A carry-on suitcase and four small backpacks containing jeans, some T-shirts, warm clothes and books: this is what Anastasia Ryabkova brought with her, her husband Vladimir Ryabkov and their two daughters, Kira, eight years old and Vlada, three years old, who fled their native Siberia just over a month ago.
We have few things, but we feel safe and that is more important than material thingssays Anastasia Ryabkova in French in the small motel room where her family has lived since arriving in Ontario.
In Russia, this classical singer worked as an educator for young children. Her husband Vladimir was a mechanic and owner of a garage. Both describe themselves as opponents of Vladimir Putin and supporters of Russian opponent and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, who is now in prison.
Just days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they protested in the central square of their city, Tomsk, to denounce the war.
We couldn’t stay stillthey say, hand in hand.
Ms Ryabkova says she and her husband were arrested by the police in just three minutes.
A few days later, the Russian authorities were at the door. Fearing arrest, the family, who already had a tourist visa to Canada, decided to pack up.
When the police in Russia come to your home, you know that 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 separatedexplains Mr Ryabkov, who himself was born in Ukraine when that country was still part of the Soviet Union.
Tens of thousands in exile
The Ryabkovs’ 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 estimate their exact number, but the NGO OK RussiansAiding Russians who have fled their country estimates that about 300,000 have been in this situation since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
There’s probably more than that nowsays Jeanne Batalova, senior analyst at the Institute for Migration Policy.
She explains that most of them take refuge in the Baltic States, in Georgia, in Armenia, in Turkey or even in Israel.
If you look at the numbers and the speed with which people leave when there is no war in Russia, it is unprecedentedshe adds.
Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist and professor at the University of Chicago, likens this exodus to the exodus caused by the Russian civil war after the Bolsheviks seized power in the early 1920s.and century.
He is concerned to see so many professionals leaving the country.
This means that if Russia survives this crisis, it will have even less chance of developing.he complains.
The price of his opinion
Lev Abramovich, a Russian-born immigration attorney based in Toronto, says he has seen a marked increase in requests for aid from Russia since the start of the war.
Most of these requests come from people who have expressed their political views and who are against the war. […] They have to hide now, they lost their jobs or had to leave the countryhe laments, pointing out that resisting the Vladimir Putin regime in Russia is very expensive.
† All who were against [au régime] are dead, imprisoned or out of the country. †
Sasha (not her real name), a journalist from Moscow, lost his job when the online newspaper he worked for was closed 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 soon find shelter in Canada with his wife. 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 no one could be sure that he would not be imprisoned.
I understand that people are collectively holding the Russians responsible for what is happening in Ukraine, but I hope westerners will understand that you cannot really resist an authoritarian regime determined to stay in power at all costshe said.
Leaving, a challenge in itself
However, it is not easy to leave Russia, says Lev Abramovich.
Russians who have the financial means to leave must first find a plane ticket. However, many flights from Russia have been suspended. In addition, many countries require them to obtain a visa to enter their territory.
At the airport, travelers also risk being questioned and banned by Russian authorities, Lev Abramovich said.
At the border I got a lot of questions: where was I going, for how long and why. […] [Les douaniers] told me they were waiting for my returnsays Ksenia (fictitious name), who arrived in Canada with her son this week.
She is now concerned about her family in Russia, especially since her mother says she has learned that Russian intelligence agents are now questioning relatives of people who have left the country.
Anything can happen to them. The police could search their house and claim to have found drugs there. They could also take over my father’s business. Things like this often happen in Russia.
Ksenia and the Ryabkovs do not know when they will see their homeland again. They gave up on Russia because Vladimir Putin could stay in power until 2036.
It’s very hard 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 can’t go back to Russiasays her husband Vladimir.
Radio Canada granted anonymity to Ksenia and Sasha, who requested it for fear of reprisals.