'If you bought your ticket today, we might have a problem' Traffic jams form at Russia’s border crossings as potential conscripts scramble to escape
On September 21–22, Russian social media filled with videos showing heavy traffic at the country’s border crossing points. Most of the clips showed people at the borders with Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Finland. Media outlets and Telegram channels tied the long lines to Vladimir Putin’s September 21 announcement that Russia will start conscripting soldiers to fight in the war in Ukraine.
As of noon on September 22, crossing from Russia into Georgia at the Upper Lars checkpoint in North Ossetia took approximately 10 hours, whereas the wait had been closer to 3 hours the previous night, according to Georgian blogger Nikolai Levshits. The local Emergency Situations Ministry reported on Thursday morning that traffic had returned to normal.
Judging from photographs, lines at the Mashtakovo checkpoint on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan stretched for miles on September 22. Many people rode to the border in taxis before crossing on foot. One Tolyatti resident told a local news outlet that he decided to leave Russia “as soon as mobilization was announced.”
Long lines also built up at the Kyakhta checkpoint on Russia’s border with Mongolia on September 21, but returned to normal by the next morning.
Lines began forming at checkpoints on the Finnish border in Russia’s Leningrad region on the evening of September 21; by nightfall, crossing the border reportedly took between three and five hours. 4,824 cars officially crossed the border into Finland on Wednesday, while the average in previous weeks was about 3,000 cars per day.
Upon leaving Russia, some men have reportedly been stopped for questioning about their military service. According to Telegram channels dedicated to crossing the border, as well as the BBC Russian service, authorities asked travelers about the purpose of their trips, whether they had serves in the army, whether they had military education, where they served (or why they didn’t serve), whether they had military IDs, and whether they had tickets back to Russia.
A 33-year-old who graduated from his university’s military department told Meduza that an official at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport took his passport and disappeared for about 10 minutes. “After that, he started asking me for information. He asked when I purchased my ticket. I said, ‘Why?’ And he goes, ‘Well, if it was before September 21, then no problem, but if it was after that, we might have an issue,’” the man recounted. He was ultimately allowed to cross the border.
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov called the reports of traffic at the border and skyrocketing airline fares “false information” and “greatly exaggerated.”