Struggle Information from Ukraine: As Moscow begins to name up troops, some males flee the nation

Recognition…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ISTANBUL — Just over 12 hours after hearing that Russian civilians in Ukraine could be forced into military service, the young tour guide bought a plane ticket, changed money, bought a laptop, closed his shop, kissed his crying mother goodbye and boarded a plane to leave his country with no idea when he would return.

He entered the cavernous arrivals hall of Istanbul International Airport on Thursday morning, carrying only a backpack and the address of a friend who had promised to house him while he contemplated what to do with his life.

“I was sitting there thinking about what I could die for and I saw no reason to die for the country,” said the 23-year-old tour guide, who, as others interviewed for this article, declined to give his name to name fear of reprisals.

Since President Vladimir V. Putin announced a new troop call-up on Wednesday, waves of Russian men who previously believed they were safe from being forced to the front have realized they could not count on getting out of the invasion of their country to keep out in Ukraine.

Some have left the country in a hurry, paying increasing prices for flights to visa-free countries like Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro and Turkey.

Aleksandr, a 37-year-old manager from Moscow, didn’t finish listening to Putin’s announcement on Wednesday. Instead he started packing. Minutes later, he left his apartment and headed to the airport, checking for available tickets en route.

His favorite destinations like Istanbul weren’t already available, so he settled on Namangan, Uzbekistan, a city he’d never heard of. He spent the afternoon at the airport near Moscow, hoping to get through passport control as quickly as possible, fearing that the border could be closed to reservists at any time.

“I realized the stakes were just really high,” Aleksandr said in a Namangan phone interview. “I was prepared for anything, that they would just turn me away at the border.” The plane, he said, was full of people like him – “stooped young men with laptops”. His neighbor passenger had never heard of Namangan either.

Back in Moscow, Aleksandr’s wife was in shock. Suddenly she was alone with her three children. “I am appalled; My hopes that things could remain more or less okay have collapsed today,” she said.

Some of the Russian men arrived in Istanbul with huge roller bags stuffed with clothes and other personal belongings that they hoped would make it easier for them to start a new life elsewhere. Others had left in a hurry with small bags containing a few changes of clothes.

Many said they would not return home with the threat of conscription. But the suddenness of their departure meant few had concrete plans for what they would do next.

The tour guide, who is a reservist, said he has already organized temporary accommodation in Istanbul and hopes to improve his English and possibly work as a tour guide in Turkey.

A merchant boatman, who gave his name only as Dmitriy, 26, said he would wait in Turkey until he found a new ship to work on. As soon as he heard the news, “I decided I have to go now,” he said.

Over the past 24 hours, his friends had been texting and calling each other to explore their options and consult Telegram channels, where people share information about conditions at Russian airports and border crossings. According to numerous chats on Telegram, when the plane tickets were sold out, some Russian men wanted to go to Georgia and Finland.

The navigator said that most of his friends stayed in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine because they felt the war would not affect them much. But now most hurried to get out.

“A lot of people want to leave Russia now because they don’t want to fight for someone’s opinion,” he said, dismissing the invasion as Mr Putin’s personal project.

Ben Hubbard and

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