Immediately after Vladimir Putin signed the decree on partial mobilization, scores of young men – many with families or girlfriends – rushed for airports, train stations and border crossings hoping to escape the draft. The most dramatic scene was the “exodus” at the Upper Lars checkpoint along the Russian-Georgian border. We’ve collected several stories of young people (all just over 30) who were crossing the border at the time.
Dodging the mobilization through the Caucasus
Already in the first days after the mobilization measures were put into effect, throngs had emerged at the border crossings with Georgia and Kazakhstan. Giant lines – mostly made up of men – appeared at airports in Moscow and other major Russian cities: tickets to Turkey, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and even Belarus sold out instantaneously.
Thirty-three-year-old industrial climber Oleg (name changed) shared his experience: “Around the 21st things looked dicey, and I saw that in one Telegram chat a friend was going to buy tickets for her boyfriend and his friend. I decided to get tickets [too] while they were still available. There weren’t any left for Vladikavkaz – only incredibly expensive ones. We started looking at tickets to Mineralnye Vody. The guys couldn’t fly out immediately because of work, so we decided to take a flight for September 25th.”
A similar situation happened to Mikhail (name changed), a 30-year-old worker in a workshop that makes mock-ups: “It all started when I came home after work and I realized that I couldn’t put up with what was happening and I had to act. That same evening, I bought a ticket to Vladikavkaz. It was my first time doing something like that – I usually plan all my trips in advance. The next day I set off. Having visited all my relatives and friends, having received moral support from them, I went to the airport. Initially, I intended to cross the border on a bicycle, since even then there was information about big traffic jams at the entrance to the checkpoint.”
Thirty-three-year-old advertising specialist Dmitri describes the circumstances of his departure: “I bought a ticket to Mineralnye Vody pretty quickly. The next day I had a flight in the morning. My wife accompanied me and was crying, my little son was crying. But the decision had been made, and I had to act quickly.”
According to Oleg, his fellow travelers were completely unprepared to cross the border: “It was a band, and they just had a bunch of things: several guitars, a suitcase with video equipment, sound equipment and then backpacks with their things.”
Thirty-two-year-old IT specialist Vasily (name changed) went by car from St Petersburg to Vladikavkaz on the night of September 22. His journey to the border took two days, followed by three more days in the traffic jam at the Upper Lars checkpoint.
On the Russian internet – Telegram channels, chats, etc. – reports about the situation at the checkpoint continuously came in. Cars near the border got stuck in a traffic jam that stretched for more than 17 km. The situation became more and more tense. It was extremely difficult to move forward.