Tens of thousands of Russians are still attempting to flee the country, fearful of being caught up in President Vladimir Putin’s last-minute military mobilization to replenish his forces in Ukraine.
During the exodus, miles-long lines of traffic have formed at border crossings with some neighboring countries, as Russians pack exit routes, fearful that the government will soon impose additional restrictions on military-age men leaving.
Kazakhstan, which borders Russia to the south, has reported that 98,000 Russians have entered the country since Putin announced the mobilization last Wednesday. Georgia’s interior ministry told ABC News on Tuesday that 100,000 people had entered the country in the previous few days. Tens of thousands more have fled through other countries such as Finland and Mongolia. The European Union’s border service reported that 66,000 Russians entered the bloc in the previous week, 30% more than the previous week.
Russians began fleeing the country within hours of Putin ordering a “partial” mobilization to call up 300,000 men in an attempt to turn around his faltering war in Ukraine. Experts say there are few restrictions on who can be drafted, and there have been numerous reports of men being mobilized regardless of their eligibility.
Although the mobilization is currently intended to apply only to those with some military experience, many fear that the criteria will be expanded, and the government will prevent military-age men from leaving the country. Men subject to the draft are barred from leaving the country, and there have been widespread reports of men with military experience being turned back at borders.
According to journalists at the Verkhny Lars crossing, where Russia borders Georgia, a line of hundreds of cars has formed, stretching back around 12 miles, with thousands of people waiting, some sleeping in their cars. According to the BBC, 2,500 cars are currently in line, citing Russia’s customs service.
On Tuesday, Russian authorities confirmed that armored troops had set up a checkpoint at the crossing to turn back that subject to the call-up and were handing out draft papers. A mobile enlistment office has also been set up at the border crossing, according to officials.
Kazakhstan, which shares a nearly 5,000-mile border with Russia and has a lax entry regime, has become a magnet for those fleeing, with border crossings clogged. A 37-year-old man who entered Kazakhstan on Monday near the Oral-Uralsk border said the line of traffic at one checkpoint had grown to nearly 20 miles.
The man said he had driven 20 hours from Moscow to the border and was now in the Kazakhstan border city of Uralsk. Although he is not currently subject to the draft due to his lack of military experience, he said he decided to flee because he feared the borders would be closed soon and did not believe in fighting Ukraine.
He stated that he chose to leave despite having only $250 in his pocket, and that he intended to stay with relatives at first before looking for work in Kazakhstan.
According to a local journalist writing for the Russian outlet Novaya Gazeta.eu, hundreds of Russian men carrying luggage could be seen on the streets of Uralsk. According to reports, local authorities have commandeered a cinema to house some of the influx.
The unexpected mobilization has brought the war home for millions of Russians after months of the Kremlin attempting to portray it as a distant conflict with little impact on people’s daily lives. Group chats have sprung up on the social media platform Telegram, where Russians anxiously trade information about potential crossing points and look for spots on transportation heading over the border. Over 100,000 people participate in one chat room called Guide to the Free World.
The Kremlin has stated that it has not yet decided whether or not to close Russia’s borders in response to the mobilization.
When journalists questioned Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday about reports in independent Russian media that the Kremlin was considering closures in the coming days, Peskov said he was “not aware of anything about that.”
The branches of the Federal Security Service in the southern Kurgan and Tyumen regions told the TASS state news agency, that border guards were stopping those subject to mobilization, informing them they must appear at their enlistment offices.