‘We are refugees’: Russians flee rising authoritarianism | Russo-Ukrainian War

Russians, discouraged by the war in Ukraine, fearful of sanctions pressure and concerned about the muzzling of critical voices, have fled their country in recent days.

Their options are limited – with a near complete closure of European airspace for all flights in and out of Russia, only a handful of exit corridors remain.

Those wishing to leave from the European side of the country cross the land border to Finland or the Baltic States (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania).

Those who do not have a European visa go to Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, where a Russian dissident community is developing.

“Many Russians have arrived in Georgia in recent days,” journalist Boris Grozovski wrote on his Facebook page.

“Do you think we are tourists, or did we just get the timing wrong and decided it was July-September? Or that we all suddenly and desperately want Saperavi and khachapuri? (Wine and Georgian pastry).

“We are not tourists, dear Georgian citizens. We are refugees. Personally, I was wanted by the police in Russia for distributing anti-war petitions… [We] did not flee bullets, bombs and missiles, but prison. If I wrote what I write now in Russia, I would inevitably go to prison for 15-20 years.

Russian media are under increasing pressure to only report information from official sources.

Last Friday, Russian lawmakers passed a law under which those accused of spreading “disinformation” about the war in Ukraine could face up to 15 years in prison.

Another law passed in recent days punishes ‘discrediting’ the armed forces, including calling on them to lay down their arms or withdraw, with a fine of 50,000 rubles ($450) or up to three years in prison for repeat offenders.

Grozovski addressed half-hearted criticism of fleeing Russians; some say they should have stayed to fight.

“We feel pain, shame, horror, disgust, anger and helplessness. We cannot influence this [Russian President Vladimir] Putin acts under the name of the Russian Federation, destroying both Ukraine and Russia,” he wrote.

“We can only resist it by being abroad… Personally, in recent years, I have lost the opportunity to work in the Russian Federation as a journalist, teacher, organizer of conferences and public debates and researcher in social sciences. Sciences. It is impossible to fight this from inside Russia now.

Grozovski called for borders to remain open and urged host countries to shelter new Russian exiles.

Another recent exile is film critic Anton Dolin, who is now in Latvia.

Dolin was once the chief film critic for comedian Ivan Urgant’s late-night show. Urgant, a hugely popular Russian comedian, was one of the first celebrities to speak out against the war, posting a black square on his Instagram with the caption “Fear and pain. NO TO WAR.

His show has not aired since.

“We left,” Dolin wrote on Facebook. “There are several reasons. Although in reality there is only one – the criminal war in Ukraine, initiated by the leadership of the Russian Federation.

“It is impossible to live in a country, even native and beloved, where one is silent. Especially for a person whose only tool is speech… The whole world collapsed ten days ago. The life of every person living in Russia, speaking Russian, or at least involved in Russian culture, has changed irreversibly.

Dolin says he has no job, residence permit or long-term plan, only some money he managed to withdraw before leaving.

As he left his apartment, he said the door to his apartment had been spray-painted with the letter Z, which is used as a pro-war symbol in Russia.

“The purpose of this is clear,” he wrote. “We know where your family lives, beware.”

He added: “The Ukrainians are right, and sooner or later they will win. In fact, they have already won. And we are suffering a disaster – no, not economic and political. It is a moral disaster. The impotence of those who have opposed this system and this power for 22 years only reinforces the feeling of despair.

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