Military-aged men fled Russia in droves on 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 mobilisation.
Queues stretching for six 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 February 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 do not 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 set up 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 on his family left behind in Russia.
He referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal”.
Yevgeny decided to flee after Mr Putin announced a partial military call-up on Wednesday.
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.
Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said that many of them “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 830-mile border with Russia.
Finland border guards said on Friday that the number of people entering from Russia has increased, 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 a third of a mile, the Finnish Border Guard said.