Evgeniy Kosgorov, a 38-year-old from Krasnodar, left Russia in June 2022 together with his spouse and a one-month-old son in his arms.
For the reason that invasion of Ukraine, he has seen his homeland as a villainous state certain to comply with the trail of Nazi Germany, a rustic with no future and one he needed nothing to do with.
However even in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and his adopted dwelling, Russia saved haunting him. His passport and language determine him as a citizen of an aggressor state – somebody who most well-liked to go away than confront the federal government. He has additionally been seen as somebody who didn’t react when Russia was changing into the nation it’s now.
“I perceive completely nicely the final hatred for Russians and for all the pieces Russian. I settle for and perceive it as a result of what Russia is doing is incorrect,” Kosgorov advised Al Jazeera. “Each time I need to say that it’s troublesome for the Russians who left, one thing inside me protests, as a result of Ukrainians have it tougher than us.”
In accordance with estimates, as much as a million out of some 144 million Russians left the nation in 2022 and 2023 in what has been the most important mind drain for the reason that collapse of the Soviet Union.
In a brand new examine, primarily based on a number of rounds of interviews with near 10,000 Russian political exiles, Russian researchers Ivetta Sergeeva and Emil Kamalov discovered that 49 p.c of respondents felt sturdy guilt for the struggle, whereas 59 p.c felt strongly answerable for it.
Because the analysis suggests, most Russians left due to their opposition to the struggle in Ukraine and the ever-present narratives that portrayed Russia as a noble nation preventing in opposition to Ukrainian “fascists”. In addition they anticipated additional military mobilisation drives, additional inner repressions, and a possible financial disaster.
The analysis was performed in waves, in March 2022, September 2022 and in Could–July 2023. The division of political and social sciences on the European College Institute in Florence supplied funding for preliminary work.
‘I not have a rustic’
Many determined to settle in nations from the previous Soviet bloc, which proceed having beneficial rules for Russians to reside and work. International locations like Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan have already felt the financial and demographic results of the mass inflow of Russians, together with rising costs. To many locals, it additionally introduced again reminiscences of Russia’s colonial previous.
However because the examine suggests, fleeing Russia was not sufficient to flee its lengthy shadow, as Kosgorov has came upon.
After a couple of months in Tbilisi, he opened UGallery, a bar with an artwork house the place he hosts antiwar-themed exhibitions and organises fundraisers for Ukraine. However he has struggled to seek out peace.
A portray by Georgia-based Russian artist Alex Garikovich, which was proven at an exhibition in Evgeniy Kosgorov’s UGallery in October 2023 [Courtesy: Evgeniy Kosgorov]
“I not have a rustic, I not have a homeland,” Kosgorov mentioned. “It is a trivial, easy factor. However what I would like is to really feel the bottom below my ft, and to know what tomorrow will carry.”
He donates his revenues to NGOs supporting Ukrainian refugees and has gathered a big neighborhood of like-minded folks, however he is aware of that not everybody in Georgia welcomes the Russian arrivals; anti-Russian messages might be discovered graffitied on partitions throughout Tbilisi.
However Kosgorov doesn’t complain, as a result of he doesn’t really feel he has a proper to. He does acknowledge, nonetheless, that a number of the criticism Russian exiles obtain overseas is ill-founded.
One of many arguments that he typically hears is that they need to all return dwelling and dethrone President Vladimir Putin in a mass revolution.
“When you take a look at the historical past, peaceable protests seldom introduced autocracies down, opposite to navy coups. Putin won’t disappear from the easy truth that every one these migrants who had left return to Russia and stage a protest. Russia would merely have extra political prisoners,” Kosgorov mentioned.
Sergey, a 40-year-old from Moscow who requested to withhold his full title, additionally feels responsible and hopeless at instances. He left Russia in October 2022 with the assistance of his mates, who lent him cash for a airplane ticket to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.
“I actually really feel private accountability for what’s going on. Russia has became a machine for destroying folks’s lives. Each overseas and contained in the nation,” Sergey mentioned. “And this didn’t occur in a single day on February 24 .”
He managed to maintain his job and now works remotely from Yerevan whereas feeling that nothing in his life is for certain. What helps him take care of his emotional state is writing letters to Russian political prisoners he knew again in Moscow.
“There are people who find themselves worse off than me, who have been imprisoned unfairly primarily based on trumped-up costs,” he mentioned. “Everyone seems to be depressed. I don’t know what number of Russian exiles are on antidepressants, however I’m. There’s an understanding that there are not any clear prospects for us and that we should take every day because it comes.”
In accordance with Margarita Zavadskaya, a Finland-based political scientist who researches Russian political exiles, the newest wave of migration from Russia differs from earlier cases in that it’s extra politicised. Folks belief one another extra and type stronger communities, they aren’t afraid to talk up, and so they get entangled in activism, she mentioned, which helps them regain dignity and a way of function.
“Folks really feel depressed. They really feel guilt, disgrace, typically anger. And they’re looking for themselves and reinvent themselves within the new circumstances,” she advised Al Jazeera. “The irony of the state of affairs is that the guilt is being felt by those that are in opposition to the regime and perceive the size of the tragedy.”
In contrast to earlier migration waves, the brand new voluntary exiles are additionally extra privileged, if not financially, then relating to assets they’ve at their disposal – data, training, and creativity. They will survive and thrive exterior of Russia, she mentioned, and are additionally unlikely to return dwelling.
When requested in the event that they want to return to Russia, each Evgeniy Kosgorov and Sergey took time to answer. Their solutions have been comparable. They could return sooner or later when the struggle is over, if and when Russia pays reparations to Ukraine, and when Putin’s administration is gone. Neither believes any of those occasions will occur within the foreseeable future.