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Russian Men Join Exodus, Fear Call-Up  09/24 08:48

   Military-aged men fled Russia in droves Friday, filling planes and causing 
traffic jams at border crossings to avoid being rounded up to fight in Ukraine 
following the Kremlin's partial military mobilization.

   ISTANBUL (AP) -- Military-aged men fled Russia in droves Friday, filling 
planes and causing traffic jams at border crossings to avoid being rounded up 
to fight in Ukraine following the Kremlin's partial military mobilization.

   Queues stretching for 10 kilometers (6 miles) formed on a road leading to 
the southern border with Georgia, according to Yandex Maps, a Russian online 
map service.

   The lines of cars were so long at the border with Kazakhstan that some 
people abandoned their vehicles and proceeded on foot -- just as some 
Ukrainians did after Russia invaded their country on Feb. 24.

   Meanwhile, dozens of flights out of Russia -- with tickets sold at sky-high 
prices -- carried men to international destinations such as Turkey, Armenia, 
Azerbaijan and Serbia, where Russians don't need visas.

   Among those who reached Turkey was a 41-year-old who landed in Istanbul with 
a suitcase and a backpack and plans to start a new life in Israel.

   "I'm against this war, and I'm not going to be a part of it. I'm not going 
to be a murderer. I'm not going to kill people," said the man, who identified 
himself only as Yevgeny to avoid potential retribution against his family left 
behind in Russia.

   He referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal."

   Yevgeny decided to flee after Putin announced a partial military call-up on 
Wednesday. The total number of reservists involved could be as high as 300,000.

   Some Russian men also fled to neighboring Belarus, Russia's close ally. But 
that carried risk.

   The Nasha Niva newspaper, one of the oldest independent newspapers in 
Belarus, reported that Belarusian security services were ordered to track down 
Russians fleeing from the draft, find them in hotels and rented apartments and 
report them to Russian authorities.

   Russian authorities tried to calm an anxious public about the draft.

   Legislators introduced a bill Friday that would suspend or reduce loan 
payments for Russians called up for duty. News outlets emphasized that draftees 
would have the same status as professional soldiers and be paid the same, and 
that their civilian jobs would be held for them.

   The Defense Ministry said that many people who work in high tech, 
communications or finance will be exempt from the call-up "to ensure the 
operations'' of those fields, the Tass news agency reported.

   White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the fact that Russians 
were leaving their country to avoid conscription shows that the war in Ukraine 
is "unpopular."

   "What Putin is doing -- he is not coming from a place of strength," 
Jean-Pierre told reporters. "He is coming from a place of weakness."

   The exodus unfolded as a Kremlin-orchestrated referendum got underway 
seeking to make occupied regions of Ukraine part of Russia. Kyiv and the West 
condemned it as a rigged election whose result was preordained by Moscow.

   German government officials voiced a desire to help Russian men deserting 
military service, and they called for a European solution.

   "Those who bravely stand up to Putin's regime and thereby put themselves in 
great danger can apply for asylum in Germany on the grounds of political 
persecution," the spokesman for German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.

   The spokesman, Maximilian Kall, said deserters and those refusing to be 
drafted would receive refugee status in Germany if they are at risk of serious 
repression, though every case is examined individually.

   But they would first have to make it to Germany, which has no land border 
with Russia, and like other European Union countries has become far more 
difficult for Russians to travel to.

   The EU banned direct flights between its 27 member states and Russia after 
the attack on Ukraine, and recently agreed to limit issuing Schengen visas, 
which allow free movement across much of Europe.

   Four out of five EU countries that border Russia -- Latvia, Lithuania, 
Estonia and Poland -- also recently decided to turn away Russian tourists.

   Some European officials view fleeing Russians as potential security risks. 
They hope that by not opening their borders, it will increase pressure against 
Putin at home.

   Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Thursday that many of those 
fleeing "were fine with killing Ukrainians. They did not protest then. It is 
not right to consider them as conscientious objectors."

   The one EU country that is still accepting Russians with Schengen visas is 
Finland, which has a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia.

   Finland border guards said Friday that the number of people entering from 
Russia has climbed sharply, with media reporting a 107% increase compared with 
last week.

   At Vaalimaa, one of the busiest crossings on the border, the line of waiting 
cars stretched for half a kilometer (a third of a mile), the Finnish Border 
Guard said.

   Finnish broadcaster MTV carried interviews with Russian men who had just 
crossed into Finland at the Virolahti border crossing, including with a man 
named Yuri from Moscow who said that no "sane person" wants to go to war.

   A Russian man from St. Petersburg, Andrei Balakirov, said he had been 
mentally prepared to leave Russia for half a year but put it off until the 
mobilization.

   "I think it's a really bad thing," he said.

   Valery, a man from Samara who was heading to Spain, agreed, calling the 
mobilization "a great tragedy."

   "It's hard to describe what's happening. I feel sorry for those who are 
forced to fight against their will. I've heard stories that people have been 
given these orders right in the streets -- scary."

 
 
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