With one bag in each hand and another on his back, Denis made his way up a hill on foot after crossing the border from Russia into Georgia.
“I’m just tired. That’s the only thing I feel,” the 27-year-old said as he tried to catch his breath.
Denis had just spent six days on the road, most of them just waiting in line to cross the border. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of Russians enduring a grueling marathon journey to leave their country.
Though women and children are among those crossing, most are fighting-age men who fear the possibility that they will be drafted to fight the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, at least 10,000 have been coming through the Lars border crossing daily.
Denis, who did not want to reveal his last name, said he chose to leave because of the uncertainty following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week of a “partial mobilization” of citizens – despite his earlier emphasis that the military assault would only be fought by military professionals. Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu said the military will conscript around 300,000 men with previous military experience, to go and fight in Ukraine.
Though the current draft should not apply to him, Denis fears that could change.
“How do I know what will happen in three years’ time? How do I know how long this will take?” he said.
“It is uncertain, and nobody knows what’s coming next,” he told CNN.
His feeling is shared by many crossing the border into Georgia. They are teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers and builders – ordinary Russians who have no appetite for war. And although they say they don’t agree with the government, they believe there’s nothing they can do to force Putin to change course.
They’ve chosen instead to leave their homeland, despite the perilous journey. Denis said he spent days in his car without sufficient access to food and restrooms.
“When you’re there waiting, there is no toilet. You can’t get much to eat because everything is instantly sold out and nobody packed much food either because nobody expected it to take this long,” he said.
Another man CNN spoke to walked for 20 kilometers (12 miles) to get to Georgia, also fueled by concern that the draft might expand.
“It doesn’t apply to me today, but it may apply tomorrow,” the man said, speaking to CNN on the condition that he remain anonymous, because he fears Moscow’s far-reaching hand.