Border traffic jams and desperation as Russians flee Putin’s ‘partial mobilization’


of Vladimir Putin”partial mobilization» citizens for his war in ukraine has already sparked sweeping changes for many Russians, as recruited men bid emotional goodbyes to their families, while others attempt to flee, rushing to cross land borders or buy plane tickets.

For many of those who leave, the reason is the same: to avoid being drawn into brutal politics and staggering attack on neighboring Ukraine. But the circumstances surrounding their decisions — and the difficulties of leaving home — are deeply personal to each.

For Ivan, a man who said he is an officer in the Russian reserves and left his country for Belarus on Thursday, the motivation was clear: “I don’t support what is happening, so I just decided that I have to leave right away,” he said. told CNN.

“I felt like the doors were closing and if I didn’t leave immediately I might not be able to leave later,” Ivan said, adding that he was thinking of a close friend at home with two small children who, unlike him, were able to pack up and leave.

Alexey, a 29-year-old man who arrived in Georgia from Russia by bus on Thursday, told CNN the decision was partly down to his roots.

“(Half of) my family is Ukrainian… I’m not in reserve now, for this wave of mobilization, but I think that if it continues, all the men will be qualified,” he said.

Cars line up to enter the Brusnichnoye checkpoint on the Russian-Finnish border in Russia's Leningrad region on September 22.

Putin said on Wednesday that 300,000 reservists would be drafted in, as Moscow seeks to replenish depleted forces after a successful counter-offensive from Kyiv this month. This decision is expected to change the scope of the Russian invasion, moving from a largely volunteer-led offensive to one that involves a larger portion of its population.

The announcement sparked a stampede for some Russians, with social media discussions on platforms like Telegram exploding with people frantically trying to figure out how to get seats in vehicles heading for the borders, some even discussing going by bike.

Long lines of traffic have formed at land border crossings in several countries, video footage shows. Images on Kazakh media websites appeared to show backed-up vehicles near the Russian-Kazakh border. In one, published by Kazakh outlet Tengri News, a person can be heard saying their vehicle has been ‘standstilled for 10 hours’ in Russia’s Saratov region as they attempt to drive to Kazakhstan .

“Dear Endless. Everyone is running. Everyone is on the run from Russia,” the person in the video can be heard saying. CNN cannot independently verify the videos.

In the arrivals hall of Istanbul airport on Friday, Daniel, an 18-year-old student, told CNN he intended to wait in Turkey. He flew to Turkey on Friday for what was to be a pre-booked holiday, but since the mobilization announcement he has had to deal with a new life in the country.

“We are young, we can learn and build a new life. We want to be useful. Right now it’s the holidays and wait,” he said of his plans with his girlfriend. “Since I was a student, technically I’m not mobilized, but that can change. And we know our government is lying to us. We are just meat to them,” Daniel said.

Software engineer Roman told CNN he hurriedly bought his ticket to Turkey minutes after Putin’s mobilization speech. I intend to go to Portugal, where I have obtained a visa.

“The war is terrible. I am firmly against this war. Everyone I know is against it. My friends, my family, nobody wants this war. Only politicians want this war,” he said, adding that his wife had to stay in Russia as she did not have a Portuguese visa.

“The only plan is to survive. I’m just scared,” he added.

Another Russian citizen, who declined to be named, described the war as unnecessary and cruel, “it should never have started in the first place. And I feel sorry for the Ukrainians – I sympathize with them. The divorcee will fly to Israel on Saturday without his two children, who are still in Russia.

“I hope to bring them to me when I get settled,” he said. “I will try to get them out because Russia is definitely not the place for them.”

On Thursday, Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee issued a statement saying the borders were “under special control” but operating normally amid an “increase in the number of foreign citizens” entering the country. The number of passenger vehicles entering Kazakhstan from Russia has increased by 20% since September 21, the country’s national revenue commission said in a separate statement.

On Finland’s eastern border with Russia, traffic intensified overnight Thursday, according to the Finnish border guard. Earlier today, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament that her government was ready to take action to “end” Russian tourism and transit through Finland, according to Finnish state broadcaster Yle.

Many of those leaving appeared to be men. Women are not part of the Russian conscription.

Travel agency websites also showed a dramatic increase in demand for flights to places where Russians do not need a visa. Flight sales websites said direct flights to these countries were sold out until at least Friday, while anecdotal reports said people were struggling to find ways to leave well beyond that time. .

At least two Russians who left the country, one by land and the other by air, told CNN that the men leaving were questioned by Russian authorities, including whether they had undergone military training and others on Russia and Ukraine.

“It was like a regular passport control, but every man in the queue was stopped and asked additional questions. They took us to a room and asked us questions mainly about (our) (training ) military,” Vadim, a Russian who arrived in Georgia by air, told CNN.

Within Russian borders, the mobilization from which some sought to escape seemed already underway.

Videos on social networks showed the first phase of the partial mobilization in several Russian regions, in particular in the Caucasus and the Far East, far from the rich Russian metropolises.

In the town of Neryungi in Russia’s Far East, families waved goodbye to a large group of men as they boarded buses, footage posted on a community video channel showed. Many people are visibly emotional in the video, including a woman who cries and kisses her husband goodbye, as he reaches out for her daughter through the bus window.

Russian families say goodbye as men leave for military service in Neryungri, Sakha Republic, Russia.

Another shows a group of about 100 newly mobilized soldiers waiting at Magadan airport in the Russian Far East, next to a transport plane. Telegram videos showed another group of mobilized men awaiting transport, allegedly in Amginskiy Uliss in the Yakutiya region, a vast territory in Siberia.

Much closer to the Ukrainian border, a crowd gathered near the town of Belgorod to see a group of newly mobilized men. As they board a bus, a boy shouts “Goodbye, Daddy!” and starts crying. CNN was unable to independently verify the videos.

In other scenes circulating on social media, tensions around conscription were running high.

In Dagestan in the Caucasus, a furious argument broke out in an enlistment office, according to a video. A woman said her son had been fighting since February. Told by a man she shouldn’t have heard her, she replied, “Your grandfather fought so you could live”, to which the man replied, “At the time it was war, now it’s politics.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on Russians to protest against the partial military mobilization.

Thousands of Russian soldiers “died in this war in six months. Tens of thousands are injured and maimed. Want more? Nope? So protest. To defend oneself. Run away. Or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are options for you to survive,” Zelensky said in his daily video address in his country.

Addressing the anti-war protests that erupted across Russia on Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader said: “(the Russian people) understand that they have been cheated.”

But dissent is generally quickly suppressed in Russia, and authorities have imposed new constraints on free speech after the invasion of Ukraine.

Police quickly suppressed during Wednesday’s demonstrations, which were mostly small-scale demonstrations. More than 1,300 people have been arrested by authorities in at least 38 cities, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.

Some of those protesters were immediately drafted into the military after their arrest, according to the group’s spokeswoman, Maria Kuznetsova, who told CNN by phone on Wednesday that at least four police stations in Moscow, some of the arrested protesters were being enrolled.

Earlier this week, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, amended the law on military service, setting the prison sentence at 15 years for violation of military service duties – such as desertion and escape of the service, according to the state news agency. CASS.

Ivan, the reservist who spoke to CNN after leaving the country this week, described the sense of desperation felt by many Russians following recent events.

“It hurts because a lot of my friends, a lot of people don’t support the war and feel threatened by what’s going on, and there’s no democratic way to really stop this, even to declare your protest,” did he declare. said.