Russian men, mostly under the age of 35, found themselves in the midst of chaos as President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation of citizens following setbacks in the Ukraine war.
Men who had already served in the military were handed written notices in their offices or at their homes. In some cases, they had their identity documents checked on the streets and were told to appear for a health check-up, the Washington Post reported.
"They’ve been chasing me since February, trying to offer me a contract," one Moscow resident told the NYT. Several others who received notices stated that a 15-day military training would begin on Monday.
'HOW TO LEAVE RUSSIA'
'How to leave Russia' was the top search on Wednesday, according to Google search trends, as citizens booked flights to fly out of Russia. Flights to countries like Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and Dubai, not affected by the sanctions imposed by the West, were sold out in a blink of an eye. These nations are the few visa-free destinations still available to Russian passport holders.
And those who missed out on flight tickets flocked to the borders with Finland and Mongolia, forming long traffic jams at the checkpoints on Wednesday, as protests started to simmer against Putin's move in Moscow.
Big cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg witnessed 'significant' protests, the NYT report said, and more than 1,000 people were arrested from across the country, according to OVD-Info, an independent group monitoring protest activity in Russia. Slogans such as 'let our children live!" and 'send Putin to the trenches!' were heard amid protests.
Soon, videos of the protests made their way onto social media. After protest clips gained traction, police officers arrested demonstrators and loaded them onto police vans and buses. In St Petersburg, police officers reportedly thrashed protesters with batons and broke up crowds to avoid further escalation.
The demonstrations in the capital were the biggest display of public discontent since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
WHY ARE RUSSIANS PROTESTING
The protests comes in the backdrop of a televised address by President Vladimir Putin calling for partial mobilisation.
"Only citizens who are currently in the reserve and, above all, those who served in the Armed Forces and have certain military specialties and relevant experience will be subject to conscription," Putin had said.
Reacting to the announcement, the Vesna protest movement said in a public call for demonstrations, "Mobilisation means that thousands of Russian men—our fathers, brothers, and husbands—will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. What will they die for? for Putin’s palace?"
"The authorities at first said that only professionals were fighting and that they would win. It turned out that they were not winning. So the war is no longer somewhere out there; it has come to our homes," the group said.