Russians who fled the outbreak of the Ukrainian war are reluctant to go home

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When the war broke out, Olga Gladish, a former journalist who now works in the film industry, joined tens of thousands of other Russians fleeing the country.

“Immediately after the start of the war, I left for Istanbul in panic. I thought that I would not be able to leave anymore, that the borders would be closed. I did not want to be alone in the country because I saw all my friends leaving. “I thought Russia was turning into North Korea,” he said.

However, his bank cards were blocked in Turkey, he could not transfer money home to support his mother in Moscow. He survived by asking for favors from friends who had the financial means.

Now he has reluctantly returned home. “I came back last week. Roughly speaking, money is the main reason I had to return. I have an apartment in Moscow, for which I was still paying. I had the option of working remotely, but it was not the easiest option, I would have earned more here in Moscow. “Life in Turkey was not stable for me.”

As Russia’s war draws to a close, endless run-offs by many Russians have dealt a severe blow to foreign emigration, especially through closed borders and banking sanctions. While many Russians have left forever, others have retreated to care for sick parents, run businesses, support their families, or simply make a living.

“It was a real family drama,” said Roman, co-founder of the tech startup, who returned from Armenia last week. “I thought we should go as far as possible from Russia. The woman did not want to go anywhere, I had to look for a compromise. It was a matter of choice: to leave Russia without my wife or to return with my wife. So I decided to come here with my wife to see what was going on. ”

Experts say the war-torn Russian migration wave is unusual, sparked by rumors of forced mobilization in early March led by highly educated workers who often travel to small countries. And at least on paper, many have the opportunity to return, either for short trips or forever.

The atmosphere is really hard here. All our media outlets say that many people support the war, but that is not the case

Artem Taganov, technology entrepreneur

The founder of HintEd technology startup Artem Taganov left for Armenia in early March within the framework of emigration from the Russian technology sector. His colleague and investors urged him to leave the country immediately for fear of forced mobilization, he said, adding that he had developed plans to open a new company in Armenia.

But after staying in the capital Yerevan for five weeks, he temporarily returned to Moscow due to family and business concerns.

“The idea [in Armenia] I have to start a company, but it stopped because I’m expecting some money. “My wife and dog are still in Moscow, my wife can not leave work at the moment,” he said. He worked at an institute in collaboration with the British University of the Arts, which may terminate his contracts in Russia this year. “I am trying to persuade him to move. And I still have some business here, so we still have to support my company here. ”

It was a restless return home. His parents, who live in another city and support the war, told him that he had made the mistake of leaving Russia. He says he finds it difficult to call them, does not expect to see them until the conflict is over.

“When I came back, I was afraid that there would be a lot of cars with Z or V [symbols supporting the war] “But I have only seen one,” he said. “Nevertheless, the atmosphere here is really hard. All our media outlets say that many people support the war, but that is not the case. Nobody in my immediate environment supports it. Everyone here is afraid to even talk about this “special operation”. “Nobody smiles, everyone is sad.”

Pro-Russian troops in Mariupol

Pro-Russian troops in Mariupol. Fear of forced mobilization forced many Russians to flee at the beginning of the war. Photo by Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

The top executive of one of Russia’s largest IT companies said he had noticed the return of lower-paid younger employees, who had risen in price from cities such as Yerevan, Istanbul and Tbilisi.

“People left in a panic, and then after a while they understood. “Well, how are we going to continue living?” Said the executive. “They still hate the situation, they still do not agree, they are still psychologically uncomfortable, they do not want to return. But there is no way not to return. “

There are no clear estimates of how many Russians have fled the country since the start of the war, which the Kremlin has called a “special operation.” While tech professionals may have strong prospects abroad, others may find that their skills and education do not translate abroad.

Art consultant Dmitry said he was “shocked” when the war broke out and fled the country amid reports of forced mobilization.

“I flew to Uzbekistan, one of the easiest places I could visit without a visa. I returned to Moscow at the end of March, when it became clear that the forced mobilization was just a rumor. I realized that Europe is not an option for me. I am not sure that Europe is waiting for the Russians to come, even those who are against the war. What would I do even there? I almost do not speak English. “

Ira Lobanovskaya, who heads an organization that helps Russians settle abroad, says: “During the wave, many people panicked just to catch their breath. I see that some people are coming back now. But I do know that some returnees are planning to leave again. “They just had to go back to Russia to get all their belongings, organize their papers, make concrete plans to leave properly.”

A number of factors can make it difficult for Russians to travel abroad, says Catherine Somerfeld, a researcher at the Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim, which focuses on refugee immigration. He published a document calling on German policymakers to develop a strategy for dealing with migrants from Russia.

“Prices are rising in the countries where these people are going to go,” he said. “You can only take $ 10,000 abroad from Russia. You can not access your bank account. The ruble has depreciated. So the harder it is to get your money, the less it’s worth. Items are very expensive. This makes it difficult և it can probably facilitate return migration, because if your money is burning և it does not work abroad, then what are you going to do? ”

Some returnees say they are often surprised by their indifference to war.

“The main impression for me is that people kind of accept it,” said the technology executive. “The war is bad and Putin is evil, but life goes on. It’s more or less good here, the exchange rate is good, even if it is imaginary, some items have disappeared from the shops, but it is not as bad as we thought, the prices have risen, but it is not so bad. It really depressed me to the core! ”

In a recent poll, more than half of Russians said they did not look back on the war.

“I thought I would see horrible scenes in the streets, people being filled with pro-war anger, but in reality life just goes on,” said Olga Gladish. “All the bars and restaurants are still full every night. “People seem to ignore the war, but it is also terrible.”

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