Russian military draft prompts exodus of men

Tbilisi/Vaalimaa – Some Russian men headed swiftly to the borders on Thursday after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation, with traffic at frontier crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing.

Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War II and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he’d be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend his country.

Prices for air tickets out of Moscow soared above U.S. $5 000 for one-way tickets to the nearest foreign locations, with most air tickets sold out completely for coming days.

Social media groups popped up with advice on how to get out of Russia, while one news site in Russian gave a list of “where to run away right now from Russia”. There were long tailbacks at border crossings with Georgia.

“War is horrible,” Sergei, a Russian who declined to give his surname, told Reuters as he arrived in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. “It’s okay to be afraid of war and of death and such things.”

One Russian man who gave his name as Alex told Reuters in Istanbul that he had left Russia partly due to the mobilisation.

“The partial mobilisation is one of the reasons why I am here,” he said. “A very poor step it seems to be, and it can lead to lots of problems to lots of Russians.”

He said he felt that not many Russians will want to be sent to fight.

Another Russian, who gave his name only as Vasily, arrived in Istanbul with his wife, teenaged daughter and six suitcases.

“The mobilisation was inevitable because there was a shortage of human resources,” he said. “I am not worried because I’m already 59 years old and my son lives abroad.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that reports of an exodus of draft-age men were exaggerated.

Asked about reports that men detained at anti-war protests were being given draft papers, Peskov said it was not against the law.

About 10 000 volunteers have turned up to enlist for Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine without waiting for call-up papers issued under a partial mobilisation, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Russian general staff.

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