LARSI, Georgia (AP) — Long lines of Russians being drafted to fight in Ukraine continued to block highways out of the country Wednesday, and Moscow set up border draft offices to intercept some of them.
The Russian region of North Ossetia, which borders Georgia, declared “high alert” and said food, water, warming stations and other aid should be brought to those who have spent days in line. Volunteers from the Georgian side of the border have also brought water, blankets and other aid.
North Ossetia barred many passenger trains from entering its territory and set up a draft office at the Varkhi Lars border crossing, Russian news agencies said. Some media released photos showing a black van with “Military Enlistment Office” written on it at the crossing.
According to Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet, another similar draft post was set up in Russia along the Finnish border.
Tens of thousands of Russian men have fled in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced mobilization to bolster Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. Although Putin said the callup was “partial,” aimed at calling up about 300,000 men from past military service, many Russians fear it will be much broader and more arbitrary than that. There are many reports of men of all ages receiving draft notices without military training.
Alexander Kamisentev, who left his home in Saratov for Georgia, described the scene on the Russian side of the border.
“It’s all very scary – the tears, the shouting, the huge number of people. There is a feeling that the government does not know how to organize it. It seems that they want to close the border, but at the same time they are afraid that there may be protests and they let people go,” he told AP.
He said he decided to leave at the last minute “because I will not kill my Ukrainian brothers or go to prison.”
Demonstrators waving Georgian and Ukrainian flags and signs reading “Russia Kills” greeted Russians at the border on Wednesday. Giga Lemonjava of the political party Droa, which organized the protests, said the migrants threatened Georgia’s security and economy.
One protester, Helen Khostaria, tweeted: “We organized a protest at the border today to let the incoming Russians know how we feel about their ‘Russian world’.”
Russians are traveling by car, bicycle, scooter and on foot. According to Yandex Maps, the traffic jam leading to the town of Varkhani Lars, near the border of Georgia and North Ossetia, stretched for about 15 kilometers (more than 9 miles) on Tuesday.
Georgia’s interior ministry said more than 53,000 Russians had entered the country since last week.
There are also long lines at the border with Kazakhstan, which took in more than 98,000 Russians last week.
Russia has land borders with 14 countries.