REPORTS
ANALYTICS
INVESTIGATIONS
  • USD62.38
  • EUR65.84
  • OIL95.88
DONATEРусский
  • 1121
POLITICS

“If they don't let me out, I'd rather go to jail than kill.” Russians on how they escaped mobilization

Victoria Ponomareva

Immediately after Putin announced the mobilization, many of those who were supposed to be mobilized first began leaving Russia in a hurry - despite the summonses, the lack of savings, and the fear of the unknown. The Insider talked to those who left about their feelings towards the war and what they faced at the borders.

ALL CARDS
  • Alexei, 27, former contract serviceman: “Everyone who goes to Ukraine now is already dead”

  • Andrey, 30, ex-rifleman: “I'd rather walk 19 kilometers without food or water than kill Ukrainians.”

  • Vladimir, 38, a summons recipient: “I don't want to get blood on my hands for sake of the government's incomprehensible goals”

  • Yulia, left the country with her boyfriend: “For USD 1300 you could bypass the queue with flashing lights on”

Читать на русском языке

Alexei, 27, former contract serviceman: “Everyone who goes to Ukraine now is already dead”

I started packing the day before the mobilization was announced - I just looked through the news and realized what was going on. I left immediately on the 21st. I was going to buy a ticket in advance, but I didn't know whether they would let me out or not, so I went straight to the airport to deal with it on the spot. When I got to the airport, I managed to take the last ticket that was left, and it didn't matter that it was business class.

At the passport control they did not ask a lot of questions: just how I felt about the “special operation”, how long I planned to stay in Belarus, what was the purpose of my visit. I answered truthfully, and they let me through. On the first day they did not stop anyone. My friends, who also left in a hurry, later said everything went smoothly.

Among my friends, very few supported the “special operation”. I, on the contrary, have a positive attitude towards what is happening, because I think that Donbass really needed to be defended - but not in such a way and not to the extent that it was necessary to destroy Ukrainian cities and let civilians die.

Besides, when a professional army fights on the front, that's one thing, but there's nothing for civilians to do in the thick of it. They will all die. Anyone who goes to Ukraine now and has never served in the military is already a dead man, as cruel as that sounds.

I served under contract, got into a special forces regiment using my connections, and on February 24 we already headed for Belarus to undergo training, they said they were sending us out for a week, but then they transferred us to Ukraine. As much as I tried to keep a straight face, I can frankly say it was scary. For me the most shocking moment was the body of a child who had no arm, you look at it and everything breaks down inside you. It's impossible to forget: you dream at night about the bloody, armless corpse of a child, and this is the future of those who are now being taken away by the military recruitment office.

There are a lot of casualties, not enough manpower. Putin is trying to solve this problem by mobilization, but unfortunately, this will only lead to another wave of deaths.

Andrey, 30, ex-rifleman: “I'd rather walk 19 kilometers without food or water than kill Ukrainians.”

I am a rifleman, I recently served in the army, and when mobilization was announced, I realized at once that I would be one of the first to be called up. My wife was horrified, my friends started calling - everyone was wondering what to do and how. I was against this war from the very beginning: how else can you feel if you have relatives in Donbass? I don't want to kill, I just don't understand how you can take the life of a person who doesn't threaten you in any way.

Of course, I had thoughts that it might come to mobilization, but I didn't expect it to happen just like that, so at first there I was confused - neither my wife nor I could make a decision to decide to leave.

On the 23rd I got a call from a friend who worked at the enlistment office, and he told me I had a couple of days while they were still updating the database. We started looking for tickets. I issued a power of attorney to my sister, told her to look after the house, found a person to take care of our cat – we couldn’t take it along with us because we hadn’t obtained the necessary international certificates and chips for it. While I was sorting things out, my wife kept texting me that tickets were being sold out.

