Fear of conscription: Russian exodus

Istanbul (AP) – Men of military age left the country in droves on Friday. Their exodus filled planes in Russia and caused traffic jams at border crossings. They shared the goal of not being called upon to fight in Ukraine as part of the partial mobilization announced by the Kremlin.

According to the Russian online map service Yandex, ten-kilometer long lines of cars formed on a road leading to the country’s southern border with Georgia. At the border with Kazakhstan, the tin column was so long that some people abandoned their vehicles and continued on foot – just as some Ukrainians had done when Russia invaded their country on February 24.

Conscientious objector: “I will not become a murderer”

Meanwhile, dozens of flights from Russia — with tickets sold at extremely high prices — carrying Russian men on board, headed for international visa-free destinations such as Turkey , Armenia, Azerbaijan and Serbia. Among those who reached Turkey was a 41-year-old man who landed in Istanbul with a suitcase and a backpack and wants to start a new life in Israel.

“I am against this war. And I will not be part of it. I will not become a murderer. I will not kill people,” said the man, who only wanted to be called Yevgeny – fearing reprisals against his family in Russia. He described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal”.

Yevgeny decided to flee after Putin announced the partial mobilization on Wednesday. The total number of reservists involved could be as high as 300,000. Some of his compatriots also fled to neighboring Belarus , which was closely allied with Russia. But that wasn’t without risk. One of Belarus’ oldest independent newspapers, Nasha Niwa, reported that the country’s security services had been instructed to locate Russians in hotels and rented apartments fleeing conscription and to report them to the Russian authorities.

USA: Ukraine war “unpopular” among Russians

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the fact that Russians were leaving their country to avoid conscription showed that the war in Ukraine was “unpopular”. “What Putin is doing – he is not acting from a position of strength,” said Jean-Pierre. Instead, Putin’s actions are a sign of weakness.

In Germany , there were calls to help Russian men evading military service. Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit explained that the federal government wants to reach a common line at European level for dealing with Russian conscientious objectors. A spokesman for Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, Maximilian Kall, said that anyone who bravely opposed “Putin’s regime” and thereby put themselves in great danger could apply for asylum in Germany because of political persecution. Anyone threatened with serious repression can be granted refugee status in Germany, but each case is examined individually.

To do this, however, those affected would first have to make it to Germany, which, like many other EU countries, is no longer so easy for Russia to travel to. The EU had suspended direct flights between its 27 member states and Russia following its attack on Ukraine. A limited allocation of Schengen visas, which allow freedom of movement within the EU, was also approved.

Countries are turning away Russian tourists

Four out of five countries that border Russia – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland – recently decided to turn away Russian tourists. Some representatives of EU countries also see a potential security risk in fleeing Russians. They hope that keeping the borders closed will increase the pressure on Putin in Russia.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Thursday many of those now fleeing Russia had agreed to killing Ukrainians. They would not have protested against that. “It is not correct to regard them as conscientious objectors.”

Russians flee to Finland

So far, however, Russians have been able to enter Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, on Schengen visas. Finnish border guards said on Friday the number of people arriving from Russia had risen sharply. Media reported a 107 percent increase compared to the previous week.

A line of cars about half a kilometer long formed in front of Vaalimaa, one of the busiest border crossings, according to the Finnish border guard.

Finnish broadcaster MTV broadcast interviews with Russian men who had just entered Finland through the Virolahti border crossing. A man named Yuri from Moscow stated that no sane person wanted to go to war. A Russian from Saint Petersburg, Andrei Balakirov, said he had been mentally prepared to leave Russia for half a year but put it off until mobilization.

Sham referendums take their course

“I think it’s a really bad thing,” he said. Valeri, a man from Samara on his way to Spain, agreed. He called the partial mobilization a “huge tragedy”. “It’s hard to describe what’s happening. I feel sorry for those who are being forced to fight against their will. I’ve heard stories of people receiving these instructions right on the street – scary.”

Meanwhile, mock referendums orchestrated by the Kremlin in four Ukrainian regions aimed at annexing the occupied territories to Russia were taking place. Kyiv and the West condemned these elections as illegal under international law, the outcome of which was predetermined by Moscow.

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220923-99-878275/2

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