A young man shot and wounded the chief recruitment officer at a military enlistment station in Russia’s Irkutsk region on Monday, local authorities said, as thousands of fighting-age men continued to flee the country to escape being summoned to duty in President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Putin, announcing the partial mobilization, had said only experienced servicemen would be summoned. “We are talking about partial mobilization,” the president said in a national address. “In other words, only military reservists, primarily those who served in the armed forces and have specific military occupational specialties and corresponding experience, will be called up.”
But there has been a torrent of reports all across Russia, including from ardent supporters of the war, of people being summoned for duty despite having no prior military service, or being too old or otherwise physically incapable of going to war. Those reports, along with the government’s acknowledgment that thousands of fighting-age men have fled the country to avoid conscription, suggest that the chaotic mobilization is becoming the latest debacle in Putin’s war.
A video clip of Monday’s shooting showed the man, identified as 25-year-old Ruslan Zinin, firing at least one shot inside the office.
“The shooter was immediately arrested, and he will definitely be punished,” Irkutsk regional governor Igor Kobzev wrote in his Telegram blog. “I can’t wrap my head around what happened, and I am ashamed that this is happening at a time when, on the contrary, we should be united.”
According to Kobzev, the recruiter, Alexander Eliseev, has been hospitalized in critical condition.
Zinin’s mother, Marina Zinina, told Russian outlet ASTRA that her son was distraught because his best friend got a mobilization summons despite never serving in the army.
“They said that there would be partial mobilization, but it turns out that they take everyone,” she was quoted as saying.
As local commissariats rushed to fulfill quotas, mobilization notices were sent to men who should be legally exempt from service because of their age, health or lack of military experience.
Some were sent home after a public uproar. Others, such as 59-year-old Viktor Dyachok, who has Stage 1 skin cancer and is blind in one eye, were called to duty, independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.
Amid swirling confusion over who could be summoned, thousands of Russians continued to flee the country on Monday, fearing that the Kremlin would soon move to shut the borders for men running away. Meanwhile, resistance to the call-up for war duty has resulted in a spate of other violent incidents.
In Ryazan, a city in western Russia, a man reportedly set himself on fire at a bus station to protest the war in Ukraine. Local outlet YA62.ru reported that the man, whom the authorities did not immediately identify, “started laughing and shouting that he did not want to participate in the special operation in Ukraine,” using the Kremlin-preferred euphemism for the war.
A video posted by the outlet showed the man, who was not severely injured, being led outside the bus terminal by police and ambulance workers.
Sporadic protests have broken out, including in Russian regions populated mainly by ethnic minorities such as Dagestan, where the majority of residents are Muslim, or the indigenous lands of Buryatia and Yakutia. Local activists say these areas are being disproportionately affected by the mobilization.
More than 2,300 protesters have been detained across dozens of Russian cities since Putin announced the partial mobilization Wednesday morning, according to rights group OVD-Info, which monitors protest activity in the country.
Traffic jams stretching for miles have formed at the border crossings with Georgia and Kazakhstan as the departure of Russians continued through the weekend and on Monday.
“The jam at the Russian-Georgian border continues to be about 20 kilometers long” — roughly 12.5 miles — “and the wait time to cross into Georgia is now up to three days,” Nikolai Levshitz, a Russian-speaking blogger who helps expatriates assimilate in Georgia, wrote in his daily Telegram update.
With air tickets to virtually all visa-free destinations long sold-out, Russians are crossing by foot, by car or even by bicycle in hopes of reducing the waiting time to leave. Photos and video clips posted on social media have shown piles of abandoned bicycles near the border posts.
One Russian man who arrived at Istanbul airport on Monday morning said he took a charter flight from Moscow because commercial flights were sold out. He said he paid about $5,000 for his seat.
Weekend reports from Russian independent outlets said that authorities could close the country’s borders to military-age men as soon as Wednesday.
The outlets Meduza and Khodorkovsky Live, citing Russia government sources, each reported that Moscow will halt departures just as soon the results are announced of the staged referendums now being carried out in parts of four Ukrainian regions occupied by Russian troops. There is no doubt that the results of the referendums, which are illegal under Ukrainian and international law, will be reported by the Kremlin as showing overwhelming support for Russian annexation of the occupied territories.
Western countries slammed the referendums as a “sham,” and Britain announced Monday a new round of sanctions against 90 individuals and companies involved in organizing the process, which is expected to conclude on Tuesday.
“Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognize their results,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. “They follow a clear pattern of violence, intimidation, torture, and forced deportations in the areas of Ukraine Russia has seized.”
Putin and his supporters have signaled that once Russia annexes the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, the Kremlin would consider any Ukrainian attacks on those areas as direct strikes against Russia, potentially creating the justification for stronger reprisals, including the use of nuclear weapons, and providing a basis for declaring partial or full-fledged martial law.
On Monday, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov deflected those rumors, saying that “no decisions have been made in this regard.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away from Moscow, Putin met with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in the sunny Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
Lukashenko allowed Putin to use Belarus as a staging ground for the invasion of Ukraine in February, including Putin’s failed effort to seize Kyiv and topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In 2020, Lukashenko claimed he was reelected in an election widely derided as fraudulent. He then cracked down on protests, subjecting thousands of Belarusians to beatings and harsh prison sentences. In the two years since, 100,000 to 200,000 people have left Belarus.
In their meeting on Monday, Lukashenko told Putin not to “worry” about Russians now doing the same.
“Let’s say 30,000, even 50,000 left,” Lukashenko told Putin about the recent departures of Russian men. “So what? If they had stayed here, would they have been our people? Let them run,” Lukashenko said in opening remarks.
“I don’t know how you feel about it, but I wasn’t too worried,” Lukashenko said, referring to the thousands who departed in 2020. “Most are begging to come back,” he told Putin. “And yours will come back, too.”
Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, and Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on Sept. 21, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Follow our live updates here.
The fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.
Annexation referendums: Staged referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are set to take place from Sept. 23 to 27 in the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. Another staged referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson starting Friday.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.