I got a call from a friend who worked at the military enlistment office, and he told me I had a couple of days while they were still updating the database

We though we would fly to Mineralniye Vody, and from there we would get to Georgia. But as soon as we rushed to look for options, all the tickets were gone. So we kept checking and suddenly saw the tickets. We quickly bought them, packed our bags and left. I decided that if they wouldn't let me through and would send me to the front, I would rather write a refusal and go to jail than kill.

We took a cab from Mineralniye Vody to Vladikavkaz. It was very tense, because there were not enough cars. The cab driver warned us that the traffic police would be pulling us over, and we'd have to deal with them to get to Vladikavkaz, so if we wanted to get there without any problems, we had to pay him extra, and he'd “sort things out”. We agreed: we had no choice. At one of the checkpoints, they categorically refused to let us through: the driver said we had to pay three thousand more, and he would “sort it out,” otherwise we wouldn't get further. We paid.

We were afraid we would be left with no money to live in Georgia during the first weeks, but there were no more problems with the checkpoints, and we gradually reached the Ossetian checkpoint. There we were stuck in a traffic jam for nine hours, absolutely everything was jammed - the roadside was full of cars, people were getting out of their cars, talking to each other, just sitting on the ground, because they were extremely tired of sitting in their cars.

At some point, we were dropped off somewhere after leaving the village, we got out of the car and walked - with two suitcases and heavy backpacks. If the maps were to be believed, it was 19 kilometers to the checkpoint, but it was better to walk and collapse from fatigue than to kill Ukrainians.

The traffic was absolutely still. It was more like a jumble of cars and people: a lane for trucks, for cars, for those with bikes (we also wanted to buy them from the locals, but they asked 30,000 rubles), for pedestrians - absolutely no way to push through. The cab drivers, who were going back and forth with the pedestrians they picked up on the road, were constantly cutting into the traffic and slowing things down, not allowing us to go any further.

If they didn’t let me through, if they grabbed me and sent me to the front, I would rather write a refusal and go to jail than kill

While we were dragging along, no one moved a hundred meters. Many people had already slept in their cars for more than one night and were running out of water and food. I remember a little girl crawling out of the car next to us, all disheveled and grimy. She started yelling she wanted to go home and wouldn't sit here anymore.

We gradually got to the beginning of the line on foot, stood for a few hours, and passed the checkpoint only in the morning. We were very afraid of the questions, but nothing bad happened. Everything was fairly standard: where was I going, did I know about the mobilization, did I receive a summons. The border guard looked up something on his computer and said I could go through.

Then there was the neutral zone, where there was also a long line on foot, it was exhausting and cold, because the wind was always blowing through. We stood like that for seven hours, and we ran out of water. It was good that volunteers started filling bottles at the Georgian checkpoint and bringing them to the line.

There were a lot of abandoned bicycles on the side of the road - many people just left them there after they went through the checkpoint. There were rumors that border guards collected and resold them.

Abandoned bicycles in the neutral zone  Photo by The Insider's interviewee
Abandoned bicycles in the neutral zone Photo by The Insider's interviewee

The Georgian border guards did not ask anything, it was obvious that they were very tired. I only heard the one who was stamping my passport say in a low voice: “There are so many of you, you keep coming and coming.” After the border we made a deal with a cab driver, who happened to be nearby, and he agreed to drive us to Tbilisi for three thousand rubles per person.

It is very tiring and stressful, but it makes you feel calmer: you understand that despite the fact that you had to leave everything behind and walk almost 20 kilometers without water and rest, you will not become expendable material in a horrible and unnecessary war.

Vladimir, 38, a summons recipient: “I don't want to get blood on my hands for sake of the government's incomprehensible goals”

I tried not to get into the nuances of the conflict in Ukraine. I still don't realize what was really behind this attack, but I don't want to kill or get killed. I don't want blood on my hands for the sake of the government’s goals I don't understand.

The news of the mobilization did not take me by surprise: I expected it, although I did not anticipate it so soon. Literally the day after Putin's announcement, there was a persistent knock on our apartment door, but we didn't open it. And then I found a summons next to the door. So, I quickly decided to leave, hoping that if I didn't sign anything, it wouldn't be recorded anywhere.

