Thousands of men fleeing Russia are choking the country's borders in an attempt to escape military call-up for the war in Ukraine. This comes as Russia's partial mobilization began in several regions of the country, especially in the Caucasus and the Russian Far East.
Long lines of vehicles were seen queuing up at the border crossings into Kazakhstan, Georgia and Mongolia. Images doing rounds on social media show vehicles lining up at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Georgia-Russia border overnight Wednesday, according to CNN.
The queue continued to grow on Thursday, with reports claiming it was over five to six kilometres long. Russians do not need a visa to enter Georgia.
Besides Georgia, the border crossing into Mongolia and Kazakhstan too witnessed chaos as cars lined up. According to Kazhak authorities, they could not restrict Russian citizens in the country.
Many are fleeing to neighbouring Finland too. Prime Minister Sanna Marin has said that her country will take steps to put "an end" to Russian tourism and transit through Finland. "If the security situation at border crossings is assessed to have deteriorated, new solutions are possible to limit visas, for example restricting border crossings from Russia to Finland," western media quoted Marin.
Flights out of Russia to non-visa destinations too witnessed a huge rush the last two days. Ticket prices to Istanbul and Belgrade peaked just after the military call-up was announced.
However, Kremlin has dismissed these reports, calling them "exaggerated."
Following the reports of mass fleeing, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on Russians to protest against the "partial mobilization". In his daily video address to Ukraine, Zelensky said that thousands of Russian soldiers have already died in the nearly seven-month-old war. "Tens of thousands are wounded and maimed. Want more? No? Then protest. Fight back. Run away. Or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are options for you to survive,” Zelensky said.
Meanwhile, the referendum will begin in Russian-occupied territories Friday. The five-day-long voting will cover four regions, including Donetsk and Kherson regions.
Local authorities were seen urging people in Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions to vote from home, saying that ballot boxes can be brought to them. "You can vote directly from home! From 23 to 27 September you can vote at home," an official was heard saying in a video that circulated on social media.