The Russian refugee crisis nobody wants to talk about
An estimated 200,000 have tried to flee the country in the last two weeks
In May, I rode the refugee train to Romania from the Ukrainian border with a young couple who had waded through a river to get out. Arseniy, 33, had been due to get married before the bombs started falling and, despite an order banning military-age men from leaving the country, he knew he didn’t want to fight. As we pulled into Bucharest, a line of humanitarian workers were waiting on the platform with everything from bottled water to offers of emergency accommodation.
Six months on and the desperate Russians now fleeing their country can expect little if any of the same support. After President Vladimir Putin signed a mobilisation order drafting ordinary citizens to fight his increasingly catastrophic war in Ukraine last week, an estimated 200,000 have done whatever it takes to escape the country.
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At the southern border with Georgia, huge crowds of young men have slept outside in the icy mountain air for three or four nights, desperate to cross over, while Kazakhstan alone has already accepted 100,000 in a fortnight. In Armenia, where Russians can travel even without a passport, plane after plane is landing from Moscow and passengers are paying more than a thousand dollars apiece for tickets. Clutching suitcases, dogs and children, nobody is there to meet them when they land.
When Putin declared war in February, a wave of Russian emigres headed for the Caucasus, Turkey and the EU. By and large, they were the kind of educated, middle-class professionals who could work remotely or find new jobs in the West. The latest wave, however, aren’t so much relocating as fleeing for their lives. On the streets of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, groups of teenage boys from backwater towns mill around aimlessly, many having turned up with nothing but two backpacks and their birthday money. “I quit my job in a cafe and got on a flight,” 19-year-old Artyom tells me, “but I don’t know what I’ll do now.”
At the same time, rents in their destinations of choice have skyrocketed – every hostel room in Tbilisi has been booked up, while landlords in Yerevan have doubled already-inflated rates for apartments to London or Manhattan levels. Without work or secure housing, burning through their savings and often unable to move large sums of money out of Russian accounts due to sanctions, the situation is increasingly unsustainable for the new arrivals.
And yet, the predicament has so far attracted little sympathy from Western policymakers, who have been more focused on efforts to close the borders to those leaving. With their country the aggressor in a genocidal war that has set Europe ablaze, Russians are not seen as deserving refugees. But the potential impact of hundreds of thousands of unemployed, destitute people determined not to go back home could easily become a catastrophe.
“In the first few months, we were getting thousands of Ukrainians coming through the railway station,” says Caitlin, a coordinator for a humanitarian charity that helps vulnerable refugees in Romania. “Now, there’s a steady stream going back as it gets safer. Instead, it’s Russians who know they might never be able to return to their country.”
Whatever you think of the Russian/Ukraine war did anybody else find it chilling the hatred that has been whipped up against ordinary Russians? What was even more revealing is that the people leading the charge were the people who usually claim to be the tolerant and caring crowd. Just shows nothing has changed snice the 1930’s – people will still join in and enjoy denouncing a group of people to feel morally superior if the state gives them the green light. Another recent example – remember the language and behaviour towards the un jabb ed?
Also observed it. What I find fascinating is the great number of publications which now casually cheer and advocate collectively punishing Russians, suggesting they’re all to blame unless they oppose Putin. It’s a moral standard that few are likely to pass. Is the ordinary Brit to blame for Iraq and Blair? I have no qualms acknowledging that Russia is the aggressor, but this self-righteous idea that ordinary Russians need suffer collectively is strong proof that genuine liberal values are dead are dead in the West, i.e. collective punishment is fine. And this is being peddled as solidarity with Ukraine, but I don’t see how. Of course, I expect someone to reply that Russians need to “be made to understand” that they need to oppose Putin, but it strikes me as liberal myopia to suggest that protesting in a highly authoritarian state with massive sentences is a worthwhile choice for all individuals, which is why they vote with their feet.
Absolutely, A Tory MP who seems to be stuck in the 1980’s cold war mood demanded we round up every single Russian in the country and kick them out. Liberal values are dead.
