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'Not cannon fodder': Russians continue to flock to Georgia

This wave of exiles is the second observed in Georgia after a first series of departures towards this small country of the Caucasus just after the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, on February 24.

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'Not cannon fodder': Russians continue to flock to Georgia

This wave of exiles is the second observed in Georgia after a first series of departures towards this small country of the Caucasus just after the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, on February 24.

At the border, a line of vehicles almost twenty kilometers long has formed, while others pass by on bicycles and even on foot, bags on their backs or dragging their luggage behind them.

"I had no choice but to flee Russia," Nikita told AFP after crossing the Georgian side of the border at Kazbegi post, located in a narrow, rocky gorge.

"What reason would I have to go to this crazy war? I'm not cannon fodder, I'm not a murderer," the 23-year-old continues, as a vulture flies overhead. her head.

Like most of the men interviewed by AFP, he did not wish to give his surname for fear of reprisals.

"Our president wants to drag us all into a fratricidal war, which he declared on totally illegitimate bases," adds Denis, 38, who simply wants to "escape".

"For me, it's not a nice vacation in Georgia, it's an emigration," he says with a sad smile.

Alexandre Soudakov, a 32-year-old executive, judges him that the mobilization was "the straw that broke the camel's back" after twenty years of ever more authoritarian Russian power.

"The Ukrainians are our brothers. I don't understand how I could kill them, or get myself killed," he said.

He says he is now considering seeking asylum in Europe, once his wife and infant son join him in Georgia from the city of Saint Petersburg (northwestern Russia).

- "Shameless corruption" -

The influx of Russian exiles has received a mixed reception in Georgia, a country where the painful memory of the 2008 war with Moscow is still fresh in people's minds.

The five-day conflict culminated in Russia's recognition of two breakaway pro-Russian Georgian republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Moscow is stationing troops.

During the first four months of the war, 50,000 Russians arrived in Georgia. Since the announcement of the mobilization, around 10,000 have crossed the border every day, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior.

Some 40,000 Russians also joined Armenia, another Caucasus country, in the first four months of the war. No figures are currently available for the more recent period.

On Sunday, Russian authorities for the first time acknowledged that there was a large influx of Russians at the borders, not only to the Caucasus, but also to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Finland.

Local authorities on the border with Georgia mentioned a queue of nearly 2,300 cars to leave Russia.

Nikita explains this queue by the "shameless corruption" of Russian police officers, who sometimes close the road in order to "extort money from desperate people".

"It currently takes up to three days to travel twenty kilometers to the Georgian border, but if you pay a bribe to the police, it only takes a few hours for them to escort you to the border “, he testifies.

Alexandre Soudakov confirms, saying he paid 1,200 dollars to the police but that it still took him about thirty hours to reach the Georgian border.

“Millions of people will follow, nobody wants to go to this war, even those who are poisoned by the propaganda of the Russian government”, predicts Nikita.

Igor, 32, is one such person.

"I'm a patriot, I support Putin and the special military operation in Ukraine, but I don't want to go to war because I'm the sole breadwinner for my family and I have this damn mortgage," he said.

Igor plans to work remotely for a Russian IT company from Georgia, but he will be forced to return to Russia in six months when his passport expires.

"The only thing I know is that I will be alive for another six months," he concludes.

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