‘None of us want to go to war’: Russians flee to Georgia amid mobilization

By Misha Vignanski

Stepantsminda, Georgia, Sep 27 (EFE).- The fear of being called to war after the Kremlin announced a partial mobilization last week has prompted tens of thousands of Russian men of military age to flee the country. 

Vyacheslav and Alexei are just two of the thousands of young men who have crossed the border into Georgia. 

“I did my military service and I could be mobilized to fight against Ukraine, but I don’t want that, for what or for who do I have to do it?” Vyacheslav, 33, who has crossed the border from North Ossetia into Georgia, tells Efe. 

A Russian man with his luggage walks along a road after passing through customs at the Georgia-Russia border checkpoint of Verkhnii Lars, Georgia, 27 September 2022. EFE/EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

The young man left his wife and children back home in Sochi, a beach resort city on the Black Sea.

“I will try to bring them to Georgia as soon as possible, but first I have to start working and rent a flat,” he says. 

Although Sochi isn’t too far from the Georgian border, it took Vyacheslav three days to reach Tbilisi. 

The 33-year-old did most of the trip from Sochi to the Verkhny Lars crossing by car, apart from the last 20 kilometers, which he decided to do by foot. 

“There was a massive queue of cars waiting to cross the border,” he says.

According to official statistics, over 5,500 cars were waiting to cross the Verkhny Lars border point on Tuesday. 

“You can buy a bicycle or a scooter for about 15,000-25,000 roubles ($250-430 dollars) and avoid the traffic jam, but I decided to save the money and walk,” he adds.

Alexei, 30, did a similar journey from the Siberian city of Omsk to Verkhny Lars. 

“I don’t have a family but I’m of fighting age and I don’t want to kill or be killed,” he tells Efe. 

The young man and his colleagues managed to rent a flat in Tbilisi over the internet.

“It cost us $1,100 per month, although the owner of the flat told us that before the Russians arrived, the price was $400,” Alexei says.

Russian men with their luggage walk along a road after passing through customs at the Georgia-Russia border checkpoint of Verkhnii Lars, Georgia, 27 September 2022. EFE/EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

According to Georgia’s interior minister, some 10,000 Russians are entering Georgia every day, a 45% increase compared to before September 21, when president Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization. 

“I have crossed the border and now I can relax. I know that they want to open a mobilization point at the border crossing soon, but I was able to cross in time,” Denis, 33, who left his wife and three children back home in Belgorod, tells Efe. 

“None of us want to go to war,” he says. 

The mass exodus of Russians has generated controversy in Georgia, a country that has not forgotten the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, which ended with Tbilisi losing control over the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, today controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

“Today the Russians say they love us, while until yesterday they were fighting with us,” historian Tamta Shonvadze says. 

Shonvadze hopes Georgia will approve a visa regime for Russians crossing the border while others are demanding stricter checks at border crossings. 

“Thousands of Russians enter our country unchecked, and there may be secret service agents among them,” Georgian opposition MP Gueorgui Kirtadze said. 

Meanwhile, Georgia’s finance minister Lasha Jutsishvili has urged the situation not be “dramatized”.

“Everything is under control, we are working 24 hours a day and we are strictly monitoring the situation,” he said. EFE


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