Perhaps we’d all have more sympathy if these fleeing Russians had been bothered about the vile war their beloved leader started BEFORE they were drafted. Their apathy for their fellow Slavs was shameful.
Most of us just want to get on with our lives. We know that every government is doing some undesirable things but we don’t have the time to take usually ineffective action against them. It normally requires fairly extreme threat to our existences to get us activated. This is particularly so in societies that don’t have a class of individuals in subsidised idleness. Apathy is the normal state when it comes to politics.
Mostly fear rather than apathy. It is difficult to imagine living in a country where you can trust no-one outside your own close family and where a wrong or wrongly interpreted word or gesture can see you arrested or worse. A society run by a monster, supported by secret and thuggish police is not so easy to bring down.
You’re not describing the USA, are you?
In the last few days, a doctor’s wife in Surrey, had her house barged into by the police,(without a warrant) who took her computer and phones and her daughter’s i-pad. They arrested her in front of her children and dragged her down to the police station.
Her crime? Someone on Tw*tter had been offended by her comment on that platform.
Meanwhile, those same policemen are moaning that our new Home Secretary wants them to investigate real crimes just along the road.
So David Telfer could be describing UK.
Difficult to imagine, but closer than you think.
It’s not clear that Putin briefed them on his impending insanity…
Ever lived in a contry where an iron heel was on your neck?
I agree. Russian & their culture are fair game at the moment which I don’t think has ever been the case before and Russia has frequently been governed by expansionist b*****ds.
If these genuine refugees were African or Arab, there would be no problem with countries like the UK accepting them. It is likely that Russian refugees pose less of a security risk than most of those who have entered Britain legally and illegally since 1948. Russians are also more culturally congruent with traditional British norms than those who have come from the third world. If these desperate people catch a tan and get on a boat, they may find themselves in a 4-star hotel with a pizza, sitting in Kent, very soon.
These Russians would probably quickly leave again when they are denounced for being Christian and told to submit their latest pronouns to the authorities.
Let them into the U.K. – we need ‘em. Well educated and motivated. Ok we’ll have to find a few dodgy Putin spies amongst them, but I’ll bet most of them will work their socks off to integrate and get up the ladder.
Russian emigre chancellor in 20 years or so? Could be a good bet!
Thank you for highlighting this.
Many people associate double standards with sexual behavior, but here’s a case that’s about sex per se.
In the first few weeks of this war, many thousands of Ukrainian young women fled (with or without children) from their own country–leaving behind their men, who were prevented from joining them–and flooded into unprepared neighboring ones. A sympathetic world considered them pitiful refugees who deserved compassion. Now, many thousands of Russian young men leave their own country and flood into equally unprepared neighboring ones. For the most part, an unsympathetic world considers them selfish, lazy, cowardly or even dangerous deserters who deserve contempt. More than a few Canadians (but not the government) thought the same way about American young men who migrated north in order to avoid the draft for Vietnam.
How many of these Russians will turn out to be Putin’s spies or terrorists? People feeing for their lives are unlikely, I would think, to retain loyalty to any regime that leads them to such desperate measures. But this question has a long history. Within living memory, after all, the British government interned some Jewish refugees from Hitler as potential enemies of the state.
It’s inevitable that Ukrainian women and children would be a higher priority than draft-dodgers from the aggressor nation. This is because last February few believed that Ukraine would withstand the Russian onslaught so the women were genuine refugees from conflict.
The WW2 interned Jews are totally irrelevant and unrelated to the current war. The Jews were first and foremost Germans when that country was seeking to destroy us, It was inevitable the British would be circumspect about them.
Who cannot pity these poor Russians? They are, after all, the descendants of generations of serfs accustomed to the knout and servility. Suddenly, they are being faced with life-changing questions for which they have no training, much less experience.
Good little 33 year old Arseniy. Just one of those plucky brave men of saint Zelenski who doesn’t want to fight for his corrupt country.
A refugee is a refugee! We all have to get used to migrants coming to our borders . There will be more and more this century as climate change pushes populations north and wars continue . We need to start seeing migration as the positive force it is bringing energy and new ideas to our ageing European populations
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