A dramatic timelapse video from a flight tracking service appears to show hundreds of Russians fleeing their country after President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of at least 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine.
Flightradar24, a Swedish company that provides real-time aircraft flight tracking information, shared a video on Thursday showing a massive number of flights departing airports in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The video was created a day after Putin made a national address to announce Russia’s largest draft since World War II, which went into immediate effect, following a series of embarrassing setbacks for his forces in Ukraine after seven months of fighting.
“We are talking about partial mobilization, that is, only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience,” Putin said.
News of the military call-up sparked protests in more than three dozen Russian cities resulting in some 1,300 arrests, and sent prices for one-way airline tickets soaring.
Google Trends data also showed an uptick in searches for Aviasales, which is Russia’s most popular website for purchasing flights.
Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia, both destinations that still allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out for the coming days, according to Aviasales data.
The cheapest flights from Moscow to Dubai were costing more than $5,000 — about five times the average monthly wage in Russia.
Traffic also surged at border crossings with Finland and Georgia.
“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 tourism industry source said.
Russia, however, insisted that reports of a mass exodus were overblown.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted in the Washington Post as saying: “The information about a certain feverish situation in airports is very much exaggerated.”
Russian news agencies reported on Thursday that 10,000 people had volunteered to fight even before their call-up papers had arrived, citing the Russian General Staff.
But Google searches showed that desperate Russians were researching how to break their own bones to avoid being sent to frontline — with searches for “how to break an arm at home” soaring in the nation.
In his nightly address on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described Russia’s decision on mobilization “a frank admission that their regular army, which has been prepared for decades to take over a foreign country, did not withstand and crumbled.”
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