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ISTANBUL — Russian rapper Oxxxymiron’s last concert was his smallest in years. Hundreds of people packed a tiny basement eatery on Tuesday, and those unable to get tickets crowded the street to get inside. As the lights dimmed, the Oxford University-educated hip-hop artist stepped in front of a banner that read “Russians Against War.”
Those words alone could land him up to 15 years behind bars under Russia’s new laws criminalizing “fake news” and criticism of the armed forces. But Oxxxymiron and his fans have been in Istanbul, just a target of choice for tens of thousands of Russians fleeing since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
“Everyone I know is against this senseless war,” said Polina, a 25-year-old graphic designer from St. Petersburg. “I don’t feel safe going back so I’ll try to stay here as long as possible. My bank cards don’t work, but I have a few friends in Turkey who can help.” A friend paid for her ticket to the performance, the proceeds of which will be donated to charities helping Ukrainian refugees.
Not everyone is so lucky. Sasha, a master coffee roaster, tendered his resignation at an upscale Moscow cafe and spent most of his life savings on a flight to Istanbul after dodging military service last year and fearing he could be sent to the front lines in a war , which he does not support. “I was so nervous that they wouldn’t let me on the plane,” he said after reading reports of interrogations at the border. “But I knew I had to go and I had no choice.” This is his first time out of the country and he’s staying in a hostel until his money runs out or he finds work. Neither Polina nor Sasha wanted to give their full names.
You are part of a growing emigration of skilled workers looking to move overseas, while economic chaos and political repression are beginning to take hold, dividing Europe in a way not seen since the fall of the USSR. Officials in Armenia, a former Soviet republic where Russians can travel without foreign passports, say at least 80,000 people have arrived in the past three weeks, while the mayor of Tbilisi, the capital of neighboring Georgia, reported 25,000 in his city came.
Like Oxxxymiron, many of those who left studied in the West before returning home, part of a generation of outward-looking creatives, technical specialists and entrepreneurs who have propelled Russia’s burgeoning economic and cultural sectors. “Young people who want to travel abroad, who want to build their lives, buy consumer goods and lead a kind of bourgeois lifestyle – they are the ones who have been marginalized the most by Putin’s decision to invade,” he said Ian Garner, a historian studying Russian wartime propaganda. “And these are the same people who tend to support the anti-war movement.”
While small groups initially protested in cities across the country, they were met with an immediate and brutal crackdown. Human rights group OVD.info estimates 14,980 protesters have been arrested, and a chilling recording leaked online appears to show officers beating a detainee who refused to confess to attending an unauthorized rally – banned post-COVID -19-Laws that have been all but abolished in other areas of life.
consequences of speaking
While the participants of the concert in Istanbul wore T-shirts with the name of the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny and sang “Glory to Ukraine”, their compatriots at home face severe consequences if they speak out. Marina Ovsyannikova, a producer for Russian state television, went viral after jumping in front of cameras during a live newscast, holding a sign that read “Stop the war” and telling viewers “You are being lied to”. She has been jailed, fined and may still be serving time in a prison colony. Others, including a pensioner from near the Siberian city of Tomsk who scrawled a message calling for an end to the conflict, also faced heavy fines.
Few who left had any hope that staying and fighting for what they believe in will result in any kind of change. “My family lives in Ukraine,” said Taras, a 42-year-old IT consultant. “I wanted to go out to protest – I felt like that was the least I could do for them. But when I see what’s going on, I know it wouldn’t make a difference.” Being able to work remotely, he now hopes to rent a house near the coast in Turkey and bring his wife with him.
Putin himself has welcomed the fact that so many who disagree with his war have fled, calling it a “cleansing” of society. “The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and just spit them out like a gnat that has flown into their mouths,” he claimed in a fiery speech on Wednesday. “This will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, our cohesion and our willingness to respond to any challenge.”
While the loss of politically engaged young people could ease the Kremlin’s control of Russia, the brain drain will also undo much of the progress made in vital sectors like technology. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who previously himself championed IT as an answer to economic stagnation, moved earlier this month to offer discounted mortgages to digital pros and introduce tax breaks for companies that stay. Despite this, it is proving difficult to retain a highly mobile workforce with in-demand skills in the country.
Ukrainian Taras Chaus from Lviv and his girlfriend Elizaveta Cheliy from the frontline town of Zaporizhzhia are among those who saw Oxxxymiron perform, having left just two days before the missiles began to hit their country. “Normal Russians are against the war,” said Chaus, “many don’t yet understand how bad it is – but if they want to live well and take care of themselves, that will change. Only a few remain and there are many people who oppose the war.”
However, Cheliy was less optimistic about the prospect that domestic unrest would force Putin to change course. “Anyone who speaks other languages and knows the reality in other countries wants to leave. But older people just believe what they see on TV – they won’t change their minds,” she warned.
On stage, the rapper they came to made the same point. “People who support what’s going on don’t know what’s going on,” he yelled into the mic. “They think this is just ‘special operations’ – but it’s a war.”
Then Oxxxymiron turned to the camera and livestreamed his words to tens of thousands of viewers in Russia, imploring people to face the reality of the conflict. “I think most people here would agree with me – but I know a lot of viewers won’t. You can’t just go along with what you’re told. I beg you – explore alternatives to your opinions. Talk to your parents – they’re not bloodthirsty people, but they watch too much TV.”
“Listen, because it’s so important, not only for Ukraine, but also for Russia. If you don’t, we will lose it.”
At the moment, it’s not clear if that message will get through or if there will be too many left before long to matter.
https://www.politico.eu/article/unsafe-russia-future-youth-exile/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication "I don't feel safe going back." Russia's future has gone into exile - POLITICO