ISTANBUL—Vlad left Russia shortly after his home country invaded Ukraine in February, but he reluctantly returned in August to put his affairs in order. Last week President Vladimir Putin threatened nuclear escalation and announced a partial mobilization, and the 27-year-old knew it was time to flee to Turkey again.
The conscription could press hundreds of thousands of Russians into the war to help replenish the military’s depleted ranks. Ukrainian forces have already killed or wounded some 80,000 Russian soldiers, according to a U.S. estimate. Vlad, who requested The Dispatch not publish his surname so he could speak freely, wasn’t interested in joining that long list of casualties.
Hundreds of thousands of other Russian nationals seem to feel the same way. Last week evacuees waited for hours at border crossings—on mopeds, bicycles, scooters, in cars, and on foot—in last-ditch efforts to reach border countries permitting their passage. Finland, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Georgia have collectively accepted nearly a quarter-million Russian citizens in recent days.
Others bought up the handful of flights destined for countries still accepting Russian aircraft, including Serbia, Armenia, and Turkey. “RUBLES ACCEPTED HERE” banners flashed across exchange offices in Istanbul International Airport last week. Some 3 million Russians traveled to Turkey last month alone, official data showed, a 23 percent year-over-year increase.