Some Russians flee, others protest as Putin calls reservists to war

In the hours after President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech on Wednesday announcing a partial military mobilization, people across Russia — including some who have been trying to ignore Ukraine’s chaotic war for months — suddenly found themselves in the dark about their lives into chaos as they were summoned to their posts.

Most of these people were reservists under the age of 35, serving in the military and holding junior rank, and they received written notification at the office or at home. In some cases, they had their IDs checked on the street and were told to appear in court for a health check. Others took orders over the phone.

Meanwhile, anxious relatives are looking for ways to escape the country or otherwise avoid their loved ones being called to service. Flights to the few cities in Russia that still offer direct service — most of which have been cut off by sanctions — have suddenly sold out.

Google search trends have shown a surge in queries such as “how to get out of Russia” and even “how to break an arm at home”, prompting speculation that some Russians are considering self-harm to avoid war.

“They’ve been chasing me since February, trying to give me a contract,” a Moscow resident who served in the military and had combat experience said in an interview.

The man, who asked not to be named, said that unlike others who received written subpoenas, he received a personal call from the military enlistment office, which had been on file for several months. “I was ordered to accept [health] Committee tomorrow morning,” he told The Washington Post. “So, I doubt I’ll survive that now. “

Military analysts say it is far from certain that partial mobilization can quickly turn a flagging military operation into Russia’s advantage, if at all. But by Wednesday night, it was clear that the political backlash that Putin feared — which led him to resist mobilization for months despite repeated setbacks on the battlefield — had begun.

In response to Putin’s decree, criticism of the war, which had been rising both internationally and domestically, suddenly went public, despite the Kremlin’s harsh crackdown on dissent.

Relatively controlled but significant protests erupted not only in big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg, but also in remote Novosibirsk in Siberia. As of Wednesday night, more than 1,000 people had been arrested across the country, according to OVD-Info, an independent group monitoring protests in Russia — a significant number given that critics of the war could carry long prison sentences.

In the capital, hundreds chanted “Let our children live!” and “Send Putin in the trenches!” as they walked down Arbat Street. Videos on social media showed police arresting demonstrators and loading them into police cars and buses, including a man chanting “No war!”

in St. In St. Petersburg, police were seen beating protesters with batons and roughly dispersing crowds. A man detained at a small protest in Novosibirsk yelled at police: “I don’t want to die for Putin and you!”

An online petition against the mobilization launched last spring suddenly surged to more than 292,000 signatures.

Putin calls up as many as 300,000 reservists to support annexation amid war losses

Putin’s decision to order a partial mobilization to call up as many as 300,000 reservists reflects his diminishing options in trying to reverse some horrific defeats on the battlefield, including the one that forced Russian troops to retreat northeast of Kharkiv. Lightning-fast Ukrainian offensive area.

In a national address Wednesday morning, he unfolded the intricate web of the latest anti-Russian conspiracy theories about the Nazis and NATO, and announced his support for Ukrainians in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporozhye. A referendum held in the region, which many Western leaders expressed support for. Condemned as an illegal pretext for false voting and annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.

While Putin did not announce a full mobilization, which would require a nationwide conscription, the partial mobilization immediately began to upend the lives of reservists.

In Murmansk, in the northern Russian Arctic, an employee of Nornickel, a nickel factory that fought in the Chechen war more than 10 years ago, received a notice asking him to show up at the local quarters office.

Employees of the western Siberia-based Russian oil and gas company Surgutneftegas began receiving a list of people who must attend a two-week “training course,” according to a relative of one of the employees and a letter leaked to Russian Telegram.

A number of eligible men in Moscow told The Washington Post that they had been notified to participate in similar 15-day military training as early as Monday. Russian news outlet Mediazona reported similar claims by residents of at least three other cities.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday reported new casualty figures showing that 5,937 Russians died in Ukraine — a figure that Western governments believe is artificially low — and did not do much to support the population In support of the mobilization, Shoigu’s assertion is also unsubstantiated, or the death toll on the Ukrainian side is much higher.

Letters left by demoralized Russian soldiers as they flee

While Putin insisted in his speech that Russia had successfully purged Nazis from eastern Ukraine and claimed to have broad public support (but still not fully in control of the military or politics) among residents of the Ukrainian region he hopes to annex, calls for protest Spreading media in Russian society.

