ISTANBUL – In just over 12 hours after hearing that Russian civilians could be forced into military service in Ukraine, the young tour guide bought airline tickets, exchanged money, bought laptops, and packed bags. business, kiss the crying mother goodbye, and board the train. a plane to leave his country, not knowing when he will return.
Thursday morning, he walked into the arrivals hall in the cave of Istanbul International Airport carrying only a backpack and the address of a friend who had promised to pick him up while he figured out what to do with his life. .
“I was sitting and thinking about what I could die for, and I don’t see any reason to die for my country,” said the tour guide, 23, as well as others interviewed for the article. this newspaper, said. fear of retaliation.
Since President Vladimir V. Putin announced a new call-in on Wednesday, the wave of Russian men who previously thought they were safe when forced to the front lines have found that they can’t be trusted. avoid their country’s invasion of Ukraine. .
Some have rushed to leave the country, paying high prices to catch flights to countries like Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro and Turkey that allow them to enter without a visa.
Aleksandr, a 37-year-old executive from Moscow, didn’t finish hearing Putin’s announcement on Wednesday. Instead, he started packing. Minutes later, he left his apartment and drove to the airport, looking for available tickets along the way.
His favorite destinations, such as Istanbul, weren’t available, so he chose Namangan, Uzbekistan, a city he’d never heard of. He spent the afternoon at the airport near Moscow, hoping to get his passport checked as soon as possible, fearing the border could close to those who booked at any time.
“I realized that the stakes were very high,” Aleksandr said in a phone interview from Namangan. “I was ready for anything, that they would just turn their backs on me at the border.” The plane, he said, was full of people just like him – “young men hunched over with laptops”. His neighboring passenger had also never heard of Namangan before.
Back in Moscow, Alexander’s wife was shocked. Suddenly, she was left alone with their three children. “I was appalled; My hope that things could have been fine more or less fell apart today,” she said.
Some Russian men arrive in Istanbul with huge bags, stuffed with clothes and other personal belongings that they hope will make it easier to establish new lives elsewhere. Others have hurried away with small bags containing a few changes of clothes.
Many said they would not return home amid the threat of mandatory military service. But their sudden departure means very few have a clear plan for what they will do next.
The tour guide, a reservationist, said he has arranged a temporary accommodation in Istanbul and that he hopes to improve his English and be able to work as a tour guide in Turkey .
A 26-year-old maritime trader named only Dmitriy said he would wait in Turkey until he found a new ship to work with. As soon as he heard the news, “I’ve decided that I need to leave now,” he said.
Over the past 24 hours, his friends have been texting and calling each other to explore their options and consult Telegram channels, where people share information about conditions at airports and border crossings. of Russia. As plane tickets sell out, some Russian men are looking to drive to Georgia and Finland, according to multiple Telegram chats.
The marine said that most of his friends stayed in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, feeling that the war would not affect them much. But now, most of them have rushed out.
“A lot of people want to leave Russia right now because they don’t want to fight for one person’s opinion,” he said.