The mood of those who left Russia after the mobilization order

Arriving in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, with only a small suitcase, Dmitri chose to leave his wife and children behind.

“I don’t want to go to war,” he told AFP. “I don’t want to lose my life in a conflict between these fraternal sides.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21 ordered partial mobilization to increase troops for a special military operation in Ukraine. Not long after the order was issued, lines of vehicles were seen extending at the Finnish and Georgian border crossings. Airfares departing from Moscow also skyrocketed.

One-way tickets from Moscow to countries near Russia have risen to over $5,000 but are all sold out even in the next few days. Groups on social media discussing the fastest way to leave Russia are constantly springing up.

Cars line up to enter the Vaalimaa checkpoint at the Russia-Finland border crossing on September 22.  Photo: Reuters.

Cars line up to enter the Vaalimaa checkpoint at the Russia-Finland border crossing on September 22. Image: Reuters.

“The conflict is terrible,” Sergei, a Russian man who refused to give his last name, told the news agency Reuters, when he arrived in the Serbian capital Belgrade on September 22. “It doesn’t matter if you’re afraid of conflict and death or something like that.”

Another person, named Alex, said he took a plane to Istanbul, Turkey, shortly after hearing about President Putin’s order to mobilize troops.

“The order of encouragement is one of the reasons I’m here,” he said. “It seems like a pretty bad move because it could lead to a lot of problems for the Russian people.” Alex believes that not many Russians want to be a part of the current conflict with Ukraine.

Another Russian, Vasily, arrived in Istanbul with his wife, daughter and six suitcases of luggage. “The order to mobilize troops is inevitable because Russia is short of manpower. I am not worried because I am 59 years old and my son lives abroad,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 22 that information about Russians leaving the country because of the mobilization order is being exaggerated. Russian military spokesman Vladimir Tsimlyansky meanwhile said that on the first day of the partial mobilization, about 10,000 citizens voluntarily went to recruitment offices without waiting for summons.

A few hours after President Putin announced the mobilization order, Oleg received his summons in the mail, asking him to present himself at the local recruitment center in the city of Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan in the Republic of Tatarstan. Russia.

As a 29-year-old sergeant in Russia’s reserve force, Oleg said he always knew he would be first on the summons list if a mobilization order was issued, but still hoped he wouldn’t have to join. war in Ukraine.

“My heart was heavy when I received the summons,” he said. “But I don’t have time to despair.”

He quickly packed up his things and booked a one-way ticket to Orenburg, the southern Russian city on the border with Kazakhstan.

“I’ll be driving across the border tonight,” Oleg said in a phone interview with the newspaper Guardian of Britain on September 22 from the airport in Orenburg. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

But the destination options for those who want to leave Russia are limited. Earlier this week, four out of five European countries bordering Russia announced they would not allow Russian citizens to enter with tourist visas.

Tickets for direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul, Turkey, Yerevan, Armenia, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and Baku, Azerbaijan, which allow Russians to enter without a visa, have all been sold out. all next week. While the cheapest one-way flight from Moscow to Dubai costs around $5,600, too expensive for most ordinary Russians.

A lot of people, like Oleg, are forced to find their own way. They headed to some of the land border crossings that were still open to the Russians.

The border guards of Finland, the last European Union country to allow Russians to enter on tourist visas, say they have seen “a spike in numbers” of Russian nationals trying to night entry. The Russian-Georgian and Russian-Mongolian borders also recorded heavy traffic, according to eyewitnesses.

“We’re seeing an exodus even bigger than when the fighting first broke out,” said Ira Lobanovskaya, founder of the non-profit organization “Guide to the free World” that helps Russians protesting the conflict. conflict with Ukraine to leave the country, said.

According to her, the organization’s website has received more than 1.5 million visits since President Putin’s speech on September 21. According to Lobanovkaya’s estimates, more than 70,000 users of the group’s support services have left or are making detailed plans to leave Russia.

“They’re all one-way ticket buyers. They won’t return as long as the order to deploy is carried out,” Lobanovskaya said.

Customs officers at Russian airports have begun questioning male passengers leaving the country about their military service status and checking if they have return tickets.

Russians arrive at Armenia's Zvartnots airport on September 21.  Photo: AFP.

Russians arrive at Armenia’s Zvartnots airport on September 21. Image: AFP.

Sheet Guardian also interviewed a number of Russian women, mainly doctors and military nurses, who also decided to leave the country after it emerged that the government wanted to send medical staff to the front. battle.

“I know it’s my duty to save lives,” said Tatayana, a doctor from the city of Irkutsk in Russia’s Siberian region. “But I believe that the sooner this conflict ends, the fewer people will have to die.” Tatayana bought a flight ticket to the Azerbaijani capital Baku next week.

Looking lost and exhausted at the Armenian airport, Sergei, 44, and his son, Nikolai, 17, said they decided to leave Russia “because of orders to maneuver”. “We did not choose to wait to be summoned,” Nikolai said. “I’m not panicking, but I feel unsettled.”

Meanwhile Valentin, 35, from St. Petersburg, who served in the Russian navy from 2009 to 2010, has a different mindset. “Some people have a different opinion. Some want to leave the country, but most of us will leave if asked. I’m not scared. If I get the notice, I’ll go,” he insisted.

But some other Russians on the same flight to Yerevan as father and son Nikolai thought otherwise. “Participating in a conflict in the 21st century is wrong, to put it mildly,” says Alexei, 39.

Vu Hoang (Theo AFP, Reuters, Guardian)

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