Fearing fallout from Putin’s war, Russians flee abroad
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused tens of thousands of middle-class Russians to abruptly flee abroad as they face a bleak future in their increasingly isolated homeland.
Many say fear of the economic and political fallout from the war and the prospect of sending men to fight in Ukraine were the main reasons they decided to leave everything behind and flee the country.
But due to an ever-increasing number of crippling sanctions imposed on Russia, they don’t have many destinations to choose from, with many Western countries restricting visas for Russian citizens. Meanwhile, thousands of international flights have been canceled as Russian airlines are barred from flying over many Western countries.
“We bought tickets to Tashkent because it was immediately available at a reasonable price,” said Marina, who fled to Uzbekistan with her husband and three young children on March 3.
Russians travel to countries that do not require visas, such as the former Soviet countries of Armenia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Turkey is a top destination due to its direct flights, visa-free regime and large Russian-speaking community. Those with more financial resources left for the United Arab Emirates.
Many new Russian emigrants told RFE/RL they only had days or even hours to make such a “life-changing decision” and leave. “We bought tickets at 7 p.m. on March 2 for the 2:30 a.m. flight the next morning,” Marina said. “In two hours we packed our bags and headed to the airport with two suitcases.”
There was an overwhelming feeling that the situation in Russia – with stores closing, companies laying off staff and foreign products disappearing from the shelves – will deteriorate further, and that “it won’t get better or easier. “So soon, Marine explained.
Rumors of martial law imposed by President Vladimir Putin in early March have caused panic. Martial law would mean military mobilization of men, closing of borders and various restrictions on people’s daily lives and activities.
“We were afraid that the borders would be closed the very next day. So we left everything – our apartment and our cars – and jumped on the plane,” Marina said.
Yulia, a Russian citizen who fled to Kyrgyzstan, tells a similar story. “We even forgot to pack some of the most basic things – like toothbrushes and soap – because we were in such a rush,” Yulia told RFE/RL.
Yulia and her daughter are now in a hotel in the southern city of Osh. She says several other Russian citizens are temporarily living in Osh as they consider their next steps.
One of them is Yakov, who left Russia after participating in anti-war protests. He was among thousands of protesters recently arrested by Russian police. Yakov was released after paying a fine of 10,000 rubles (about $105).
Yakov does not want to live in Russia under his current government. He said “laws have been getting stricter since the war started” and authorities have further tightened people’s freedoms, which were already restricted.
“Now you can end up with a 15-year prison sentence for taking part in anti-government protests,” Yakov said, referring to a law passed March 4 that criminalizes spreading “fake news” on the Internet. Russian army.
Yakov describes himself as a political activist. But thousands of other ordinary Russians – many of them uninterested in politics – are also leaving Russia.
Russians have become aware of a new reality that deprives them of the way of life to which they have been accustomed in recent years. The new sanctions mean travel restrictions, the exodus of Western businesses from Russia and the suspension of major debit and credit cards, among others.
The ruble immediately lost value and tens of thousands of people lost their jobs overnight after Western shops closed.
Fear of being left on the wrong side of the new Iron Curtain by not being able to travel is why 40-year-old businessman Aleksandr Medvedev decided to leave.
Medvedev fled to Turkey with his wife and three children, all under the age of 5. “We left not only for the sake of our children, but also for ourselves, just to be free to do what we can and want to do,” Medvedev said. “Besides, I don’t want to fight in this senseless [war] and die for it.”
The exact number of new Russian emigrants is unknown, but according to some estimates, more than 200,000 left the country by March 12.
In early March, Russian publication Kommersant quoted the director of popular online travel agency Pososhok as saying that ticket prices for some destinations had skyrocketed as Russians rushed to buy one-way tickets. “I noticed that people are buying tickets in droves, tickets are selling out,” Kiril Faminskiy said.
The price of a one-way ticket to Dubai has risen from around 40,000 rubles ($360) to 200,000 rubles ($1,800), amid high demand. Tickets to Istanbul “became five times more expensive”, he said.
“A lot of people I know are emigrating,” said Yelena Khanpira, who flew to Turkey with her husband and child on March 3. “About twenty of my friends and acquaintances are leaving”.
Khanpira and her husband plan to stay in Turkey “for a few months and look for work”. The couple have yet to decide whether they want to call Turkey their new home or move to a third country.
Marina and her husband in Tashkent face a similar dilemma. Young parents do not exclude that their eldest will enter school in Tashkent next year. For now, they are keeping their options open. “The only thing we know for sure is that we won’t go back to Russia until Putin is out of power,” Marina said. “He is destroying our country. We made the right decision to leave.”