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

Traffic into Finland over its border with Russia was heavy on Friday, with the number of Russians crossing rising steadily since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military mobilization, as authorities mulled imposing fresh entry restrictions.

The number of Russians who had entered the previous day was more than double the amount 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 should not be afraid of being drafted but we have seen that things are changing very quickly so I assume there is a chance,” he told Reuters after crossing the border into Vaalimaa, Finland.

“I just wanted to be safe,” he said.

New entry restrictions possible

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

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

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday the government was assessing risks posed by people travelling through Finland and was considering ways to sharply reduce transit from Russia.

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

Three people had sought 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 called up in 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 behind with friends. Their families cried when they left, they said.

“At the current stage, we are not in demand, but we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow,” Slava told Reuters. “We don’t support what is 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. The best scenario is to go back. On the other hand, [saving our] life is essential.”

Few paths out

Finnish land border crossings have remained among the few entry points into Europe for Russians after a string of countries shut both physical frontiers and their air space to Russian planes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Videos are surfacing of what Russia’s massive troop mobilization looks like, with men mostly from poorer neighbourhoods being rounded up to fight in Ukraine. Within Russia, tension and doubt are on the rise, and people are fleeing in droves.

At Vaalimaa, the busiest crossing point, cars lined up for up to 400 metres 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 the traffic to remain busy over the weekend.”

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

Lines were also “longer than normal” at the second-biggest border crossing, which is in Nuijamaa.

Finland opted to keep its frontier with Russia open following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine although it has cut back the number of consular appointments available to Russian travellers seeking visas.

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