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In Russia, Vladimir Putin has broken promises and caused chaos he may not be able to contain

By Emily Clark in London and Tom Joyner in Istanbul
At the Narva border crossing from Russia to Estonia, Russians are questioned about being mobilised to Ukraine. (Reuters: Janis Laizans)

Sitting on a bus in the border zone between Russia and Estonia, Lev Kudryakov is sending rapid-fire updates about what he's just experienced.

To leave Russia, he was asked a series of questions by border guards: "Have you heard about mobilisation?"

"Do you know that if you evade mobilisation, then there may be criminal liability for evasion?

"Did you receive a summons to mobilise you?

"Why can't you be mobilised?" 

Mr Kudryakov did not receive a summons, but according to the criteria for mobilisation he could be called upon to fight for Russia in its war on Ukraine.

He decided to head to the border as soon as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced things had changed and a partial mobilisation of Russian reservists was now "urgent".

Lev Kudryakov describes himself as a political activist and says he understands the risks associated with speaking to ABC News. (Supplied)

It was his mother who told him to leave. 

He is her only son, and there is not a lot of trust that those who have not been summoned this time will not soon be sent to fight.

"I don't want to become part of his military machine and kill Ukrainians," Mr Kudryakov told ABC News via Telegram as he waited to enter Estonia.

"My friends who are involved in human rights work told me to leave, hide or pray. I took their advice very seriously." 

Mr Kudryakov said he has been against the war from the start. He describes himself as a political activist and worked on the team of Russian opposition and anti-corruption figure Alexei Navalny. 

He conceded there is "no chance to return to Russia in the near future". 

Mr Kudryakov said that while he thought some level of mobilisation of Russians might be possible, he thought it would be "suicidal for Putin".

"His regime is based on passivity, but here he forces people to participate in his war," he said. 

"It seems to me that this will greatly affect his regime."

Baltic countries that border Russia have stopped issuing Schengen visas to people trying to enter on Russian passports. (Reuters: Janis Laizans)

After making it past the Russian border checkpoint, he then faced the Estonian side and the delicate act of navigating new rules and restrictions for citizens wishing to cross into countries that border Russia.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have closed the border to most Russians trying to leave, while Finland has restricted the number who can seek visas. 

Mr Kudryakov entered Estonia on a non-Russian passport and on a promise to get straight on a plane to Germany where he has friends and family. 

In Germany, he may also be able to seek political asylum as that country indicates a level of protection would be offered to Russians willing to oppose Mr Putin's regime.

German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann says his country will welcome "anyone who hates Putin's path".(Twitter: @MarcoBuschmann)

It is hard to quantify how many Russians have attempted to leave since their president announced they might have to join the war, but Mr Kudryakov said the shift in sentiment was visible on the streets. 

"People's moods changed a lot," he said. 

"Young guys are trying to figure out what to do and how to leave Russia or hide from mobilisation. 

"There is a difference [between] when you read about some kind of war and when you are called to it personally." 

The war comes home to Russians

With state television and the pro-war internet army, Mr Putin has been able to engineer support for the invasion of Ukraine. 

Overnight there have been pro-war and pro-government rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg — signs of strength and solidarity with those who have been called to fight.  

But the impact of the war and the mobilisation is now being felt in some Russian households and among Russian families.

As the partial mobilisation comes into effect in Russia, videos that appear to show men saying goodbye to their wives and children were posted online.

The scenes were reminiscent of Ukraine in March and April when five million women, children and elderly were forced from their homes and their country and their families were torn apart.

The partial mobilisation is a call-up of 300,000 reservists to join Russia's effort in Ukraine, but there are already reports of people who have never served, trained or signed up to be in the military or the reserves being summoned to fight. 

There is a proposal to alter the list of medical conditions that once excluded Russian men from service, meaning fewer would be able to avoid the draft.

This is after multiple assurances from the Kremlin to its people that mobilisation was not going to happen and Russia was winning the war.

Protests have broken out and there is trouble in the upper ranks of the military command too. 

Mr Putin now has a new problem. 

While he has never been believed by the West, he is now rupturing fault lines that exist at home and risks losing the support and confidence of the people who give him power. 

'Going to Ukraine for war is nonsense'

The Kremlin said lines of men at Moscow Airport booked out flights to Turkey and Armenia and bottleneck traffic at the Russian border are "exaggerated" and "there are many fakes appearing on this matter". 

But news agencies were there to document the exodus first-hand.

In Istanbul, ABC News spoke to men and women who had decided to leave before it was too late.

Georgiy and his family had planned a holiday to Turkey, but he is of fighting age and when asked if it was likely that he would eventually be drafted, he sighed and said: "Yes, this is a possibility."

The family are considering staying in Turkey indefinitely so they can remain together. 

"This is simply a nightmare situation. I can't imagine what we'll do next. It's like we're living in a medieval country. We feel like hostages," Georgiy said.

"Everything inside me is replaced by panic.

"The state has been repressing protesters. But going to Ukraine for war is nonsense. It's better to leave Russia than stay there."

Moscow tech worker Elsa and her friend Katya bought tickets out of Russia immediately after the partial mobilisation was announced.

Elsa boarded a flight to Istanbul as soon as possible after the mobilisation announcement. (ABC News: Tom Joyner)

Elsa is anti-war and refused to talk about her male relatives, fearing for their safety.

"This is serious. Anyone could be drafted. For that reason, people are scared. For now, the draft papers are being sent to specific people, but I don’t believe that," she said.

"Soon, they will expand to more people. And that's scary because we don't know who will receive them.

"I no longer trust the government. They say they will not [close the border], but they regularly lie. So I don't know what's coming."

The difference on the battlefield 

A United Nations commission investigating Russia's conduct in Ukraine told the UN Human Rights Council it had found evidence of war crimes. 

The head of the commission said investigators had identified victims of sexual violence aged between four and 82. 

He said "a large number" of war crimes had been committed by Russia and only two cases by Ukraine involving the ill-treatment of Russian soldiers.

From inside Russia, there is little understanding of what is happening over the border. 

"Not everyone can admit to themselves that Russia is destroying Ukraine," Mr Kudryakov said. 

"Propaganda works pretty well." 

While some of the realities of the war come home, Mr Putin must now try to raise 300,000 extra fighters, with predictions that number will soon increase. 

Flights from Moscow to Turkey quickly booked out in the days following Mr Putin's announcement.  (ABC News: Tom Joyner)

The issue is while the Russian public has broadly supported the war, they have not ever been faced with fighting it, according to Sam Greene, director at the Centre for European Policy Analysis.

"While there's support for this war, we haven't seen a lot of enthusiasm for this war. We haven't seen a lot of people rushing off to volunteer for the military," he said.

"There should be worry from within Putin's military command about their ability to get these 300,000 reservists called up and about the quality of reservists that they're going to get and about the difference that they're going to make on the battlefield." 

After travelling for more than 24 hours, Mr Kudryakov made it to Germany and his mother knows he is safe. 

Like several people who spoke with ABC News, he said he believed Russia would lose the war. 

"This is a dramatic destruction of our country," he said.

"I think in the long run, people will realise Putin and the authoritarian system is responsible for this."