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After Russia orders a partial mobilization, young men flee the country


A man opened fire at a recruiting center in Siberia today. Russian officials say the shooter was angry about a friend who got drafted into the army to fight in the war in Ukraine. One person was injured in that shooting. The mobilization order that President Putin announced last week has prompted all kinds of demonstrations in dozens of cities around Russia. It's also pushed Russian men to flee. One of the countries they're fleeing to is Turkey. NPR's Fatma Tanis was at the airport in Istanbul to meet some of them. And she joins us now. Hey, Fatma.


MARTIN: What was that scene like? Who did you meet coming off those planes?

TANIS: You know, there was just a constant arrival of Russians, overwhelmingly men. And they are coming from all over, not just Russia. Some left through airports in Russia. Others drove to bordering countries, like Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Georgia. Many said they had a really hard time getting out between the sheer numbers at the border and the questioning from authorities. I met one man from Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal, who said he drove at night to the Mongolian border, where he waited in line for 6 hours to cross. And then he actually ran into several friends there, who were also fleeing, before he eventually caught a flight to Istanbul.

MARTIN: Wow. So what are they telling you?

TANIS: Everyone I spoke with said they were anti-war. And most said they were saying goodbye to their lives in Russia forever. They were also very much afraid of retribution from the Russian government for fleeing and didn't want to reveal their names. You know, they left with no future plans, limited money. And now they say they're going to try to get their families here as well. Some told me they decided to leave as soon as they heard the announcement of mobilization. Others said they waited a few days to see what was happening. And one man in his mid-30s said he made a decision to leave when his friends started getting rounded up in the middle of the night.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: He said that they weren't just taking the reservists, but also men with no military history and even those with more than three children, something that Russian authorities had assured wouldn't happen. He and others told me that men who speak up against the war and mobilization are being arrested, beaten in custody and then sent to be drafted in the war. And that may be why we have overwhelmingly seen women take part in these recent public protests.

MARTIN: So Fatma, though, if Putin isn't getting the men he needs from this particular mobilization effort because people are fleeing, is he likely to call up even more?

TANIS: Well, these men certainly think so. Nearly every one of them said they believed a full mobilization is coming soon. Russia right now is conducting these so-called referendums, considered to be illegal under international law, in occupied Ukrainian territories on whether to formally join Russia. One 32-year-old man told me he thinks it's the first step for Putin to annex those areas as part of Russia. And then, he says...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And after that, he'll make this area Russian. And obviously, Ukrainian will start to attack because it's actually - it's their territory. And after that, I think he'll decide that, OK, they attack our territory. And we should make the full mobilization.

TANIS: In other words, he's worried there's going to be even a wider call up soon. Another man didn't want to talk to me. But he said he just wanted to leave the airport and said everything is worse than you know in Russia. And Russian men are going anywhere they can go now. But there were also a couple of people who were still hopeful that the war could end soon and said they were just going to wait it out.

MARTIN: NPR's Fatma Tanis reporting from Istanbul. Fatma, thank you so much for all this. We appreciate it.

TANIS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.