‘I don’t want to die for someone else’s ambitions’: Russian men face mobilization


Andrei Alekseev, a 27-year-old engineer from Yekaterinburg, was among several men in line who fled Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization orders.

Cars had to pass through checks at the Russian and Kazakh borders, both of which lasted about two hours.

Alexev woke up to the news Putin’s mobilization order On Wednesday morning he knew he had to flee Russia. He met his friends that night to discuss their next steps and decided to take risks and leave Russia with no plan in mind.

Putin on Saturday signed into law the military service, setting a prison sentence of up to 10 years for evading military service due to mobilization, and up to 15 years in prison for war desertion.

Vehicles at the border crossing point with Russia in Valima in Virulahti, Finland, on September 24, 2022.

The legal amendments also introduced the concepts of “mobilization, martial law and wartime” into Russian criminal law. Putin also signed a decree giving university students a reprieve from mobilization.

“At the border, all the men were asked if they served in the military and what their military service class was,” Alexeyev told CNN.

“I felt the border guards were very understanding, however, I had friends who crossed into Kazakhstan at a different checkpoint and were met with grueling questions, and it took seven hours to cross,” he told CNN.

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The decree signed by Putin appears to allow for broader mobilization than he proposed in the speech broadcast on Wednesday. According to the letter, 300,000 reservists would be enlisted at the front, breaking promises earlier in the war that there would be no mobilization. However, the decree itself does not set a maximum number of people that can be mobilized.

“The mobilization is called ‘partial’, but no criteria for this bias have been established, neither geographically nor in terms of criteria,” wrote Ekaterina Shulman, a professor of Russian political science, on her social media page.

“According to this provision, anyone can be recruited, except for workers of the military-industrial complex.”

Passengers of a bus from Russia to Finland head to border control at the Valima border checkpoint in Verolahtien, Finland, on September 23, 2022.

Men between the ages of 18 and 60 across Russia are now facing mobilization as reservists to fight Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

Once Alekseev and his wife crossed into Kazakhstan, they found that all the hotels in the border towns were overbooked, so the couple drove by car to Astana, the capital of the country, where they are now looking for an apartment.

“Three days ago, I didn’t think I’d be in Kazakhstan and looking for an apartment here. We’re planning to stay for two months, then maybe I’ll go to Uzbekistan to renew my stay, I’ll look for international companies,” he told CNN.

Kirill Ponomarev, 23, who also fled Russia through the Kazakhstan border, said he had trouble booking a ticket. The night before Putin’s speech, he was looking for exit tickets from Russia.

“For some reason, I couldn’t buy a ticket the night before while waiting for Putin’s speech. Then I fell asleep without buying a ticket, and when I woke up, ticket prices jumped,” Ponomarev told CNN.

The guys rushed to the border and exchanged tips on Telegram channels and among friends. One-way flights from Russia sold out within hours of the packing announcement.

Four of the five European Union countries bordering Russia have banned entry for Russians on tourist visas, while queues to cross land borders from Russia into former Soviet states Kazakhstan, Georgia and Armenia take more than 24 hours to cross.

Passengers disembark from a bus from Saint Petersburg, Russia, after arriving at Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, on September 24, 2022.

The Kremlin mocked the Russians’ reactions, calling them “hysterical and overly emotional.”

Meanwhile, protests erupted across Russia on Wednesday followed by brutal arrests with reports of detained protesters handing draft letters to police stations. According to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info, authorities have detained more than 1,300 people in at least 43 cities across Russia.

While all men under the age of 60 in Russia now share a fear of conscription, Putin’s mobilization disproportionately affects the poorest and ethnically diverse regions of Russia, according to Alexandra Garmashapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, who spoke to CNN.

“In Buryatia, the mobilization is not partial, everyone is mobilized. The summons are coming to students, pensioners, parents of many children and people with disabilities,” she told CNN.

Garmazhapova, whose organization provides legal aid to mobilized men and their relatives, says that every day she hears multiple stories of people being drafted without any regard for age, military history or health conditions.

“Yesterday afternoon, a taxi driver went to refuel the car, and when he was standing at a gas station, a bus with the recruits passed by,” she told CNN.

She said, “The bus stopped suddenly when they saw him and put him on this bus. They didn’t give him any things to take, nothing. His car was left at this gas station, and then their relatives took it.”

Those men who remained in Russia, now take extra care when leaving their home. Kirill, a 27-year-old IT professional from Saint Petersburg who declined to give his surname, said he started considering a move after most of his friends had already received draft letters.

“I adore St. Petersburg, but I’m starting to think about moving. Today, I’ve lived another day, and tomorrow it might not be safe to take a taxi without the risk of being drafted,” Kirill told CNN.

“Right now, I’m watching the situation and how it evolves. For me, going to war or going to prison are two bad choices, so I hope to avoid both,” he said.

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Kirill, who is half Ukrainian, said he could not imagine going to war and killing Ukrainians. “I will not be able to explain my actions to relatives who are in Ukraine. We talk every day,” he said.

Some of the men were fortunate to find out news of the mobilization orders from abroad. Ilya, 35, was on vacation with his family in Turkey when he received a text message from his co-workers in Kurgan, a city in Russia’s Ural region, that his office had received a draft of his letter.

His wife and child returned to Russia while he remained in Turkey. “I don’t want war, I don’t want to die for someone else’s ambitions, I don’t want to prove anything to anyone, it was a hard decision not to go back to Russia, very hard, I don’t know when I can now see my family and loved ones,” Ilya told CNN.

Ilya served in the Russian army for years, so he is considered in the reserves. “I am at a loss and do not know what to do, how to support my family because I am far from them. I am drowning in debt due to such sudden forced decisions, and I am morally exhausted,” he said. .

Since the start of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, economic sanctions against Russia have made any international transactions close to impossible. Elijah said he wanted to be reunited with his family.


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