For many of them, the reason for fleeing is the same: to avoid conscription to join Putin’s senseless war in neighboring Ukraine. However, the circumstances surrounding their decisions – as well as their difficulty in leaving their homeland – are deeply personal to each of them.
For Ivan, who worked as a civil servant and left for Belarus on Thursday, the motivation was clear: “I don’t support what’s happening, so I decided I had to leave immediately,” he tells CNNi.
“I felt the doors were closing, and if I don’t do it now I won’t be able to do it later,” he adds, recalling his close friend who, having two young children, was unable to follow him.
29-year-old Alexei, on the other hand, who arrived in Georgia from Russia by bus also on Thursday, told CNNi that he made the same decision in part because of his background.
“Half of my family is Ukrainian. Although I am not currently in the draft, I think if this continues we will all be called to enlist.”
Putin said on Wednesday that 300,000 reservists would be called in as Moscow scrambles to replenish depleted forces after Kiev’s successful counteroffensive this month. The move is set to change the scope of Russia’s invasion from one carried out mainly by volunteers to one involving a larger section of its population.
In the hours following President Putin’s announcement, images and videos on social media showed long lines at border crossings.
The most popular destinations are Georgia and Finland. The flight to Georgia is facilitated by the fact that as early as 2012 the country abolished the requirement for Russian citizens to have a visa in order to enter.
The crossing of vehicles from Russia to Finland through its southeastern border remains heavy today, according to the country’s border guard, which as told Reuters. Compared to a week ago, the number of Russians who arrived in the country yesterday was more than double.
As vehicle traffic from its eastern neighbor increased yesterday, Finland is considering banning most Russians from entering its territory.
About 7,000 people entered Finland from Russia on Thursday, 6,000 of them Russians, an increase of 107% compared to the same day a week ago. Three of the arrivals requested asylum, while none last week.
Finnish border crossings remain among the few entry points into Europe for Russians after a string of countries closed both their physical borders and airspace in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The queue forming today was the longest at the busy Vaalimaa border crossing, reaching around 500 meters and longer than those on the same day in previous weeks, the spokesman noted. Queues were also “longer than normal” at the second largest border crossing, that of Nuiyamaa, according to the Finnish border guard.
Zelensky’s call for demonstrations
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday urged Russians to protest against the partial mobilization declared by the Kremlin and called on them, if deployed on the territory of his country, to surrender to the Ukrainian army.
“55,000 Russian soldiers were killed in this war within six months (…) Do you want more? No; So protest! Compete! Go away! Otherwise, surrender (to the Ukrainian army)!” the Ukrainian president said in Russian at the start of his videotaped speech.
“You are already complicit in all the crimes (of the Russian army), murder and torture of Ukrainian victims. “Why are you silent?” Zelensky emphasized.
He claimed that Moscow was ready to mobilize “up to a million men”.
Officially, the Kremlin reported a partial mobilization of around 300,000 reservists.
“It is choice time for you. For men in Russia, it is a choice to die or live, to be disabled or to keep their health. For women in Russia, the choice is to lose their husbands, sons, grandchildren forever, or at least try to prevent their deaths. Against the war, against a specific person (Russian President Vladimir Putin),” the Ukrainian president continued.
More than 1,300 people were arrested on Wednesday during protests in several Russian cities against conscription, according to the non-governmental organization OVD-Info.
After the declaration of partial conscription, overcrowding was reported at Russia’s land borders, as not a few wanted to leave the country. No estimate of this number was available, the AFP points out.
The Kremlin downplayed the reports, calling them “exaggerations”.