Zelensky Says 'More and More' Russians Trying to Escape as Ukraine Advances

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that Russians newly drafted to fight in Ukraine are increasingly opting to flee rather than engage in a war they view as unwinnable.

Zelensky made the remarks in a nationally televised speech on Monday, highlighting recent gains by Ukraine's military as well as reported problems with Russia's efforts to reinforce its invasion with fresh troops. The Ukrainian leader's speech follows efforts by Kyiv to encourage drafted Russian soldiers to resist fighting after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization last month.

"Fierce fighting continues in many areas of the front," Zelensky said. "But the perspective of these hostilities remains obvious—more and more occupiers are trying to escape, more and more losses are being inflicted on the enemy army, and there is a growing understanding that Russia made a mistake by starting a war against Ukraine."

Fleeing Russian Citizens in Kazakhstan
Russian citizens visit a public service center to receive an individual identification number for foreigners in the city of Petropavl, Kazakhstan, on September 28, 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says mobilized Russians are choosing flight over fight. Vadim Blazhevich/Getty Images

Ukrainian forces have retaken 2,316 square miles—about three times the size of Rhode Island—of occupied territory since early last month. The reported gains are from a counteroffensive Ukraine launched over the summer in the country's northeast and south.

Putin responded by announcing on September 21 that he was calling up 300,000 reservists. The order was met with protests, Russians fleeing the country and reports of new troops being sent to the front lines with virtually no training.

In his speech, Zelensky referenced reports of Russians being sent to war unprepared, saying they are being sent to "replace the dead." He added, "When these new ones die, more people will be sent. This is how Russia fights. That's how it will lose as well."

"None of those who are now being sent to war after criminal mobilization will be able to explain: What is the point of this for him personally?" Zelensky said. "Why should he risk his life?"

Andriy Yusov, spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's intelligence directorate, said last week on national television that Russians were already calling a hotline set up by Ukraine asking how to surrender. Days later, Zelensky posted a video online appealing to Russia's ethnic minorities to resist being sent to Ukraine to fight.

Ukrainian troops halted their advance along the Dnieper River in the Kherson region, which is part of the counteroffensive, Russian state-controlled TASS news agency reported Monday. A Russian military official also told the outlet that Ukrainian forces failed to break through defenses in the area.

Kherson is one of four regions of Russian-occupied Ukraine that the Kremlin is moving forward with annexing, following referendums widely condemned as illegitimate. Putin gave a defiant speech on Friday defending the ongoing war.

But Zelensky, in his speech, said that, "No sham referenda, announcements about annexations, conversations about the borders they invented and drew somewhere, will help them."

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.