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

A cabin suitcase and four small backpacks with a pair of jeans, some T-shirts, warm clothes and books: this is what Anastasia Ryabkova, her husband Vladimir Ryabkov and their two daughters Kira, eight years old, and Vlada, three, brought with years old and before something fled their native Siberia for more than a month.

We have few things, but we feel safe and that is more important than material thingsAnastasia Ryabkova says in French in the small motel room where her family has lived since they arrived in Ontario.

In Russia, this classical singer worked as an educator for young children. Her husband Vladimir was a mechanic and the owner of a car repair shop. Both describe themselves as opponents of Vladimir Putin and as supporters of the now imprisoned Russian opponent and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny.

Just days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, they took to the central square of their city of Tomsk to denounce the war.

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

Photo: Provided by Anastasia Ryabkova

We couldn’t keep silentthey say and hold hands.

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

A few days later, the Russian authorities showed up on her doorstep. Fearing arrest, the family, who already had Canadian tourist visas, decided to pack.

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

tens of thousands in exile

The case of the Ryabkovs is far from an isolated case. Like her, tens of thousands of other Russians have fled their country since Russia invaded Ukraine. Experts say it’s difficult to estimate their exact number, but NGOs do OK Russianswhich helps Russians who fled their country, estimates that around 300,000 people have been in this situation since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

There are probably more nowbelieves Jeanne Batalova, senior analyst at the Institute for Migration Policy.

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

If you look at the numbers and the speed at which people are walking when there is no war in Russia, it is unprecedentedShe adds.

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 1920sand Century.

He is concerned that so many professionals are leaving the country.

This means that if Russia survives this crisis, it will have even fewer chances to develop.he complains.

The price of his opinions

Lev Abramovich, a Russian-born immigration lawyer based in Toronto, says he’s seen a significant increase in the number of requests for help from Russia since the war began.

Most of these requests come from people who have expressed their political opinions and are against the war. […] They now have to go into hiding, have lost their jobs or had to leave the countryhe laments and points out that resistance to Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia is very expensive.

Everyone who was against it [au régime] are dead, imprisoned or out of the country. »

A quote from Lev Abramovich, lawyer

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

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 what he 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.”}}”>Back then, 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 nobody could be sure not to be imprisoned.

I understand that people hold the Russians collectively responsible for what is happening in Ukraine, but I hope westerners will understand that an authoritarian regime determined to stay in power at all costs is not really to be trusted can counter anythinghe said.

Leaving, a challenge in itself

However, leaving Russia is not easy, says Lev Abramovich.

Russians who have the financial means to leave the country must first obtain a plane ticket. However, many flights from Russia have been suspended. In addition, many countries require that you apply for a visa to enter their territory.

At the airport, travelers also risk being interrogated by Russian authorities and being banned from leaving the country, says Lev Abramovich.

At the border I was asked many questions: where am I going, for how long and why. […] [Les douaniers] told me they would be waiting for my returnsays Ksenia (Fictitious name), who arrived in Canada this week with her son.

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

Anything could happen to you. The police could search her house and claim to have found drugs there. They could also confiscate my father’s business. Such things often happen in Russia.

The Ryabkov family in their motel room.  The father and one of the two little girls are sitting at the table while the mother is making coffee with the other little girl.

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

Photo: Radio Canada / Andréane Williams

Ksenia and the Ryabkovs do not know when they will see their homeland again. They abandoned Russia as Vladimir Putin could remain in power until 2036.

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

Ukrainian refugees can 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 asked for it out of fear of reprisals.

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