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Zelenskyy calls for ‘sabotage’ as thousands of Russians flee after call to action

As thousands of Russians attempt to flee the country to escape the partial conscription of civilians into the army, Ukraine’s president on Friday evening urged those who are conscripted to “sabotage all enemy activity”.

Addressing Ukrainians in Russian-occupied regions, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address that his compatriots should “hide” from mobilization and “avoid summons” from military commanders.

“If you enter the Russian army, sabotage any enemy activity, interfere with any Russian operation, give us all important information about the occupiers: their bases, their headquarters, their ammunition depots,” he said. added.

His comments come three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists. The Russian Defense Ministry said soon after that it intended to add around 300,000 troops, although the presidential decree leaves the door open for a broader call.

The Russians arrive at Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan, Armenia on Tuesday.Karen Minasyan/AFP via Getty Images

The first mobilization of reservists in Russia since World War II comes after the successful Ukrainian counter-offensive broke through Russian lines outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second most populous city. They then pushed deeper into the disputed Russian proxy-controlled Donbass region, forcing Kremlin units to retreat quickly, losing soldiers and military equipment.

Within hours, images and videos began to appear on social media of people rushing to flee to neighboring countries, including Turkey and Georgia, and the cost of flights from Moscow skyrocketed, exceeding the $5,000, according to Reuters.

Long lines of trafficking have also accumulated along the borders of countries like Belarus, Georgia and Armenia.

A 23-year-old woman said she booked seats on a flight to Kyrgyzstan with her 24-year-old husband, an hour after Putin made his call-up announcement. NBC News agreed not to name the couple as they fear repercussions from Russian authorities for speaking to foreign media.

The woman said they agreed in February, after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, that their “last straw was military mobilization”.

Hours after booking their flights, she said the prices had almost doubled the amount she had paid, adding that they had told airport officials that the purpose of their visit was tourism.

Zelenskyy calls for 'sabotage' as thousands of Russians flee after call to action

With flights now rare, she said most of her friends “plan to leave the country by train now”.

The majority of her family supported the couple’s decision, she said, adding that her loved ones “feel nervous and miss us but they know it’s the right way”.

They planned to stay “at least until the end of the mobilization”, she said. “We can’t predict anything,” she added. “But we know for sure that in war there are no winners, only losers.”

Others express similar views, including Maxim Khatuntsev. After driving through Georgia, he told The Associated Press that he “didn’t like much” what Russia was doing in Ukraine.

“The problem is not that we are afraid, the problem is our aversion to this situation,” he said, adding, “I have a lot of relatives in Ukraine, and I don’t like it at all. “.

Elsewhere across Russia, videos have emerged of arguments between military recruiters and conscripts, as well as members of the public.

Russian riot police arrest protesters during a demonstration
Riot police arrest protesters during an anti-mobilization demonstration in Moscow on Tuesday.PA

In all 11 time zones across the country, men were also filmed hugging their crying family members before being herded together for the service.

Across the Ukrainian border, voting is underway in contentious referendums on whether to join Russia, in four regions occupied by its forces or fighters from Moscow-backed separatist regions.

The polls in occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions have already been condemned as a sham by Kyiv and its Western allies, including the United States.

President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday that the Russian referendums were “a false pretext to attempt to forcibly annex parts of Ukraine in flagrant violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also told reporters on Friday that the United States was ready to impose new economic sanctions on Russia, if Moscow tried to annex more Ukrainian territory.

Associated press and Reuters contributed.

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