Russians are protesting and fleeing the country as Putin orders a draft for Ukraine The mobilization of thousands more troops to bolster the military campaign in Ukraine is rippling across Russia, as the military swiftly drafts new recruits and signs of discontent appear to spread.

Russians are protesting and fleeing the country as Putin orders a draft for Ukraine

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Russia has way more people than Ukraine, but lately, the smaller Ukrainian military has actually reclaimed territory once held by Russian troops. So this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced what he called a partial mobilization to bolster the Russian army. That means the fighting in Ukraine now directly affects many more Russian people. And NPR's Charles Maynes is tracking this from Moscow. Hey, Charles.


SHAPIRO: How's the mobilization playing out so far?

MAYNES: You know, Russia is a vast country, as you know, of 144 million people. Putin insists this mobilization effort really only affects a small amount of them, with those with a background in military service. Russia's defense minister has ordered an immediate call up of 300,000 additional troops, although there are doubts that's the final number. But either way, we've seen these draft orders really ripple across the country instantly, within hours of Putin's announcement.

SHAPIRO: And as you survey what's happening, what's the response been?

MAYNES: You know, there really seem to be two narratives here that come through. There's the official version. President Putin says this is a fight to defend the homeland from fascists in Ukraine backed by the West. The Moscow patriarch, Kirill, says, go fulfill your duty to God and country. And on the local level, that sounds like this.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So this is a newscast in the Republic of Tatarstan where we hear a draftee say, look, we're men, we should defend the country just like our grandfathers did in World War II. But, of course, there's a more complicated story here.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So this is video from Lipetsk, a few hours south of Moscow, where we hear a young, boyish-looking recruit yell, Mom, I'll be back, as he's ordered to march and his mother is left in tears.

SHAPIRO: There have also been videos of long lines of backed-up cars at Russia's borders. Are people fleeing?

MAYNES: Yeah. Amid the uncertainty over the scope of the draft, there's been this real exodus along Russia's border crossings with Finland and Georgia to the west, to Kazakhstan and Mongolia in the south. Tickets for flights out of Russia to countries with visa-free travel, places like Armenia and Turkey, have also either sold out or soared in price. And, you know, just personally, I know people who were looking to get their sons out of the country, fearing a lockdown.

SHAPIRO: If people are not able to travel or not allowed, and they don't want to be drafted, what else can they do to avoid it?

MAYNES: Well, protesting, but that comes with big risks.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Russian).

MAYNES: So hundreds took to the streets in cities across Russia earlier this week. That's audio from protests in central Moscow. More than 1,300 people were arrested nationwide. And many of them now face possible prison terms for, quote, "denigrating the armed forces." Some were even issued draft notices while in police custody, a practice the Kremlin has defended. Meanwhile, some unlikely voices have also come out against mobilization. Among them, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman from the Chechen Republic, who's been a cheerleader for the military campaign and dispatched troops in the past. But only this week, he said he wouldn't send any additional forces. Enough Chechens, he argued, had already fulfilled their debt to the motherland.

SHAPIRO: How much of a risk is this to Vladimir Putin, who, since the invasion, has really tried to keep more or less life as normal for the Russian people?

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, it's one thing for Putin to put pressure on his opponents, quite another to put pressure on his base. This conflict was always on the margins of Russian life, despite Western sanctions. It's nonetheless been a professional army or professional mercenaries who've been doing the fighting. And now, there's this fundamental shift. Putin is reaching into people's homes and ordering them to sacrifice for the country. And as we've seen these long lines at the border to flee, the question really is, how many wish they had a place in that line too?

SHAPIRO: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks a lot.

MAYNES: Thank you.

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