With a bag in each hand and another on his back, Denis walks up a hill, having just crossed the border from Russia into Georgia.
“I’m tired. That’s the only thing I feel,” says the 27-year-old as he tries to catch his breath.
Denis has just spent six days on the road, most of them waiting in line to cross the border. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of Russians who are suffering the grueling marathon to leave their country.
Although there are women and children among those who cross, most are men of fighting age, fearing that they will be drafted to fight in the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, at least 10,000 are coming through the Lars border crossing every day.
Denis, who did not want to give his last name, said he chose to leave after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of citizens last week, despite earlier insisting that only a military attack would be fought. by military professionals. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the military would recruit about 300,000 men with prior military experience to fight in Ukraine.
Although the current draft should not apply to him, but Denis fears that may change.
“How do I know what will happen in three years? How do I know how long this will take?”.
“It’s uncertain, and nobody knows what will come next,” he said.
His sentiment is shared by many who cross the border into Georgia. They are teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers and builders, ordinary Russians with no desire for war. And while they say they disagree with the government, they believe there is nothing they can do to force Putin to change course.
They have chosen to leave their homeland, despite the dangerous journey. Denise said she spent days in her car without adequate access to food and toilets.
“When you are waiting there, there is no toilet. You can’t get a lot of food because everything is sold out immediately and no one has packed much food because no one expected it to take that long,” he said.
Another man CNN spoke to walked 20 kilometers (12 miles) to Georgia, also prompted by concerns that the draft could spread.
“It doesn’t work for me today, but it will work tomorrow,” the individual told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity because he fears Moscow’s overreach.
And George Vatsadze, a 28-year-old marketing professional, says he’s leaving Russia because he doesn’t want to hurt his loved ones. He has a Ukrainian grandmother and cousins who live in the country.
“I can’t go there to fight,” he said.
Vatsadze crossed paths with his brother, who was eligible for the draft. He brought only a bag with few clothes, his and his dog. He says it was the only thing he could do.
Tired and emotional, he is happy to have arrived in Georgia, but frustrated that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced him to leave his home.
“I think maybe half of our population thinks war is wrong, but they can’t oppose it because it’s dangerous,” he says. “Right now, by saying this, I’m putting myself at risk.”
He didn’t want to leave, but now he thinks he might not be able to go back.
“Because we can no longer trust our government, because they told us a lot of lies”, he says. “We heard that there would be no mobilization, but six months later here we are.”
“What will happen in another six months?” she asks, fighting back tears.
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”