Large numbers of Russians rushed to book one-way flights out of the country after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 military reservists to continue the war in Ukraine. Putin said conscription would “prioritize people who served in the armed forces and those with military specialization and experience.”
The decree took effect on Wednesday. Following the announcement, Google searches for “how to break an arm at home” and “how to leave Russia” surged according to trends data. This sparked speculation some Russians could take extreme measures to avoid fighting in Ukraine.
In his speech, Putin added Russia would “use all the means at our disposal” if “the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people.”
Meanwhile, Russia is seeing the largest anti-war demonstrations since the start of the invasion. OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group said more than 1,300 Russians have been arrested in anti-war protests in 38 Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg since Putin’s announcement. Independent news outlets said some of those arrested were served a summons to report to military enlistment offices on Thursday, the first full day of conscription. Protesters in Moscow chanted “No to war!” and “Life to our children!” as they were dragged away by police.
Russian officials sought to calm the public, stressing that the call-up would affect a limited number of people fitting certain criteria. However, conflicting statements and a lack of details helped fuel the panic, according to the the Associated Press.
The Pentagon believes Russia is short on military supplies and manpower, estimating they’ve lost between 60,000 and 80,000 troops since the start of the invasion. While the Kremlin disputes those figures, outlets report Putin’s speech acknowledges the war in Ukraine hasn’t gone to plan.
While Putin’s government has promised that only those with military experience would be called up, Al Jazeera reported that nothing legally prevents those without military experience from also being enlisted.