“No rush” is the sentiment felt by Russians who escaped the recruitment drive as they leave Georgia and return home, a month after Russia said it had completed its mobilization for its war in Ukraine.
Suffering casualties and pushed back by Ukrainian forces, Russia announced conscription on September 21 – a move that triggered a wave of men of draft age, thousands strong, fleeing to Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan to avoid being sent there the front.
More than 110,000 Russians have fled to Georgia this year, Reuters reported, citing Georgia government statistics. The influx proved a double-edged sword, fueling both an economic boom and resentment in a country where anti-Russian sentiment is rife.
Though Vladimir Putin and his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have called out the draft, many say they won’t be returning home any time soon.
“First of all, the conflict must end,” said Emil, a 26-year-old game developer who spent two days queuing at the border to leave Russia.
“It’s gotten to a point where everyone is at risk – especially men… I put my safety first. Of course I don’t want to go back to a country where the police can arrest me for just walking past them. I want freedom, to feel safe,” he said in an interview in Tbilisi.
However, given the Kremlin’s reluctance to reverse an official mobilization order, there are fears that renewed conscriptions could spring up without warning.
“I have a very vague idea of what should happen in Russia for me to want to go back there. But now I’ve rented an apartment in Tbilisi for six months and registered a business. I’ll be here for the next six months,” said Slava, a 28-year-old who also works in the mobile games industry.
“I will watch what is going on in Russia. Of course I would like to come back because I liked it there – apart from a few aspects – and I love Russia.”
However, the arrival of thousands of Russians, many of whom are relatively wealthy, in a comparatively poor country of just 3.7 million people was taken as a sign of a loss of control.
“There is a feeling in society that the situation is out of control,” opposition MP Salome Samadashvili said in front of a Ukrainian flag in her office.
Ms Samadashvili fears that Putin could use the pretext of “protecting” the Russians in Georgia as a reason for another invasion that mirrors what he has done in Ukraine.
Georgian opinion is that one fifth of their land is occupied by Russia.
Numerous Russian arrivals sympathize with this message, speaking out against both the war and Putin’s oppression at home, and some are taking root.
“We decided to move… so that we could feel more free,” said Denis Shabenkov, an entrepreneur who moved to Tbilisi in March. In June he opened a coffee shop in Tbilisi, and last month he closed his original cafe in St. Petersburg.
“If I remember how the police behave in St. Petersburg or what the city council and the government are doing – I don’t want to go back there at all,” he said.
Much like Ukraine, Georgia faces its own plight as two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain under the control of Russian-backed separatists.
In 2008 Moscow said they were being threatened by the Georgian government and briefly invaded other parts of Georgia.
On August 12, 2008, then-Polish President Lech Kaczyński addressed 150,000 Georgians along with leaders from Ukraine and the Baltic States.
“Today it’s Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic States and then maybe my country, Poland,” President Kaczyński said as bullets fell hundreds of meters away.
Reuters, TVP World