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Young Russian men are heading out of Russia. Often, they are carrying just a laptop and backpack.

Where are they going? How are they getting there?

Some Russian men once thought they were safe from the front lines. Then, President Putin announced a draft. Now they leaving the country. And they are doing so in a rush. They line up at the borders and pay high prices to catch flights to countries that allow them to enter without visas. The countries include Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro, and Turkey.

The announcement of a draft affected the whole country. Mr. Putin’s decision had torn open the mask that shielded much of Russian society from their leader’s invasion of a neighbor.

Mothers, wives, and children said tearful goodbyes in remote regions. Officials delivered draft notices to houses and apartment blocks. In mountainous eastern Siberia. School buses were used to move troops to training grounds.

The Kremlin cracked down on dissent. But protests erupted across Russia. In Dagestan an impoverished southern Russian region anti-draft protesters blocked a federal highway. “When we fought in 1941 to 1945 — that was a war,” one man yelled to an angry crowd. “And now it’s not war, it’s politics.”

Military-age men clogged airports and border crossings trying to flee. Some ended up in distant cities like Istanbul and Namangan, Uzbekistan. “We decided that we do not want to live in this country anymore,” one reservist said after arriving in Turkey. The draft caught many Russians unaware. Many had tuned the war out. Polls showed that almost half of the public paid little attention to events in Ukraine.

Reports of large numbers of men getting draft notices arrived from across the country. Regions in Siberia and in the Muslim Caucasus Mountains appeared to be among the hardest hit.

The Ukrainian army is pushing Russian troops out of the strongholds they had taken earlier. Putin is losing the war. Observers say he is becoming desperate and cornered. He has already threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Some Russians ask if the war is Putin’s or Russia’s. Russians are patriotic. They will fight if their country is threatened.

One Russian man seemed resigned to his fate. He wrote that he did not “want to kill anyone” but if drafted, he would do his duty.

“How will I look my parents in the eyes if they send off their younger son and I, the older one, manage to sit it out?” “What is my future now? To kill, or to be killed?”

Source: The New York Times September 23, 2022

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