In Russia, Vladimir Putin has broken promises and caused chaos he may not be able to comprehend

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”.

A young man takes a selfie on a bus
Lev Kudryakov describes himself as a political activist and says he understands the risks involved in speaking to ABC News. (Delivered)

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.”

People walk near the Estonian border office with suitcases and trolleys.
Baltic countries bordering Russia have stopped issuing Schengen visas to people trying to enter with Russian passports. (Reuters: Janis Laizans)

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.

A screenshot of a tweet from Germany's Justice Minister says anyone who disagrees will be welcome in Germany
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann says his country will “welcome anyone who hates Putin’s path”.(Twitter: @MarcoBuschmann)

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.

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