Within hours of Putin’s speech declaring a partial military mobilization on Wednesday, men all over Russia – some of who for months managed to ignore the war in Ukraine so far — were thrown into chaos as they were summoned to duty.
In a bid to turn the military tide in war with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered country’s first mobilisation since World War II, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he’d be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
In the biggest escalation of the war with Ukraine since the invasion begain on February 24 and amid Ukrainian troops recapturing key towns, Putin explicitly raised the threat of a nuclear conflict, approved a plan to annex a chunk of Ukraine the size of Hungary, and called up 3,00,000 reservists – .
Reservists are appointed to a military position in particular military units and are involved in all operational, mobilization, and combat activities of these military units. As a rule, in peacetime time reservists perform their duties 2–3 days per month and during an annual military camp training of 20 to 30 days.
Google Search ‘How to Leave Russia’ Spikes as Putin Calls up Reservists for War
Men across Russia, mostly reservists under 35 who served in the army and have junior military ranks, were reportedly handed written notices in their offices or at their homes. In some cases, they had their identity documents checked on the street and were told to appear for a health check, while others got orders by telephone, The Washington Post reported.
Russian President’s address, which followed a critical Russian battlefield defeat in northeastern Ukraine, sparked a sense of disquietude among the citizens which was clearly reflected in the Google search trends around the time of Putin’s speech on Wednesday.
As reservists were called on duty, anxious relatives began searching for ways to flee the country or otherwise avoid their loved ones being called for service. While most destinations from Russia have been cut off by sanctions, flights to the remaining few cities abroad still offering direct service to the country were suddenly sold out, reports said.
Google search trends in Russia showed a spike in queries like “how to leave Russia” and even “how to break an arm at home”, suggesting that some Russians were thinking of resorting to self-harm to avoid the war.
“They’ve been chasing me since February, trying to offer me a contract,” one Moscow resident, who served in the army and has prior combat experience, was quoted as saying in the The Washington Post report.
Flights to Cities Abroad Sell Out
Rumours of an imminent mobilisation have been abuzz since the beginning of the invasion in February and have prompted a mass exodus of people fleeing to neighboring Armenia and Georgia or taking the last flights to Turkey, Dubai or Tel Aviv.
Putin’s Wednesday speech, bringing the rumour to a reality, forced Russians in major cities to flee to the borders yet again, buying up all remaining flights to the few visa-free destinations still available to Russian passport holders
Some of those who missed out on tickets flocked to land borders with Finland and Mongolia, forming long traffic jams at the checkpoints, footage posted online suggested.
Online chatrooms also became active after Putin’s address and were offering live updates from the border crossings with people reporting whether guards had let them through.
“I have been expecting this since the end of February; I was trying to calm myself down hoping that this operation would be over, and I kept postponing this decision,” Anna, a Moscow resident and mother of two sons, one of whom is 24 years old, was quoted as saying. She said that she decided to send her children to Armenia this week.
“I don’t want my son to go to war, this is unacceptable,” said Anna. “What are the goals of this operation? Why do our children have to sacrifice their lives? We never wanted this war.”
Another Moscow resident, an IT worker whose age makes him eligible for military service but hasn’t been summoned yet, said he was speeding up his family’s emigration and hopes to leave in early October.
He said he feared that it will get worse and it will be too late to leave. ‘But we have some unfinished business here, and the only tickets I could find were already over $16,000, which I can’t afford,” he said.
One Moscow millionaire who lives partly in Italy but had returned to Russia for a few days said he was afraid that he could get stranded, even though he is not in the military reserve.
“There are no tickets, and it is getting more and more difficult to leave by road,” he said, adding that if there are additional restrictions due to the partial mobilisation, it might not be possible to leave.