29 November 2022, Tuesday, 7:00
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‘God, Do Not Say Belorussia’

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‘God, Do Not Say Belorussia’

How Russians are fleeing mobilization via Minsk.

On the first day of the "partial mobilization" announced in Russia, there was a huge demand for tickets to the nearest visa-free countries, including Belarus.

Air tickets were the first to be sold out, and then - train tickets. When trying to "travel" from Moscow to Minsk, Brest or Homel within the next few days, the website of the Belarusian Railways informs: "Sold out," Salidarnasts says.

Sunday morning rush at the capital railway station is common, but there are a lot of welcoming people on the platform with arriving train St. Petersburg-Brest. There are as many as six trailed wagons to Minsk, and at first glance there are much more men among half-asleep passengers. Although, none of them comes out with a banner "No War," one can understand some things just by stopping and listening to the crowd.

- They don't give a damn that I'm a designer! - a blue-haired guy on the phone says irritably. - I'm a male citizen, the unit of account on the list. They brought it to my parents'. Of course, I do not reside there. That's all for now, when I get a chance to talk properly, I'll call you back.

A small group of young men discusses the fact that it's warmer here than in St. Petersburg and that not everyone managed to sleep, because "I had a feeling that the border guards would be in the wagon".

All of them seem to know where to go next - only one young couple needs a cab to take them to the suburbs. Many of them know where the exchange office, luggage storage, and the nearest fast-food place are. Either it's not the first time they've been to Minsk, or they have studied the issue beforehand.

Fifteen minutes later, the Moscow-Minsk brand train arrives on the first track, and then the picture changes. On the platform, three police patrols pass by leisurely, without aggression, but with particular attention to those holding nameplates. (Names and surnames, by the way, are all male).

One of those people notices this increased attention, so he tucks the sheet into his pocket and writes the last name on the screen of his smartphone. No one checks their documents, though.

The crowd of arrivals disperses surprisingly quickly. Only old women tourists are as separate islands, gathering "friendly people" - those who are going to one of the popular Belarusian sanatoriums, a few families with children and men of different ages, nervously smoking in the smoking area.

- You were right to arrive," the elderly man takes handbag from the young man. - And don't listen to anybody about one's conscience, those who collect "live meat" don't have it. You stay with me for a while, and then we'll think about the future.

A young couple with rucksacks hurries in the opposite direction:

- God, do not say Belorussia, the girl reproaches her companion.

Yury is a Belorussian working for an international company; he travels to Russia once every two weeks for work. A few days ago, he just returned from another business trip by train, because there were no plane tickets.

- I took the Lastochka (high-speed train), there were a lot of young guys in my coach and the one next to it. I felt quite nervous - they were afraid they would be checked and they could be taken off the train. But we got there as usual.

In Moscow, according to Yury, "it seems that not everyone has understood what is going on yet":

- An acquaintance asked his advice whether he should send his son to the Belarusian provinces, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I had to explain that "the middle of nowhere" is one thing by Moscow standards, and "the middle of nowhere" means a small town or a village where everybody knows each other and a stranger can be seen there in no time, so it is easier to get lost in Minsk.

***

Minsk resident Irina has been in the apartment letting business for almost ten years. She notices a rush in demand from Russians on 21-22 September, when several dozens of calls were received during one day.

- As far as I understand, they also monitor our news. When they find out that one may be interested in renters, they ask their fellow Belarusians to register the rent. I cannot say for sure whether there are many or few Russians among renters. I think there are more than before. There is no such thing as an excessively high demand and skyrocketing prices.

So far, the law enforcers have not asked me for any information about tenants, but I assume that they can ask their neighbors.

Cab drivers are also reluctant to share their impressions of Russian clients, but several people confirm on condition of anonymity that the number of "tourists" has indeed increased. In recent days, almost all of them have been trying not to leave digital traces - some people order cars, others take them, and they pay in cash.

- No one drove to the airport with me, mostly in the city. They did not spend any money, as you remember the Eastern migrants did," one of the drivers says. - As it seemed to me, most use us as a transfer hub, until one turns them around at the airport.