SARAJEVO,BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (AP) – A group of ethnic Chechens fleeing Russia arrived in Bosnia this week, hoping to use the Balkan country as a launchpad to reach the European Union (EU) and avoid getting sent to fight in Ukraine.
The group of some 50 people, predominantly from Russia’s Chechnya region, congregated near Bosnia’s northwestern border with EU-member Croatia, the Bosnian Security Ministry said on Wednesday.
“They want to reach the EU because, in their own words, they are fleeing military draft” in Russia, the ministry said in a statement.
Russians can enter Bosnia without a visa and are permitted to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. But to enter Croatia, which is set to join Europe’s visa-free travel zone, the Schengen Area, on January 1, they must hold a valid visa.
The ethnic Chechens gathered near the Maljevac border crossing, in the northwest Bosnia’s Krajina region include families with children. Many of the people waiting said they hoped to be allowed into Croatia. However, Croatian border guards mostly appeared to be turning them back.
One of the young men in the group, who identified himself only by his first name, Hadis, said he was travelling with his children and wanted to enter Croatia because the situation in Chechnya, amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, was a “big problem”. Hadis said his family first stopped in Istanbul after departing Russia and then travelled on to Bosnia.
According to Bosnian media, the Chechens arrived in Bosnia from Turkiye and Serbia, the only two countries in Europe with direct flights from Russia during the war.