Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement Wednesday morning about a "partial mobilization" of some 300,000 military reservists to fight in Ukraine was not popular, especially among young Russian men. Within hours of the speech, "men all over Russia — including some who had tried for months to ignore the messy war in Ukraine — suddenly found their lives thrown into chaos as they were summoned to duty," getting notices of conscription at work, home, or even on the streets, The Washington Post reports.
Protests broke out in 38 cities, despite harsh new punishments, and at least 1,252 people were detained, according to human rights watchdog OVD-Info. Photos posted on social media suggested some of the men arrested at the anti-war protests were handed conscription papers and told they will be taken straight to military centers, convincingly linking military service to punishment. One-way airline tickets to the few remaining visa-free destinations for Russians sold out or their prices spiked to exorbitant heights, and some of those who couldn't get tickets fled to land borders with Finland and Mongolia.
Other Russians looked for alternate ways to avoid being shipped off to Ukraine. "Google search trends showed a spike in queries like 'how to leave Russia' and even 'how to break an arm at home,' raising speculation some Russians were thinking of resorting to self-harm to avoid the war," the Post reports. Stephen Colbert's Late Show came up with other possible Google search terms for desperate Russians Wednesday night.
Putin's partial conscription is "unlikely to be combat effective for months," but "even this limited mobilization is likely to be highly unpopular with parts of the Russian population," Britain's Defense Ministry said Thursday. "Putin is accepting considerable political risk in the hope of generating much needed combat power. The move is effectively an admission that Russia has exhausted its supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine."
Until now, "Putin has relied on a strategy of keeping life as normal as possible for Russians in order to to maintain a passive support for the war," The New York Times reports. But "by Wednesday night, it was clear that the political backlash Putin feared — and that led him to resist a mobilization for months despite repeated battlefield setbacks — had begun," the Post adds.