Flights from Moscow sell out as Russians try to escape conscription

Russians fleeing possible conscription have purchased all available flights out of Moscow – and urged the international community to “stop Putin.”

One way flights departing from Moscow have all but sold out after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country’s military would ‘partially mobilise’ 300,000 army reservists in Ukraine.

“I still can’t believe all that’s happened and why this has happened,” said Yulia on arrival in Belgrade, Serbia.

“I speak with you and I am afraid. I’m afraid because my government and police can see it and I will have problems in my country. But I want to say freedom for Ukraine. I want… please somebody stop Putin.”

Flights out of Moscow quickly filled up, as possible conscripts scrambled to avoid the draft.

Turkish Airlines don’t have any available seats for a direct flight to Istanbul until Tuesday – and even then the cheapest flight is £2441 (€2800).

At the time of publication, Pegasus, a low-cost Turkish airline, only had one available flight this week at a price of £1,411 (€1,618)

Similar tickets usually cost between £365 and £600 (€418 – €688), according to Google Flights.

Wednesday flights from Moscow to the capitals of Georgia, Turkey and Armenia — which do not require visas for Russian citizens — were unavailable within minutes of Putin’s announcement, according to Russian travel planning website aviasales.ru.

According to Air Serbia’s website, the first available flight from Moscow to Belgrade is on 9 October, costing around €800 for a one-way ticket.

Only a few airlines still fly into Russia, as the European Union has imposed a flight embargo on the country.

A group based in Serbia, called Russians, Belarussians, Ukrainians and Serbs Together Against War, tweeted that there were no available flights to Belgrade from Russia until mid-October, Reuters reported.

Flights to Turkey, Georgia and Armenia also immediately sold out, according to the Belgrade-based group.

“All the Russians who wanted to go to war already went,” the group said. “No one else wants to go there!”

Teenager Nikolay secured one of the last tickets on a flight to Yerevan, Armenia.

“Yes, this is an unscheduled visit,” he said.

“I’m 17 years old and I haven’t gotten a letter from the recruitment office yet, but I’m studying online which can be disputed as cause for draft immunity, so we left.”

Russia has announced that 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began. The real figure is likely to be much higher, with up to 80,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded since the start of the war.

Who will be called up to flight in Ukraine?

The mobilisation comes after a Ukrainian counter-offensive reclaimed vast swathes of Russian occupied territory last week.

Putin outlined the terms of the policy in an address on Wednesday morning.

“Military service will apply only to citizens who are currently in the reserve, especially those who have served in the armed forces, have certain military professions and relevant experience,” he said.

Russian-controlled regions in Ukraine have also announced plans to hold ‘referendums’ on whether or not to become part of Russia. Moscow will likely manipulate the results of these contests, White House Security advisor Jake Sullivan said.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy denounced the “sham referenda” plans as mere “noise.”