Resisters are leaving Russia because the country they worked to build is disappearing — and the more people who leave, the faster it vanishes.
In the world as it existed before Russia invaded Ukraine, on February 24th, the Vnukovo International Airport, in Moscow, was a point of departure for weekend-holiday destinations south of the border: Yerevan, Istanbul, Baku.
In the first week of March, as tens of thousands of President Vladimir Putin’s troops advanced into Ukraine, Vnukovo teemed with anxious travellers, many of them young. The line for excess baggage split the giant departure hall in half. These people weren’t going for the weekend.
In a coffee shop, a skinny young man with shoulder-length hair and steel-framed glasses sat at a tall counter. “I haven’t done much in the last day,” he told someone through his headphones, sounding more nervous than apologetic. “I’ve been busy with my move. I am flying to Yerevan today, then overland. I’ll be settled tomorrow and back to work.”
The flight to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, was later cancelled. Two of my friends who were also scheduled to go to Armenia that day ended up flying seven hours to Ulaanbaatar, then three hours to Seoul, ten to Dubai, and a final three to Yerevan.
My friends, a prominent gay journalist and his partner, were among the Russians—more than a quarter of a million, by some estimates—who have left their country since the invasion of Ukraine.
From Moscow, it’s a four-hour flight to Istanbul. There, you could spot the recently arrived: they had the disoriented look best summed up by the Russian expression “hit over the head with a dusty sack.” Snippets of conversations I overheard in the streets concerned possible next destinations. Istanbul is easy to get to, but it’s pricey, and Russian citizens can stay in Turkey for only two months without a visa.
At a low table on a restaurant terrace, a crew of Russian journalists in their twenties scrolled through their phones looking for tickets (“There are two seats left to Tbilisi for next Sunday!” “Got one!”); they tried to figure out whether they’d ever be able to access their bank accounts, which were frozen by new restrictions from both Russia and the West; and they watched as the world as they knew it disappeared.
For the full 16 page article in pdf telling the stories of several Russians, please click here:
Elizaveta Miller and Leonid Dzhalilov, pictured with two of their children, spent time in Yerevan and Tbilisi and planned to move on to Montenegro. Photograph by Dina Oganova for The New Yorker