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Russians who fled to Turkey escape Putin’s military draft

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Vladimir Putin’s military draft “changed everything” for throngs of Russians who have fled their country since the mobilization was announced last month, according to recent arrivals in Istanbul.

Niki Proshin, 28, left St Petersburg this week as huge numbers of men escaped following the Sept. 21 declaration of a “partial mobilization” for the war in Ukraine.

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“Last week changed everything for hundreds of thousands of other people who decided to leave Russia,” he said. “The main reason is the danger of being drafted into the Russian army.”

Turkey, which maintained air links with Russia while other countries blocked flights, has been a popular destination for those leaving for anywhere they can reach.

Proshin, a YouTube vlogger originally from the Siberian city of Omsk, said setbacks on the battlefield had eroded support for the war, even among “patriotic” Russians.

“Right now, when the Russian army is having some trouble and the Ukrainian army is pushing them out of their lands, people who were supporting this war are saying they don’t understand why this war is happening,” he said.

“They don’t want this war and they don’t want to lose their friends, husbands, brothers or themselves.”

Proshin said his family were “very relieved” he left Russia and now plans to wait for his girlfriend to join him before leaving for another country.

Eva Rapoport, the Istanbul coordinator for Ark, a group helping Russians fleeing their country, said there had been a significant increase in the numbers arriving in Turkey since the mobilization declaration.

“There are more people fleeing, more people need some urgent help, accommodation and there are more requests for information, legal advice” she said.

“Nobody wants to stay and die for (Vladimir) Putin, so it is really hard to travel abroad when you cannot use your bank accounts.” Rapoport.

Many Russians arriving in Turkey after the start of the war have suffered shock caused by the invasion, she said, as well as difficulties in finding a place to live or ways to pay for goods due to sanctions on the Russian finance sector.

Maxim Bocharov is one of those disillusioned with Putin’s Russia. Speaking at an anti-war demonstration near the Russian consulate in Istanbul, he said he had taken part in protests against the invasion in Moscow.

“This mobilization was the last step for me,” the former sales manager said. “I want to say to the Ukrainian people that not every Russian is like a brainwashed zombie.”

Referring to his new life in Istanbul, where he landed two days after the draft announcement, he added: “It’s the first time in my life when I feel myself being really free.”

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