Who are the Russians leaving their country? | Culture | Art, music and lifestyle reports from Germany | D.W.

On the night of March 4, 2022, Russian investigative journalist Andrei Loshak could hardly sleep; in fact, he had slept very little since February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

He checked the channels on the encrypted messaging app Telegram and found one message in particular that left him frozen with fear: 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 to do. Finally, she realized that she had to go, right away. 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.

Also there were colleagues from the news stations Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) and TV Rain, which are now banned in Russia; the latter had even established an office. “You are among colleagues here. You get the feeling that a whole scene has migrated,” she says.

Moscow buildings in stormy weather.

Many have chosen to leave Russia for other countries.

a mass exodus

Exact figures on how many people left Russia are not available, but one thing is clear: in the five weeks since the start of the war, Russia experienced the largest exodus since the October Revolution. Surely several hundred thousand people have left the country; some suggest the number exceeds a million.

The figure is even more difficult to calculate since destinations such as Georgia or Armenia do not require Russians to have an entry visa.

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However, Georgia alone expects to receive more than 100,000 refugees from Russia; Armenia has reported a similar number.

Other destinations include Azerbaijan, Dubai, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and even Tajikistan, Mongolia, and Latin America.

Many also head to countries that already have large Russian communities, such as Montenegro and the Baltic states, including Latvia. Others who had the opportunity to emigrate to Israel or Western Europe, especially Germany, have seized the opportunity.

Hardly anyone officially announces his departure. Most people just pack up and leave without knowing when they will return to Russia.

‘The biggest brain drain in recent history’

However, despite the lack of information on how many people have left, the reason for their flight is indisputable. “We are experiencing the biggest brain drain in recent history,” says Andrei Loshak.

In particular, academics, IT specialists, journalists, bloggers, and artists are turning their backs on Russia, as its leader, Vladimir Putin, has pitted the country against the entire world.

A screenshot of Andrei Loschak speaking on the Russian television channel, TV Doschd.

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 husband, comedian Maxim Galkin.

Talk show host Ivan Urgant, one of the top stars of Russian entertainment television, is also in attendance.

Rock star Zemfira and her partner, actress Renata Litvinova, are in Paris.

Director Kirill Serebrennikov, whose probation surprisingly ended in mid-March, has also been seen in Paris and recently in Berlin.

The writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya also gives interviews in her Berlin apartment. Her colleague Boris Akunin reports from London. Prima ballerina Olga Smirnova of the Bolshoi Theater has a new job in Amsterdam, and influential video blogger and filmmaker Yuri Dud works from Istanbul.

But it’s not just the wealthy and famous who have left their homeland; most of those who have left are middle-class people working in creative professions. Many questions about the future have been brought with them, as well as some cash, since Russian credit cards are blocked worldwide and the export of larger sums is prohibited by law.

“None of us are looking for a better life abroad at the moment,” says Andrei Loshak. “We have all lost our livelihood. 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” in “Zig” is a reference to a symbol used by supporters of Putin.

Loshak has 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 in Russia, pro-European Russians who condemn the war in Ukraine make up at least 20% of the total Russian population. In purely mathematical terms, that translates to 30 million people. However, very few of them are actually able to leave the country.

Galina Yuzefovich speaks into a microphone.

Literary critic Galina Yuzefovich points out that leaving Russia is a privilege

“Leaving today is not a brave act, nor is it the only ethically acceptable way to express personal discontent with current events,” says renowned literary critic Galina Yuzefovich, who left for southern Turkey with her family. “Clearly it’s a privilege.”

Russia is not being abandoned by the country’s best, Yuzefovich says, “but simply by those who can somehow afford it.” His sympathies are especially with those who remain and who must survive, in open or silent protest, among other like-minded fellow citizens. The situation, he said, is comparable to Nazi-era Germany.

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Anton Dolin: Exit is a form of ‘personal surrender’

“The Russian culture that we knew until today ceased to exist on February 24,” says Anton Dolin dryly. “Both the official culture and the one that worked in opposition mode.”

Dolin is possibly Russia’s most renowned film critic and public figure. He testified at the trial of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov as a defense expert.

“My basic position was always that I would never leave Russia,” says Dolin. A week after the war started, he changed his mind.

He left the country with his family and has been staying in Latvia ever since. “Now I see my departure as a form of personal surrender. Everything I did for three decades, a kind of cultural resistance to those in power, has now lost all meaning. My mission in life, to position Russia as part of of Europe, seems to have failed”.

A portrait of Anton Dolin looking serious.

Film critic Anton Dolin never dreamed that he would flee Russia

Still, the film critic says he hopes “the serious illness Russia is going through is now curable.”

“Then comes the phase of repentance for the crimes that are now being committed in our name. The price we will have to pay then will be high. However, I will be happy to return to my country. I have no other home,” says Dolin.

But returning soon seems unlikely. Vladimir Putin has called those who have left the country “traitors to the nation” and declared them enemies of the state.

This article was originally written in German.