December 6, 2022

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‘Nobody knew what was going to happen’: CNN talks to Russians who tried to cross the border amid fears of making calls

People drive their cars to cross the border from Russia to Kazakhstan at the Mariinsky border crossing on September 27. (Photo: AP)

Carrying a bag in each hand and the other on his back, Denis walks across a mountain from Russia to Georgia.

“I’m tired. That’s all I feel,” the 27-year-old says, trying to catch her breath.

Denis spent six days on the road, most of them waiting in line to cross the border. He was one of hundreds of thousands of Russians.

Although the crossers included women and children, most of the men were of fighting age who feared they might be recruited to fight in the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. According to the Georgian Ministry of Interior, at least 10,000 people pass through the Lars border crossing per day.

Denis, who did not want to give his last name, said he decided to leave because of uncertainty following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a “partial mobilization” of citizens last week. Fought by professional soldiers. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the military would recruit about 300,000 people with prior military experience to fight in Ukraine.

Although the current draft does not suit him, Denis fears that may change.

“How do I know what’s going to happen in three years? How do I know how long this will last?”

“It’s uncertain, nobody knows what’s coming next,” he told CNN.

His sentiment is shared by many who cross the border into Georgia. They were teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers and builders: ordinary Russians with no interest in war. Although they say they disagree with the government, they believe they can do nothing to force Putin to change course.

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Instead, despite the dangerous journey, they have chosen to leave their country. Denise said she spent days in her car without enough food and toiletries.

“When you’re waiting there, there’s no bathrooms. You don’t get much to eat because everything sells out immediately, and nobody packs a lot of food because nobody expects it to take that long,” he said.

Another man walked 12 miles (20 kilometers) to CNN Georgia, fueled by concerns that the draft could escalate.

“It doesn’t apply to me today, but it might apply tomorrow,” the person said, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity because he fears Moscow’s long handle.