SEOUL, South Korea — Groups of Russians have sailed to South Korea to avoid being conscripted for the war in Ukraine — only for most of them to be refused entry at the border.
South Korean coast guard records show five boats carrying 23 people have reached the country since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the “partial mobilization" of military reservists last month after having suffered military and territorial losses in Ukraine.
After Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 reservists would be called up, Russian men of fighting age have scrambled to leave the country to avoid the draft, with thousands pouring into neighboring countries such as Georgia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, as well places farther afield, like Turkey.
Car traffic brought border crossings to a standstill, and some flights were sold out, but now it seems some Russians are taking even more extreme measures to avoid conscription.
An Ho-young, a lawmaker with South Korea's opposition Democratic Party, said by phone Thursday that all 23 Russian nationals had applied for tourist visas.
But he said 21 were denied approval because of “insufficient documentation and unclear objective" for entering South Korea.
The two successful applicants had documents showing records of having previously been in South Korea.
“It is likely that Korea is becoming an intermediate stopover as more people attempt to escape Russia,” An said, adding it was “urgent” for the government to come up with measures to handle a potential influx of men fleeing mobilization, “such as dedicated procedures for handling what could turn into a diplomatic and human rights issue.”
Russian nationals are allowed visa-free entry to South Korea, but immigration officials can deny permission to enter the country, he said.
Another boat, a 17-ton yacht carrying 10 Russian nationals, entered South Korean waters but did not dock in the country.
It was spotted in the East Sea on Oct. 1 and requested permission to dock in the city of Busan, An said, adding that immigration authorities refused the Russians permission to enter the country, citing their lack of a verifiable travel purpose.
The boat eventually docked in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, north of Busan, and set out to sea again at 5 p.m. last Tuesday with all of its passengers, An said.
A 6-ton yacht also arrived in South Korea on Oct. 1, according to the coast guard. The boat requested permission to dock in the city of Sokcho to allow six passengers to come ashore — but again it was turned down.
The boat instead set sail for the east Russian port of Vladivostok on Oct. 5, but it was forced to make a stopover on Ulleung Island because of adverse weather and dangerous seas before it finally departed South Korean waters Tuesday.
An said the coast guard record showed that one boat from Russia is still docked in Pohang after a patrol boat discovered it at sea last Tuesday. All four people aboard were denied entry.
“The Russian visitors went through a regular routine immigration process like everybody else, and those denied of entry to South Korea were because they did not meet the visa requirements and regulations,” a South Korean Justice Ministry spokesperson said in a telephone interview Friday.
“Anyone wishing to enter South Korean territory must provide at least the ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization), KETA (Korea Electronic Travel Authorization) or other forms of visa, but those Russian visitors denied entry failed to provide any forms of entry visa,” the spokesperson said.