Entering the arrivals area of Yerevan Airport in Armenia, Sergei looked lost and exhausted after hastily fleeing Russia with his son fearing he would be sent to the Ukrainian front.
The 44-year-old, who declined to be named, is one of tens of thousands of Russians who have fled the country since the invasion of Ukraine, a phenomenon that appears to have increased since President Vladimir Putin announced it. Partial mobilization of reservists on Wednesday.
Officials have said they will call up 300,000 reservists, but many Russians fear a wider mobilization.
“The situation in Russia made me decide to leave. Yes, we left Russia because of the mobilization,” Sergei told AFP. His 17-year-old son Nikolai agreed: “We decided not to wait until the draft, so we went.”
He stressed that he did not panic, emphasized the prevailing “uncertainty” and expressed his “sadness” over what had happened. This opinion is shared by other Russians who arrived on the same flight to Armenia, the Caucasus, where they can stay up to 180 days without a visa.
“Going to war in the 21st century is not good, to say the least,” said Alexei, 39. He doesn’t know if he will ever be able to return to Russia, because “it all depends on the situation.”
Another Russian, who declined to be named for “security reasons”, said he was “shocked” when the mobilization was announced. He added that in Russia “almost nobody supports this war” and continued: “It’s very painful, I just want it to end.”
Since Vladimir Putin’s mobilization, most of those who have arrived in Yerevan are men of fighting age, many of whom seem scared and unwilling to share their reasons for leaving.
According to specialist NGO OVD-Info, on Wednesday more than 1,300 people were arrested across Russia during protests against the mobilization.
afraid to pack
Dimitri, 45, explained that he fled to Armenia with a simple suitcase, leaving behind his wife and two children, “not imagining” what he would do when he arrived. “I don’t want to go to war. I don’t want to die in this pointless war. It is a fratricidal war,” he said.
According to Google Trends, an app that tracks search trends on Google, after the mobilization was announced Wednesday morning, searches for “Leave Russia” increased nearly 100-fold.
For his part, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that reports of a mass exodus of Russians were “greatly exaggerated”. However, flights from Russia, which have become very limited and expensive after Western sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine, are fully booked in the coming days to almost all destinations still available.
Many on social media fear the imminent closure of the border, which could prevent Russians from leaving, even overland.
Speaking to AFP, the 23-year-old, who runs the project in Moscow, said he quickly booked a spot after the mobilization was announced, explaining that he planned to leave Russia in October. “I’m afraid of mobilization,” he said, “I’m one of those threatening to call me.” The young man added that among his friends are “those who joined the demonstrations (against the mobilization) because they have nothing to lose. Others know the laws and consult lawyers to determine if they are at risk of being recruited.”
According to the latest figures released by the Armenian Migration Service in June, about 40,000 Russians have arrived in the country since the invasion of Ukraine began. According to official figures, 50,000 Russians arrived in neighboring Georgia during the same period.
I’m Harold O’Connor and I work as an author and editor for News Unrolled, a news website dedicated to delivering the latest world events. With my in-depth research skills, passion for news writing, and keen eye for detail, I strive to provide readers with accurate information on current affairs from around the globe.