'A lot of panic': Russian men, fearing draft to fight in Ukraine, seek refuge abroad

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ISTANBUL - A little more than 12 hours after he heard that Russian civilians could be pressed into military service in the Ukraine war, the tour guide said he bought a plane ticket and a laptop, changed money, wrapped up his business, kissed his crying mother goodbye and boarded a plane out of his country, with no idea when he might return.

On Thursday morning, he walked into the cavernous arrival hall of the Istanbul International Airport carrying only a backpack and the address of a friend who had promised to put him up while he figured out what to do with his life.

"I was sitting and thinking about what I could die for, and I didn't see any reason to die for the country," said the tour guide, 23, who, like others interviewed for this article, declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

Since President Vladimir Putin's announcement on Wednesday of a new troop call-up, some Russian men who had once thought they were safe from the front lines have fled the country. And they have done so in a rush, lining up at the borders and paying rising prices to catch flights to countries that allow them to enter without visas, such as Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro and Turkey.

Though Mr Putin officially called up only reservists, saying that only men with military experience would receive orders to report for duty, many worried that the government would impose new travel restrictions on conscription-aged men and wanted to make a quick escape just in case.

Turkey already was among the countries that received a large exodus of Russians at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion. Many were fleeing the crackdown at home, including the criminalisation of dissent, with speaking out against the invasion or even calling it a war now carrying serious penalties.

Others worried about the impact of international sanctions and Russia's growing isolation on the economy and their jobs.

Now, a new wave may be beginning, and while the exact scope of it was not immediately clear, the rush for plane tickets and the long lines of cars at the borders were indications that the prospects of an expanded conscription have alarmed a swath of Russian society.

Alexander, an executive manager from Moscow, said he started packing even before Mr Putin had finished his announcement on Wednesday. Minutes later, he was on his way to the airport, looking for available tickets en route.

Tickets to his preferred de...

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