39-year-old programmer Anton (not his real name), who wished to remain anonymous, flew to Sochi on the night of September 25-26 and caught a ride to Tbilisi. Traffic jams began in North Ossetia. Only “local, acquaintances and for money” were let through at the traffic police post.
“Somewhere near Vladikavkaz, a huge white Lexus drove up to us with strong local guys, they said that they could lead us around the post. I did not understand whether they were in collusion with the cops or not, but they promised that the road would be free further on. We wanted some terrible money, such as 15 thousand per person, we first threw off up to 10, then up to 5, and then up to 20 per car. Dropped off, let's go.
We really were taken around the post on the outskirts of Vladikavkaz on dirt roads. Not far from the junction of the primer to the main highway, they stopped, they said: "Give me money, then it's free." We paid, we go further, and right at the junction we see the next post, we are turned back.
There is a line of cars in front of the post, not moving. Again, I didn’t have the resources to rub with the cops, I didn’t sleep for more than a day, but the drivers didn’t want to. In the end, we decided to get out of the car and continue on foot. I was scared to death that I would stay in the mountains, in the bitter cold, in drizzling rain, with wet feet, without food and water, and stupidly die in a ditch there. You can't even go back without money. At the same time, it was known that the border could only be crossed by car. But there was no way out, we decided that we would buy bicycles on the spot or jump into someone's car for money.
To go from this place to the checkpoint on the border is about 26 km. We agreed with some local, who was allowed through the traffic police post, that he would take us for 7 thousand from the car to the tail of the next traffic jam. We arrived - and then again on foot through another post. Then they bargained for 4 thousand with the driver of another car - until the next traffic jam. Then we went on foot to Lars. The remaining distance of about 15 km did not look like something impossible, although it was frightening.
In Lars, they jumped into the car 300 meters from the checkpoint (5,000 per person). They say this is a miracle - a typical price tag was 10-15 thousand at that time. We stood stupidly for two hours, then we drove off a little.”
22-year-old Victoria (name changed) was returning from her parents from Russia to Georgia, where she emigrated at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The girl told The Insider about the local "mafia", which, together with the traffic police and the Border Guard Service, makes millions, taking advantage of the hopeless situation of the departing Russians.
“With a 22 kg suitcase and a 10 kg backpack, I went to cross 18 kilometers of some absolutely hellish thing. During the time that we walked, they tried to sell me a bike a lot of times for the same prices. We were told that there was an Ossetian mafia with the numbers of Alania. They can move closer to the checkpoint - my friends bought it for 25 thousand. They lost their place, and they never moved anywhere. They offer these bikes and scooters, which are old and broken and break halfway. All with children and dogs.
There were fights, there were either shots, or the rock came down. The other guys said they were shots. The Ossetian mafia is operating there on an agreement with the security guards and border guards and, apparently, they have a good turnover. There is money in the millions. It is incomprehensible to the mind how much money people give away. Someone is lucky, and they are carried out, but most are just thrown. In the Upper Lars chat [there are mocking remarks] - but this is absolutely not funny, because this is a wild tragedy. I only realized that when I was there.”
Victoria compared the situation at the border checkpoint now with the situation at the borders at the beginning of the war in Ukraine and called what is happening in Upper Lars a humanitarian catastrophe.
“I remember footage from airports on February 24 when everyone was leaving, but it doesn’t compare [to what’s happening now]. I don’t want to devalue the feelings of the people who emigrated then, there was darkness and horror there too, but now I want to call it a humanitarian catastrophe. Not a single store was open along the way. I walked 18 kilometers alone, then I found a fellow traveler with whom I talked. We covered these 18 kilometers in about 5.5 hours, and the closer to the checkpoint, the more people.
When we approached the store, we were told that it had been working all night, the saleswoman was tired and left. In the windows it was clear that there were almost no products. There is only a stream, like a faucet, and perhaps I caught dysentery when I drank from there. This is the least scary [of everything], because I am super lucky, and I passed the border in a day only because, when I reached the checkpoint on foot, I met my friends there, who had been standing there for four days.
People don’t wash for four days, they can’t meet the minimum needs, they go to the toilet directly into the river and in general everywhere they can, which is why it smells strongly there. Children are very dirty and put their hands in their mouths all the time. When we got into the car, people started coming up to us and asking if we had food. We had some food, and we fed people with bread.
The tunnels are very stuffy and gassed from cars. It's dark and the mice are running around. People were sleeping there, because, apparently, they could no longer, and it was very cold for them at night. We slept in the car, and at six or seven in the morning a young man came up to us and asked if we could get warm. He says: “How much is it? I have very little money. Can you do less?" "In terms of? And they take money for this? We let him warm up for free, but then he had to go out.”
Anton also considers himself lucky. Now the situation in Upper Lars has deteriorated significantly. According to him, in order to cross the border to the military, it is necessary to give the border guard a bribe in the amount of $100.
“When we passed, there was still no pedestrian crowd at the border: everyone was looking for a car or riding a bicycle or scooter. Then new information appeared from those who followed us.
First, the price tags have gone up on everything. Now they are asking for 40 thousand for passing the border, but I'm not sure that you can't bargain for cheaper. There is a very wide scope for bargaining, and everyone understands that people without money have already reached the border, they were milked completely earlier. Bicycles also cost 40 [thousands] at the border (we were told that there were a thousand each - almost the customs officers themselves collect abandoned ones or buy them cheaply and resell them on the other side of the customs).
Secondly, they began to let people walk. True, now there are restrictions: only women and married couples.
Thirdly, they began to check the age and status of a person liable for military service in the passport at the Russian border. But it is solved for $100.
No one heard anything about the draft board, but they saw an armored personnel carrier there, yes.
The road is packed to such a state that it is impossible to carry a suitcase with wheels. Even on the roadside, not everywhere there is a place for him. The meeting is now so crowded that the exit from Georgia was closed (this, by the way, prevents the delivery of humanitarian aid from Georgia, another team is engaged in this, the “Help to leave” project). I know cases of fights from the stories of two people who followed me. They report from the border that they started selling cars right in the traffic jam, a mass phenomenon.
There is literally a humanitarian catastrophe, this is not hyperbole and not a metaphor. A man who has just arrived from there says with wide eyes: "Hell is there." A man who walked by yesterday said that he felt like hell was with him, but against the backdrop of today, it was nonsense.
Despite the difficult conditions and the lack of guarantees for crossing the border, Anton does not dissuade his relatives and friends from this route, but asks them to prepare well for it.
“I think there are chances if you prepare well: warm clothes, a waterproof jacket and shoes, a supply of food and water, a comfortable backpack. It is clear that if they set up a military registration and enlistment office there and row everyone in general, then this is tantamount to a closure.”