Over 194,000 Russian men have fled to nearby Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Finland, most often by car, bicycle, or on foot, in the week since Russian President Vladimir Putin said reservists would be drafted into military service.
The mass departure of men, alone or with their families or friends, began on September 21 and has gone on all week. It started soon after Putin’s speech to the country over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Early on, they bought plane tickets, which drove up the cost of the few flights still leaving Russia. But the rest had to fill their cars with gas and wait in long lines on the roads leading to the borders.
Yandex Maps says that on Tuesday, the traffic jam leading to Verkhny Lars, a border crossing from Russia’s North Ossetia region into Georgia, was about 15 kilometres long.
After Russian border guards made crossing on foot easier, social media showed hundreds of people waiting in line at the checkpoint.
Some Russian men crossings into Kazakhstan were also said to have long lines.
Since last week, more than 53,000 Russians have entered Georgia, according to the Interior Ministry. Meanwhile, 98,000 Russians have entered Kazakhstan, according to its Interior Ministry.
The Finnish Border Guard said that more than 43,000 people came simultaneously. Reports from the media also said that another 3,000 Russians entered Mongolia, which also borders the country.
The Russian government tried to stop the flow by telling some men they couldn’t leave because of laws about mobilization. Even though this didn’t seem to be a common thing to do, rumours kept going around that Moscow might soon close the borders to all men of fighting age of the Russian population.
Police in North Ossetia said that a temporary enlistment office would be set up at the Verkhny Lars crossing, and local officials confirmed to the state news agency Tass that Russian men are getting call-up notices at the borders with Georgia.
Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Defense Minister, said that only 300,000 men with combat or other military experience would be called up.
However, reports from different parts of Russia say that recruiters are rounding up men who don’t fit that description.
Fears grew that more men would be called up because of this, and men of all ages and backgrounds rushed to airports and borders.
A person from St. Petersburg who got to Kazakhstan on Tuesday said, “There’s a chance they’ll say they’re mobilizing everyone.” The man told AP that it took him three days to drive from his home to Uralsk, northwestern Kazakhstan, near the border.
He said that Putin’s comments about mobilization differed from his decree, leaving room for a broader interpretation. He also said, “People worry that sooner or later, a full mobilization will be announced, and no one will be able to cross the borders.”
Kazakhstan and Georgia, once part of the Soviet Union and let Russian citizens in without a visa, seemed to be the most popular places for people to go by land to avoid the call-up. Russian’s a visa to visit Finland and Norway.
Georgia has been a little worried about the influx of Russians, especially since the country fought a short war with Moscow in 2008.
Yellow and blue flags on buildings and graffiti against Putin and Russia show that Georgia supports Ukraine.
Politicians from the opposition have asked the government to do big things to stop the Russians from coming, like give them visas or ban them completely. So far, nothing has been done.
Kazakhstan seems more welcoming. Since the start of the war, the 19-million-person Central Asian country has moved away from its ally, Moscow, especially regarding the war in Ukraine.
Marat Akhmetzhanov, the Interior Minister of Kazakhstan, said that the government wouldn’t send back Russians who cross the border to avoid the draft unless they are on an international wanted list for crimes.
Because things were so bad, President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev even told his government to help Russians get into his country.
“We need to look after them and assure they’re safe. It is both an issue of politics and of helping people. I told the government to do what needs to be done,” he said. He also said that Kazakhstan and Russia would talk about the problem.
Volunteers helped Russian people get into Uralsk, a city of 236 thousand people.
Some of them told the Associated Press that they were offering free hot meals and helping newcomers find places to stay, filling up quickly.
One volunteer said that people who can’t find apartments or hotel rooms could spend the night in gyms.
After driving around the city and seeing many people who looked lost, Dilara Mukhambetova, who runs the Cinema Park theatre, said that arriving Russians could sleep in her building.
Local media said that Mukhambetova said, “We freed up one auditorium, set up tea, and had volunteers bring hot meals.” “We fit about 200 people in all four auditoriums.”