As soon as President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilisation” for the war in Ukraine former Russian army officer Alex jumped in his car and drove to Finland with a single suitcase.
“I don’t want to be killing my Slav people, my brothers, my sisters,” the middle-aged man tells AFP from a modest hotel room in Finland, where he arrived on Thursday.
“I am physically disgusted to be in the presence of our Russian citizens who support the war”, the IT engineer says.
The Crimea-born middle-aged man spoke to AFP on condition of not revealing his full identity, fearing for his wife and child left behind in Russia.
“They are hostages, if I show my face they will be facing prison,” he says.
Because of his military background, Alex fears he is among those Russia wants to send to the frontlines.
– ‘First to be under threat’ –
“I was in the army for eight years … I have an officer’s rank. I am the first to be under threat.”
“Everything changed” for him when he participated in a protest in Saint Petersburg the day after the mobilisation and saw how few Russians joined in.
He says he realised that there was “nothing left to do” for Russia and became convinced the country would fall apart.
“I know what the Russian army is like from the inside, I am deeply convinced that Putin will lose.
“Slaves who don’t want to fight will never defeat anyone in their lives,” he explained.
Born in Sevastopol in Crimea during Soviet times, Alex once held a Ukrainian passport but could not hold onto the dual citizenship when he moved to Russia to pursue a military career.
Alex says his parents consider him a “traitor” and he “would not be surprised” if his mother reported him to Russia’s FSB intelligence service.
As soon as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted and the border with Finland reopened for him in July, Alex started working with a network of volunteers called “Rubikus”, helping forcefully evacuated Ukrainians to leave Russia.
With this aim, he obtained a tourist visa to drive Ukrainians to Finland and Estonia.
– ‘Ukraine is my homeland’ –
Worried that Finland’s decision to soon block Russians carrying Europe’s Schengen tourist visa will also stop this activity, Alex tears up as he talks about Ukrainians he has helped escape.
“Ukraine is my homeland. And Russia is my home, my home is now killing my homeland.”
After Finland saw an influx of Russians over its eastern border following Moscow’s mobilisation orders, Helsinki announced Friday that it would “significantly restrict the entry of Russian citizens.”
Although Alex understands the concerns of the Finnish government, he believes the Nordic country is making a mistake.
“Most people who are crossing the Russian border… do not want to kill… do not want to serve this regime,” he says.
For Alex, the West should not treat every Russian like they are responsible for the war.
By closing the border, the West is “turning away” the Russians who “still…