Thousands of Russians head to Finland amid Putin’s Ukraine mobilization push

Traffic to Finland across the Russian border was heavy on Friday, with the number of Russians crossing steadily increasing since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military mobilization as authorities considered new entry restrictions.

The number of Russians who had entered the previous day was more than double the number who arrived the week before, the border guard said.

Max, a 21-year-old Russian student who declined to give his last name, said he was going to Finland to catch a flight to Germany to visit relatives.

“Technically I’m a student so I shouldn’t be afraid of being appointed, but we’ve seen things change very quickly so I think there’s a chance,” he told Reuters after crossed the border to Vaalimaa, Finland.

“I just wanted to be sure,” he said.

New access restrictions possible

Finland is considering barring most Russians from entry, with an announcement expected by government officials later Friday.

A snapshot taken Thursday at the Nuijamaa border checkpoint in Lappeenranta, Finland, shows a long line waiting to cross the border from Russia. (Lauri Heino/Lehtikuva/The Associated Press)

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Thursday that the government was assessing risks to people traveling through Finland and considering ways to reduce transit from Russia.

About 7,000 people entered from Russia on Thursday, about 6,000 of them Russian, a 107 percent increase compared to the same day a week earlier, according to border guards.

Three people had applied for asylum on Thursday. None had the week before, according to officials.

A Russian couple, 29-year-old Slava and 35-year-old Evgeniy, also left because of the uncertainty of being drafted into the military at some point.

They had decided to leave the moment Putin announced the partial mobilization on Wednesday, they said. They had left their dog Moby with friends. Their families cried when they left, they said.

“At the current stage we are not in demand, but we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow,” Slava told Reuters. “We don’t support what’s happening now. We don’t want to be a part of it.”

“It was a difficult decision [to leave]. We have plans, we have careers. Best case scenario is to go back. On the other hand, [saving our] life is important.”

Few ways out

Finnish border crossings have remained among the few points of entry into Europe for Russians after a number of countries closed both physical borders and their airspace to Russian aircraft in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Videos are emerging of what Russia’s massive troop mobilization looks like, with men mostly from poorer neighborhoods being rounded up to fight in Ukraine. In Russia, tension and doubt are rising, and people are fleeing in droves.

At Vaalimaa, the busiest crossing point, cars queued for up to 400 meters on Friday, a longer queue than the day before, a border official said.

“Compared to Friday last week, we have more traffic,” Vaalimaa station deputy chief Elias Laine told Reuters. “We expect traffic to remain busy through the weekend.”

Those arriving by car or bus left their vehicles to have their papers checked before continuing their journeys. Border guards searched some vehicles.

Lines were also “longer than usual” at the second largest border crossing, which is in Nuijamaa.

Finland chose to keep its border with Russia open after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, although the country has cut the number of consular appointments available to Russian travelers seeking visas.

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