A century ago, the October Revolution of 1917 and the civil war that followed generated a huge wave of Russian exiles: it is estimated that up to two million people left Russia as a result of the revolution and the war. Among them, a large part of the intelligentsia came out in search of freedom for their creation, with names that became famous: Marina Tsvetaeva, Vladimir Nabokov, Nina Berberova. If Tsvetaeva became known for her verses on the sad fate of the refugee, those who remained – including no less well-known names such as Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak – were persecuted, and in many cases to death, by the regime. Stalinist. This is how Akhmatova describes it: “No foreign sky protected me, no, foreign wings did not protect me. I was then among my people and with them I shared their misfortune”. Although it must be said that the foreign wings did not protect the exiles either: at a time when a good part of the European intelligentsia admired the new Bolshevik country, the émigrés were condemned as “white Russians” or enemies of everything progressive. Badly seen everywhere, their doors were closed in their country of origin and in their adopted country it was difficult for them to get decent jobs. “Love is sharing an artichoke leaf,” Nina Berberova described her coexistence with her partner, the poet Jodasevich.
As a century ago, the Russian exile that has generated the current Russian war against Ukraine has a significant brain drain. Of the 150,000 Russian refugees to date, it is estimated that the majority are people well educated in Russian universities, relatively young, and a third are computer specialists. Among this migratory wave, received in the West without much enthusiasm, as it was a century ago, are some famous creators.
Chulpan Khamatova, one of the most revered Russian actresses – in the West we could see her in the film goodbye lenin, among others—, at the beginning of the war he signed a manifesto against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin authorities warned her that his signature could get her into trouble. Faced with this threat, Khamatova fled with her daughters to Latvia, where she is learning Latvian in a hurry to return to the stage as soon as possible. Olga Smirnova, one of the great stars of classical ballet, left her work at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow to join the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. “Every fiber of my soul is against this war,” she said Smirnova, whose grandfather was Ukrainian, as she left Russia.
The writer and doctor Maxim Osipov left in March 2022 for Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, a country that does not require a visa from Russians, with one exception: Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, another of the former Soviet republics, in addition to a visa, requires loyalty; each immigrant must submit a statement condemning the regime of Vladimir Putin. (Other favorite destinations for Russians are Baku —Azerbaijan—, Samarkand —Uzbekistan—, Tel Aviv —Israel—, Bishkek —Kirgizstan—, Nur-Sultan —Kazakhstan—, as well as several Turkish cities. Let us remember that the EU does not accept flights from Russia). Osipov found a humiliating attitude in the passport control guards who asked travelers bound for Armenia: “If you are going on vacation, as you insist, why are you taking your birth certificate, university degrees, as well as a dog? ?”. From Armenia Osipov takes a plane to Germany. “Ice cold, embarrassed, relieved,” the writer says of running away from him. He emphasizes feeling humiliated, embarrassed: every time he had to show his passport, his face fell with shame.
Viktor Muchnik, director of TV2, fled from the Siberian city of Tomsk also to Armenia. The new laws born of the conflict meant for the television crew that at any moment they could be arrested and imprisoned if they made even the slightest comment on the war. In addition, censorship blocked TV2 along with many other television and radio stations. A few days after the station closed, Muchnik and his wife Viktoria packed their bags and left for Armenia. “Surely forever. We don’t want to live in a country that has started a war and among people who support it. It is very difficult to live in Russia in the midst of this militarist hysteria. We won’t be back.”
The punk-rock band Pussy Riot also fled: Nadia Tolokonnikova to Georgia, Maria Alyokhina to Iceland, disguised as a carrier.
And it is that many exiles, in addition to those who remain in Russia and are against the war, face their families and lifelong friends. The war has broken families and friendships. Russians residing in Western countries have lost the right to bank cards and their survival becomes more and more difficult because they cannot find work: at present the sympathies of Westerners are reserved for the Ukrainians. Although it is understandable, we should devote more attention to Russian citizens opposed to the Putin regime. They think like us, they want the same thing as us: that this war be won by democracy.
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