Russian men join exodus, fearing call-up to fight in Ukraine

ISTANBUL (AP) – Military-age men fled Russia in droves on Friday, filling planes and causing traffic jams at border crossings to avoid being rounded up to fight in Ukraine after the Kremlin’s partial military mobilization.

Queues of 10 kilometers (6 miles) formed on a road leading to the southern border with Georgia, according to Yandex Maps, a Russian online mapping service.

The lines of cars were so long at the border with Kazakhstan that some people abandoned their vehicles and continued on foot – just as some Ukrainians did after Russia invaded their country on Feb. 24.

Meanwhile, dozens of flights from Russia — with tickets selling at sky-high prices — took men to international destinations such as Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Serbia, where Russians don’t require visas.

Among those who reached Turkey was a 41-year-old who landed in Istanbul with a suitcase and a backpack and plans to start a new life in Israel.

“I am against this war and I am not going to be a part of it. I’m not going to be a murderer. I’m not going to kill people,” said the man, who identified himself as Yevgeny only to avoid possible retaliation against his family left behind in Russia.

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He called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal”.

Yevgeny decided to flee after Putin announced a partial military appeal on Wednesday. The total number of reservists involved can be as high as 300,000.

Some Russian men also fled to neighboring Belarus, a close ally of Russia. But that involved risk.

The newspaper Nasha Niva, one of the oldest independent newspapers in Belarus, reported that Belarusian security services had been instructed to track down Russians who had fled conscription, locate them in hotels and rented apartments, and report to the Russian authorities.

German government officials expressed a desire to help Russian men who left their military service, and they called for a European solution.

“Those who bravely oppose Putin’s regime and thereby endanger themselves can apply for asylum in Germany on the grounds of political persecution,” said spokesman for German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.

The spokesman, Maximilian Kall, said deserters and those who refuse to be drafted would be granted refugee status in Germany if they were at risk of severe repression, although each case is being investigated individually.

But they would first have to reach Germany, which has no land border with Russia, and like other European Union countries, it has become much more difficult for Russians to travel to.

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The EU banned direct flights between its 27 member states and Russia after the attack on Ukraine, and recently agreed to limit the issuance of Schengen visas, which allow free movement across much of Europe.

Four of the five EU countries bordering Russia – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland – have also recently decided to reject Russian tourists.

Some European officials view fleeing Russians as potential security risks. They hope that not opening their borders will increase pressure on Putin at home.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Thursday that many of those on the run were “good at killing Ukrainians. They did not protest then. It is not right to regard them as conscientious objectors.”

The only EU country that still accepts Russians with Schengen visas is Finland, which has a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia.

Finnish border guards said Friday that the number of people entering from Russia has risen sharply, with the media reporting a 107% increase compared to last week.

At Vaalimaa, one of the busiest border crossings, the line of waiting cars stretched for half a kilometer (a third of a mile), the Finnish Border Guard said.

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Finnish broadcaster MTV ran interviews with Russian men who had just crossed into Finland at the Virolahti border crossing, including a man named Yuri from Moscow who said no “healthy person” wants to go to war.

A Russian man from St. Petersburg, Andrei Balakirov, said he was mentally prepared to leave Russia for six months, but postponed it until the mobilization.

“I think it’s a really bad thing,” he said.

Valery, a man from Samara on his way to Spain, agreed, calling the mobilization “a great tragedy.”

“It’s hard to describe what’s happening. I pity those who have to fight against their will. I’ve heard stories of people getting these orders on the street – scary.”


Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin; Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland; Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.

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