Russian conscription pushed some men into mass exodus as airline ticket prices soar

  • Air tickets from Moscow are sold out
  • Traffic jam at the land border of Russia
  • ‘Panic order’ for airline tickets – Source

TBILISI/VALEMA, Finland (Reuters) – Some Russian men rushed to the border on Thursday after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization as traffic surged at border crossings with Finland and Georgia and airfares from Moscow skyrocketed.

Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilization since World War Two and backed a plan to annex vast swathes of Ukraine, warning the West that it would not be deceived when it said it was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia. Read more

Prices for flights from Moscow have soared to more than $5,000 for round-trip tickets to the nearest foreign locations, with most airline tickets completely sold out in the coming days.

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Social media groups popped up with advice on how to get out of Russia while a Russian news site provided a list of “Where to Flee Now from Russia”. There was a long tail at the border crossings with Georgia.

“The war is terrible,” Sergei, a Russian who declined to give his surname, told Reuters upon arrival in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. “It’s okay to be afraid of war, death, and so on.”

A Russian man named Alex told Reuters in Istanbul that he had left Russia for reasons including mobilization.

“Partial mobilization is one of the reasons I’m here,” he said. “It seems like a very bad move, and it could lead to a lot of problems for a lot of Russians.”

He said he felt that not many Russians would be willing to send them to fight.

Another Russian, named only as Vasily, arrived in Istanbul with his wife, teenage daughter, and six suitcases.

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

Bus crossing than usual

A truck driver who crossed the Russia-Kazakhstan border on Thursday near the Kazakh city of Ural told Reuters that he saw unusually heavy traffic from the Russian side. He requested anonymity for fear of complicating his future travel.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that reports of a mass exodus of men of military age were exaggerated. Asked about reports that men arrested in anti-war protests were given draft papers, Peskov said it was not against the law.

Russian news agencies, citing the Russian General Staff, citing the Russian General Staff, reported that about 10 thousand volunteers came to enlist in the Russian military campaign in Ukraine without waiting for summonses issued under partial mobilization.

A man smokes as he walks past a mural painted on a multi-storey building in support of the Russian army, in Moscow, Russia, on September 21, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozinina

Russia’s state-owned polling organizers say more than 70% of Russians support what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation,” although opinion polls leaked in July showed an even split among those who wanted to stop or continue the fighting.

The war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, unleashed an inflationary frenzy in the global economy and sparked a deep confrontation with the West.

A source in the tourism sector told Reuters that despair prevailed as people sought to find airline tickets from Russia.

“This is a panic request from people who are afraid they won’t be able to leave the country later – people are buying tickets who don’t care where they’re going,” the source said.

Finland said on Thursday it was considering barring most Russians from entering, as cross-border traffic increased from its eastern neighbor following Putin’s order. Read more

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the government was assessing the risks posed by individuals traveling through Finland, and was studying ways to sharply reduce transit to Russia.

Finnish border guards said traffic arriving at the border “intensified” overnight and remained high into Thursday’s daylight hours.

Better than ‘funeral’

“It is clear that the number has gone up,” Matti Petkaniti, head of international affairs for the Finnish border guard, told Reuters, adding that the situation was under control. Read more

At 1730 local time (1530 GMT) at the Valima Crossing, a three-hour drive from St Petersburg in Russia, traffic continued, according to a Reuters witness, with cars stretching over four lanes, each for a distance of 150 metres.

Russia’s Aeroflot said it would refund people who were unable to travel as planned because they received a phone call.

Russian police arrested more than 1,300 people in Russia on Wednesday in anti-mobilization protests, a rights group said. Read more

Despite the reported arrests, the anti-war protest movement Vesna (Spring) urged more protests across Russia on Saturday.

“In order for the protests to end with the fall of the regime, the number of protesters must increase. We need to get more and more people out, and for this we need your help. Otherwise, nothing will work,” the statement read. Her channel on Telegram.

“In the end, getting a fine or a few days of arrest is better than having a funeral.”

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Additional reporting by Mehmet Emin Caliskan, Bulent Usta and David Gauthier Villars in Istanbul and Olgas Oyezov in Almaty; writing by Caleb Davis and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Mark Heinrich, Frank-Jacques Daniel and William McClean.

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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