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Disenchanted With Home, Many Russians Seek New Life In Ukraine

While thousands of Russian-speaking Ukrainians are streaming across the country's eastern border to flee the ongoing violence in their country, an increasing number of disenchanted Russians are heading in the opposite direction and some are even looking to swap their passports for a Ukrainian one.
While thousands of Russian-speaking Ukrainians are streaming across the country's eastern border to flee the ongoing violence in their country, an increasing number of disenchanted Russians are heading in the opposite direction and some are even looking to swap their passports for a Ukrainian one.

Why would a businessman, a scientist, and an IT developer pull up stakes in Russia and move to neighboring Ukraine? RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to professional Russians who say frustration with political repressions and a hostile business climate at home have sent them looking for better opportunities in a country they say is capable of real change.

Vladimir Malyshev, 44, civic activist. Applied for asylum in Ukraine:

Vladimir Malyshev
Vladimir Malyshev

Although I could have emigrated to another country, I chose Ukraine for political reasons. I know that next year or two here will be very hard, both economically and politically. But I'm ready to get through the difficulties together with the country. In this way, I'll have the moral right to live here. I'm planning to go into business and am writing a screenplay for a feature film about the Maidan.

I'm very worried about what's going on in the east of the country. The main thing now is to stop the war. I'm happy with the things that [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko is doing to accomplish that. I'm a Maidan participant, and I understand that if Poroshenko doesn't carry out reforms, society will carry them out itself. I talk with officials and I see that they're relaxed, just like in 2004, because they have the feeling that no truly major changes are coming. But I'm sure they're wrong. As soon as the problems in the east are resolved, those officials will be next.

Aleksei Ivanov, 42, businessman, former head of the Yekaterinburg branch of the nationalist Rodina party:

Aleksei Ivanov
Aleksei Ivanov

Civilized nationalism should first and foremost be applied to support national producers -- small and middle-size businesses. Lower credit rates and more favorable conditions all around. But these days Rodina doesn't want to hear anything about that. They're taking on all kinds of grandiose projects -- space exploration, building underground cities in the Antarctic, and other nonsense. What, we've run out of things to do right here in Russia?

Unfortunately, events in Crimea have revealed the imperialist component in Russian nationalism. In the current situation I can't even call myself a Russian nationalist... not in the sense that we see these nationalists now who fervently and passionately support everything Putin does.

I don't consider myself as someone with a revolutionary mindset. I'm a supporter of evolution. It seems to me that Russia is just running in place. I've found partners in Kyiv, and we want to move in a more dynamic fashion. All those semi-legal regulators in Russia will keep you from developing any kind of business. I'm working with Internet technology. The departure of [vKontakte developer] Pavel Durov, of course, suggests that Russia will let your business grow up until a point, but then they'll start to either interfere or insert some officials as your partners. That kind of situation doesn't suit me.

I believe that Russia and Ukraine are united by one thing: the bureaucratic environment that prevailed during the Soviet era. We need to squeeze excess bureaucracy from the regulatory sphere. In this way, I think Ukraine can get rid of this sad legacy. Perhaps Poroshenko doesn't seem like a romantic and radical politician, like [former Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili, but he is very in tune with his people. I think that Ukrainians will push him to make these changes. He doesn't have any alternative. Otherwise he'll become politically bankrupt in a matter of months, and another Maidan will throw him out of office.

Ukraine is the dawn of Russia. We can hope that if everything works out for Ukraine, then someday it will also work out for Russia.

Ivan Simochkin, 45, civic activist. Applied for asylum in Ukraine:

Ivan Simochkin
Ivan Simochkin

I'm Russian; I was born and raised in a Russian family in the Russian-speaking southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. At 17 I moved to Moscow, where I've lived nearly 30 years. A big part of my life. Moscow is where I started my family and raised two daughters, real Muscovites. For me, home was always both Russia and Ukraine, even when a border appeared between them. It seemed to me that nothing could ever divide my Russian-Ukrainian motherland. But somehow that's what's managed to happen.

