Millions of Russians woke up on Wednesday to the news that President Vladimir Putin was mobilizing the military in the country’s war with Ukraine.
The move spurred many of those most likely to be called up for military duty and who could afford it to purchase one-way plane tickets out of the country, Reuters reported.
For the less affluent, it led to a spike in internet traffic with the phrase “how to break your arm at home” trending in Russia.
Putin said 300,000 reservists would immediately be conscripted to fight in the invasion of Ukraine, according to Reuters.
The men targeted for the call to military service, mostly reservists under 35, received handwritten notices that they were likely to, or had already been called up for military service. Some were given four hours to report to enlistment centers, according to some reports.
Tens of thousands have sought to flee the country, with five-hour long queues at the borders of Finland, Georgia, and Mongolia, The BBC reported.
According to FlightAware, a website that tracks flights around the world, seats on planes to the cities that still allow direct flights to Russia, were sold out within hours of the announcement.
“This is panic demand from people who are afraid they won’t be able to leave the country later — people are buying tickets not caring where they fly to,” a Russian tourism industry source told Reuters.
While most who were targeted to be called up for service had received written notices, some had received phone calls.
“They’ve been chasing me since February, trying to offer me a contract,” one Moscow resident who served in the army and has prior combat experience, told The Washington Post.
“I was ordered to undergo a [health] commission tomorrow morning,” the man, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said. “So, I doubt I will be spared now.”
Though Putin officially called up only reservists, others who say they received notices were not former service members nor in the reserves.
Soon after Wednesday’s announcement, questions began appearing on social media sites. “How to get out of Russia,” and “how to break your arm at home,” presumably to get out of military service, were trending topics.
Protests broke out after the announcement. At least 1,312 people were arrested, according to the human rights watchdog OVD-Info.org.
Putin said a draft was needed because the West was using Ukrainians as a proxy force in a campaign to “weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country.”
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