Russian men flee Putin’s partial mobilization order for war in Ukraine


ISTANBUL — To escape the fighting in Ukraine, the 42-year-old Russian construction worker flew through two countries in four days, spending so much on tickets, so fast that he lost track of it all. He eventually ended up in Turkey, where it was safe. When he stopped to breathe on Tuesday, sitting on plastic chairs in the airport arrivals hall, he admitted he had no idea where to go.

But maybe it didn’t matter. “The main job is to save your life,” he said, picking peanuts from a plastic bowl. The avalanche of men fleeing Russia “don’t know what to do,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week of a “partial” military mobilization of Russian reservists for his war in Ukraine sparked a frenzied flight to the country’s borders by tens of thousands of men affected by the order – but also many who simply assumed their government, desperate for troops, would enlist any man who could carry a rifle.

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The mobilization is a risky and unpopular decision, exposing the grim reality of the war to many Russians who were previously apathetic supporters of the invasion, or silent opponents. Putin, normally careful about stirring up discord, pledged in March not to mobilize the Russians to fight. But after major setbacks in Ukraine, including Russia’s humiliating withdrawal from the Kharkiv region, he has broken that promise.

The increasing magnitude of the exodus has raised questions about Russia’s ability to sustain its war effort. And as Russian men venture beyond the borders, and the restrictions imposed by Putin’s government, they ensure… a glimpse of alienation and unease spreads back home.

Many have fled to Kazakhstan, according to the country’s interior ministry, which said nearly 100,000 Russians had entered the country since Putin announced the call on Sept. 21. At least 10,000 have entered Georgia every day — double the number before the mobilization, authorities there said.

And thousands have flown to Turkey, always a popular tourist destination for Russians and now a hub for its exiles, who have arrived in the past week on overcrowded commercial flights and even chartered planes, with some paying thousands of dollars to get a seat. obtain, according to passengers.

The construction worker, who like others interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for relatives still in Russia, took the long road. He flew on September 23 from the Russian city of Sochi to Tajikistan and then to Uzbekistan. Early Tuesday morning, he flew to Istanbul, from where he planned to travel on to the southern Turkish resort of Antalya, long a favorite among Russian visitors.

At home he hadn’t waited for a letter calling him up for military service. And his complaints at least went deeper than the mobilization.

“I don’t support my government, but I can’t do anything to change the situation. If you have a different opinion of them and if you protest or write about this, you will go to jail,” he said.

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Like other men who had fled, he was concerned about the relatives left behind. His mother, he said, “is nervous and stressed out for me.” With his visa in Turkey he can only stay for two months, but that was a problem for later.

A 32-year-old man who arrived in Istanbul on Tuesday said he left behind his wife and 1-year-old son. “Of course it was a very difficult decision,” said the man, an ethnic Ukrainian who said he was born and lived in Russia all his life.

The government, he said, recruited men “en masse”. Neighbors and friends had been called. “I had no choice. I cannot go to war and kill people in Ukraine. And if I stayed, there was no other option.” He and his wife decided that he would leave the day Putin announced the mobilization.

“In one day I quit my job, took the money from the bank, took my wife and baby to my parents. My whole life is falling apart,” he said.

For most Russians traveling to Kazakhstan, the first stop is the Kazakh city of Oral, 160 miles south of Samara, the closest Russian city with an airport. Lukpan Akhmedyarov, a local investigative journalist, said he took a Russian woman and her 19-year-old son to his apartment, where hotels and rental apartments were fully booked.

The city is full of thousands of young Russian military-aged men wandering around with their cellphones in their hands, dragging them or carrying their bags, he said. “They all look very confused and lost. They look like someone who has done something very unexpected for himself and he doesn’t know what to do now. They don’t look happy. And they are very, very quiet.”

Volunteers have set up a welcome tent near the central station, he said, offering newly arrived Russians free SIM cards, meals, water and hot drinks. Several local cafes, now open all night, allow Russians to stay if they have nowhere else to go.

The cinema in the city did the same and 200 people sleep there every night, Achmedyarov said. Others sleep in the local mosque, he added.

Many of the newcomers had to spend three days in a row at the border with cars, compared to just a few hours in the first two days after mobilization was announced. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Tuesday his country would welcome Russians on the run, calling their situation “hopeless” and saying they should be “forced to leave”.

“This is a political and humanitarian issue,” he said.

Photos show a 10-mile line at the Russian border as many flee the mobilization

Some Russians who fled after the announcement of the mobilization said they were considering leaving earlier, but decided to save first in the hope that the situation would improve. Others simply postponed a decision that would result in an indefinite separation of family and home.

A 33-year-old filmmaker said he and his wife had actually decided to leave before the war as Russia’s economy deteriorated and the threat of conflict loomed. After Russia invaded Ukraine, their condemnation hardened: The woman’s relatives lived near Kiev, under Russian bombardment, and the couple shrank from Moscow’s propaganda about expelling what it called “Nazis” from Ukraine, said he.

In the spring, the couple started applying for artist visas to travel to the United States, but still hoped they could take the time to leave Moscow, he said.

Then came the announcement of the mobilization. The filmmaker was not one of those slated to be called up, but “we understand they will grab everyone they can,” he said, referring to the government.

“We understood, me and all my male friends, this is it, the moment. If you were hoping to save your business or career in Russia, it’s all gone. Now you have to think about your life.”

His mother sent him a text on September 21, he said. “You must go now,” she wrote. “You can’t wait.”

He and his wife discussed what to do for about half an hour, then he started trying to book his ticket from Russia. “It was a legendary process,” he said. “You enter the data, you choose where to go, you press the button to buy and you can’t. At the moment, another 20 people are trying to buy the same ticket.” He finally found a seat on Monday and flew to Istanbul.

“I’m not sad right now,” he said. “Maybe I have feelings – not for the country, for some places, for some people. For my family, for my grandparents – I won’t see them again. I’m not sad about the country. Now the country is in a horrible condition .”

On the day of the announcement of the mobilization, Sergei, a 26-year-old technician from Moscow, threw his passport and essential clothes into a bag, borrowed money from friends, bought a plane ticket and went directly to Moscow airport. He was on one of the first flights.

“I was in complete shock,” he said during a telephone interview from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, where he was looking for work.

“Of course I knew that our government is unpredictable, but I hoped there would be no mobilization. I had a feeling of sadness and confusion. I was at a loss. Now I hope that none of my friends who are still in Russia will be called up. I’m really scared of them,” he said.

Although he has left behind his parents, grandmother and pets, he has no plans to return and is trying to decide where he will eventually settle.

“The problem is that an old, weird generation is at the top of our country,” he said. “They think differently from us and we can’t do anything about them. We went to protest, but nothing happened, and now people are very scared.”

Few of the men fleeing Russia now will ever return, he predicted, and the exodus would hit the country for years to come.

“Of course the best people leave,” he said.

Dixon reported from Riga, Latvia. Natalia Abbakumova contributed from Riga.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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