SEOUL — Groups of Russians have sailed to South Korea in an attempt to avoid being drafted into the war in Ukraine — only to have most of them denied entry at the border.
Korea Coast Guard records show a total of five boats carrying 23 people have reached the country since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the ‘partial mobilization’ of military reservists last month after suffering military and territorial losses in Ukraine.
After Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 reservists would be called up, Russian men of fighting age rushed to leave the country to avoid the project, with thousands pouring into neighboring countries such as Georgia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, as well as more distant places like Turkey. .
Car traffic has crippled border crossings and some flights have been sold out, but now it appears some Russians are taking even more extreme measures to avoid conscription.
An Ho-young, a South Korean Democratic Party lawmaker, told NBC News by phone on Thursday that the 23 Russian nationals had applied for tourist visas.
But he added that 21 people were denied approval on the basis of “insufficient documentation and unclear purposes” to enter South Korea.
Both successful applicants had documents showing they had previously been to South Korea.
“Korea is likely to become an intermediate stopover as more and more people try to flee Russia,” An said, adding that it was “urgent” for the government to come up with measures to handle a potential influx. of men fleeing mobilization, “such as dedicated procedures to manage what could turn into a diplomatic and human rights issue.
Russian nationals are allowed to enter South Korea without a visa, but permission to enter the country may be refused by immigration officials, he said.
Another boat, a 17-ton yacht carrying 10 Russian nationals, entered Korean waters but did not dock in the country.
It was spotted in the East Sea on Oct. 1 and applied for permission to dock in the city of Busan, An said, adding that immigration authorities had denied the Russians permission to enter. in the country, citing their lack of a verifiable reason for travel.
The boat finally docked at Pohang in North Gyeongsang, north of Busan, and set sail again at 5 p.m. on Oct. 11 with all of its passengers, An said.
A 6-ton yacht also arrived in South Korea on October 1, according to the coast guard. The boat requested permission to dock in the town of Sokcho to allow six passengers to disembark – but was again refused.
The boat instead set sail for the port of Vladivostok in eastern Russia on October 5, but was forced to make a stopover at Ulleung Island due to inclement weather and severe weather conditions. dangerous seas before finally leaving South Korean waters on Tuesday.
An said coastguard records showed a boat from Russia was still moored in Pohang after it was discovered at sea by a patrol boat on October 11. The four people on board were refused entry.
“Visitors from Russia went through a routine immigration process like everyone else and those who were refused entry to South Korea were denied entry because they failed to meet the requirements and regulations for visa,” a spokesperson for South Korea’s justice ministry said in a phone interview on Friday.
“Anyone wishing to enter South Korean territory must provide at least ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization), KETA (Korean Electronic Travel Authorization) or other forms of visa, but Russian visitors to whom entry has been refused have not provided any form of entry visa,” the spokesperson said.