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

ISTANBUL – Military-aged men fled Russia on Friday, filling planes and causing traffic jams at border crossings to avoid arrest to fight in Ukraine after the Kremlin dispatched partial military.

According to Yandex Maps, a Russian online map service, a 10-kilometer (6-mile) queue was formed on the road leading to the southern border with Georgia.

The stream of cars was so long at the border with Kazakhstan that some people abandoned their cars and walked – just as some Ukrainians did after Russia invaded their country on February 24.

Meanwhile, dozens of flights out of Russia – with fares selling at sky-high prices – have taken the men to international destinations such as Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Serbia, where Russians do not need a visa.

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

“I oppose this war, and I will not participate in it. I’m not going to be a killer. I won’t kill people,” said the man who identified himself as just Yevgeny to avoid possible retribution for his family being left behind in Russia.

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

Yevgeny decided to flee after Putin announced a partial military convocation on Wednesday. The total number of reserve people involved could be as high as 300,000.

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

The Nasha Niva, one of the oldest independent newspapers in Belarus, reports that the Belarusian security services have been ordered to track down Russians who escaped from military service, looking for them in hotels and rented apartments. then notify the Russian authorities.

German government officials expressed a desire to help Russian men who defected and they called for a European solution.

“Those who bravely stand up to Putin’s regime and thereby put themselves in danger can apply for asylum in Germany on the grounds of persecution,” said a spokeswoman for German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. political pressure”.

The spokesman, Maximilian Kall, said deserters and those who refuse to enlist will receive asylum in Germany if they are at risk of severe persecution, although every case is examined individually. odd.

But first they must 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.

The EU banned non-stop flights between its 27 member states and Russia in the wake of the Ukraine attack, and recently agreed to restrict the issuance of Schengen visas, allowing free movement across much of Europe.

Four of the five EU countries that border Russia – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland – also recently decided to refuse Russian tourists.

Some European officials see the Russian fugitives as a potential security risk. They hope that not opening the border will increase pressure against Putin at home.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Thursday that many of the fugitives “were fine killing Ukrainians. They did not object after that. It is not right to consider them as conscientious objectors.”

One EU country that still accepts Russians with Schengen visas is Finland, which shares a 1,340 km (830 mi) border with Russia.

The Finnish border force said on Friday that the number of people entering from Russia had increased sharply, with media reporting a 107% increase from the previous week.

The Finnish Border Force said that at Vaalimaa, one of the busiest junctions on the border, the line of vehicles stretched for half a kilometer (a third of a mile).

Finnish broadcaster MTV conducted interviews with Russian men who had just entered Finland at the Virolahti border crossing, including with a man named Yuri from Moscow, who said there were no “sane people.” strong” who wants to go to war.

A Russian man from St.Petersburg, Andrei Balakirov, said he had mentally prepared to leave Russia for half a year but paused until he was deployed.

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

Valery, who is from Samara traveling to Spain, agrees, calling the mobilization “a great tragedy”.

“It is difficult to describe what is happening. I feel sorry for those forced to fight against their will. I’ve heard stories that people have been given this order right on the street – it’s 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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