Mobilization “means that thousands of Russians – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. What will they die for? For Putin’s palace?” Vesner protest movement Said in a public call for demonstrations.

“The authorities initially said only ‘professionals’ were fighting and they would win. It turned out they didn’t win,” the group added. “So war no longer exists somewhere; it has come to our homes.”

While Wednesday’s demonstrations couldn’t compare to the tens of thousands who marched in Russian town squares against Putin’s re-election a decade ago, it was the biggest public dissatisfaction since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 2. twenty four.

For many Russians, Putin’s speech on Wednesday created a terrifying feeling of deja vu. From the first day of the invasion in February, rumours of imminent mobilization prompted large numbers of people to flee to neighboring Armenia and Georgia, or to take the last flight to Turkey, Dubai or Tel Aviv.

As their fears resurfaced, Russians in major cities fled to the border again, buying up all remaining flights to the few visa-free destinations still available to Russian passport holders.

Shortage of soldiers, Russian mercenaries recruited in prisons

Some people who missed their tickets flocked to the land border of Finland and Mongolia, creating prolonged traffic jams at checkpoints, according to videos posted online.

Online chat rooms have sprung up, offering real-time updates from border crossings, and people reporting whether guards let them through.

“I’ve been anticipating this since the end of February; I’ve tried to calm myself down and hope this operation will be over, and I’ve been putting off this decision,” Moscow resident Anna and mother of two sons, one of whom is 24, told CNN Post, adding that she decided to send her children to Armenia this week.

“I don’t want my son to go to war, that’s unacceptable,” Anna said. “What was the goal of this operation? Why did our children have to sacrifice their lives? We never wanted this war.”

Another Moscow resident, an IT worker whose age makes him eligible for military service but has not yet been summoned, said he was expediting the immigration of his family and hoped to leave in early October.

“Certainly, there was some panic,” he said. “I’m worried it’s going to get worse, although I don’t know it’s going to get any worse and it’s probably too late to leave.” He added, “But we have some unfinished business here that I can find. The only ticket is over $16,000 and I can’t afford it.”

A Moscow millionaire who has lived partly in Italy but has returned to Russia for a few days has described a growing disillusionment with Putin and a fear of the future among business executives. The millionaire said he feared he would be stuck in Moscow even though he was not in the army reserve.

“Without tickets, it’s getting harder and harder to walk by road,” he said. “If there are additional restrictions due to partial mobilization, it may not be possible to leave.”

The millionaire, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said many business elites and intellectuals viewed the war as a “stupid mistake” and few believed it Putin’s argument that he is defending speaking Russian in eastern Ukraine.

“The trust of the business, cultural and academic elites in the regime has disappeared. Everyone understands, all about defending Russian speakers [in Ukraine] Fighting for our brothers has nothing to do with reality,” he said. “Everyone thought it was a stupid mistake. “

Russian lawyers report a series of calls from concerned men, their mothers and wives demanding legal tactics to avoid being called.

On Tuesday, the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, hastily passed legislation that sets tough new penalties for those who try to evade service, surrender or refuse to fight.

A dark cartoon circulated on Russian social media on Wednesday, describing the trajectory of life for an average Russian in 2022: You either go to war or go to jail, but either way you will be sent to the front, as prisons have recently become New recruiting bases have been opened to help address a severe shortage of Russian troops.

Isabelle Khurshudyan in Kyiv, Ukraine; Katherine Belton in London; and Robin Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.

Ukraine war: what you need to know

Newest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of the military in his Sept. 9 national address. On the 21st, the move was characterized as an attempt to defend Russia’s sovereignty against the West, which was trying to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Follow us here for live updates.

Fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent days has forced Russia into a massive retreat in the northeastern region of Kharkiv as troops fled the cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned vast quantities of military equipment.

Merger referendum: The staged referendum, which is illegal under international law, will begin on September 1. According to the Russian news agency, from the 23rd to the 27th local time, the separate regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The Moscow-appointed government will start another staged referendum in Kherson on Friday.

photo: Photographers for The Washington Post have been on the ground since the war began — some of their most influential work.

How you can help: Here’s how Americans can help support the people of Ukraine, and people around the world have been giving.

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