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Dmitri flew to Armenia with just one small bag, leaving behind his wife and children, adding to the thousands fleeing Russia to avoid serving in the war against Ukraine.

“I don’t want to go to war,” he told AFP. “I don’t want to die in this senseless war. It’s a fratricidal war.”

The decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to mobilize several hundred thousand reservists this week has caused a new exodus beyond the country’s borders.

“The situation in Russia would make anyone want to leave,” said another new arrival, Sergei, 44, who arrived with his teenage son.

Looking lost and exhausted at an Armenian airport, he confirmed they had fled “because of the mobilization”, but declined to give his full name.

“We chose not to wait to be called,” said her 17-year-old son, Nikolai. “I’m not panicking, but I feel this uncertainty,” he added.

It was a sentiment shared by other Russians arriving on the same flight to Yerevan.

“It’s wrong to go to war in the 21st century, to say the least,” Alexei, 39, told AFP.

He was unsure if he would ever be able to return to Russia, he added. “It completely depends on the situation.”

>> ‘Let’s see if I come back’: Departing Russians not sure if they’ll come back after mobilization order

Men of military age made up the majority of those arriving on the last flight from Moscow. Many were reluctant to speak.

Yerevan has become a major destination for fleeing Russians since the war began on February 24.

Since then, Armenia says at least 40,000 Russians have arrived in the small Caucasus country, which was once part of the Soviet Union.

Nearly 50,000 Russians have fled to neighboring Georgia, according to national statistics in June.

The Kremlin on Thursday called “false” reports that Russians eligible for mobilization were rushing to the exit.

“A lot of false information has emerged about this,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

But flights from Russia were nearly full for the coming week to cities in neighboring former Soviet countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

And Putin’s appeal order didn’t just spark a rush out — there were protests, too.

Police arrested more than 1,300 people on Wednesday during anti-mobilization protests across Russia, according to protest monitoring group OVD-Info.

On social media, there were fears that Russia would seal its borders.

But German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Thursday that Russian deserters could “obtain international protection” in her country.

“Hardly anyone supports the war”

Finnish border authorities said on Thursday they had seen an increase in traffic from Russia following Putin’s announcement. But they stressed that the influx was still at relatively low levels.

At the Vaalimaa border post in Finland, there was a line of cars about 150 meters long that could be seen on Thursday afternoon.

“It was busy in the morning and evening, but now it’s starting to calm down,” Elias Laine, a border guard, told AFP.

A 23-year-old project manager from Moscow told AFP the mobilization had advanced his plan to leave Russia by October.

“I am eligible for the summons,” he explained.

“Some people went to protest because they had nothing to lose. Others are studying the laws and talking to lawyers about whether they can be enrolled,” he said.

And back in Yerevan, another Russian who had managed to get out said he was “shocked” by the announcement of Putin’s mobilization.

“Hardly anyone supports the war,” he said. “It’s all so painful. I want it all to end soon.”

He declined to give his first or last name, citing security concerns.


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