Russian draft dodgers pour into Kazakhstan to escape Putin’s war | CNN

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Vadim says he fell into depression last month after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military draft to send millions of soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

“I was silent,” says the 28-year-old engineer, who only stopped talking when he was at work. “I was angry and scared.”

when Russia invades Ukraine Beginning in February, Vadim says he took to the streets of Moscow to protest — but Putin’s Sept. 21 order to draft at least 300,000 people to fight seemed irreversible.

“We don’t want this war,” Vadim says. “We can’t change anything in our country even if we try.”

He decided he had only one option left. After several days Putin’s draft orderR, he tearfully bid farewell to his grandmother and left his home in Moscow – presumably forever.

Vadim and his friend Alexei traveled as fast as they could to the border of the former Soviet republic of Russia. Kazakhstanwhere they waited in line for three days to cross.

“We ran away from there Russia Because we want to live, ”says Alexey. “We fear that we may be sent to Ukraine.”

Both asked not to be identified to protect loved ones left behind in Russia.

Last week, in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, he stood outside a government registration center with more than 150 recently arrived Russians — part of an exodus of draft dodgers.

Russian arrivals queuing at a registration center in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

More than 200,000 Russians have since arrived in Kazakhstan Putin’s recruitment announcementAccording to the Kazakh government.

And it’s not hard to spot new Russian arrivals at the main train station in Almaty. Every hour, it seems, young Slavic men emerge from the train wearing backpacks, looking slightly dazed as they consult their phones for directions.

They come from cities in Russia: Yaroslavl, Togliatti, St. Petersburg, Kazan. When asked why they left, they all say the same thing: the crowd.

“I don’t want to get involved,” says Sergei, a 30-year-old computer programmer. He sat on a bench outside the railway station with his wife Irina. The couple, clutching backpacks and rolling up sleeping pads, said they hoped to travel to Turkey and hopefully apply for Schengen visas to Europe.

Sergei and his wife Irina, outside the Almaty train station in Kazakhstan.

Most of the new Russian refugees spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity.

Giorgi, a writer in his late 30s from Ekaterinburg, says he fled to Kazakhstan last week after suffering panic attacks at the thought he might be drafted into the army.

“How can I participate in a war without wanting to win it?” he asks.

He is now trying to find an apartment in Almaty and hopes that his wife and young son will be able to visit him in the winter.

Faced with the challenge of trying to live in a foreign city, Giorgi recognizes that his hardships pale in comparison to those of Ukrainians, who were forced to flee by the millions after Russia attacked their towns and cities.

Unlike Ukrainians, who bravely fight for their homeland, Giorgi says Russian draft dodgers can be considered both “refugees and aggressors” based on their citizenship.

“I didn’t support his war, I never did,” says Giorgi. “But I am still connected to the state because of my passport.”

Giorgi, a writer in his late 30s from Ekaterinburg, Russia, left his wife and young child to establish a new life in Almaty.

The new Russian refugees are not technically refugees, as the Russian government is not yet officially at war with Ukraine. According to the Kremlin, Russia is conducting a “Special military operation” against its Ukrainian neighbors..

Russian citizens can currently enter Kazakhstan for short periods with their national ID cards – and the Central Asian country’s president has urged his countrymen to welcome the new arrivals.

“Most of them are forced to leave due to desperate circumstances. We must take care of them and ensure their safety,” President Kassim-Jomart Tokayev said in late September.

An informal grassroots effort has begun to temporarily feed and house Russians in Kazakhstan.

“They’re running, scared,” says Ekaterina Korotskaya, an Almaty-based journalist who helped coordinate aid to the newly arrived Russians.

Almira Orlova, a nutritionist in Almaty, says she has helped at least 26 Russians find homes.

“They would come to my apartment, stay for a while, then stay at my friends’ apartments,” she says.

But she pointed out that when she moved to Moscow with her Russian husband several years ago, she did not receive the same hospitality.

After that, Russian landlords repeatedly refused to rent her apartments because she was “Asian,” she said.

“When I told them I was Kazakh, they said ‘I’m sorry I really can’t.’ And we couldn’t find an apartment for two months,” says Orlova.

“Citizens from Central Asia who went to Russia for the purpose of labor migration face some serious discrimination in Russia,” says Kadir Toktogulov, former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States and Canada.

Former Soviet republics Kyrgyzstan It has also seen large-scale “reverse migration” of Russians fleeing the draft.

“I don’t think Russians coming to Central Asia who are fleeing the draft face the same kind of problems or discrimination that citizens of Central Asian republics face in Russia,” says Toktogulov.

Toktogulov says his own family recently rented an apartment to a newly arrived Russian man in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

Real estate experts say the flood of Russian refugees has already sent rents skyrocketing in Almaty, the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek and other cities in the region.

The effect is also being felt in commercial real estate, as many Russians try to work remotely.

“It’s not just the person coming, big [Russian] Companies and corporate businesses, they are moving their companies to Kazakhstan,” says Medina Abilpanova, managing partner of real estate firm DM Associates in Almaty.

Madina Abilpanova, Managing Partner of DM Associates in Almaty.

She says Russian companies have contacted her and tried to relocate hundreds of their employees in an attempt to save them from military conscription.

“They are ready to move immediately, ready to pay us what we want, but we have no room,” says Abilpanova.

She speaks to CNN at the City Hub in central Almaty, where desks are filled with young Russians working quietly on their laptops.

Recently arrived Russians work at a co-working space in Almaty.

All these customers arrived in Kazakhstan in the last two weeks, says Abilpanova. As she spoke, another young Russian man came to the door carrying a huge backpack. Businessmen had to turn him away due to lack of space.

“It’s like a tsunami for us,” says Abilpanova. “Every day they come like this.”

Vadim, an engineer from Moscow who recently arrived in Kazakhstan, says his company is sponsoring him and 15 other employees to relocate to the firm’s Almaty office.

“My boss is against it [Russian] Government,” says Vadim.

Unlike many other Russians who have been suddenly deported, Vadim can rely on earning a salary for now.

But he does not know when he will meet his grandmother in Moscow.

“I really hope to see her again,” says Vadim, his eyes welling with tears.

“But I don’t know how much time she has left. I hope one day I can come back to bury her.”

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