Russian Mobilization Prompts Exodus To Serbia, Turkey


Using open source data, BIRN has calculated that since Russia ordered a partial mobilization, more than 30,000 people flew from Moscow to Turkey and more than a thousand to Serbia – many of them likely fleeing the war.

By Sasa Dragojlo, Hamdi Firat Buyuk and Samir Kajosevic

Tens of thousands of people have fled Russia for Turkey and Serbia following the news that Russian President Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin intends to mobilise some 300,000 new fighters for his faltering war in Ukraine.

Turkey and Serbia are two countries that have not imposed sanctions on Russia and still have normal air traffic links.

Using the maximum declared capacities of planes used by carriers, BIRN calculated that as many as 31,000 have flown to Turkey, and more than one thousand to Serbia.

BIRN based the figures on FlightRadar open source data, checking every flight and plane model and using the maximum possible number of seats per plane model.

Since Septembar 20, seven planes flown by Serbia’s national carrier Air Serbia have flown from Moscow’s Sheremeteyevo airport to Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport, BIRN discovered, using FlightRadar.

One plane flew on September 20, two on September 21, another two on Sepotember 22 and two more on September 23.

Five of the Air Serbia planes were AirBus A319s, each with a maximum capacity of 144 seats, while two were AiBus A320s with a max capacity of 174 seats.

Due to the high demand, despite high ticket prices, even on the black market, it can be assumed that the planes were full.

According to BIRN’s estimate, over the three days, around 1,068 passengers flew from Moscow to Belgrade.

Several Russians who came earlier to Serbia after Russia invaded Ukraine in February told BIRN that many of their friends fear being mobilized for the war and could soon come to Serbia as well.

“My friend’s brother has lost his job and got a draft card. He served in the army five years ago. Now he’s looking for medical justification to avoid mobilization,” Gleb, who works in IT, told BIRN.

He added that one of his friends has decided to leave Russia since the mobilization order.

“One of my friends was thinking about leaving Russia since the war started and yesterday finally decided to go. Her boyfriend hasn’t served in the army, but graduated from military school in his university, so he is at risk,” he said.

According to data that BIRN obtained from the Serbian Interior Ministry, from February 24 to May 31, 44,531 Russian citizens entered Serbia. Only 3,998 of them applied for a temporary residence permit, of which 2,586 were approved.

Since the war in Ukraine started, many Russian citizens used the flight connection over Belgrade and Istanbul to arrive to Montenegro as well, a tiny Adriatic country which is traditional tourism destination but also a home for thousands of Russians.

The state company managing the airports in Montenegro, Airports of Montenegro, told BIRN that since Wednesday morning there were eight flights from Belgrade to Podgorica airport, with 70 seats capacity each, as well as two flights from Istanbul with 155 seats capacity each. In the last two days there were also six flights to Tivat airport from Belgrade, with each flight holding 70 seats capacity, and three arrivals from Istanbul by planes that can carry up to 115 passengers each.

According to Montenegrin airport data total 1.150 passengers entered from Serbia and Turkey but the company could not precise how many of them were Russian citizens.

Many Russians also flew to Montenegro before the Russian mobilisation. According to the Montenegrin Interior Ministry, by July this year 4,359 Russian citizens had received residence and work permits, compared to 6,343 for the whole of 2021. Most were IT specialist, many of whom have relocated their businesses to the Adriatic country.

Many more flying to Turkey

In Turkey the number of passengers arriving from Russia is 30 times higher.

Data from FlightRadar for the same three days, September 20, 21 and 22, shows that 137 passenger flights left Moscow airports, St Petersburg and Sochi, flying to Istanbul Airport, Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport and Antalya Airport.

In total, 56 of these flights flown by different Turkish, Russian and international airlines landed in the main Istanbul Airport, five landed in Sabiha Gokcen Airport and 76 in Antalya.

According to media reports and airline companies’ own websites, tickets sold out fast following Putin’s declaration of a partial mobilisation.

BIRN’s calculation is that up to 31,998 passengers flew from three major Russian cities to these three major Turkish transfer hubs.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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