"Russian border guards refused snickers, Kazakh border guards took them without hesitation. 

Photo from the personal archive of Efim Goncharov

The story of Artem, the former creative director of Tanuki Family, who fought against the "Men's State" (recognized as an extremist organization, its activities are banned in Russia*), and after the "partial" mobilization started, he made it two weeks from Moscow to Yerevan, treated border guards with Snickers and created a mini-community along the way.

Author: Ekaterina Malysheva

"You have half an hour."

As soon as the war began, we took a tough decision in the family council: if mobilization is announced, we will leave.

On September 21 - the day the mobilization was announced - we bought tickets for the next available date, October 7 to Yerevan. They cost 50,000 rubles for two people.

But since September 21, I stopped sleeping at night. Every day I looked at my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and instead of being happy, I wanted to cry, didn't know what to do.

A few days later, on September 26, my family and I were walking with the stroller at VDNKh.  Suddenly my close friend called me and said: "I'm driving my car right now to the border with Kazakhstan. If you're with me, you have half an hour." And I ran to get ready.

My wife was beside me, and I could tell by the look in her eyes. I know she didn't want to let me go, but she said firmly: "Go away."

Despite the fact that I have category B, disabled for military service, and I did not serve, I am 34 years old. Call-up age.

I somehow packed a bag of things - sneakers, T-shirts, a couple of books: Chingiz Aitmatov's "The Plague" and Alexander Engelhardt's "Letters from the Village. And we hit the road. 

"To Penza to my mother-in-law's house."

His older brother drove me and my friend to the border - he is over 50, and he believes that he will not be affected by mobilization. 

We drove 20 hours without stopping, once we slept an hour and a half.

Photo from Artem's personal archive

Once, about halfway through, we were stopped by the traffic police. We had a cover story for this: we said we were going to Penza to visit our mother-in-law. 

And then there was this dialogue between the brother of a friend and an employee:

- Where are you going?

- To my mother-in-law.

- Where is your mother-in-law, at the border?

- No, in Penza.

And then the policeman complained, even in an unkind way: "A lot of people are leaving..." Three young men with haggard faces-it all made sense to him.
Photo from Artem's personal archive

We got to the Mashtakovo checkpoint, my brother dropped us off and drove back. We looked at the map: a traffic jam for 26 kilometers - a huge line of people fleeing Russia by car. 

I think that's the right word: we were running away from war, from possible mobilization. What else could we call it? 

It may be improper for some, but not for me. I don't see anything shameful in it. It depends on what you're running from. If you're running from your beliefs and you're not willing to stand up for them, it's probably shameful. But if four people come at you with knives from an alley-it's not very shameful, you're saving your life.

Those I met said they were either "refugees" or "evaders."

Traffic jam in front of Mashtakovo checkpoint.
Photo from Artem's personal archive

"Emigrants of the Last Wave."

We walked the first part of the way to the checkpoint. 

Gradually, a "tangle" of people began to gather around us: some joined our company, some fell off. Some got into passing cars, and some, on the contrary, got out and joined our walking procession. 

And while this "tangle" was rolling, I did not meet a single unpleasant person: everyone was beautiful and united by a common impulse.

In the beginning it was just the two of us and a friend; at the end of the trip there were seven of us.

I added everyone I met and with whom I passed some part of the way to the chat room, where we still correspond to each other. I created this chat room and named it tragically, "Emigrants of the Last Wave," because the whole line was buzzing that "right now at midnight they're going to close the borders.

We walked about four of the 26 kilometers. 

We met some guys in their Nivas, completely covered in mud - from the wheels to the roof - who, for six thousand rubles per person, offered to drive around the line in the fields.
We also met an IT guy, a businessman who owns his own shoe store on Wildberries, and a father and his 18-year-old son.

"Everyone can be understood."

The trip was like a safari, but instead of lions and tigers there were truckers standing in traffic, who threw stones at the cars. The driver of the first Niva saw them, and we managed to avoid the roundup.

It was said that they came out with armatures on those who were driving on the wrong side of the road or on the side of the road. You can understand them, I love and respect truckers, and I think they are right.
You can also understand the guys who were making money on the road these days: we needed the service, and they could earn as much in a couple of days as they did in a couple of months.

We drove our Nivas almost to the beginning of the queue - we walked another four kilometers.

Artem. Photo from personal archive

There was a line of 150 people at the checkpoint, which quickly grew to three hundred. We realized that this line was not moving, but the line of cars was moving slowly, but it was moving. In addition, it was already getting dark, and it gets very cold in the Kazakh steppe as soon as the sun goes down. We decided it would be better to splurge and sit in the warmth.

We jumped into another car - the driver of the Jeep Armat also charged us six thousand per person. A couple of times I read in chats that someone put us in the car for free to get warm, but I have not personally met.

In the car, we were moving at a rate of half a meter in half an hour - this stretch took about 15 hours. We stood all evening and all night.

Our whole trip from home to the border took a day and a half.

Sneakers for border guards

In Moscow I worked in BTL advertising agencies and did all sorts of sampling, and often something was left over and given to the employees. I had a box of slightly expired snickers, but the expiration had no effect on their taste.
My wife handed me this box at the very last moment. There was one thing in the bag: either a Boss suit and a Gucci shirt, or snickers.

