Russians swarm Istanbul due to Putin’s mobilization

Vladimir Putin’s military draft “changed everything” for the tens of thousands of Russians who have fled their country since the Russian leader’s mobilization was announced last month, according to recent arrivals in Istanbul.

Niki Proshin, 28, left St. Petersburg last week, part of a torrent of Russian men escaping their homeland following Putin’s Sept. 21 declaration of a “partial mobilization” for the war in Ukraine. The Russian military call-up came as some Russian troops have been forced to retreat amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“Last week changed everything for hundreds of thousands of other people who decided to leave Russia,” he said. “The main reason is the danger of being drafted into the Russian army.”

Turkey, which has maintained air links with Russia while other countries blocked flights and does not impose visa restrictions on Russian visitors, has been a popular destination for those leaving for “any place” they can reach.

Turkish officials have not released data on how many Russians may have arrived in Turkey to flee the draft, but Russia is close to the top of a list of countries that sends tourists to Turkey, after Germany. Some 3 million Russians have visited the country so far this year.

Turkish media have also reported an increase in the number of Russians purchasing or renting houses in Turkey.

The NATO-member country, which relies on Russia for its energy needs and tourism, has not joined U.S. and EU sanctions against Moscow. It has tried to balance its relations with both Russia and Ukraine, positioning itself as a mediator between the two.

Proshin, a YouTube vlogger originally from the Siberian city of Omsk, said setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine had eroded Russian support for the war, even among “patriotic” Russians.

“Right now, when the Russian army is having some trouble and the Ukrainian army is pushing them out of their lands, people who were supporting this war are saying they don’t understand why this war is happening,” he said.

“They don’t want this war and they don’t want to lose their friends, husbands, brothers or themselves in this useless war.”

Proshin said his family were “very relieved” that he left Russia and now plans to wait for his girlfriend to join him before leaving for another country.