‘I’m just afraid for my life’: Young Russians flee to avoid draft

Faced with the prospect of being sent to fight in Ukraine, thousands of young Russians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. In just one week last month, Georgia’s interior ministry registered 68,887 Russians as having entered the country — without any guarantee of being able to return home. Yahoo News explains why for some Georgians their neighbors to the north are unwelcome visitors.

Video Transcript

- I am 19 years old, and I think if I don't run Russia as fast as I can, I am just afraid for my life.

[EXPLOSION]

GARRY KASPAROV: At the beginning of the war, about 10% of my compatriots opposed the war on moral grounds. Many of them protest in the streets. Thousands were arrested and incarcerated. 30%, I don't think more supported war out of the ideological zeal. 60% sitting on the fence. And now, when they're being dragged into the war and forced to serve, they're running.

- Thousands of men leaving to avoid being sent to fight in Ukraine.

- [SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH]

- [SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH]

- A line of cars stretching back 20 kilometers.

- Fleeing the draft at home by flooding the border into Georgia.

NIAMH CAVANAGH: Towering above Tbilisi stands a 65 foot symbol of Georgian hospitality. In one hand, Mother Georgia holds a cup of wine to welcome weary travelers. In the other, a sword to ward off would be invaders. In the first six months of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 30,000 Russians fled south to Georgia.

SELENA VALYAVKINA: I'd be thinking about this before. But when the war happened, I thought, OK, this is the summit. It just-- it was just impossible to stay any longer. But I'm really happy that Georgia allowed us to stay here. People are mostly supportive, and I don't expect them to be. So it's a bliss.

NIAMH CAVANAGH: In the weeks following the Kremlin's order to mobilize 300,000 military reservists to fight in Ukraine, Georgia's interior ministry reported upward of 10,000 Russians crossing the border each day.

- [SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH]

NIAMH CAVANAGH: But some in Georgia question their motivations.

MIHAILO ULIANIN: [INAUDIBLE], they support their government. But now, when this government says that, OK, you and you, you should go and fight with Ukraine. Now, this touched them. They don't want to help Ukraine. They don't want to help Georgians. They just run to save their lives.

NIAMH CAVANAGH: Despite protests across the country against Russia's latest war, the Georgian government has been treading carefully with its aggressor neighbor. The Kremlin's special operation in Ukraine is a painful reminder of Georgia's own recent history.

In 2008, Russia launched a defense operation against Georgia over two breakaway territories in the North. After just 12 days, Russia annexed one fifth of Georgian territory, which included the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And as Russians pour across the border, some fear that history could repeat itself.

GIGA LEMOJABA: Georgian side has no precise information, who those individuals are and what their real intention is while they arrive in the Georgia. Russia-Georgian border should be closed for Russian citizens. Russian citizens should be deprived of the possibility to register bank accounts in Georgia and to obtain temporary or permanent residence permits.

NIAMH CAVANAGH: But for many of the Russians who are already here, there is no going back.

SELENA VALYAVKINA: Inside of Russia, I got some messages that I am like a rat running from a sinking ship. My mother actually thinks that I betrayed my country and her because I left. I mean, I'm scared by [INAUDIBLE] here because I'm not coming back ever I decided.

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