Traffic jams and desperation at the border as Russians flee Putin’s ‘partial mobilization’

For Ivan, a man who said he… An officer in the Russian 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 I had to leave right away,” he told CNN.

“I felt like the doors were closing and if I didn’t leave right away, I might not be able to leave later,” said Ivan, adding that he thought of a good friend at home with two small children who, unlike him, unable to pack up and go.

Alexey, a 29-year-old who arrived in Georgia by bus from Russia on Thursday, told CNN the decision was partly due to his roots.

“(Half of) my family is Ukrainian… I am not in reserve for this wave of mobilization now, but I think if this continues, all the men will be qualified,” he said.

Putin said on Wednesday that 300,000 reservists will be called up as Moscow looks to replenish its depleted troops after a successful counter-offensive by Kiev this month. The move will change the scale of the Russian invasion from an offensive largely fought by volunteers to one that embroils a larger segment of the population.

The announcement sparked a struggle 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 going to the border, with some even discussing going on the road. bicycle.

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According to video footage, long lines of traffic formed at land border crossings to several countries. Images on Kazakh media websites appeared to show vehicles waiting near the border between Russia and Kazakhstan. In one, posted by Kazakh media outlet Tengri News, a person can be heard saying their vehicle has “been stationary for 10 hours” in Russia’s Saratov region as they try to make their way to Kazakhstan.

“Endless cars. Everyone is running. Everyone is running from Russia,” says the person in the video. CNN cannot independently verify the videos.

On Thursday, Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee released a statement saying the borders are “under special control” but functioning normally amid an “increase in the number of foreign citizens” entering the country. The number of passenger cars entering Kazakhstan from Russia has risen 20% since Sept. 21, the country’s State Revenue Committee said in a separate statement.

Traffic on Finland’s eastern border with Russia intensified on Thursday night, the Finnish border guard said. Earlier that day, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament that her government was ready to take action to “end” Russian tourism and transit through Finland, Finnish public broadcaster Yle said.

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Many of those who left turned out to be men. Women are not part of the Russian conscription.

Travel agency websites also showed a dramatic increase in demand for flights to places where Russians do not require a visa. Flight sales websites indicate that direct flights to such countries are sold out at least through Friday, while anecdotal reports indicated that people struggled to find ways to depart well past that time frame.

At least two Russians who left the country, one by land and one by air, told CNN that departing men were being questioned by Russian authorities, with questions including whether they had received military training and others about Russia and Ukraine.

“It was like regular passport control, but every man in line was stopped and asked additional questions. They took some of us into a room and mainly asked questions about (our) military (training),” Vadim, a Russian who arrived in Georgia by air, CNN told CNN.

Mobilization begins

Within Russia’s borders, the mobilization that some attempted to flee from seemed already underway.

Videos on social media showed the first phase of the partial mobilization in several Russian regions, especially in the Caucasus and the Far East, far from the rich urban areas of Russia.

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In the Russian Far East city of Neryungi, families said goodbye to a large group of men as they boarded buses, as seen in footage posted to a community video channel. Many people are visibly moved in the video, including a woman who cries and hugs her husband goodbye as he reaches for his daughter’s hand from the bus window.

Russian families say goodbye as men leave for military service in Neryungri, Sakha Republic, Russia.

Another shows a group of about 100 newly mobilized soldiers waiting at Magadan Airport in Russia’s Far East, next to a transport plane. Telegram videos showed another mobilized group of men awaiting transport, reportedly in Amginskiy Uliss in the Yakutiya region, a vast Siberian region.

Much closer to the Ukrainian border, a crowd gathered near the town of Belgorod to fend off a group of newly mobilized men. As they get on the bus, a boy yells “Hello daddy!” and starts to cry. CNN has not been able to independently verify the videos.

In other scenes circulating on social media, conscription tensions ran high.

In Dagestan in the Caucasus, a furious quarrel broke out at a recruitment office, according to a video. One woman said her son had been fighting since February. Told by a man that she shouldn’t have sent him, she replied, “Your grandfather fought so you could live,” to which the man replied, “Then it was war, now it’s politics.”

Rebellion and Detention

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on Russians to protest the partial military mobilization.

Thousands of Russian soldiers” died in this war in six months. Tens of thousands are wounded and maimed. Do you want more? No? Then protest. Fight back. Run away. Or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are options for you to survive ,” Zelensky said in his daily video address to his country.

At the anti-war protests that erupted across Russia on Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader said: “(Russian people) understand they have been cheated.”

But dissent tends to be quickly suppressed in Russia and authorities have further curtailed freedom of expression after the invasion of Ukraine.

Police acted swiftly against Wednesday’s demonstrations, which were mainly small-scale protests. More than 1,300 people were detained by authorities in at least 38 cities, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info.

Some of those protesters were immediately drafted into the military after their arrests, according to the group’s spokeswoman Maria Kuznetsova, who told CNN by phone on Wednesday that some of the arrested protesters were being called up at at least four police stations in Moscow.

Earlier this week, Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, amended the military service law and imposed the jail term to 15 years for violations of military service obligations — such as desertion and evasion from service, according to state news agency TASS.

Ivan, the reservist who spoke to CNN after leaving the country this week, described the sense of hopelessness many felt in Russia after the recent events.

“It feels bad because a lot of my friends, a lot of people don’t support the war and they feel threatened by what’s going on, and there’s no democratic way to really stop this, to even protest,” he said. he. said.

Yulia Kesaieva, Lauren Kent, Sugam Pokharel and Anastasia Graham Yooll contributed to this report.

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