Lev Kudryakov sits on a bus in the Russia-Estonia border region, sending lightning-fast updates about what he’s just been through.
To leave Russia, he was asked a series of questions by border guards: “Have you heard about mobilization?”
“Do you know that if you evade mobilization, you can be held criminally liable for evasion?
“Did you get a call to mobilize?
“Why can’t you be mobilized?”
Mr Kudryakov has not received a subpoena, but according to the criteria for mobilization he could be called up to fight for Russia in its war against Ukraine.
He decided to head for the border as soon as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that things had changed and a partial mobilization of Russian reservists was now “urgent”.
It was his mother who told him to leave.
He is her only son and there is not much confidence that those who are not called up this time will not be sent to fight soon.
“I don’t want to be part of his military machine and kill Ukrainians,” Kudryakov told ABC News via Telegram as he waited to enter Estonia.
“My friends involved in human rights work told me to leave, hide or pray. I took their advice very seriously.”
Kudryakov said he was against the war from the beginning. He describes himself as a political activist and worked in the team of Russian opposition and anti-corruption figure Alexei Navalny.
He admitted that there is “no chance of returning to Russia in the near future”.
Kudryakov said that while he thought some degree of mobilization of Russians would be possible, he thought it would be “suicidal for Putin”.
“His regime is based on passivity, but here he is forcing people to participate in his war,” he said.
“It seems to me that this will greatly affect his regime.”
After passing through the Russian border post, he was confronted with the Estonian side and the delicate act of navigating new rules and restrictions for citizens wishing to cross the border into Russia.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have closed the border to most Russians trying to leave, while Finland has limited the number of visa applicants.
Mr Kudryakov entered Estonia with a non-Russian passport and with a promise to board a plane directly to Germany, where he has friends and family.
He may also be able to apply for political asylum in Germany, as that country indicates that Russians willing to oppose Putin’s regime are offered a level of protection.
It’s hard to quantify how many Russians have tried to leave since their president announced they might have to join the war, but Kudryakov said the turnaround in sentiment was visible on the streets.
“People’s moods have changed a lot,” he said.
“Young boys are trying to figure out what to do and how to leave Russia or hide from mobilization.
“There is a difference [between] when you read about some kind of war and when you are personally called to it.”
The war is coming home for the Russians
With state television and the pro-war Internet army, Putin has managed to gain support for the invasion of Ukraine.
Overnight there have been pro-war and pro-government demonstrations in Moscow and St Petersburg – signs of strength and solidarity with those called to fight.
But the impact of the war and the mobilization is now being felt in some Russian households and among Russian families.
As the partial mobilization takes effect in Russia, videos were posted online showing men saying goodbye to their wives and children.
The scenes were reminiscent of Ukraine in March and April when five million women, children and the elderly were forced from their homes and their lands and families were torn apart.
The partial mobilization is a call for 300,000 reservists to join the Russian effort in Ukraine, but there are already reports of people who have never served, trained, or signed up to join the military or are being called up to the reserves. to fight.
There is a proposal to change the list of medical conditions that once threw Russian men out of service, meaning fewer people could avoid conscription.
This is after multiple assurances from the Kremlin to its people that mobilization would not take place and Russia would win the war.
Protests have broken out and there are also problems in the higher ranks of the military command.
Mr Putin now has a new problem.
Though the West never believed him, he is now breaking the fault lines that exist at home and in danger of losing the support and trust of the people who give him power.
‘Going to Ukraine for war is nonsense’
The Kremlin said lines of men at Moscow airport booked flights to Turkey and Armenia and bottleneck traffic at the Russian border are “exaggerated” and “many fakes are appearing on this matter”.
But news agencies were there to document the exodus firsthand.
In Istanbul, ABC News spoke to men and women who had decided to leave before it was too late.
Georgiy and his family had planned a vacation to Turkey, but he is of fighting age and when asked if it was likely he would eventually be called up, he sighed and said, “Yes, this is a possibility.”
The family is considering staying in Turkey indefinitely so they can stay together.
“This is just a nightmare situation. I can’t imagine what we will do now. It’s like living in a medieval country. We feel like hostages,” Georgiy said.
Everything in me gives way to panic.
“The state has suppressed protesters. But going to Ukraine for war is nonsense. It is better to leave Russia than to stay there.”
Moscow tech Elsa and her friend Katya bought tickets from Russia immediately after the partial mobilization was announced.
Elsa is anti-war and refused to talk about her male relatives, fearing for their safety.
“This is serious. Anyone could be drafted. That’s why people are afraid. For now, the draft documents are sent to specific people, but I don’t believe that,” she said.
“Soon they will expand to more people. And that’s scary because we don’t know who will be hosting them.
“I don’t trust the government anymore. They say they won’t” [close the border], but they lie regularly. So I don’t know what’s coming.”
The difference on the battlefield
A United Nations commission investigating Russia’s behavior in Ukraine told the UN Human Rights Council it had found evidence of war crimes.
The commission’s head said investigators had identified victims of sexual assault between the ages of four and 82.
He said Russia had committed “a large number” of war crimes and only two cases by Ukraine in which Russian soldiers were mistreated.
There is little understanding from Russia for what is happening across the border.
“Not everyone can admit to themselves that Russia is destroying Ukraine,” Kudryakov said.
“Propaganda works pretty well.”
As some of the realities of the war emerge, Mr Putin must now try to recruit an additional 300,000 fighters, with predictions that that number will increase rapidly.
The problem is, while the Russian public has broadly supported the war, they’ve never had to deal with fighting it, according to Sam Greene, director of the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“While there is support for this war, we haven’t seen much enthusiasm for this war. We haven’t seen many people running away to volunteer for the military,” he said.
“Putin’s military command should be concerned about their ability to get these 300,000 reservists called up and about the quality of the reservists they will receive and the difference they will make on the battlefield.”
After traveling for more than 24 hours, Mr. Kudryakov reached Germany and his mother knows he is safe.
Like several people who spoke to ABC News, he said he believed Russia would lose the war.
“This is a dramatic destruction of our country,” he said.
“I think in the long run people will realize that Putin and the authoritarian system are responsible for this.”