Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s declaration that he will double down in Ukraine by calling up 300,000 Russian reservists did not go over well with the 18-to-65-year-old men who might get called up.
One-way airline tickets out of Russia to visa-free destinations skyrocketed in price on Thursday and then sold out completely. Land traffic across Russia’s borders also picked up, although European news agencies disputed the most sensational claims of 20-mile traffic jams at Finnish checkpoints.
Reuters reported flights from Moscow to Turkey and Armenia, two major destinations Russian citizens can visit without applying for a visa, surged in price by up to 500 percent before selling out. Flights to Dubai were reportedly still available as of Thursday morning, but only at exorbitant prices.
“It was possible to buy a one-way ticket in the morning for 200,000 roubles to 300,000 roubles, but not anymore. That’s a panic demand from people, who are afraid that they won’t be able to leave the country afterwards,” a source in the tourism industry told Reuters.
Russian social media buzzed with claims that railroads and airlines had stopped selling tickets to men who might be conscripted, possibly on direct orders from the Kremlin:
#BREAKING: Social media accounts in Russia: Russian Railways and airlines are refusing to sell tickets to men 18-65 years of age
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) September 21, 2022
The Kremlin refused to comment on these reports, while Russian tourism officials insisted no restrictions on travel have yet been imposed. A Russian journalist who visited an airport reported that border agents are interrogating male passengers about their military status and demanding to see return tickets, but there was no verified account of passengers being refused permission to board airplanes.
The Moscow Times on Thursday cited reports of greatly increased traffic at several Russian land borders, coupled with some denials from customs officials that congestion was as severe as it appeared on social media videos:
In the South Caucasus, eyewitnesses claimed that the Russian-Georgian border “collapsed” with overwhelming traffic, according to videos shared by Ekho Kavkaza, the regional service of U.S.-funded RFE/RL news organization.
Similar traffic jams were filmed near Russia’s borders with Mongolia, though the country’s customs service denied that there was any congestion at the border crossing.
In the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan – whose shared border with Russia is the longest in the world – social media users shared footage of a seemingly endless line of cars and trucks waiting to cross.
Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia warned they would turn away Russians seeking refuge from Putin’s mobilization orders, the Moscow Times noted.
The most sensational accounts came from the border with Finland, which offers one of the few pathways for Russians to enter Europe.
Finnish officials said on Thursday that traffic from Russia “intensified” after Putin announced mobilization, and said they are considering a border shutdown to protect Finnish national security, but they denied reports of 35-kilometer lines forming at border checkpoints.
A statement from the Finnish Border Guard said reports of immense traffic jams were “incorrect and misleading.” European news agencies investigated and found some of the most astounding photos and videos of cars piled up on the Finnish border were taken days or weeks ago, and while some of the cars rolling through the border did indeed contain Russians who said they might not be coming back from their European vacations any time soon, the cars were moving.
Protests picked up in Russia after the mobilization announcement:
Protests in Moscow and St Petersburg today have grown pretty large. People chanting “No to War!” Dozens of arrests reported pic.twitter.com/9F4E5VIy9E
— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) September 21, 2022
Euronews and the Associated Press reported almost 1,200 arrests during demonstrations in 37 cities, even though protesting against Putin’s war is strictly illegal, and the punishment can be up to 15 years in prison.
“Goddamn bald-headed nutjob! He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him. I’ve said enough,” a wheelchair-bound woman in Yekaterinburg reportedly shouted on Thursday, while dozens of demonstrators were herded into prison buses by police.
A monitoring group called OVD-Info said on Thursday that Russia is actually conscripting some of the anti-war protesters, by informing detainees that fighting in Ukraine is their only alternative to lengthy prison sentences.
OVD-Info noted that over half of the protesters are women, a remarkably high percentage for Russia. One of the first protest groups to organize after Putin invaded Ukraine in February is called the “Feminist Anti-War Resistance.”
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) noted that 18 reporters were among those detained during protests in Russia on Wednesday. EFJ demanded the immediate release of all imprisoned demonstrators.