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When 27-year-old Nikita watched Russian President Vladimir Putin announce military mobilization while visiting his uncle in St. Petersburg, he decided to leave his homeland.
Two days later he crossed the border into Finland.
“It’s just crazy. All my friends (are) in danger,” the sound engineer said minutes after setting foot in the Nordic country.
I am only for freedom, Russia (free) from Putin, democracy in Russia.
He first fled Russia after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine to Turkey and returned for a short visit to get some papers. He is now planning to return to Turkey.
“It’s just crazy. I’m just for freedom, Russia (free) from Putin, democracy in Russia,” he said, breaking into tears. He declined to give his last name.
Nikita was one of a dozen young men spoken to by Reuters at the Vaalimaa border crossing in southeastern Finland, whose numbers have been growing in the days since Putin announced the call-up of 300,000 military reservists.
They were traveling on tourist visas but said they would either not return or were considering not returning.
“I’m leaving Russia,” said 21-year-old Alexander, who was on his way to France.
Traffic to Finland across its border with Russia was heavy on Friday. But the Finnish government, which fears it will become a major transit state, plans to stop all Russians from entering on tourist visas in the coming days, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told a news conference in New York.
“All tourist routes will be stopped,” Haavisto said.
Exceptions may still apply for humanitarian reasons, but avoiding conscription is unlikely to constitute grounds for asylum, he said.
Finnish border guards said the number of Russians who had entered the previous day was more than double the number who had arrived the week before.
About 7,000 people entered from Russia on Thursday, including about 6,000 Russians, according to the border guard.
Max, a 21-year-old Russian student who declined to give his last name, said he was going to Finland to catch a flight to Germany to visit relatives.
“Technically I’m a student so I shouldn’t be worried about being drafted, but we’ve seen things change very quickly so I suppose there’s a chance,” he told Reuters. “I just wanted to be safe.
A Russian couple, 29-year-old Slava and 35-year-old Yevgeny, also left due to uncertainty that they would ever be drafted.
They decided to leave as Putin announced a partial mobilization on Wednesday, they said. They left their dog Moby with their friends. Their families cried as they left, they said.
“We are not in demand at the current stage, but we don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Slava told Reuters. “We don’t support what’s happening now. We don’t want to be a part of it.”
“It was a difficult decision (to leave). We have plans, we have careers. The best scenario is to come back. On the other hand, (saving our) life is essential.”
Finland’s land border crossings remained one of the few entry points for Russians into Europe after a number of countries closed both their physical borders and their airspace to Russian aircraft in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
At the busiest Vaalimaa crossing, cars lined up for up to 400 meters on Friday, a longer queue than the day before, a border official said.
“Compared to Friday last week, we have more traffic,” Vaalimaa station deputy chief Elias Laine told Reuters. “We expect traffic to remain busy over the weekend.”
Those arriving by car or bus left their vehicles to have their papers checked before continuing their journey. Border guards searched some vehicles.
Lines were also “longer than normal” at Nuijamaa’s second largest crossing.
Finland decided to keep its border with Russia open after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, although it limited the number of consular appointments available to Russian travelers applying for visas.