With a bag in each hand and another on his back, Denis heads up a hill on foot, having just crossed the border from Russia to Georgia.
“I’m just tired. That’s all I feel,” the 27-year-old says as he tries to catch his breath.
Denis has just been on the road for six days, most of them waiting in line to cross the border. He is one of hundreds of thousands of Russians who endure a grueling marathon journey to leave their country.
While women and children are among those who cross, most men of combative age fear the possibility of being drafted into fighting the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, at least 10,000 pass through the Lars border crossing every day.
Denis, who declined to reveal his last name, said he chose to leave because of uncertainty following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week of a “partial mobilization” of civilians — despite his previous insistence that the military strike would only are fought by military professionals. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the army will deploy about 300,000 men with previous military experience to fight in Ukraine.
While the current design shouldn’t apply to him, Denis fears that could change.
“How do I know what will happen in three years? How do I know how long this will take?” he said.
“It’s uncertain and nobody knows what’s coming.”
His sentiment is shared by many crossing the border into Georgia. They are teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers and builders – ordinary Russians who have no appetite for war. And while they say they disagree with the government, they believe they can do nothing to force Putin to change course.
They have chosen to leave their homeland despite the perilous journey. Denis said he spent days in his car without adequate access to food and toilets.
“If you’re waiting there, there’s no toilet. You can’t eat a lot because everything sells out right away and nobody packed a lot of food because nobody expected it to take so long,” he said.
Another man CNN spoke to walked 20 kilometers (12 miles) to get to Georgia, also fueled by concerns that the draft could expand.
“It doesn’t apply to me today, but it may apply tomorrow,” the person told CNN on the condition that he remain anonymous, fearing Moscow’s far-reaching hand.
And George Vatsadze, a 28-year-old marketing professional, says he’s leaving Russia because he doesn’t want to hurt his loved ones. He has a Ukrainian grandmother and cousins who live on the land.
“I can’t go there to fight,” he said.
Vatsadze crossed with his brother, who was considered for the design. He only brought a bag with some clothes and his dog. He says it was all he could do.
Tired and emotional, he is happy to have reached Georgia, but frustrated that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced him to leave home.
“I think maybe about half of our population thinks the war is wrong, but they can’t stand it because it’s dangerous,” he says. “Right now, just by saying this, I’m putting myself in danger.”
He didn’t want to leave, but now he thinks he may never be able to go back.
“It’s all because we can’t trust our government anymore, because they told us a lot of lies,” he says. “We had heard that there would be no mobilization at all, but six months later we are here.”
“What’s going to happen for another six months?” he asks, struggling to hold back his tears.
“I don’t know and I don’t want to know.”