At least 1,400 Russians had been arrested by Thursday in mass protests against the biggest conscription since World War II — as massive lines formed at its borders to make a desperate exodus from the war-bent nation.
Protests erupted in at least 38 cities Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of 300,000 troops to his flagging Ukraine war while also alarmingly escalating the threat of all-out nuclear war with the west.
Many of the protesters were served summonses ordering them to report to enlistment offices on Thursday, the first full day of conscription.
Video footage from Novosibirsk showed riot-gear-clad officers marching in to haul away peaceful protesters rallying outside the central square.
“I don’t want to die for Putin or for you!” one of the arrested men shouted.
By late Wednesday, at least 1,400 people had been arrested across Russia — with reports coming in overnight of more arrests and brutality by officers, according to the monitoring group OVD-Info.
The vast majority of arrests were in Russia’s two largest cities, with at least 530 arrests recorded in Moscow and more than 470 in St. Petersburg.
In some cities, police were being forced to slow the rate of arrests because all the holding cells were already packed, the group said.
Flights out of Russia quickly sold out after Putin’s announcement — and videos appeared to capture seemingly endless lines of cars trying to flee across all available borders.
“Every normal person is (concerned), it’s horrible,” said one man, identifying himself only as Sergey, as he arrived in Belgrade after a flight from Moscow.
“It is OK to be afraid of the war and such things.”
On Wednesday, 4,824 Russians arrived in Finland — the longest border with the European Union — up from the 3,133 a week earlier. That exodus “intensified” overnight, the Finnish Border Guard said Thursday.
“The number clearly has picked up,” the Finnish border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, said.
The same was true in all of Russia’s borders, according to the independent Moscow Times, which said an “exceptional number” of terrified citizens were trying to flee.
The rush was so intense the border with Georgia “collapsed” with overwhelming traffic, according to the Moscow outlet.
Similar endless lines of cars were filmed at Russia’s borders with Mongolia and the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, whose shared border with Russia is the longest in the world.
The Kremlin dismissed the border reports as “highly exaggerated,” saying some footage shared online was “fake.”
Meanwhile, the three Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia said they would refuse refuge to Russians fleeing Putin’s mobilization after imposing restrictions on Russian tourists earlier this week.
The exodus came as Ukraine accused Russia of launching eight missile and 16 air strikes and firing 115 anti-aircraft missiles at military and civilian targets in the last 24 hours.
Nine missiles hit a hotel and a power station in Zaporizhzhia, killing at least one person and leaving others trapped under rubble, according to regional governor Oleksandr Starukh.
Later Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to face Ukrainian and Western counterparts when U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan brief the Security Council.
With Post wires