There is nothing like fear for your life and safety to open your eyes to reality. That’s the lesson we can take away from the exodus that is now taking place as Putin announced the drafting of approximately 300,000 military, the biggest conscription drive since World War Two. Fighting the “special operation” in Ukraine is fine for others, but not so fine when you yourself may have to fight it at the risk of your life.
Although there’s been an ongoing exodus of people from Russia since the war in Ukraine began, on Tuesday, still in advance of a speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin was slated to give about the invasion of Ukraine, Google searches in Russia for information about how to leave the country spiked, Latvian newspaper Meduza reported. Putin outlined plans to call up military reservists for active duty. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu later clarified that about 300,000 individuals with military training would be immediately called up for service out of a pool of about 25 million Russians who could be eligible for conscription.
One-way plane ticket prices for flights leaving Russia have skyrocketed or largely sold out. Flights to the few available destinations—like Belgrade, Serbia, and Istanbul, Turkey—were already sold out for the coming days, NPR reported on Wednesday morning. The few tickets remaining were selling for the equivalent of nearly $10,000.
Despite the rush, it’s not easy to leave Russia. One of the problems facing those trying to flee is that there aren’t many countries where Russians can enter without a visa, and few airlines still fly to Russia since the European Union imposed a flight embargo in response to the war in Ukraine.
At this point it’s unclear whether the Russian government will close the border to able-bodied men of military age–although that seems to be a distinct possibility–but it’s obvious that thousands of people are not willing to stick around to find out.
Though surveys have suggested widespread domestic backing for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, mass conscription may be a risky move domestically after past Kremlin promises it would not happen and a string of battlefield failures in Ukraine. “Every normal person is (concerned),” said one man, identifying himself only as Sergey, disembarking in Belgrade after a flight from Moscow. “It is OK to be afraid of the war.”
For some, fleeing is more than just self-protection against the possibility of being drafted, it’s a moral responsibility and a way to protest. “I understood the best way to act against Putin’s regime would be my emigration from Russia,” Yevgeny Lyamin, a 23-year-old Russian immigrant to Great Britain told the BBC in March.
Putin’s announcement has also made it obvious to many that his repeated claims that Russia was beating the Ukrainians was nothing but lies and anti-war protests in 38 Russian cities saw more than 1,300 people arrested on Wednesday, a monitoring group said. Some of the detainees had been ordered to report to enlistment offices on Thursday, the first full day of conscription, independent news outlets said. More rallies are planned for the weekend. Russia said reports of a mass exodus were exaggerated.