In February, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine like the Nazis in June 1941, Russia died for me. It ceased to exist. I don't want to hear anything else about that country. Kherson has already spent four months as a city on the frontlines. From the home where I spent my childhood and where my mother now lives, it's less than 100 kilometers to the border with occupied Crimea. The entire area is stuffed full of Russian troops. When, for the fourth month straight, every morning begins with you running to the computer to find out whether invading tanks have advanced or occupiers' planes have bombed the streets of your native town, you start to reevaluate things.

I don't wish to have anything in common with a country that every day kills my compatriots in Ukraine, which captures and tortures hostages, which plunders and seizes the territory of my motherland. It's revolting to me. I can't remain part of a nation where the vast majority of people are endorsing and rejoicing in this aggression. I'm Russian by blood, but from now on, I'm no longer Russian by allegiance. I'm a Russian Ukrainian. I'm planning to give up my Russian citizenship as soon as I can, after which I'm going to leave Moscow and return to Kherson permanently.

Andrei Kuznetsov, 31, co-chair of the St. Petersburg organization National Democratic Alliance, creator of the #Orange social network. On June 16th 2014 he asked for political asylum in Ukraine:

Andrei Kuznetsov
Andrei Kuznetsov

I wasn't ready for my life to change dramatically, and Ukrainian society is fairly similar to ours. There are no language problems, and it will be simpler to become a full member of this society. I don't need a long adaptation. I applied for political asylum as soon as I flew into Boryspil Airport [on June 16]. I ended up spending 12 hours there; the border guards simply didn't know what to do with me. Finally they let me in as a tourist and gave me the link to a UN site with procedures for applying for asylum.

I've been in Kyiv for two weeks already, and I really like it here. There are no restrictions here like there are in Russia; it's very comfortable here, and there's no prejudice against me as a Russian citizen. There's much greater room for personal expression here than in Russia. So I can continue to blog much more freely, without censorship, without fear that the FSB is going to call and ask questions. That was my goal in leaving Russia -- to grow and move on.

Oleg Shro, 38, Ph.D. candidate in physics and mathematics:

Oleg Shro
Oleg Shro

I was working at a branch of Bryansk State University in the town of Novozybkov, and a conflict arose with the acting director. I decided to move to Ukraine, because it will be simpler to adapt to things here than elsewhere abroad. Now I'm trying to get refugee status. The process can take up to a half year. That's the most complicated part; I haven't had any major problems arise with anything else.

It's a very complicated time in Ukraine right now, with the military hostilities. But this country has the potential to develop. It's still too early to say whether it will realize its potential. The relationship with Western countries will play a big role.

Resentment of Russians is clearly growing here. Up until recently Ukrainians were friendly towards Russia, but now they're opposed to it on a psychological level. It's justified, but unfortunately it's leading to ruptures in family relationships. People have stopped talking to their relatives in Russia who hold a different point of view.

Aleksei Baranovsky, 31, journalist:

Aleksei Baranovsky
Aleksei Baranovsky

I was working at "Kommersant-Ukraine," but after it closed I didn't want to go back to Russia. It's much more interesting here. Important social transformations are taking place, and it's interesting for me to observe them, both as a [Russian] citizen and as a journalist.

It's much simpler for a journalist to work here, because the media market is competitive. The pay is lower than in Russia, but there's greater freedom of speech and it's possible to find media outlets that correspond with your core beliefs.

In Kyiv there's a developing fraternity of Russian opposition journalists and social activists who have emigrated from Russia. It's very reminiscent of the 1920s and 1930s, when aid societies cropped up in Berlin, Paris, and other European cities to support Russian citizens fleeing Bolshevik rule. I assume this trend will continue. Soon the true center of Russian opposition will move from Moscow to Kyiv.

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