I still don't realize what was really behind this attack, but I don't want to kill and get killed

There was a problem with the tickets right away. I wanted to go to Uzbekistan or Chisinau, but the tickets were either sold out or very expensive, and we didn't have much money. There was no time, so I decided to go to Samara and from there to Kazakhstan. I bought whatever ticket I could find, packed my things and headed for the airport.

I was really afraid they wouldn't let me through. At the checkpoint they asked me whether I had served in the army, what I had been doing there and whether I had ever received a summons. I lied that I had not received one. I was trembling inside, thinking that they would discover I had indeed received a summons, but it all worked out just fine: they stamped my passport and let me through. Maybe because I left the next day after the announcement of the mobilization, they had no lists of names they later received according to reports.

I took a cab at the station in Samara. The driver was asking 10,000 rubles a car, five thousand per person, but since I traveled alone, we agreed he would drive me there for four thousand. He drove me literally to the traffic jam at the checkpoint. It was a huge traffic jam - about 20 kilometers, many people on the road told me they had to stay there for two or three days. When I heard about it, I stopped trying to get a ride, I just walked. It took me about six hours, and it was terribly exhausting. I had my backpack and bag with me. The backpack was absolutely impossible to carry – I was trying to fit as much stuff in it as I could.

It took me about six hours to walk to the checkpoint, and it was extremely exhausting

As we approached the checkpoint, we began to see a line of people on foot. There were 200 people standing, moving very slowly, and I stood for eight hours. Strangely enough, they didn't ask me any questions, they just stamped my passport. I think I was just lucky, because my friend, who left afterwards, said he saw some men being turned away. Everything went even faster at the border with Kazakhstan. After that, I took a cab and drove to Uralsk.

Yulia, left the country with her boyfriend: “For USD 1300 you could bypass the queue with flashing lights on”

There were three of us - myself, my boyfriend and my son. Even though my son is a category C reservist, we knew he could be called up too, because we had heard about several such cases over the last few days. We had been thinking about leaving since late February, but the announcement of mobilization completely knocked the ground out from under us, and we firmly decided to leave.

We had to choose between Kazakhstan and Georgia. We quickly researched the route, getting much help from other people's stories and discussions posted on the relevant Telegram channels. We drove from Krasnodar to Vladikavkaz, and on to Tbilisi. We found a ride pretty quickly, we had two hours to pack. We took everything we needed, said goodbye to the family and drove off. Our family supported our decision - they felt just as bad about this year's events as we did.

We had to give up our favorite jobs, our apartment, and our car. On September 24 we left Krasnodar, and at about 7 next morning we arrived at the checkpoint between Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia; before we reached Vladikavkaz, we got stuck in a traffic jam, 40 kilometers away from the city. After a while we understood that the checkpoint was closed, and that vehicles were simply not allowed through, with the exception of those registered in region 15. We stood there for five hours.

After a while, I went to the beginning of the traffic jam and saw several people surrounding the inspector. People were indignant, especially those with small children. Then the inspector took pity and ordered all cars with children to move to the right lane and pull up to the checkpoint. I ran to the car, we moved to the right and drove closer, but the other inspector was skeptical, saying that only he would decide everything there. He asked to see our child and said that at eight years of age he did not look too young to justify an exception. Anyway, no one was being allowed through the checkpoint - we just stood in a separate lane.

Tired of waiting, we walked past the checkpoint, and there we found a cab driver who offered to drive us to the beginning of the traffic jam in Upper Lars, bypassing Vladikavkaz. We immediately agreed.

The ride cost 20,000 rubles ($330). During the trip the driver answered several phone calls, and he named the prices, 25,000 and 30,000 ($500).

