People are leaving Russia for various reasons; who are they and where are they going?
Since the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it is anticipated that hundreds of thousands of Russians have deserted their nation. We examine their backgrounds, destinations, and reasons for departing.
Svetlana, who is in her early 30s, is a small-town native. At age 18, she came to Moscow to attend university to study physics. She worked as a product manager for numerous businesses after graduating.
“I love Russia and I enjoyed my life,” she says, “I never thought I’d have to leave, I planned to retire in Moscow.”
Even before the Ukraine conflict, Russians were leaving, especially those who disapproved of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and new laws that made it simpler to penalize dissent. Many of them settled in Georgia as well as the Baltic states and other EU nations.
The complete invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was a turning moment for Svetlana.
“When the war began, I understood that it would not end quickly and that people would not demonstrate. I felt that leaving made sense, both emotionally and logically,” she explains. She is currently in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade.
“I wanted to put as much distance as I could between myself and the authorities.”
Her feelings were shared by many Russians, and what had been a trickle grew into a stream.
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The first wave of emigrants arrived in March and April of last year; they told the BBC they opposed the conflict and were upset that more Russians had not demonstrated. They felt threatened and alone, and they decided it was safer to leave.
In September 2022, President Putin ordered the military to be mobilized. It was considered “partial” by the authorities, but in actuality, it meant that the majority of men were subject to the conscription.
There were numerous reports of inadequate gear and poor instruction for the freshly enlisted.
Men and their families began to depart in large numbers, resulting in days-long lines at the Russian borders with Kazakhstan and Georgia.
Russians were not fleeing in large numbers in order to avoid being recruited, according to Dmitry Peskov, the president of Russia’s official spokesman.
The official spokesman for the Russian president is Dmitry Peskov.
SOURCE OF IMAGE: REUTERS
Putin’s spokesman disputed that the government was attempting to prevent men from leaving the country; see image caption.
He also claimed the new approach was intended to restrict the flow of men leaving. In April, Russian authorities established a “online call-up” where new conscripts could be added to a digital record instead of being handed the paperwork by hand.
Who is remaining, and where are they going?
The number of persons who have left Russia is unknown, but estimates range from a few hundred thousand to several million.
According to a May projection from the UK Ministry of Defence, 1.3 million individuals will leave Russia by 2022.
The tendency is supported by other estimations of data from different sources. According to officials in the Russian government quoted in Forbes magazine, between 600,000 and 1,000,000 people would have left Russia by 2022. Comparable statistics were provided by independent Russian media outlets The Bell and RTVi.
As long as you have money and are not on military call, leaving Russia is not too difficult. Finding a long-term residence, however, is challenging.
Many nations, primarily the EU and the US, made it challenging for Russians to apply for visas in the months after the start of the war unless they already had family there or were traveling for employment.
Russians did not have such limitations and were free to enter and leave as they pleased in many other nations, including Georgia and Armenia. They can still.
Other nations, such as Kazakhstan, reportedly modified their regulations earlier this year to reduce the number of days that Russian immigrants may stay as tourists in order to halt the flow of immigration.
While many are finding ways to continue working remotely for Russian employers, an increasing number of people need to seek for residence in order to be allowed to work in the countries they are living in.
We are aware that during the last 15 months, over 155,000 Russians have been granted temporary residence cards in the EU as a whole, as well as in a number of Balkan, Caucasus, and Central Asian nations.
The European Union Agency for Asylum reports that just about 2,000 of the over 17,000 applications for political asylum in EU nations have been granted.
According to the Russian Interior Ministry, there were 40% more applications for foreign passports in 2022 compared to the previous year.
“I was scared that I would be sent to kill other people.”
We have spoken with a large number of Russian exiles since this war began.
They come from various backgrounds. Others include professionals in other fields as well, such as linguists, designers, IT specialists, academics, lawyers, and doctors in addition to journalists like us. Most are younger than 50. Many people believe in the eventual democratization of Russia and embrace the liberal values of the west. Some people identify as LGBTQ+.
