‘Full chaos’: Over 100,000 Russians flood neighboring countries to flee army call-up

TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia and Kazakhstan said Tuesday that tens of thousands of Russians had flooded into their countries from neighboring Russia since the announcement of a partial military mobilization to fight in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week announced the call-up of thousands of reservists, sparking protests across the country and a rush among Russian men for the borders.

Fyodor said he had fled to Russia’s border with Kazakhstan spooked by reports that even the infirm and elderly were being called up to fight.

Like other people AFP spoke to, he asked not to provide his full name.

“There is full chaos [in Russia],” the 24-year-old said. “We don’t understand what will happen.”

He decided to leave for Kazakhstan on Saturday morning “as a precautionary measure” to “take a head start, just in case.”

Russians arrive in Kazakhstan outside the railway station in the city of Uralsk (Oral) on September 27, 2022. (AFP)

On Tuesday Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians had entered the country since mobilization was announced.

It took Fyodor about 48 hours, including a five-kilometer (three-mile) walk to the border and a six-hour queue, before he reached the northern Kazakh city of Oral.

“It was raining, it was cold, but six hours of wait… well, that was still reasonable given the circumstances,” he said.

Vladislav, a 25-year-old bartender, found shelter in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Monday evening.

In Russia, he said, “I could go to work or to do the groceries and never come back… I don’t want to die.”

“A week ago, I could not imagine I’d be in Kazakhstan,” he told AFP, adding that he “wanted to thank the Kazakh people for welcoming him so nicely.”

Russians arrive in Kazakhstan at the Syrym border crossing point on September 27, 2022. (AFP)

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Tuesday his country would ensure the safety of Russians fleeing “a hopeless situation.”

“This is a political and humanitarian issue,” Tokayev said.

“The territorial integrity of states must be unshakeable,” Tokayev added.

Kazakhstan has condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and called for respect of territorial integrity, as Russia held annexation referendums in four Ukrainian regions. The votes were widely derided as a sham.

Russians also flocked to the Black Sea nation of Georgia.

People carrying luggage walk past vehicles with Russian license plates on the Russian side of the border toward the Nizhniy Lars customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia near the town of Vladikavkaz, on September 25, 2022. (AFP)

On Tuesday, Georgia said the number of Russians arriving each day has nearly doubled since the draft was announced.

“Four to five days ago 5,000-6,000 [Russians] were arriving in Georgia daily. The number has grown to some 10,000 per day,” Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri told journalists.

Georgia and its neighbor Armenia, which do not require visas for Russians, have been major destinations for Russians fleeing since the war began on February 24.

Over the first four months of the war, nearly 50,000 Russians fled to Georgia and another 40,000 to Armenia.

On Tuesday, the local interior ministry in a Russian region that borders Georgia said there was a tailback of around 5,500 cars waiting to cross the Georgian border, calling the situation “extremely tense.”

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar launcher at a position along the front line in the Donetsk region on September 26, 2022, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (ANATOLII STEPANOV / AFP)

The ministry added that a mobile draft office will be set up at the border in the “near future.”

The White House said Tuesday that Russians fleeing the war could seek asylum in the US.

“We believe that regardless of their nationality, they may apply for asylum in the United States,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Arrivals will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, she said.

On Monday, a young man shot a Russian military officer at an enlistment office to protest the army call-up.

There have also been scattered arson attacks against enlistment offices and protests in Russian cities that have resulted in at least 2,000 arrests.

Russia is seeking to bolster its military as its Ukraine offensive has bogged down and sapped its forces, and Kyiv has reclaimed swathes of territory in a blistering counter-offensive.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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