They come on foot, bicycles, cars and even electric scooters.
They bring what they can which isn’t much, dragging their suitcases behind them. Some have dogs and others cat boxes. They are exhausted after a journey that has taken days, but all seem hugely relieved to have left Putin’s Russia.
One couple laughed with relief. “Very tired, but happy,” said Katy. The relief seemed almost to overwhelm her.
We are on Georgia’s border crossing with Russia. It straddles a pass high in the Caucasus. A steady stream of Russians are coming through. They tell stories of chaos on the other side.
Vitaly and Maria have four children. They left home four days ago. The last two they had spent walking and queuing with thousands of others crammed into the narrow gorge on the Russian side. They also had to bribe guards to have any chance of getting through.
Those waiting to cross face an anxious ordeal. The temperature at this altitude is either very cold, in the shade or roasting hot in the sun. One couple told us of moments of panic as rumours swept through the crowds that authorities would soon close the border – or were sending the military to find men of mobilisation age and pack them off to the front.
Some are too scared to talk even outside of Russia, fearful of retribution against their families left behind. Others seize the opportunity to speak their mind, almost shaking with anger as they do.
“Putin is a murderer,” Vitaly told me with a smouldering fury.
They had told the children they were going to the seaside he said. They couldn’t risk telling them the truth in case they passed it on to strangers. They won’t be going back until there is a change of government and a new president.
“My boy is 17 next year,” he said, pointing to his eldest. “He will be taken to the army. The war is not going to end tomorrow. If he goes, what, did I raise him for Putin?”
They had left everything behind apart from what is in their suitcases. They even abandoned their car on the border. They had no plans beyond catching a taxi to Tbilisi, but even a future that uncertain, they said, was preferable to life under Putin.
Putin’s mobilisation decree has prompted a massive increase in the numbers of people leaving.
We met only one man who had actually received call-up papers. ‘Nick’ is now on the run from authorities who want to send him to Ukraine to fight.
His government “wants to make meat from me” he told us. He was a scientist and an engineer and has so much more than that he said to give to his country.
We have met IT specialists, managers and even a nuclear physicist. They have all given up their jobs and walked out of Russia.
Russia is haemorrhaging its brightest and best. It is a huge tragedy for the country that it will take years to recover from.
But it may also be exactly what the regime wants as it plots its future. The young and the savvy who have the best chance to see beyond the state’s lies and propaganda and what is really going on in their country.
One official has said as much – Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia’s election commission.
“Let the rats who are running run,” she is quoted as saying. “The ship will be ours. It’s gaining strength and clearly moving towards its target.”
As an observer on Twitter noted, she seems gloriously unaware of the reason rats flee ships.
A mass exodus is under way. In less than a week, the number of Russians fleeing has doubled. Before Putin’s mobilisation announcement 300,000 had left – but in the week since at least that number have left.
They are fleeing into Mongolia, Finland, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Many are the younger ones, better educated and best qualified because they are of fighting age and do not want to be called up to fight.
Vladimir Putin has succeeded in mobilising an army of Russians, mustering on the borders, not to fight but to flee.
The reservists that authorities do successfully corral into the army will likely be reluctant and demoralised. There have been multiple protests against the draft by young Russian men who do not want to fight.
On Russian state TV, pundits openly urged the government to round up artists, street musicians, the mentally disabled and ethnic minorities and send them to war. Even by their own bigoted standards it was a startling exchange between state-funded propagandists.
Putin is looking increasingly unlikely to win this war, and the addition of hastily trained, poorly motivated men, even in their hundreds of thousands is not likely to change that.
But he is prepared it seems to send many more to the front. Between 40,000 and 80,000 have been killed or injured in this war already. Many more will follow.