So I chose chocolates. They were the key link in our journey: I offered them to everyone I met, and everyone took them. There were 30 of them, and before the border the box was over. 

We also offered snickers to checkpoint officials: the Russian customs officer did not take them, but the Kazakh officer did, without hesitation.

I made it all the way on a bottle of water and a couple of chocolates. But I started smoking, ten years after I quit - as I saw 26 kilometers ahead of me to overcome with the stuff.

Photo from the personal archive of Yefim Goncharov

But it was communication that helped the most along the way: for me, that's the most important element of civil society, not food or water.

Home is not a geographic location, home is people. My fellow travelers temporarily became my home by telling each other about ourselves and fleeing from common misfortune. This was my way of making up for the feeling of home from which I had been abruptly pulled by mobilization.

"Tortured those who were nervous."

The Russian border guards were very strict. As we drove up with the Armat, I saw one of the border guards shouting in gopny language at a crowd of confused and frightened people: "Didn't you go to gym class? Line up in twos!"

Our driver was very active, fidgeting, walking "on a knife edge," talking to border guards and in high spirits. Finally, we stopped standing in traffic and something started to happen. He led us like chickens behind him.

The border control officer behaved differently with each of us: he immediately "bought out" where your weaknesses were, where he could push you, and the more nervous you got, the more he pestered you.

I set myself up in a cheerful and confident mood. I thought through the wording that answered all of his follow-up questions. The dialogue was as follows:
- Are you a conscript?
- Category B, never served, no military specialty... Vision, minus six.

He looks me in the eye, gives me a stamp - I had a passport - and I go through.

A friend, who was very nervous, was asked for his military ID card, and he gave it to them. There, he said, they studied his military ID card and passport under a magnifying glass, compared photos, without saying a word. And he stood there shaking. But in the end they let him through. All seven of them were let through - only one was asked if he knew that there is criminal responsibility for evading mobilization.

The Kazakhs were much nicer: first, one of the border guards took a Snickers, and second, our driver communicated with them in Kazakh. The legend was: we were going to Alma-Aty to visit a friend whose daughter was born. But we didn't need that either.

"Now they're going to take us to the organs."

At dawn we drove into Uralsk and took a break at our driver's house. 

He handed me a bottle of cognac as the "leader of the gang" and offered me a job: "You go to Yerevan - look for broken cars, you will ferry them to me by water, and I will repair them here and sell them. 
On the way to Alma-Aty.
Photo from the personal archive of Yefim Goncharov

I plan to work in my specialty for now, but I'm open to other options if I need to. I have a family to feed. It was very hard to leave the mortgage apartment, the household, the child's vaccination calendar. But it's helped me a lot to divide my anxiety into bite-sized pieces along the way. You can't beat all the anxiety together, but in pieces, you can. For example, the apartment is in a mortgage in Moscow, and then you need something to live on. So you have to try to rent it out or take a mortgage vacation. 

I didn't have my family next to me, but even that was solvable.

In Kazakhstan, my first priority was to get to Yerevan in order to reunite with my family in ten days. I bought the nearest affordable ticket from Alma-Ata to Frankfurt-am-Main. It cost 60,000 rubles, and I gave up my old Yerevan ticket from Moscow.

I had to drive to Alma-Ata from west to east across Kazakhstan. We drove in a car through the steppes for about two days, paying 15,000 rubles.

On the way to Alma-Aty.
Photo from Artem's personal archive
At lunch in the canteen we saw through the window how our things were being transferred from one car to another. And the drivers switched to young and greyhounded. We didn't really fit their notions of "real men. They started "yelling" at us in prison lingo. At first we were afraid they were going to take us for organs. But in the end we made it to Alma-Ata okay.

I stayed with friends in Alma-Ata for a week and flew to Yerevan on October 3. It took 12 hours to change planes in Frankfurt/Main. 

At the Alma-Ata airport ticket office, despite the fact that I was in transit, they also made me buy a return ticket from Yerevan, because I do not have a Schengen visa. Allegedly I would be turned back there and deported, and they would be fined. I had to buy a ticket either to the country of residence - Russia, or to the country of departure - Kazakhstan.

I collected at night for a ticket for my relatives. We bought a return ticket from Yerevan to Moscow for November 7 for 15 thousand rubles. Then I returned it with a commission of two thousand rubles.

I flew with a Portuguese man who was on his way to Brazil. He had no Schengen and no return ticket, and he was actually deported back to Portugal.
He had no money at all, was walking around in the transit area and was staring longingly at the coke machine, so I ran and changed money and bought him a coke. 

It took me two weeks to get all the way there.

But who knows how things would have turned out if it hadn't been for my friend Felix's mother. It was she who persuaded him to go to the border. My mother and my almost 90-year-old grandmother also support me. My grandmother reads opposition media and throws me links to them.

In Yerevan.
Photo from the personal archive of Evgeny Malyshev

The role of women in general is now invaluable: they both create momentum and keep the balance. Both those who go out to protest, and those who are left alone to run the household or urgently solve all problems to fly into the unknown after their men. 

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