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In recent days, thousands of Russians have fled their country, creating a migratory flow that appears to have little precedent in Russia’s recent history. The causes are mostly the effects of the very harsh Western sanctions imposed due to the invasion of Ukraine, which risk worsening the lifestyle of many people, and the latest measures against dissent, which are canceling the freedoms that were not still repressed by the government led by President Vladimir Putin.
It is not known exactly how many Russians have left their country in the last three weeks: one of the most reliable estimates is from the New York Times, which speaks of tens of thousands of people (out of over 140 million inhabitants), a flow that some observers are comparing to the emigration of the more than 100,000 opponents of the Bolshevik communists during the Russian civil war of 1918-1920.
Many of these fled to the then Constantinople, today Istanbul, a city that is also today the destination of many Russians who are leaving the country, also because the Turkish airline Turkish Airlines it is one of the few that continue to fly to and from Russia. But the Russians also go to neighboring countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Another destination is the Serbiaa country traditionally close to Russia, which despite having said it was against the invasion of Ukraine has avoided, at least for now and with some hesitation, to adhere to harsh Western sanctions. Many of the richest Russians, on the other hand, they left for the United Arab Emirates.
Many Russians are also going to European countries such as Latvia and Finland, which it shares the longest border with Russia and can be reached both by car and by train. To get to Finland by train you have to travelsingle railway route currently open between Russia and the European Union, the one between St. Petersburg and Helsinki. The Russians who go to Latvia and Finland, however, are the few who have a European visa, and therefore already have relations with the European Union: they are for example the Russians who already live or work in European countries.
– Read also: The Russians fleeing to Finland
The most relevant reason that is pushing many Russians to leave is the sanctions, which in addition to leading Russia towards a possible default are greatly complicating even the simplest day-to-day operations. Companies like Visa and Mastercard, which operate the largest credit card schemes in the world, have suspended their operations, which has made it difficult to even withdraw money or pay online.
It has also become difficult to take a plane to go abroad, since United States And European Union they closed their airspace to Russian companies, and Russia has in turn closed your own to the planes of 36 countries. This means, for example, that to fly from Moscow to Italy or vice versa you have to take a flight of one of the few companies that have not yet interrupted flights with Russia, such as Turkish Airlinesand make a stopover.
Many people leave Russia because they fear that President Vladimir Putin decides to impose martial law, which would give him, among other things, the power to close the country’s borders and make military service compulsory. Others leave for fear of the increasingly stringent censorship imposed in recent weeks by the government, which is preventing those who oppose the invasion of Ukraine from protesting freely: in recent days, thousands of people have been arrested simply for demonstrating their own dissent against the war.
Still others leave for fear of not being able to do their jobs anymore: it is a fear that mainly affects journalists and all those who work in the media, due to a law recently approved by the Russian Parliament that punishes the dissemination of those who the regime defines “fake news” about the military operation in Ukraine, that is, the news that is in contrast with the government version.
For those who leave Russia, however, things are not always easy in the countries they arrive in, mainly due to the hostile attitudes with which Russian exiles are welcomed in many cases.
It happens above all in Georgia, where according to the government about 20 thousand Russian citizens have arrived since the beginning of the war. Georgia is certainly one of the countries most sensitive to Russian expansionism given that in 2008 Russia invaded it to repel the Georgian troops who had invaded South Ossetia, an autonomous region bordering Russia to the north and which for some time had claimed the recognition of its independence. The Russian army responded with a very rapid military intervention and in a week defeated the Georgian troops pushing them almost to the gates of the capital Tbilisi. The memory of that invasion is still very vivid in Georgia and the hostilities between the two countries are never exhausted.
These days, the Russian exiles who fled to Georgia have been defined on several occasions as “invaders” by the local population: they were verbally assaulted on the street, hostile graffiti dedicated to them and received disparaging comments on social media, and some citizens they also asked that property owners not sign contracts with any Russian tenants.
The hostility was also seen at more institutional levels: the New York Timesfor example, writes that a Georgian bank is asking its new customers, if they are Russian, to sign a declaration denouncing the invasion of Ukraine and acknowledging that some territories of Georgia are occupied by Russia. It is a written declaration, which could be problematic for Russian citizens who one day decide to return to Russia.
For many Russian immigrants, hostility towards them is therefore also a practical obstacle to settling elsewhere. For this reason, psychological and logistical support groups have also been created in the countries most frequented by Russian exiles, for example to find a home, organized above all by other Russian exiles who have found themselves in similar situations.