Who are the Russians who leave their homeland? | cultural | Report on arts, music and lifestyle in Germany | DW
On the night of March 4, 2022, Russian investigative journalist Andrei Loshak could barely sleep – in fact, he had slept very little since February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.
He checked the channels of the encrypted messaging app Telegram and found one message in particular that scared him: In the near future, martial law could be imposed in Russia, making it impossible to leave the country.
Over the next few weeks, he began to think about what he should do. Eventually he realized he had to go – immediately. On the same day, Loshak was on a plane to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
“Here in Georgia, I immediately met so many friends and colleagues from Moscow and other Russian cities that I hadn’t seen in Russia in recent years,” says Loshak.
Colleagues from the news stations Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) and TV Rain, now banned in Russia, were also present – the latter even set up an office there. “You are here among colleagues. You have the feeling that a whole scene has emigrated.”
Many chose to leave Russia for other countries
A mass exodus
Figures on the exact number of people who left Russia are not available, but one thing is clear: in the five weeks since the start of the war, Russia has experienced the largest exodus since the Revolution in October. Several hundred thousand people have left the country; some sources even suggest the number exceeds one million.
The number is all the more difficult to calculate since destination countries like Georgia or Armenia do not require Russians to have an entry visa.
Georgia alone, however, expects to receive over 100,000 refugees from Russia; Armenia reported a similar number.
Other destination countries include Azerbaijan, Dubai, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and even Tajikistan, Mongolia and Latin America.
Many are also heading to countries that already have large Russian communities, such as Montenegro and the Baltic states, including Latvia. Others who have had the opportunity to emigrate to Israel or Western Europe, notably Germany, have also taken this chance.
Virtually no one officially announces his departure. Most people just pack their bags and leave not knowing when they will ever return to Russia.
“The biggest brain drain in recent history”
Yet, despite the lack of information on the number of people who left, the reason for their flight is indisputable. “We are experiencing the biggest brain drain in recent history,” says Andrei Loshak.
In particular, academics, computer scientists, journalists, bloggers and arts workers are turning their backs on Russia, as its leader, Vladimir Putin, has pitted the country against the world.
Andrei Loshak decided to leave Russia and go to Tbilisi, Georgia
Directors, writers, fashion designers, architects and celebrities were among the first to flee.
Pop star Alla Pugacheva, for example, is building a new life in Israel with her comedian husband Maxim Galkin.
Talk show host Ivan Urgant, a Russian entertainment television star, is also present.
Rock star Zemfira and his partner, actress Renata Litvinova, are in Paris.
Director Kirill Serebrennikov, whose parole surprisingly ended in early mid-March, has also been spotted in Paris, and recently in Berlin.
Writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya also gives interviews in her Berlin apartment. His colleague Boris Akunin reports from London. Bolshoi Theater prima ballerina Olga Smirnova has a new job in Amsterdam, and influential video blogger and filmmaker Yuri Dud is working from Istanbul.
Russian rock star Zemfira and his partner, actress Renata Litvinova, are in Paris
But by far, not only the well-heeled and the famous have left their homeland; most of those who left are middle-class people working in creative professions. They took with them many questions about the future, as well as money, because Russian types of credit are blocked all over the world, and the export of larger sums is prohibited by law.
“None of us are looking for a better life abroad right now,” says Andrei Loshak. “We have all lost our livelihoods. I would call the current wave a moral emigration: our conscience does not allow us to stay in today’s Russia in a crowd shouting “Zig Heil”. (The “Z” refers to a symbol used by Putin’s supporters, editor’s note).
Loshak coined a term for those leaving: “I would call us ‘Russian Europeans'”.
Galina Yuzefovich: Leaving is a privilege
According to the Levada Center, the only independent polling institute of the Russian state, European-oriented Russians who condemn the war in Ukraine represent at least 20% of the total Russian population. In purely mathematical terms, this translates to 30 million people. However, very few of them are able to leave the country.
Literary critic Galina Yuzefovich points out that leaving Russia is a privilege
“Leaving today is neither a brave act nor the only ethically acceptable way to express personal dissatisfaction with current events,” says renowned literary critic Galina Yuzefovich, who left for southern Turkey with her family. . “It’s clearly a privilege.”
Russia is left not by the best, says Yuzefovich, “but simply by those who can somehow afford it.” His sympathies are particularly with those who remain and must survive – in open or silent protest – among other like-minded fellow citizens. The situation, she says, is comparable to that of Nazi-era Germany.
Anton Dolin: Flight as personal defeat
“The Russian culture that we knew until today ceased to exist on February 24,” says Anton Dolin curtly. “Both the official culture and the one that operated in opposition mode.”
Dolin is arguably Russia’s most renowned film critic and public figure. He testified in the trial of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov as a defense expert, for example.
“My basic position has always been that I would never leave Russia,” says Dolin. A week after the start of the war, he changed his mind.
He left the country with his family and has since lived in Latvia. “I now see my departure as a form of personal abandonment. Everything I did for three decades, a kind of cultural resistance to power, has now lost all meaning. My mission in life – to position Russia as a part of Europe – seems to have failed.”
Film critic Anton Dolin never imagined he would flee Russia
Still, the film critic says he hopes “the serious disease Russia is currently going through is curable.”
“After that comes the phase of repentance for the crimes that are now being committed in our name. The price we will then have to pay will be high. Nevertheless, I will be happy to return to my country. I have no other home, “says Dolin.
But coming back anytime soon seems unlikely. Vladimir Putin called those who left the country “traitors to the nation” and declared them enemies of the state.
This article was originally written in German.