There are miles of queues. They form on the Russian side of the border with Kazakhstan, primarily at the crossings leading to the Kazakh cities of Petropavlovsk and Uralsk. There are a total of 51 checkpoints on the Russian-Kazakh border, which is more than 7,500 kilometers long. Since September 21, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “partial mobilization” for the war against Ukraine, young people in particular have been arriving here.
Anyone who has passed the Syrym crossing in the direction of Uralsk, in the very west of Kazakhstan, willingly shows photos and videos on their smartphones. They show what is happening on the other side of the border, on the Russian side.
Two men, estimated to be 40 and 18 years old, are tired from the long wait. But they are happy to have finally crossed the border. They excitedly tell what they experienced at night.
“There are a lot of people, 500 to 600 cars. Immediately after the ordered mobilization, all flight tickets were sold out, despite the sharp rise in prices – from 100,000 to 300,000 rubles (approx. 1800 to 5400 euros, d. R.) just a one-way flight,” say the two men while they wait for friends who are are still on the other side of the border crossing.
They all go to Uralsk for the first time. From there they want to continue to Europe, some have relatives there, some even have a Schengen visa that allows them to enter most European countries.
Igor from Samara, 200 kilometers away, is a programmer. He crossed the border into Kazakhstan on foot. He is open about leaving behind a wife and two children at home. He had queued for twelve hours to get to the Central Asian country.
“I am going to Uralsk to escape what is threatening me in my hometown. My acquaintances have already been drafted, I haven’t yet. I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to kill and I don’t want to be killed either,” says Igor about his fear of going to war.
When asked whether he supports the Kremlin’s actions against Ukraine, Igor declined to comment. Now he wants to work from Uralsk and monitor the situation in Russia. “I’ll drive back if the situation changes,” he says, and goes to a taxi.
Sanija, a young woman from Kazan on the middle Volga, has never been to Kazakhstan. She says she set out with her boyfriend. They want to catch up with their friend’s relatives who left a day early and only had to wait three hours at the border.
“We want to play it safe. We left because of the mobilization. It doesn’t affect us personally yet because my friend is a student. As soon as everything calms down we’ll go back, but for now we’ll stay here. We are seven people in total, we are all young. But we don’t talk about the politics of the Kremlin,” says Sanija.
A taxi pulls up early in the morning in front of a hotel in Almaty, the largest metropolis and former capital of Kazakhstan. There too, deep in the south-east of the huge country, young Russians between the ages of 20 and 25 quickly get out, pack their bags, pay the driver and hurry to the hotel.
When asked where they come from, the four men are reluctant to answer. On the condition that no audio recordings, photos or videos are made, they finally agree to talk about themselves. One of the young men says:
“We have just arrived.”
Did you come here because of the partial mobilization in Russia?
What’s your name?
Why did you go to Kazakhstan of all places?
“That was more convenient.”
How did you come here? Airline tickets are very expensive these days.
“By bus to Chelyabinsk (a Russian city in the south-east of the Urals, d. R.) and from there by car to the border. I crossed them legally. Then I took a taxi to Petropavlovsk (Northern Kazakhstan, d.R.) and from there I took the train for most of the day.”
After Nikolaj, the other young men also dare to talk about themselves. One is from Tula, 200 kilometers south of Moscow, and the other two are from the capital itself. They all work in IT and can work remotely.
Two of them even have their own company. When asked if they want to stay in Kazakhstan, one says: “I don’t know. We will monitor the political situation. Not that the border will suddenly be closed, after all I have family at home.”
Another says he doesn’t yet know what a residence permit looks like, but he wants to register a company with a friend in Kazakhstan.
Currently in Kazakhstan there are many young people from Russia. Some come with their families, others alone. But not everyone wants to stay.
“I saw on Telegram that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan started projects for IT people, something like technology parks. There are various support programs. Maybe I’ll go there,” suddenly says one of the young men in front of the hotel.
Social networks are now full of job offers and tips for starting a business or getting a residence permit. Many Russians are discussing these issues on numerous Telegram channels. Others try to stay in Kazakhstan through marriage.
Almost everyone is now primarily concerned with finding work. “I would like to move to Kazakhstan, but I’m worried that if I can’t find a job, I won’t be allowed to stay. I’m still a student and want to become a programmer,” writes a user who calls himself Ivan Frolov.
Most Russians coming to Kazakhstan are young. They would fall under the second and third waves of mobilization in Russia. Some of them fear that the Russian government could pass a law manhunting people who are to be called up for service in the army. For them, the question arises whether the Kazakh authorities would deport them to Russia in this case.
Kazakh laws do not provide for deportation of foreigners in connection with mobilization in another state. Article 28 of the Law “On the Legal Status of Aliens” states that foreign citizens may be expelled from Kazakhstan if they organize or participate in unauthorized rallies and marches, provide false information to the authorities when presenting documents for obtaining residence permits or citizenship who violate order when crossing the border or violate migration laws.
According to the Kazakh Interior Ministry, 1.66 million Russian citizens have entered the Central Asian country since January 2022 and 1.64 million have left. 3,200, i.e. 0.2 percent of them, were held responsible for violations of migration laws, which can result in deportation.
There are currently 20,000 Russian citizens in Kazakhstan. Kazakh authorities assure that all foreigners are fully registered upon entry. The Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out that foreign citizens do not have the right to permanent residence.
Citizens of the states of the Customs Union, which consists of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, must also report to the migration police within 30 days. The length of stay must not exceed 90 days from the date of entry.
Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk
Author: Madiya Torebayeva
With a partial mobilization of the Russian armed forces, Kremlin chief Putin wants to bring about a turnaround in the war against Ukraine. Men are being rounded up across the country and sent to the front. But instead of patriotism, horror is spreading among the people – and resistance.
Putin has called for partial mobilization. But there are many indications that Russia is assembling a mass army. Is that purposeful? No, military experts believe. One historian even believes it will spell the end of Russia as we know it.
After the so-called partial mobilization was announced, thousands of Russians tried to leave the country. Yuri Rescheto reports from Riga.
The original of this post “New beginning in Kazakhstan?” comes from Deutsche Welle.