The biggest escape from Russia since 1917

On the night of March 4, Russian investigative journalist Andrei Loshak never managed to fall asleep, as he has every night since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

Checking the channels he monitors on the Telegram, among the numerous reports of ongoing atrocities, he found information that martial law may soon be imposed in Russia, which will make it impossible to leave the country. Thus, the decision, which he has been considering for weeks, is finally clear – he must leave Russia, and immediately. On the same day, Loshak boarded a plane for Tbilisi.

“Conscience does not allow us to be part of this crowd”

His colleagues from the independent radio Echo of Moscow and the opposition Dozhd TV, which were blocked in Russia, are already there. “I found myself among colleagues. One has the feeling that the whole guild has emigrated,” said the journalist. There are no exact numbers, but it is already clear – in the weeks since the start of the war, Russia is experiencing the largest flight of people since the October Revolution. It is estimated that several hundred thousand people have already left the country, and according to some sources, more than a million have emigrated.

It is almost impossible to determine their exact number, as the most popular destinations for refugees are Georgia and Armenia, where Russians are not required to have a visa to enter the country. And a very small number of emigrants announce publicly that they are leaving Russia. “This is the biggest brain drain in recent history,” said Andrei Loshak. Scientists, IT professionals, journalists, bloggers, directors, writers, fashion designers, architects, and cultural figures – all turn their backs on their country once it faces the world.

For example, star Alla Pugacheva is already building a new life in Israel – together with her husband Maxim Galkin, who is a famous TV presenter. There is also Ivan Urgant, who is also a popular presenter. Actress Renata Litvinova and singer Zemfira are in Paris, where director Kiril Serebrennikov was also spotted. Writer Ludmila Ulitska is giving interviews from her apartment in Berlin, prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater Olga Smirnova has found a new job in Amsterdam, and YouTube vlogger Yuri Dud has moved to Istanbul.

But it is not only celebrities with the appropriate financial means who are leaving Russia. Most of the runners are middle-class cultural figures who are taking a big step forward in the unknown with just one suitcase and little cash. “None of us are leaving because we are looking for a better life outside,” said Andrei Loshak. “We’ve all lost our lives. I’d call it moral emigration. Conscience just doesn’t allow us to be part of the mob that shouts ‘Zig Heil.'”

According to the independent Levada Center, pro-European Russians who condemn the war in Ukraine are at least 20 percent of Russia’s population. However, only a few of them can afford to leave the country. “Leaving Russia now is neither a bold move nor the only morally acceptable position,” said Galina Yuzefovich, a well-known literary critic who has left for Turkey with her family. “It’s just a privilege,” she added. According to Yuzefovich, those who leave Russia are not the best of all, but simply “those who can afford it”.

“Everything lost its meaning, the mission of my life failed.”

“The Russian culture we knew ceased to exist on February 24,” said Anton Dolin, a well-known Russian film critic, publicist, and public figure. Dolin never wanted to leave Russia, but only a week after the war began, he fled the country and left for Latvia with his family. “I see my escape as a personal defeat. Everything I have done for three decades, all my opposition to those in power – now everything has lost its meaning. The mission of my life – to put Russia on the map as a European country – seems to have failed.”

Nevertheless, Dolin hopes that “Russia’s serious illness is curable.” And that one day he will be able to return to his homeland. At least in the short term, however, a return seems impossible: Russian President Vladimir Putin has described those who left the country as “traitors to the nation” and declared them enemies of the state. “I know very well that I am not a traitor,” said the famous Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova, who left for Latvia with her three daughters in the first days of the war. All he wants is “this darkness to be gone” to stop the war. But who can stop this brutal war? “Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. President of the Russian Federation” said the actress.

Author: Anastasia Butsko

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