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Russia Begins Troop Mobilization for Ukraine; Many have fled at Putin’s call

Russia Begins Troop Mobilization for Ukraine;  Many have fled at Putin's call

The Russian military reported that at least 10,000 people volunteered to fight within 24 hours of the order.

Moscow:

Moscow began its mandatory troop call-up on Thursday to try to bolster the faltering war effort in Ukraine, with authorities saying thousands have volunteered even as Russian men have fled the country to avoid being forced into combat.

Since President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of reservists on Wednesday, amateur footage has been posted on social media showing hundreds of Russian citizens across the country responding to a military summons.

The call comes as Moscow-controlled areas of Ukraine vote in the coming days on whether to join Russia in a referendum that Kyiv and its allies say is an illegal land grab.

Moscow took the steps after Ukrainian forces captured much of the northeastern Kharkiv region, seen as a potential turning point in a seven-month war that has stalled.

The Russian military said Thursday that at least 10,000 people had volunteered to fight in the 24 hours since the order, but men also rushed to leave Russia before joining up.

“I don’t want to go to war,” a man named Dimitri, who flew to Armenia with just a small bag, told AFP. “I don’t want to die in this senseless war. It’s a fratricidal war.”

– addition ‘vote’ –

Most of those arriving from the last flight from Moscow at the Armenian airport were military-aged men, and many were reluctant to talk.

Yerevan has become a major destination for fleeing Russians since the outbreak of war on February 24, drawing intense international opposition to the aim of isolating Russia.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken demanded Putin be held accountable on Thursday as he confronted Russia at a Security Council session where the United Nations has listed abuses in Ukraine.

“We cannot — we will not — allow President Putin to get away with this,” Blinken told a special session of the Security Council as leaders met at the United Nations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — whom Blinken has refused to meet individually since the February attack — sharply criticized the Western accusations.

“Today there is an attempt to impose on us a completely different narrative about Russian aggression as the source of this tragedy,” Lavrov told the Security Council.

The conflict escalated at the diplomatic level as Kremlin-appointed officials on Thursday vowed to press ahead with annexation elections this week in Ukrainian regions controlled by Moscow’s forces.

Ukraine’s four Russian-held regions – Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south – have announced they will hold votes over five days, starting on Friday.

Vladimir Saldo, head of Moscow-based Kherson, which fell early in the Russian invasion, said the referendum would go ahead in his region regardless of criticism.

“The date has been set. We have the green light. Voting will start tomorrow and nothing can stop it,” he told Russian state media.

“People are waiting and they are demanding that this vote be held soon,” he added.

Western leaders unanimously condemned the ballot in New York this week.

Addressing the United Nations, US President Joe Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “brazenly” violating the UN Charter by waging a war aimed at “eliminating Ukraine’s right to exist as a state”.

– ‘Anyone who wants to leave’ –

The integration of the war-torn regions with Russia would represent a major escalation of the conflict, as Moscow could then try to say it is defending its own territory from Ukrainian forces.

After the vote was announced by his proxy officials in Ukraine, Putin announced that Russia would call up around 300,000 reservists to bolster the war effort and warned that Moscow would use “all means” to defend its territory.

Former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement on social media that the sums included “strategic nuclear weapons”. He predicted that the voting territories would “merge with Russia”.

For most observers, the results of the contemporaneous vote were already a foregone conclusion and rushed as Ukrainian forces made huge gains in counterattacks to retake the former.

The referendums are reminiscent of a similar ballot in 2014 that annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula by Russia. Western capitals said the vote was fraudulent and hit Moscow with sanctions in response.

Election officials in the Donetsk region, which has been partially controlled since 2014 by Moscow-backed separatists, said voting would be house-to-house in the early days. But it will be possible only on the last day i.e. Tuesday at the polling station.

Putin’s move to call in conservators for Ukraine this week sparked smaller protests across Russia, leading to the detention of more than 1,300 people.

Flights from Russia to neighboring countries, mainly former Soviet republics that allow Russians visa-free entry, are almost fully booked and prices have skyrocketed, pointing to an exodus of Russians seeking to avoid going to war.

Looking lost and exhausted when he arrived at the airport in Armenia’s capital, 44-year-old Sergey said he had fled Russia to escape being called.

“The situation in Russia would make anyone want to leave,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and appeared on a syndicated feed.)

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