Russians flee to Istanbul after mobilisation call for war in Ukraine

“We were talking to our friends and many are thinking about leaving,” said Daria, 22.

“Not everyone wanted to leave in February. The decision of September 21 forced many to think about it again.”

Her husband Andrei, 23, said he had been thinking of leaving since the first days of the war.

The mobilisation was the last straw.

“A lot of people decided to leave right now,” he said.

But Andrei also worried that speaking to reporters might cause issues for his family and friends back home.

“Yes, I think that things I am saying to you now – I am worried that there might be some punishment for that,” he said, standing next to a huge suitcase.

“The laws (in Russia) are very loosely applied. If they want to, they will find a reason to punish you.”

03:00

Tears, hugs in Russia as families farewell civilians called up for army duty to fight in Ukraine

Putin’s mobilisation order is designed to fill Russia’s military with hundreds of thousands of men after a string of setbacks that appears to have changed the tide in the seven-month war.

Türkiye, a top holiday destination for many Russians, is among the few countries still operating flights out of Russia.

Russians can also reach Türkiye without a travel visa, which makes trips bought at the last minute much easier.

Flights to Türkiye almost immediately sold out after Putin’s television announcement.

The last few tickets sold by popular Russian travel sites shot up in price because of soaring demand, making escape too expensive for many.

Police officers detain a man in Saint Petersburg, Russia on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Police officers detain a man in Saint Petersburg, Russia on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Turkish Airlines began using bigger aircraft on its Russia services, switching to widebody Boeing 777s, because it could not immediately schedule more flights.

“Türkiye is our intermediate point. We are here temporarily because there is a danger that the borders will be closed for good,” Daria said.

“But this is not certain and no one really knows.”

Sasha, a 48-year-old company manager, said he knew of people who were trying to flee but could not.

“I think that many people would like to leave Russia but there are very few flights,” he told Agence France-Presse at the airport.

Sasha said it was difficult to gauge the true mood of Russians after the mobilisation order because some still supported the war and were willing to fight.

“There is no consensus in Russia right now. Some people support Putin, some people don’t support him,” he said.

“It depends on their view of war and their philosophy.”

He said that many were too afraid to speak their mind.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Sputnik / AFP / Getty Images / TNS

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Sputnik / AFP / Getty Images / TNS

“Of course we feel pressure. In Russia, there is a system of facial monitoring. And if someone sees your face, it is very easy to identify who you are,” Sasha said.

“This interview could be interpreted as being bad for the Russian army. In the future, people who give an interview like this could face problems.”

Andrei said he was now particularly worried about one of his childhood friends.

“My friend was unable to buy a ticket because it already cost 400,000 roubles (US$7,000). That’s 10 times more expensive than before,” he said.


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