Thousands of Russians are heading to Finland due to mobilization pressure from Putin’s Ukraine

Traffic on Finland’s border with Russia was heavy on Friday, with the number of Russians crossing the border steadily increasing after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered military mobilization as authorities considered new entry restrictions.

The number of Russians who entered the previous day was more than twice as many as the previous week, the border guard said.

Max, a 21-year-old Russian student who declined to give his last name, said he was going to Finland to catch a flight to Germany to visit relatives.

“Technically, I’m a student, so I shouldn’t be afraid of being invited, but we’ve seen things change very quickly, so I assume the possibility is there,” he told Reuters after crossing the border into Finland’s Vaalimaa.

“I just wanted to be safe,” he said.

Possible new entry restrictions

Finland is considering banning most Russians from entering the country, with government officials expecting an announcement later Friday.

A snapshot taken on Thursday at the Nuijamaa border crossing in Lappeenranta, Finland, shows a long line of cars waiting to cross the border from Russia. (Lauri Heino/Lehtikuva/The Associated Press)

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday that the government is assessing the risks of people traveling through Finland and is considering ways to sharply reduce transit from Russia.

About 7,000 people entered from Russia on Thursday, including about 6,000 Russians, a 107 percent increase from the same day last week, according to the Border Patrol.

Three people had applied for asylum on Thursday. According to officials, none had it a week earlier.

A Russian couple, 29-year-old Slava and 35-year-old Yevgeni, also left, as they were not expected to be called up for military service at any point.

They had decided to leave the moment Putin announced a partial mobilization on Wednesday, they said. They had left their dog Moby with friends. They said their families cried as they left.

“At this stage we are not in demand, but we don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Slava told Reuters. “We don’t support what’s happening now. We don’t want to be a part of it.”

“It was a difficult decision [to leave]. We have plans, we have careers. Best case scenario is to go back. From the other side, [saving our] life is essential.”

Few ways out

Finnish land border crossings have remained among the few points of entry for Russians into Europe after a number of countries closed both their physical borders and their airspace to Russian aircraft in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Videos are emerging of what Russia’s mass mobilization of troops looks like, where men mainly from poorer neighborhoods are gathered to fight in Ukraine. Tensions and suspicions are on the rise in Russia, and people are fleeing en masse.

In Vaalimaa, the busiest border crossing point, cars stood up to 400 meters away on Friday, which is a longer queue than the day before, the border official said.

“Compared to last week’s Friday, we have more traffic,” Vaalimaa station deputy manager Elias Laine told Reuters. “We expect traffic to be heavy over the weekend.”

Those arriving by car or bus left their vehicles for paperwork to be checked before continuing their journey. Border guards searched some vehicles.

Queues were also “longer than usual” at the second largest border crossing, which is located in Nuijamaa.

Finland has decided to keep its border with Russia open following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, although it has reduced the number of consular appointments available to Russian travelers seeking visas.