Putin’s defectors: The untold story of Russians fleeing their country post-invasion

By Anna Smirnova

UKRAINIAN refugees may be the ones in the spotlight – but since the invasion, many Russians have chosen to flee their native country as well.

Redaction Politics secured an exclusive interview with Maria* to discuss her complex relationship with Russia.

The transcript is below:

Redaction Reporter: Tell me about how you felt the first few days of the war?

Maria: Even now, it’s horrible remembering how they went. It was a shock, but not just a shock; it was a rejection of what was going on and a lack of understanding of why this war needed to happen. It was clear that a
war in the LPR and DNR would start because everyone was talking about it.

But when they started bombing the entirety of Ukraine, it was just unexpected, incomprehensible, and scary. It was terribly hard for me, and I was in a horrible mental condition. I could not sleep at all, and I went to bed and woke up with terrible anxiety.

RR: Could you describe some of your fears?

Maria: I remember when in the Soviet Union, it was almost impossible to travel abroad. My first fear was that[the war] would happen at all, and then the fear that martial law would be declared, and I had a terrible
fear that Russia’s borders would close. Many of my family live abroad, and I was afraid that if the country were too close, I would never be able to see them again. For me, that thought was terrifying.

RR: As a Russian, do you feel any guilt?

Maria: Yes, I felt guilty and was even embarrassed to be Russian. When I began reading many publications by political scientists and psychologists who explained the situation, I realized that it was not our fault.

Yes, it is the Russians’ fault that so many people support it. I think it’s the fault of those who support it. But those who categorically deny the situation are not to blame because not everyone can or is afraid to take
to the streets.

RR: What do you think of the opinion that Russians are not doing enough to oppose the war?

Maria: This is a very complicated question because, on the one hand, I agree that we did not do enough. Even
those who go out to solitary pickets are heroes because they will be sent to prison for 15 years.

The number of people who understand the gravity of the war there are far fewer of them than there are people who support everything. And there are probably not even as many people who support the war as those who are indifferent to what’s happening in the country.

Many people only care about politics if it concerns their wallets or refrigerators. In my opinion, we no longer have a civil, unified society.

RR: When you were in Moscow, did you want to go to an anti-war protest?

I wanted to go to a rally, and more than once.

RR: Why didn’t you go?

Because my relatives asked me not to.

RR: Why didn’t your relatives want you to go to a protest?

Because they were afraid. They understand that in our country, it’s better to be neutral and passive towards politics. Otherwise, you can be put in jail, you can be killed, authorities can cripple you, and they can
break your life (though they have broken the destiny of the whole country already).

RR: Why did you decide to leave Russia?

Maria: I did not leave Russia forever. I still very much hope that I will be able to come back. I left because I couldn’t bear to be in the environment that exists there now. It is awfully difficult to witness some people cheering with glee that [Russians] are for peace, while others are silent and cannot say anything because they will be denounced immediately and put in jail.

That’s why I went away for a while, and of course, I hope that I will be able to return home.

RR: Why do you want to go back to Russia?

Maria: First of all, because I love Russia very much, I love Moscow very much. I lived there for many years. My roots are there, and my family’s graves are there. I’ve lived there all my life, and to me, immigration is like
delving into a stranger’s life.

I hope I can go back home.

Featured Image: Pexels

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