’s going on, and there’s no democratic way to really stop this, even to declare your protest” , did he declare. said.