Men of conscription age who left Russia in fear of being sent to fight in Ukraine are returning home after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an end to the country’s chaotic mobilization that saw hundreds of thousands join the armed forces.
After the initial rush to leave the country caused by rumors of border closures, many faced the harsh reality of trying to make ends meet in an unfamiliar city.
“My brother and I tried to find a job in Kazakhstan – at least a fictitious job in order to get a residence permit – but nothing worked,” says 21-year-old Pavel from Moscow, who returned to Russia after three weeks in Kazakhstan. Central Asian country.
“I fled because of the general panic,” he told The Moscow Times, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak freely. “The trip cost us 100,000 rubles ($1,650), but what’s done is done.”
Russia’s conscription of men of military age, which began in late September, has sparked an unprecedented exodus of people, with flights sold out and long lines at land border crossings as draftees like Pavel scramble to get out as quickly as possible.
Kremlin officials according to reports about 700,000 people left the country in less than two weeks.
However, now the flow of men in the opposite direction is gaining momentum. Many seem to have been swayed by official promises that no one else would be drafted.
Insert told reporters on Monday said the “mobilization is complete,” and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week that Putin’s goal of conscripting 300,000 reservists had been met.
Semyon, a Moscow carpenter who declined to give his last name, said he decided to return home from the South Caucasus country of Armenia after Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced the end of the mobilization in the Russian capital.
“The police stopped catching men on the streets and in the subway,” said Semyon, who left his wife and two daughters in Moscow.
Still, many remain wary, fearing that a second wave of mobilization could be launched if Russia continues to suffer heavy losses in Ukraine.
“I still think it was a stupid decision to go back, but it’s hard to deal with emotions,” said Pavel, whose girlfriend stayed in Russia while he was gone.
Paul’s brother, who declined to be named, is still in Kazakhstan but told The Moscow Times that he intends to travel to Russia soon.
“Forced emigration, especially alone, is mentally difficult,” he said.
“[But] it’s scary to go back. Although technically I cannot be mobilized because I work in IT, this does not guarantee anything in Russia.”
Those who return face not only prison terms if the authorities deem them to be evading the draft, but also a general stigma fueled by official rhetoric.
Influential Russian deputy Andrei Klimau said Last month, those who evaded mobilization by leaving the country could be called “foreign agents” — a pejorative Soviet-era label that requires onerous financial declarations.
And Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation Valentina Matsviyenko: is called Russians who have gone abroad are “rats” and have declared that they are no longer welcome in the country.
Experts predict that the discharge of ill-trained conscripts will not change Russia’s military success in Ukraine, warning that Russia could resume mobilization if it continues to suffer defeats on the battlefield.
The authorities may send out conscription notices again this winter, according to the independent publication Meduza reported last month, citing unnamed Kremlin officials.
One businessman from St. Petersburg, who now lives in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, said that he plans to return to Russia – but not quite yet.
“I left the business in Russia and it continues to operate,” he told The Moscow Times, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak freely. “I believe that everything will end soon and I will return to Russia… I love my country, despite the fact that it is a little sick.”
Carpenter Semyon, who recently returned to Moscow, said that if the Kremlin starts conscripting people again, he will again look to leave the country.
“If there is a second wave of mobilization, I will try to leave,” he told The Moscow Times. “But this time it will be with my family.”
That large numbers of Russians are returning home as the mobilization ends comes as no surprise to Niki Karchevskaya, 24, who moved to neighboring Georgia shortly after the Russian invasion began in February and volunteered to help those fleeing in late September.
“There were those who left with no more than 10,000 rubles ($165). You should have seen the poor souls! They didn’t even have a job they could do online. I don’t know what they were counting on,” she told The Moscow Times.
In particular, Karchevskaya helped Russians move in huge queues that formed at Russia’s only land crossing with Georgia after mobilization.
“Many of those I helped leave have already returned,” she said.
“I think about half of the refugees will return to Russia.”