'Most of you support the war': Georgians slam Russians fleeing Putin’s military mobilisation

Georgians are protesting against the fleeing Russians entering their country. ITV News reporter Rupert Evelyn explains why

"In surveys, most of you support the war. So, why are you leaving now?"

Within Georgia, in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, a small group of protesters are making their views known about the flood of Russians now entering their country, fleeing President Putin’s call up for the war in Ukraine.

Carrying placards, aimed directly at the Russians who have crossed, they ask why they have not protested against the war until now.

"Putin is Russia. While Putin rules the country and people obey him, Putin represents Russia," one card read.

Another carried the message: "Putin did not personally set off rockets. Putin and 190,000 of his clones did not come to Ukraine on a tank but 190,000 Russians did."

"There has been war in Ukraine for seven months and all this time these people were in Russia. They supported this war or silently supported it," Mikhaylo Ulyanov, a Ukrainian at the protest told ITV News.

He said: "Effectively they agree with the actions of their government. Now they’re just scared, afraid for their lives and are just running from Russia."

Some of the Russians who have crossed into Georgia admit they have been silent, but they say that they have had no choice.

“It is very scary to express your opinion in Russia,” 34-year-old Alexander said.

“The majority of people support what is happening because of one reason - they are afraid. They are afraid of the repressive machine which follows their every move.

“If you go into the metro, a camera will film you. It’s like China, if you walk along the street a camera follows you and knows where you are. If you go to a protest, a camera will pick you up. You’ll get fined and they might open a criminal case against you.

“It is very scary to express your opinion in Russia. It is easier to obey and become a part of the repressive regime, support the ‘special operation’ and be like everyone else. There are always people who think differently but we have to be silent."

Georgia has accepted tens of thousands of Russians fleeing mobilisation as President Putin ordered the call-up of 300,000 reservists, to bolster his forces in Ukraine after a series of Russian military defeats.

"These people, Russian citizens, ethnic Russians have been coming to Georgia for years. Why should this become a problem today?" Vakhtang Gomelauri, Georgia’s minister for internal affairs said.

Georgia’s government is widely viewed inside the country as being pro-Kremlin, and a sizeable minority of citizens have pro-Russian views.

It is a point of tension in a land where 20% of Georgia’s internationally recognised territory is viewed as being under Russian occupation.

In a harbinger of what was to happen in Ukraine, in 2008 Russia and Georgia fought a war as Russia backed separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia considers the regions to be independent states while most of the world recognises them as being inside Georgia.

Many of the men now fleeing Russia are concerned another Moscow land grab, this time in Ukraine, could mean that their route out of Russia will soon slam shut.

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Russian state media says the results of Russian-backed referenda held in four occupied regions of Ukraine show that 97 percent of people voted to join Russia. The west has labelled the votes as a “sham.”

“When the referendums are over and when Ukraine tries to claim its land in Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk, then our country is going to declare all out war and all men will be banned from leaving the country,” Danil, from Perm in central Russia, said after crossing the border.

“Right now there are thousands of people standing there waiting to cross.”

While the men at the Russian border view Georgia as a place of safety, many people in Georgia view them as a threat.

“This immigration from Russia into Georgia poses an imminent threat to Georgia’s national security, economy and stability,” Giga Lemonjava, from the pro-western Droa activist party which organised the protest, said.

“The GRU officers who poisoned the Skripal family in the UK were tourists.

“We do not have precise information on what the real intention is of these people in Georgia. We do not have a visa regime with Russia, so we do not know these people until they cross our border.”

Thousands of Russian men are thought to have fled over the border to Georgia since President Putin's military mobilisation order was made. Credit: AP

All the Russians who spoke to ITV News at the border said they were against the war and had come to Georgia to avoid becoming “bullet meat” in Ukraine.

Some recognised, however, that a number of their countrymen had suddenly changed their minds about the war in Ukraine only because President Putin had finally brought the war to them.

“I have a friend who is the commander of an infantry division,” Alexander said.

“For his birthday he had a cake with Putin’s face on it. But when this mobilisation started, he went to live at his dacha in the countryside - not his normal address - so that he doesn’t get given his call up papers.

“It’s double standards. He says one thing, but does another. He’s afraid. If he wanted, he would have gone to Ukraine.”

Those who have already been drafted have dire warnings for their compatriots who are in hiding or who are yet to be called up.

“They officially told us that we would not be getting any training before we go to see active service. On 29th they said we are going to Kherson,” one Russian soldier said in a video posted on Instagram.

“Think and decide yourselves what you are going to do with this information."

The poor state of the Russian army is now being laid bare in social media videos, which show conscripted Russians being told they are going into battle with no training, no medical equipment and rusty weapons.

“The uniform is all that is provided by the army. The armour and all that’s military related, we don’t have any of that,” a woman tells recently conscripted men in one video.

She tells the men to ask their wives, girlfriends and mothers for “the cheapest sanitary pads, the cheapest tampons".

She says: “Do you know what the tampons are for?”

“Bullet wounds. Shove it in there and it expands to apply pressure to the wound,” she tells them.

Fearful of what will happen to them if they stay, the queues at Russia’s international borders are growing, as fighting age men flee to Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Russian officials say around 5,000 vehicles are still waiting to cross the Georgian border, with many more people travelling by bike or on foot.

The Russians are coming in search of freedom but they are unwanted by many Georgians, who view them as aggressors or as economic competitors that have priced them out of housing and rental markets.

For now, the border remains open. As the flood of Russians shows no sign of abating, the unease of many Georgians is growing, as Vladimir Putin is stoking tensions in this country once again.