‘The worst is yet to come,’ say Russians fleeing draft

(CNN) — Carrying a bag in each hand and another on his back, Denis walks up a hill after crossing the Russian border into Georgia.

“I’m just tired. That’s all I feel,” the 27-year-old says as he tries to catch his breath.

Denis has just spent six days on the road, most of them waiting in line to cross the border. He is one of hundreds of thousands of Russians who endure a grueling marathon journey to leave their country.

Although there are women and children among those who cross, most are men of fighting age who fear the possibility of being recruited to fight in the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, at least 10,000 have been passing through the Lars border crossing daily.

Denis, who did not want to reveal his last name, said he chose to leave due to the uncertainty that followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week of a “partial mobilization” of citizens, despite his earlier emphasis that in the military attack only professional military would participate. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the army will recruit some 300,000 men with previous military experience to go fight in Ukraine.

Although the current draft should not apply to him, Denis fears that could change.

“How do I know what will happen three years from now? How do I know how long this will take?”

“It’s uncertain, and nobody knows what will come next,” he said.

Around 10,000 Russians have been crossing the border into Georgia every day, according to the country’s Interior Ministry.

His sentiment is shared by many who cross the border into Georgia. They are teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers and builders, ordinary Russians who have no appetite for war. And while they say they disagree with the government, they believe there is nothing they can do to force Putin to change course.

Instead, they have chosen to leave their homeland, despite the dangerous journey. Denis said he spent days in his car without enough access to food and bathrooms.

“When you’re there waiting, there’s no bathroom. You can’t eat a lot because everything runs out instantly and no one packs a lot of food either because no one expected it to take that long,” she said.

Another man CNN spoke with walked 12 miles (20 kilometers) to reach Georgia, also fueled by concerns that the draft could expand.

“It doesn’t apply to me today, but it may apply tomorrow,” the individual said, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity because he fears Moscow’s far-reaching hand.

And George Vatsadze, a 28-year-old marketer, says he’s leaving Russia because he doesn’t want to hurt his loved ones. He has a Ukrainian grandmother and cousins ​​who live in the country.

“I can’t go there to fight,” he said.

Vatsadze crossed paths with his brother, who was eligible for the draft. He only carried a bag with a few clothes, his and his dog’s. He says it was the only thing he could do.

Tired and excited, he is happy to have arrived in Georgia, but frustrated that the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced him to leave his home.

“I think maybe half of our population thinks war is wrong, but they can’t oppose it because it’s dangerous,” he says. “Right now, just by saying this, I’m putting myself at risk.”

He didn’t want to leave, but now he thinks that he may never be able to return.

“It’s all because we can no longer trust our government, because they told us so many lies,” he says. “We had heard that there would be no mobilization, but six months later we are here.”

“What’s going to happen in another six months?” she asks, fighting back tears.

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out.”

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