September 27, 2022

Dmitri flew to Armenia with just one small bag, leaving behind his wife and children, and added to the thousands who fled Russia to avoid serving in the war against Ukraine.

“I don’t want to go to war,” he told AFP. ‘I don’t want to die in this senseless war. This is a fratricidal war.’

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision this week to mobilize several hundred thousand reservists has sparked another exodus across national borders.

“The situation in Russia would make everyone want to leave,” said another newcomer, 44-year-old Sergei, who arrived with his teenage son.

He looked lost and exhausted at an Armenian airport and confirmed that they had fled “because of the mobilization”, but refused to give his full name.

“We choose not to wait until we are called up,” says his 17-year-old son Nikolai. “I’m not panicking, but I feel this uncertainty,” he added.

It was a feeling shared by other Russians who came to Yerevan on the same flight.

“It’s wrong to go to war in the 21st century — to say the least,” Alexei, 39, told AFP.

He was not sure if he would ever be able to return to Russia, he added. “It all depends on the situation.”

>> ‘Let’s see if I go back’: departing Russians unsure about return after mobilization order

Military-age men made up the majority of those who arrived from Moscow on the last flight. Many did not dare to speak.

Yerevan has become a major destination for Russians fleeing since the war began on February 24.

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Since then, at least 40,000 Russians have arrived in the small Caucasus country, which was once part of the Soviet Union, according to Armenia.

Nearly 50,000 Russians have fled to neighboring Georgia, national statistics from June show.

The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed “fake” reports that Russians eligible for mobilization were rushing for the exit.

“A lot of false information has come out about this,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

But flights from Russia were nearly fully booked for the next week to cities in the nearby former Soviet countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

And Putin’s summons didn’t just lead to an exit – there were protests as well.

Police arrested more than 1,300 people on Wednesday at anti-mobilization demonstrations across Russia, according to a group following the protests, OVD-Info.

There were fears on social networks that Russia would seal its borders.

But German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Thursday that Russian deserters in her country “can receive international protection”.

‘Almost no one supports the war’

Finnish border authorities said on Thursday they had seen an increase in traffic from Russia following Putin’s announcement. But they emphasized that the influx was still relatively low.

A row of cars about 150 meters long could be seen at the border crossing of Vaalimaa in Finland on Thursday afternoon.

“It was busy in the morning and at night, but now it’s starting to calm down,” Elias Laine, a border guard there told AFP.

A 23-year-old project manager from Moscow told AFP that the mobilization had brought forward his plans to leave Russia in October.

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“I am eligible for the call,” he explained.

“Some people went to protests because they have nothing to lose. Others are investigating laws and talking to lawyers to find out if they can be sued,” he said.

And back in Yerevan, another Russian who had managed to get out said he was “shocked” by the announcement of Putin’s mobilization.

“Almost no one supports the war,” he said. “This is all so painful. I want this to end soon.”

He declined to give his first or last name, citing security concerns.

(AFP)