It took Vsevolod four days to drive from Moscow to Russia’s southern border with Georgia. He had to abandon his car at one point and continue on foot.
On Tuesday, he finally finished his 1,800km (1,100-mile) journey and crossed the frontier to escape being called up to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“At 26, I do not want to be carried home in a zinc-lined [coffin] or stain [my] hands with somebody’s blood because of the war of one person that wants to build an empire,” he told the Associated Press, asking that his last name not be used because he feared retaliation from Russia.
He was one of the more than 194,000 Russian nationals who have fled to neighbouring Finland, Georgia, and Kazakhstan – most often by car, bicycle or on foot – in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation of reservists.
The mass exodus of men – alone or with their families or friends – began on September 21, shortly after Putin’s address to the nation, and continued all this week. Early on, they snapped up airline tickets, which spiked in price on the few airlines still flying out of Russia. But the rest had to gas up their cars and join the long lines snaking on roads towards the borders.
According to the online service Yandex Maps, the traffic jam leading to Verkhny Lars, a border crossing into Georgia from Russia’s North Ossetia region, stretched for about 15km (nine miles) on Tuesday. Social media showed hundreds of pedestrians lining up at the checkpoint after Russian border guards relaxed regulations and allowed people to cross on foot.
Similarly, long queues were reported at some crossings into Kazakhstan.
Georgia said more than 53,000 Russians have entered the country since last week, while officials in Kazakhstan said 98,000 had crossed into to its territory. The Finnish Border Guard agency said more than 43,000 arrived in the same period. Media reports also said another 3,000 Russians entered Mongolia, which also shares a border with the country.
Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said only about 300,000 men with prior combat or other military service would be mustered, but reports have emerged from various Russian regions that recruiters were rounding up men outside that description, fuelling fears of a much broader call-up, sending droves of men of all ages and backgrounds to airports and borders.
Georgia and Kazakhstan, both part of the former Soviet Union and both offering visa-free entry to Russian nationals, seemed to be the most popular destinations for those travelling by land to flee the call-up. Finland and Norway require visas.