Long lines of vehicles continue to form at Russia’s border crossings on the second day full day of Vladimir Putin’s military mobilisation, with some men waiting over 24 hours as western leaders disagree over whether Europe should welcome those fleeing the call-up to fight in Ukraine.
The Russian president’s decision to announce the first mobilisation since the second world war has led to a rush among men of military age to leave the country.
Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilization” of citizens for his war in Ukraine has already set in motion sweeping changes for many Russians, as drafted men bid their families emotional goodbyes, while others attempt to flee, scrambling to make it across land border crossings or buy air tickets out.
For many of those leaving, the reason is the same: to avoid being drafted into Putin’s brutal and faltering assault on neighbouring 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’s an officer in Russia’s reserves and left his country for Belarus on Thursday, the motivation was clear: “I don’t support what’s going on, so I just decided that I had to leave right away,” he told CNN.
“I felt like the doors are closing and if I didn’t leave immediately, I might not be able to leave later,” Ivan said, adding he was thinking of a close friend back home with two little children who, unlike him, was unable to pack up and go.
Alexey, a 29-year-old who arrived in Georgia from Russia via bus on Thursday, told newsmen the decision was due in part to his roots.
“(Half of) my family is Ukrainian… I am not in reserves now, for this wave of mobilization, but I think if this goes on, all the men will be qualified,” he said.
Cars queue to enter the Brusnichnoye checkpoint on the Russian-Finnish border in the Leningrad Region of Russia on September 22.
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Putin declared on Wednesday that 300,000 reservists would be drafted, as Moscow seeks to replenish depleted forces after a successful counter-offensive from Kyiv this month. The move is set to change the scope of Russia’s invasion from an offensive fought largely by volunteers to one that embroils a larger swath of its population.
The announcement unleashed a scramble for some Russians, with social media chatter on platforms like Telegram exploding with people frantically trying to figure out how to get seats in vehicles headed to the borders, with some even discussing going on bicycle.
Long lines of traffic formed at land border crossings into several countries, according to video footage. Images on Kazakh media websites appeared to show vehicles backed up near the Russia-Kazakhstan border. In one, posted by Kazakh media outlet Tengri News, a person can be heard saying their vehicle has been “at a standstill for 10 hours” in Russia’s Saratov region, as they try to make their way to Kazakhstan.
On Thursday, Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee released 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 had increased 20% since September 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 action to put “an end” to Russian tourism and transit through Finland, according to Finnish public broadcaster Yle.