The latest wave in Russia’s mass exodus has been captured from the sky, with new satellite images showing hundreds of cars in gridlock making a beeline for the border.
Vladimir Putin’s threat that Russia would be mobilising 300,000 soldiers has generated panic among young men, who now refuse to shed blood in Ukraine after witnessing over seven months of pain for the military.
Ukrainian officials this week claimed Russia has lost over 50,000 soldiers since the February invasion. US figures estimate casualties, both killed and wounded, have reached over 80,000 for the Russian military.
Tens of thousands of Russians have already flooded into neighbouring countries since the announcement.
Earlier this week, a video of a Russian servicewoman addressing new conscripts about their lack of supplies did the rounds on social media, further highlighting the dire reality for young Russians unlucky enough to be hauled away for military service.
One image taken by Maxar Technologies showed a string of cars lined up for some 20 kilometres. Others have reportedly cycled and even walked to their closest border crossing.
“I have no choice but to flee Russia,” one man, who just made it over the Georgian border, told AFP this week
“Why on earth would I need to go to that crazy war? I am no cannon fodder. I am not a murderer.”
Fleeing Russians decrying Vladimir Putin’s latest move refused to give their real names for fear of future consequences.
“Our president wants to drag all of us in the fratricidal war, which he declared on totally illegitimate grounds. I want to escape,” another added.
“To me, this is not a nice Georgia holiday, this is an emigration.”
For many, Putin’s mobilisation is the “final straw”, as public opposition to the new mandate grows. Protesters have already been rounded up by the thousands, with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights confirming on Tuesday that more than 2,300 people were detained across Russia at protests.
Georgia is a favourable choice for men fleeing, as Russians can enter and stay up to a year without a visa. Officials say over 53,000 Russians have entered the country since last week, while tens of thousands more have also escaped to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Finland.
An estimated 40,000 more have crossed into Armenia, another nation that also has no visa requirement for Russians.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Tuesday his country would ensure the safety of Russians fleeing “a hopeless situation”.
“This is a political and humanitarian issue,” Mr Tokayev added. “The territorial integrity of states must be unshakeable.”
Kazakhstan has condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and called for respect of territorial integrity, as Russia held annexation referendums in four Ukrainian regions.
“In our immediate vicinity a major war is underway. We must remember this, thinking above all about our security,” he added.
Heartbreaking photos captured friends and relatives saying goodbye to Russian reservists, who now face uncertain futures as Moscow continues on its warpath.
It comes as Putin threatened Russia would use any and all available means to defend its territory, hinting that after the annexation of Ukraine, Moscow could deploy strategic nuclear weapons to repel attempts to retake the territory.
“I want to remind you – the deaf who hear only themselves: Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons if necessary,” former leader Dmitry Medvedev – a Putin ally who is now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council — said on social media on Tuesday.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the United States was taking the reiterated threat “seriously” but had seen nothing to cause Washington to change its nuclear posture.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg responded, warning Russia of the catastrophic consequences of prompting Western intervention upon the launch of nuclear warheads.
“Russia must know that the nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” he said.