Russians flee Vladimir Putin and go into exile in Canada | War in Ukraine

A cabin suitcase and four small backpacks containing a pair of jeans, some t-shirts and warm clothes and books, this is what Anastasia Ryabkova, her husband Vladimir Ryabkov and their two daughters, Kira 8 years and 3 years have brought- old Vlada, fleeing their native Siberia a little over a month ago.

We have few things, but we feel safe and this is more important than material thingssays Anastasia Ryabkova, in French, in the small motel room where her family has stayed since she arrived in Ontario.

In Russia, this classical singer worked as an early childhood educator. Her husband Vladimir was a mechanic and garage owner. Both describe themselves as opponents of Vladimir Putin and supporters of the Russian opponent and now jailed anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny.

A few days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they went to demonstrate in the central square of their city, Tomsk, to denounce the war.

Anastasia Ryabkova and her husband Vladimi Ryabkov were arrested by police while demonstrating in their hometown of Siberia against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Photo: provided by Anastasia Ryabkova

We could not remain silentthey say, holding hands.

Ms. Ryabkova says that in just three minutes she and her husband were arrested by the police.

A few days later, the Russian authorities showed up at their door. Fearing arrest, the family, who already hold a tourist visa for Canada, decided to pack their bags.

In Russia, when the police come to your home, you know you can be arrested for no reason. […] I can no longer live in Russia because I will be brought to justice. My wife will be brought to justice and I fear my family will be separatedsays Ryabkov, who was born in Ukraine when the country was part of the Soviet Union.

Tens of thousands in exile

The Ryabkov case is far from isolated. Like them, tens of thousands of other Russians have fled their country since Russia invaded Ukraine. Experts say it is difficult to assess their exact number, but the NGO Ok Russianswhich helps the Russians who have fled their country, estimates that since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th there are about 300,000 in this situation.

There is probably more than that nowbelieves Jeanne Batalova, senior analyst at the Institute for Migration Policies.

Explain that most find refuge in the Baltic countries, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey or even Israel.

If you look at the numbers and the speed with which people leave, when there is no war in Russia, it is unprecedentedadds.

Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist and professor at the University of Chicago, compares this exodus to that caused by the Russian civil war after the Bolsheviks seized power in the early 1920s.And century.

He is worried about seeing so many professionals leaving the country.

This means that if Russia survives this crisis, it will have even less chance of developing.he complains.

Pay the price for his opinions

Toronto-based Russian-born immigration attorney Lev Abramovich says he has seen a sharp rise in calls for help from Russia since the start of the war.

Most of these requests come from people who have expressed their political views and oppose the war. […] Now they have to go into hiding, have lost their jobs or have had to leave the countrydeplores, pointing out that opposing Vladimir Putin’s regime is very costly in Russia.

All those who opposed it [au régime] they are dead, imprisoned or out of the country.

A quote from Lev Abramovich, lawyer

Sasha (not her real name), a journalist from Moscow, lost her job when the online newspaper she worked for was shut down by the Russian government. Since the start of the war, he has had no income.

His children have already left the country and he hopes to find refuge in Canada with his wife soon. He says the current situation in Russia is worse than that experienced under the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.

1930, sous Staline, quand personne ne pouvait être certain de ne pas se faire emprisonner.”,”text”:”À l’époque, tout le monde savait que si on suivait certaines règles, il n’y avait pas de danger. […] Ce qui se passe aujourd’hui ressemble beaucoup plus aux années1930, sous Staline, quand personne ne pouvait être certain de ne pas se faire emprisonner.”}}”>At the time, everyone knew that if we followed certain rules, there was no danger. […] What is happening today is much more like the 1930s, under Stalin, when no one could be sure they weren’t imprisoned.

I understand that people hold Russians collectively responsible for what is happening in Ukraine, but I hope Westerners will understand that one cannot really oppose an authoritarian regime determined to stay in power at all costs.He said.

Leaving, a challenge in itself

But leaving Russia is not easy, says Lev Abramovich.

Russians who have the financial means to leave must first find a flight. However, many of them have been suspended. Many countries also require them to obtain a visa to enter their territory.

At the airport, travelers also risk being questioned and prevented from leaving by Russian authorities, Lev Abramovich says.

At the border I have been asked many questions. Where was I going, for how long and why. […] [Les douaniers] they told me they were waiting for my returnsays Ksenia (fictional name), who arrived in Canada with her son this week.

She is now worried about her family in Russia, especially since her mother says she has learned that Russian intelligence agents are questioning relatives of people who have left the country.

Anything could happen to them. Police may search their home and claim they found drugs there. They might even take over my father’s business. This kind of thing happens a lot in Russia.

The Ryabkov family in their motel room.  The father and one of the two girls sit at the table while the mother prepares coffee with the other girl.

The Ryabkov family now live in a motel in Mississauga, near Toronto.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Andréane Williams

Ksenia and the Ryabkovs don’t know when they will see their homeland again. They renounced Russia as Vladimir Putin could remain in power until 2036.

It is very difficult because I closed the door. I left my beautiful apartment, my daughters’ school, my parents, my friendssays Anastasia Ryabkova.

Ukrainian refugees will be able to return to Ukraine to rebuild their country after the war. We will not be able to return to Russiasays her husband Vladimir.

Radio-Canada granted anonymity to Ksenia and Sasha, who requested it for fear of reprisals.

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