As thousands of Russians try to flee the country to escape the partial mobilization of civilians into the army, Ukraine’s president urged conscripts on Friday night to “sabotage any enemy activity.”
Addressing Ukrainians in the Russian-occupied regions, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address that his compatriots should “hide” from the mobilization and “avoid summons” from military commanders.
“If you enter the Russian military, sabotage any enemy activity, interfere with any Russian operation, give us all the important information about the occupiers: their bases, headquarters, ammunition depots,” he added.
His comments came three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists. Russia’s Defense Ministry said shortly after that it aimed to add around 300,000 troops, though the presidential decree keeps the door open for a broader call.
The first mobilization of reservists in Russia since World War II comes after Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive broke through Russian lines on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second most populous city. They then pushed deeper into the disputed Russian proxy-controlled Donbas region, forcing Kremlin units to retreat rapidly, losing soldiers and military equipment.
Within hours, images and videos began appearing on social media of people struggling to escape to neighboring countries, including Turkey and Georgia, and the cost of flights out of Moscow skyrocketed, topping $5,000, according to Reuters. .
Long lines of traffic have also built up along the borders of countries such as Belarus, Georgia and Armenia.
A 23-year-old woman said she booked seats on a flight to Kyrgyzstan with her 24-year-old husband an hour after Putin made his mobilization announcement. NBC News has agreed not to name the couple because they fear repercussions from Russian authorities for speaking to foreign media.
The woman said they agreed in February, after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. that his “last straw was military mobilization.”
Within hours of booking her flights, she said prices nearly doubled the amount she paid, adding that they told airport officials the purpose of her visit was tourism.
Now that flights are scarce, he said most of his friends are “planning to leave the country by train now.”
Most of his family supported the couple’s decision, he said, adding that his relatives “feel nervous and miss us but they know it’s the right way to go.”
They planned to stay “at least until the end of the mobilization,” he said. “We can’t predict anything,” she added. “But we know for a fact that in war there are no winners, only losers.”
Others express similar views, including Maxim Khatuntsev. After crossing into Georgia, he told The Associated Press that he “didn’t really like” what Russia was doing in Ukraine.
“The issue is not that we are afraid, the issue is our disgust at this situation,” he said, adding: “I have a lot of relatives in Ukraine and I don’t like it at all.”
Elsewhere in Russia, videos have emerged of discussions between military recruiters and conscripts, as well as members of the public.
In all 11 time zones across the country, men have also been filmed hugging their tearful family members before being detained for duty.
Across the border, in Ukraine, controversial referendums on whether to join Russia are being voted on, in four regions occupied by its forces or fighters from breakaway regions backed by Moscow.
Elections in the occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions have already been condemned as a farce by Kyiv and its Western allies, including the United States.
President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday that Russia’s referendums are a “false pretext for trying to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also told reporters on Friday that the United States was prepared to impose more economic sanctions on Russia if Moscow tries to annex more Ukrainian territory.
Associated Press other Reuters contributed.