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Since President Putin announced the military mobilization, many young Russians have traveled to Turkey. The country is a sought-after haven because it does not adhere to Western sanctions, and has always kept its borders open to the Russians. More than a week after the start of the Russian mobilization campaign, thousands of Russians are believed to have fled to Turkey to avoid being called up to the front in Ukraine.
Immediately after Putin’s historic speech, there was a race for airline tickets to Turkish cities. Soon, prices rose to $20,000 for a single ticket between Moscow and Istanbul. Despite this high price, there was no free seat to be found in a few days.
Turkish Airlines has now deployed larger planes to meet the massive demand and tickets are available again. The price of a one-way ticket for the next week now fluctuates between 1,300 and 2,800 euros.
More than a hundred planes from Russia
More than 100 flights from Russia land in Turkish cities every day. It’s hard to say how many passengers want to avoid the military call. “But you can assume that most of the men on those flights will not return,” said Eva Rapoport of the Russian relief organization D’Arc, which operates from Istanbul and helps Russian refugees.
“We also hear stories of people now vacationing in Turkey who don’t take return flights. There are pictures of planes back to Russia with a lot of empty seats. People don’t use their return ticket.”
The organization is overwhelmed with requests for help, both from people who are still in Russia and from people who have just arrived in Turkey. The organization’s Telegram group has seen its membership double.
Rapoport: “There are now 130,000 people in our chat groups with questions about escape routes, accommodation and other practical matters. Our waiting list for emergency shelter is long, and we certainly can’t help everyone.” Not everyone needs help: many Russians take savings, book hotel rooms and try to rent apartments.
We spoke to Andrei, Roman and Maxim who fled Russia and are now in Istanbul:
Roma, Andrei and Max decide to flee Russia: this is a one-way ticket for us
While political opponents, activists and journalists mainly came to cities like Istanbul and Antalya soon after the war, they are now men from all walks of life, according to Rapoport.
“The people who fled to Turkey in March were clearly anti-Putin, they were Russians who were active in the anti-government protests. Now it is about every male and over 18. And there are people among them. They have little travel experience and have never them to travel abroad.
Her organization provides places to sleep for those who need it most. This is happening in Istanbul and in the Armenian capital Yerevan, where many Russians are also fleeing to escape the mobilization. De Ark will also soon start providing shelter in Kazakhstan. The organization operates entirely on donations.
You are welcome now
The ship takes a clear anti-war stance, and the staff hands out buttons with the text “Stop the war!” A drawing of a dove defecating on the Kremlin. Most of the Russians asking for help are against the war, says Rapoport. But it does take into account that Putin’s supporters also travel abroad. “People who would not rather die for Putin. If such a person comes to us for help, we will not refuse him. But he will be at the bottom of the queue. And our waiting list is very long.”
The Turkish government still maintains a neutral stance when it comes to the war in Ukraine. President Erdogan expresses support for Ukraine, but also keeps the door open for the Kremlin. Turkey brokered the grain deal and prisoner exchange last week.
There are also concerns about Turkey’s open-door policy, as the country’s wealthy Russians can easily evade sanctions. Turkey has also been criticized for using the Russian MIR payment system, which allowed Russian tourists to go on vacation without any problems.
The United States has warned Turkish companies that trade with Russia could lead to secondary sanctions. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has announced that it will stop accepting MIR payments.
The Kremlin also admitted on Monday that the mobilization was not going smoothly. New recruits depict conditions:
Recruit: We don’t have a damn thing
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