Pedestrians in the neutral zone  Photo by The Insider's interviewee
Pedestrians in the neutral zone Photo by The Insider's interviewee

Initially, when we drove up, the traffic jam leading up to the checkpoint looked tolerable: cars were parked in a single lane, everything proceeded in an orderly fashion. People were sitting in their cars with the doors open, listening to music, some were walking around and chatting with their neighbors on the road. We saw a grandmother playing with her grandchildren near a car; it wasn't the disaster it turned into later.

We didn't want to sit in the car for several days, because some people had been waiting for three days, so we decided to walk. The navigator app showed 18 kilometers to Upper Lars. We had a large suitcase with us, three backpacks, and a bag with a laptop. Walking was hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be. I was more worried about my son, but even he kept it up.

There were no stores along the route, so there was nowhere to stop and buy anything. We had a few bottles of water, some sausage, bread, bagels, chocolate bars and apples with us - we didn't want to take much food because of the extra weight. We had a snack, but we ran out of water fast anyway. The only thing that saved us was that there was a stream next to the road from which we could drink.

Then the traffic jam changed significantly - from a quiet line of cars in one lane it expanded into two or three, and then more. There were a lot of cars, tired people, the level of aggression increased noticeably – we heard honking and swearing. While at the beginning of the traffic jam we were walking peacefully with our suitcases, with cyclists and pedestrians passing by, at the end, even without a suitcase, it was impossible to squeeze through the crowd.

While at the beginning of the traffic jam we were walking peacefully with our suitcases, with cyclists and pedestrians passing by, at the end, even without a suitcase, it was impossible to squeeze through the crowd

The tension grew visibly. People were cooperating and trying to help the drivers, they talked among themselves, and tried to stop the cars from driving around the jam on the oncoming lane.

I spent about 20 minutes looking for a car to get us across the border, while my son and boyfriend were resting, but nothing worked. Some drivers just refused, some were already out of passenger space, some charged exorbitant prices. Taking advantage of the fact that people had nowhere to go, that they were exhausted by traveling and mentally depressed, the locals were pushing the prices up.

My boyfriend found us a car - he managed to strike an agreement with a Georgian, who took us in. We were taken through all of the checkpoints and into Tbilisi totally free of charge.

When we got in the car, we were just 800 meters away from the end of the traffic jam, but we had to drive for another 13 hours. It was very exhausting.

While you were in the traffic jam you could order delivery of food, water or gasoline for several times the market price. There is only a single store along the route - just before the checkpoint, but the queue in front of it resembles the queue in front of the Louvre or Tretyakov Gallery, and there is virtually no choice of goods, and you can only pay in cash.

There are many people who offer to take you to the checkpoint on a motorcycle, an all-terrain vehicle, or a car with flashing lights on. The cost of this service starts from 30,000 ($500) for a motorcycle and from 80,000 ($1300) for a car. The closer the car is to the checkpoint, the sooner it passes the border, the higher the price tag.

The locals were offering a ride to the checkpoint for $1300 and more

Along the route, there was traffic police, who would fine us for driving on the wrong side of the road. But those same patrolmen turned a blind eye when someone was driving with their flashing lights on, with a caravan of cars following behind.

At the checkpoint itself the sight was even more depressing. People were sitting on suitcases, standing with children, cyclists formed a separate line. On the side of the road were those who, apparently, couldn't find a car to take them across the border.

It took us 30-40 minutes to pass through the Russian checkpoint. At the passport control everything was pretty quick, but the border guard asked my boyfriend a few questions and tried to pressure him morally.

After that we were stuck in traffic in the neutral zone due to the fact that the tunnel was jammed with trucks. When we got to the Georgian checkpoint, the gates were closed. There was not a lot of cars, but the line of people was growing very fast. We stood for several hours. It took us about 10 minutes to get through the checkpoint, the Georgians were stamping passports very quickly.

К сожалению, браузер, которым вы пользуйтесь, устарел и не позволяет корректно отображать сайт. Пожалуйста, установите любой из современных браузеров, например:

Google Chrome Firefox Safari