ISTANBUL — Military-aged men fled Russia en masse on Friday, filling planes and jamming border crossings to avoid mustering up for combat in Ukraine after a partial military mobilization by the Kremlin.
According to the Russian online map service Yandex Maps, queues of 10 kilometers were formed on the road leading to the southern border of Georgia.
Lines of cars at the Kazakh border were so long that some people abandoned their vehicles and continued on foot – just as some Ukrainians did after Russia invaded their country on February 24.
Meanwhile, dozens of overpriced flights out of Russia took the men to international destinations such as Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Serbia, where Russians do not need visas.
Among those who arrived in Turkey was a 41-year-old who landed in Istanbul with a suitcase and a backpack and plans to start a new life in Israel.
“I’m against this war and I’m not going to participate in it. I’m not going to be a murderer. I’m not going to kill people,” said the man, who gave his name only as Yevgeny to avoid possible retribution for his family left behind in Russia.
He called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal.
Yevgeni decided to flee after Putin announced a partial military draft on Wednesday.
German government officials expressed their desire to help Russian men leaving the military service and called for a European solution.
“Those who bravely stand up to the Putin regime and put themselves in great danger can apply for asylum in Germany due to political persecution,” said a spokeswoman for German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
Spokesman Maximilian Kall said deserters and conscientious objectors would be granted refugee status in Germany if they faced serious repression, although each case would be investigated individually.
But first they would have to reach Germany, which has no land border with Russia and where, like other European Union countries, it is much more difficult for Russians to travel.
The EU banned direct flights between its 27 member states and Russia after the Ukraine attack and recently agreed to limit the issuance of Schengen visas, which allow free movement in much of Europe.
Four of the five EU countries bordering Russia – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland – also recently decided to reject Russian tourists.
Some European officials see the Russians fleeing as a potential security risk.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Thursday that many of them “were fine with killing Ukrainians. Then they didn’t protest. It’s not right to consider them conscientious objectors.
The only EU country that still accepts Russians with Schengen visas is Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia.
The Finnish border guard announced on Friday that the number of people arriving from Russia has increased and, according to media, is 107% compared to last week.
In Vaalimaa, at one of the busiest border crossing points, the line of waiting cars stretched for half a kilometer (a third of a mile), the Finnish border guard announced.
Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin; Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland; Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.