Russian call-up sparks exodus by some men as air fares soar

  • Air tickets from Moscow sell out
  • Heavier traffic at Russia’s land borders
  • ‘Panic demand’ for air tickets – source

TBILISI/VAALIMAA, Finland, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Some Russian men rushed for the borders on Thursday after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization, with traffic at border crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing.

Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilization since World War Two and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he’d be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia. read more

Prices for air tickets out of Moscow soared above $5,000 for one-way tickets to the nearest foreign locations, with most air tickets sold out completely for coming days.

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Social media groups popped up with advice on how to get out of Russia while one news site in Russian gave a list of “where to run away right now from Russia.” There were long tailbacks at border crossings with Georgia.

“War is horrible,” Sergei, a Russian man who declined to give his surname, told Reuters as he arrived in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. “It’s okay to be afraid of war and of death and such things.”

One Russian man who gave his name as Alex told Reuters in Istanbul that he had left Russia partly due to the mobilization.

“The partial mobilization is one of the reasons why I am here,” he said. “A very poor step it seems to be, and it can lead to lots of problems for lots of Russians.”

He said he felt that not many Russians would want to be sent to fight.

Another Russian, who gave his name 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’m already 59 years old and my son lives abroad,” he said.

CROSSINGS BUSIER THAN USUAL

A truck driver who crossed the Russian-Kazakh border on Thursday near the Kazakh city of Oral told Reuters he saw unusually heavy traffic from the Russian side. He asked not to be identified, fearing that it might complicate his future travel.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that reports of an exodus of draft-age men were exaggerated. Asked about reports that men detained at anti-war protests were being given draft papers, Peskov said it was not against the law.

A man smokes while walking past a mural, which was painted on a multi-storey building in support of the Russian army, in Moscow, Russia September 21, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Russian state-owned pollsters say that more than 70% of Russians support what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation”, although polling leaked in July showed an even split between those who wanted to stop or continue fighting.

The war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, unleashed an inflationary wave through the global economy and triggered a deepening confrontation with the West.

A tourism industry source told Reuters that there was desperation as people sought to find air tickets out of Russia.

“This is panic demand from people who are afraid they won’t be able to leave the country later – people are buying tickets not caring where they fly to,” the source said.

Traffic arriving at Finland’s eastern border with Russia “intensified” overnight and remained elevated into daytime hours on Thursday, the Finnish Border Guard said.

BETTER THAN ‘A FUNERAL’

“The number clearly has picked up,” the Finnish border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, told Reuters, adding the situation was under control. read more

Traffic from Russia was busier than normal at the Vaalimaa crossing with three lanes of cars each stretching for 300-400 meters (yards), a border official there told Reuters.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland began turning away Russians from crossings at midnight on Monday, saying they should not travel while their country is at war with Ukraine.

The Russian national airline, Aeroflot, said it would refund people who were unable to fly as planned because they had received a call-up.

Russian police detained more than 1,300 people in Russia on Wednesday at protests denouncing mobilization, a rights group said. read more

Despite the reported arrests, the anti-war protest movement Vesna (Spring) posted a call on its Telegram channel for more protests across Russia on Saturday evening.

“In order for the protest to end with the fall of the regime, the number of protesters must grow. We need to get more and more people out, and for this we need your help. Otherwise, nothing will work,” it said.

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

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Additional reporting by Mehmet Emin Caliskan, Bulent Usta, David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul, Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty, Writing by Caleb Davis and Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Mark Heinrich, Frank Jack Daniel, William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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