Searches for 'how to break arm' surge after Russia calls up its reservists, others flee from country

Some Russian men are desperate to find ways to avoid military mobilisation one way or another.

Tan Min-Wei | Ilyda Chua | September 22, 2022, 04:20 PM

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Following Russia's announcement on Sep. 21 that the country will mobilise up to 300,000 reservists for its "special operation" in Ukraine, flights out of the country have sold out.

Searching in the night

Russian President Vladimir Putin made an early morning announcement that Russia would call up 300,000 reservists, comprising men with previous military experience, in what was described as a "partial mobilisation".

According to Reuters, the mobilised troops will be sent to shore up Russian military operations in Ukraine, and will be called up a span of several months.

While this stopped short of full mobilisation, which the BBC quotes Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying would put 25 million men at Russia's disposal, it has apparently caused a surge in flight bookings out of the country.

Shoigu has indicated that conscripts and university students are not scheduled to be called up at the moment, but observers have noted that the mobilisation decree is vague enough that no one can be certain they will not be called up.

One way ticket going anywhere

Soon after Putin’s address, the search term for “how to break an arm at home” saw a sudden, dramatic spike, reported The Washington Post (WaPo).

The search term for “how to leave Russia” saw a similar increase.

Reuters reported that flights out of the country, especially flights to Turkey and Armenia which allow Russian visitors visa-free entry, were sold out.

Available flights out of Russia are already severely limited due to ongoing sanctions placed on Russia by Western countries due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Reuters reported the cost of one-way tickets to Turkey had more than tripled from the previous week, from 22,000 roubles (S$515), to nearly 70,000 roubles (S$1,640). Meanwhile, the price for a one-way economy class fare from Moscow to Istanbul or Dubai has reached 9,200 euros (S$12,900), according to the Associated Press (AP)

On the black market, tickets from Moscow to Belgrade — an approximately three-hour flight — went for as high as 9,000 euros (S$ 12,580), said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, as reported by AP.

However, despite initial reports that there was a nearly 35 km queue on the border between Finland and Russia, Finnish officials rubbished those rumours, saying traffic was normal.

Living in a lonely world

But some were not content to go into exile, with many taking to the streets to protest the move.

One example is this video of a crowd of people allegedly chanting "send Putin to the trenches" on one of Moscow's major streets.

But the protest very quickly became violent, with police moving in to arrest the protestors. By the end of Sep. 21, the Guardian reported that over 1,300 had been arrested in the protests.

However, these protests are relatively small in scale. Interviews by WaPo with Russian men indicated that while they were worried about voicing their opposition too loudly, they also worried if they would inevitably be called up and sent to Ukraine to fight.

Another aspect is how these protests appear to be more widespread than the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Protests had apparently spread to towns as far away as Siberia.

But a pro-Kremlin commentator quoted by Al-Jazeera said that those arrested while protesting would be the first to get mobilised, saying "we are waiting for you dear hamsters, it's time to serve".

Other reservists quoted by Al-Jazeera, while not particularly eager, were resigned to being called up, with one saying most of them would go if they were told.

"I'm not afraid. If I get the notice, I'll go."

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Top image via @francis_scarr/Twitter & Sergei Guneyev TASS/Getty Images