There is evidence, according to sociologists researching the present Russian diaspora, that those leaving are younger, more educated, and wealthier than those remaining. They typically hail from larger cities.
Thomas is a St. Petersburg native.
“Because I believe in nonviolence, I was scared of being asked to kill others. Since 2014, I have opposed Russia’s approach to Ukraine. It is wrong to invade a country and kill citizens, he claims.
On September 21, 2022, in Moscow, police detain a man after protests against the Russian President’s announcement of a partial mobilization.
Source image: Alexander Nemenova/AFP
At a rally in Moscow, a man who the BBC has not yet talked to is being detained. A few people who opposed military mobilization received draft papers themselves.
He claims that after the full-scale invasion began, he participated in street protests and posted anti-war sentiments on social media. He was also worried about his safety since he was gay.
“After Russia adopted laws on the ‘ban on gay propaganda’ and on ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, I knew that the threat to my life and freedom had increased,” he claims.
Thomas sought political asylum in Sweden and made an effort to convince the authorities there that going back to Russia would be risky. He filed an appeal after the decision to reject his application.
“Since I only have a limited amount of time with a state attorney, I’m working on assembling evidence for my case on my own,” the defendant said.
It’s a different set of issues for Sergei, who hails from Rostov-on-Don in the south. He is currently in Georgia’s Tbilisi. He called a few of his buddies the day Russia invaded Ukraine, and they all concurred that the war was bad news.
The economy would decline no matter what occurred, he claims. “We all got together a week later and decided we needed to get ready to [leave],”
According to Sergei, the war drew nearer as the days passed.
“We observed a lot of military equipment traveling to Ukraine. The wounded were crowded into hospitals. Although Rostov Airport was closed to commercial flights, there were still a lot of aircraft and we were aware of their destinations.
After Putin’s mobilization speech in September, Sergei’s mother, who had criticized him for not being patriotic enough, called him and urged, “Pack your things and go.” To get to Georgia, where he now resides, Sergei drove all night.
Army recruitment advertisement for Russians
SOURCE OF IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES
Russian army recruitment advertisements have grown commonplace, image caption
My spouse and young child are still in Russia. They require me to cover both their travel and lodging costs abroad as well as my own here. I have two jobs; one is here for a friend’s little business, and the other is remote work for my firm in Russia.
According to Sergei, he is saving money to relocate his family from Russia to another nation. He claims that after initially being hesitant, his wife has finally conceded that they need to look for a new life somewhere.
In what ways does this affect Russia?
The economic impact of hundreds of thousands of educated and wealthy individuals fleeing the nation and taking their money with them is obvious, despite the Russian authorities’ best efforts to minimize it.
According to Alfa Bank, the biggest private bank in Russia, up to 1.5% of the country’s workforce may have fled. Professionals with advanced degrees make up the majority of those who left. Companies lament the lack of qualified candidates and challenges in hiring.
Early in the conflict, the Russian Central Bank stated that citizens withdrew a record 1.2 trillion roubles (about £12 billion or $15 billion) from their accounts. Since the financial crisis of 2008, Russia hasn’t seen anything on this scale.
The Russian National Academy of Sciences economist Sergei Smirnov predicts that better qualified workers will continue to hunt for methods to depart as a general tendency.
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“There will be an increase in demand for workers with the skills necessary to create shoes or fix cars. I don’t favor doomsday scenarios, but I think this will cause the productivity of the Russian economy to keep declining over time.
The economist notes that big cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg will be most impacted by these developments.
Because living standards have historically been low in smaller cities, towns, and villages, the majority of the Russian land won’t be aware of these changes.
Svetlana, who is currently in Belgrade, has no intention of going back to Russia.
Although I currently work for a start-up in Moldova, I recently applied for a position there.
Sergei is looking for work in Europe from Tbilisi. His current situation is challenging: “I don’t have any days off, and sometimes I don’t have enough time for a good night’s sleep, so I nap in the car.”
Thomas in Sweden is also hoping that he won’t be made to return to Russia, where he fears homophobic abuse. In order to be able to get any employment at all, he is learning Swedish.