Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, or surrendered, urging Russians to resist Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization.
Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – Moscow began a mandatory troop recall Thursday in a bid to bolster Ukraine’s faltering war effort, with authorities saying thousands have volunteered even as
Russian men flee the country to avoid being forced to fight.
Amateur footage has been circulating on social media since President Vladimir Putin ordered reservists to mobilize on Wednesday, purportedly showing hundreds of Russian citizens across the country responding to military summons.
The recall came as Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine will vote in the coming days on whether to become part of Russia in referendums that Kyiv and its allies have called an illegal land grab.
Moscow took these steps after Ukrainian forces regained control of most of the northeastern region of Kharkiv, which was seen as a potential turning point in the stalemate’s seven-month war.
The Russian military said Thursday that at least 10,000 people volunteered to fight in the 24 hours since the order was issued, but that the men also rushed to leave Russia before they were obligated to join.
Flights from Russia to neighboring countries, especially the former Soviet republics that allow Russians to enter without a visa, are almost fully booked and prices have skyrocketed, indicating a mass exodus of Russians wanting to avoid going to war.
“I don’t want to go to war,” a man named Dmitriy, who had traveled to Armenia with only one small suitcase, told AFP. “I don’t want to die in this senseless war. This is a fratricidal war.”
Men of military age made up the majority of those who arrived on the last flight from Moscow at Yerevan airport and many were reluctant to speak up.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
The Armenian capital has become a major destination for fleeing Russians since the war began on February 24, sparking fierce international opposition aimed at isolating Russia.
Looking lost and exhausted in the arrivals hall of Yerevan airport, 44-year-old Sergei said he fled Russia to escape being summoned.
“The situation in Russia will make anyone want to leave,” he told AFP.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Russians to resist Putin’s partial mobilization during his daily address Thursday evening.
“Intercept. Defend. Flee. Or surrender” to the Ukrainian Army. “You are already complicit in all these crimes and the killing and torture of Ukrainians. Because you were silent. Because you are silent.”
A monitoring group reported that more than 1,300 people were arrested during anti-mobilization demonstrations across Russia on Wednesday.
– Annexation ‘vote’ –
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Thursday demanded that Putin be held accountable for confronting Russia at a Security Council session, where the United Nations labeled abuses in Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces captured most of the northeastern region of Kharkiv
We can’t — we won’t let President Putin get away with it,” Blinken said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – whom Blinkin has refused to meet individually since the invasion in February – has criticized Western accusations.
“There is an attempt today to impose a completely different narrative of Russian aggression as the origin of this tragedy,” Lavrov told the Security Council.
The standoff escalated on the diplomatic stage as officials installed by the Kremlin in Russian-controlled Ukrainian regions on Thursday vowed to press ahead with this week’s annexation elections.
Four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in the south – announced that they would hold voting over a five-day period, starting Friday.
Men of military age made up the majority of those who arrived on the last flight from Moscow at Yerevan airport
Western leaders meeting in New York this week unanimously condemned the vote.
Speaking at the United Nations, US President Joe Biden accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of “shamelessly” violating the UN Charter with a war aimed at “neutralizing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state”.
– Nuclear threat –
The incorporation of war-torn regions into Russia would mark a significant escalation of the conflict, as Moscow could then attempt to argue that it was defending its territory against Ukrainian forces.
After the vote was announced by his proxy officials in Ukraine, Putin announced that Russia would call up some 300,000 reservists to bolster the war effort and warned that Moscow would use “all means” to protect its territory.
Former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement on social media that those means included “strategic nuclear weapons”. He predicted that the polling districts “will merge into Russia.”
Lyubov Prokopyevna in the destroyed building she was hit by a missile in Kharkiv on Wednesday
To most observers, the results of the simultaneous votes were an already imposed outcome and was hastened as Ukrainian forces were making sweeping gains in a counterattack to retake the east.
The referendums are reminiscent of a similar vote in 2014 that saw Ukraine’s Crimea annexed to Russia. Western capitals said the vote was fraudulent and imposed sanctions on
Moscow in response.
Election officials in the Donetsk region, which has been partly controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, said voting would be door-to-door in the early days. But that will only be possible at polling stations on the last day, Tuesday.