Moscow, Russia.- Many Russians are rushing to book one-way flights out of the country after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists to be sent to fight in Ukraine.
Outbound flights from Russia soared and sold out quickly on Wednesday, amid fears that Russia will close its borders or announce a broader mobilization in which all men of fighting age will be sent to the front lines.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the call will be limited to those with experience as professional soldiers, and that students and conscripts will not be called. The Kremlin declined to comment on whether the borders will be closed to those subject to the mobilization order, asking people to be patient while the law is clarified.
Meanwhile, data from Google Trends showed an increase in searches for Aviasales, Russia’s most popular flight booking site.
Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul, Turkey, and Yerevan, Armenia, destinations that allow Russians to enter visa-free, sold out on Wednesday, according to Aviasales data. Flights from Moscow to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines were all booked or unavailable as of Sunday, starting at 2:15 p.m. Moscow time.
Some routes with stopovers, including those from Moscow to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, were also unavailable, while the cheapest flights to Dubai cost more than $5,000, about five times the median monthly wage. Typical one-way fares to Turkey soared to nearly $1,150, up from just over $350 a week ago, according to data from Google Flights.
The director of the Russian tourism agency said that no restrictions on traveling abroad have yet been imposed. Aeroflot, the country’s flag carrier, said it is not limiting ticket sales.
Tickets to Belgrade from Air Serbia – the only European airline apart from Turkish Airlines that maintains flights to Russia despite the European Union embargo – were sold out for the next few days. Tickets to Istanbul and Dubai skyrocketed to $9,119.
The war in Ukraine: an exodus of Russians
Putin’s decree stipulates that the Defense Ministry will determine the number of people to recruit. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in a televised interview that 300,000 reservists with combat experience or military service will be called up in an initial phase.
There has been an exodus from Russia since Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February. In the speech in which he announced the mobilization, Putin also issued a veiled threat of nuclear war.
Expressions of panic soon proliferated on social media. Anti-war groups said the shortage of air tickets and their inflated prices are due to huge demand.
Some people said on social media that they were turned away while trying to cross into neighboring Georgia by land. Others said that the website of the national railway company crashed due to the number of people looking for ways to leave the country.
Also in social networks, advice abounded on how to avoid the mobilization of reservists and leave the country.
In an apparent attempt to defuse the situation, the head of the parliamentary defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said authorities will not impose any more restrictions on reservists who want to leave the country, local media reported.
A Serbia-based group called “Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians and Serbs together against the war” tweeted that no flights from Russia to Belgrade are available until mid-October. He added that flights to Turkey, Georgia and Armenia are sold out.
“All the Russians who wanted to go to war are already there! No one else wants to go,” the group said.