Russian exiles make it to Georgia

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Russian exiles make it to Georgia

KAZBEGI, Georgia : Nikita spent two days in traffic before he made it to Georgia, one of thousands of Russian men trying to escape the Ukraine war draft.

Since the war began in February, the Russian exiles have seen military-aged men pour into the Caucasus country by cars in a column stretching for about 20 km, by bicycles and some walking kilometres by foot to the border crossing.

I have no choice but to escape Russia, Nikita told AFP, standing outside the Georgian side of the Kazbegi border crossing in a narrow rocky ravine.

The 23-year-old added. "I am not a murderer," he said, as a vulture circled overhead, high in the clear sky.

Like the majority of men who talked to AFP, he refused to give his last name, fearing retribution.

Denis, 38, said our president wants to drag us into the fratricidal war, which he declared on totally illegitimate grounds. I want to escape, he said with a sad smile. This is not a nice Georgia holiday, this is an emigration. Alexander Sudakov, a 32-year-old production manager, said the mobilisation was the final straw for him after 20 years of living under President Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule.

Ukrainians are our brothers, I don't understand, how can I go there to kill them or kill them. He said Georgia was the top choice for those who are fleeing the draft because Russians can enter and stay up to a year without a visa.

He said he would mull seeking asylum in a European Union country once his wife and baby son, who he left behind in his native Saint Petersburg, would join him.

The influx of Russian immigrants has sparked mixed feelings in a country where the painful memories of Russia's invasion in 2008 are still fresh.

The five-day war left Georgia divided, with Russian troops stationed in its two separatist regions that the Kremlin recognised as independent after the EU brokered a ceasefire.