Tens of thousands of men ‘escaping’ from Russia – Over 200,000 conscripted, Shoigu says


The long journey of Russians trying to escape conscription – Moscow plans to draft an extra 300,000 men

More than 200,000 men have been drafted to date since Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed a “partial” conscription on Russia for the war in Ukraine two weeks ago, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said today.

As the minister said, Moscow plans to enlist an additional 300,000 men based on the same decision.

“The training of the personnel of the (new) units formed is taking place in 80 military fields and six training centers,” Shoigu said during a government meeting, assuring that these recruits will be sent to the front with other units that have already fought. in Ukraine.

According to him, “a significant number” of people presented themselves voluntarily to the country’s conscription service before receiving an official conscription order. However, he did not mention their number.

But the draft has also caused widespread concern in Russia and opposition protests in some regions.

It has also prompted tens of thousands of men to leave the country in a hurry to avoid conscription.

In addition, there have been many blunders with the enlistment of men who do not meet the requirements — such as students, the elderly or the chronically ill — which the Kremlin has pointed out and condemned.

Today the Russian Defense Minister once again assured that no soldiers performing their mandatory military service will be sent to the Ukrainian front, while the authorities launched on October 1 the so-called “autumn” conscription aimed at recruiting 120,000 soldiers.

The long journey of Russians trying to escape conscription

After Vladimir Putin launched a partial mobilization to bolster the forces fighting in Ukraine, Timofey and Andrei, two brothers from Moscow, tried to book plane tickets to leave the country. But by the time they got online, prices had skyrocketed to such heights that they couldn’t buy the last remaining tickets.

Instead, they got into the car. Their father drove them all night and crossing 700 kilometers took them to Minsk, in neighboring Belarus. There, the next morning they boarded a flight to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

“We thought that maybe we would be forced to cross the border illegally through the forests if they didn’t let us leave Russia,” said Andrei, 26, speaking from Tashkent. Both brothers wanted to withhold their last name to protect their family back home.

Putin’s mobilization has led tens of thousands of Russians to flee the country, often by detours.

Kirill Ponomarev, a 24-year-old journalist from Voronet near Ukraine, tried to reach Yerevan, Armenia. He had to travel for a week by car, train and plane, covering over 10,000 kilometers.

Even before Putin’s announcement, Ponomarev was planning to leave: he had already booked a ticket to Yerevan but his flight was still six days away.

The day after Putin’s speech, Ponomarev decided it was too dangerous to wait. The regional governor signed a decree prohibiting the reservists from leaving the area. Ponomarev packed up in less than an hour before starting a 600km journey by car to Volgograd, near the border with Kazakhstan. There he found a cheap train ticket to Tajikistan, which usually carries Central Asian migrant workers to and from Russia.

“My feeling was that 90% of the people in my carriage were Russians of military age. “One was looking at the other silently, but we all understood what was happening,” he said. “At the border, a guard got on the train and said ‘Wow, I’ve never seen so many men on this train, where are you all going?'” he added. “They all said they were going to visit relatives, their grandmother or their girlfriend.”

The train took 17 hours to reach the Kazakh city of Atyrau on the Caspian Sea. There, Ponomarev found a flight to Kazakhstan’s financial capital, Almaty, some 2,000 kilometers to the east. From there he boarded a flight to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. He tried to make the most of the 11 hours he spent there, going to the beach and swimming in the Gulf, before finally flying to Yerevan.


Tashkent and Yerevan, like other capitals of former Soviet republics that allowed Russians to enter visa-free, have now become havens, especially for people in the Russian urban middle class who can move quickly and have the resources to escape.

“We booked a room in a hostel for two weeks – and literally everyone there was Russian,” said Timofey, one of the brothers who went from Moscow to Tashkent. “If you walk around the city, you see a lot of Russians, a lot of tech workers sitting and working in cafes.”

Uzbekistan allows Russians to stay in the country without a visa for 90 days and has said it will not deport Russians who arrive there trying to avoid conscription. Andrei and Timofey plan to move to Turkey where Russians can obtain residence permits relatively easily.

“I don’t expect to return to Russia in the next six months or year,” Andrei said.

For Ponomarev, the journalist, the biggest culture shock since moving to Yerevan was the level of democracy and relative freedom of the press, compared to Russia where all independent media had been shut down.

“You can feel a kind of freedom,” he said. “You feel it’s a democratic country.”


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