Russia's Unwelcome New Exiles

Hundreds of thousands of Russians – mainly young and well-educated - have fled abroad since their country invaded Ukraine. It’s the biggest brain drain in a short period of time in Russian history. Some fear a political crackdown. They worry they could be arrested for expressing opposition to the war, and young men might be drafted into the army. Others are escaping economic sanctions, trying to keep their businesses afloat now it’s become hard to transfer money into or out of Russia.

Tim Whewell travels to Russia’s southern neighbour, Georgia, to meet some of the 25,000 Russians who’ve fled there. Some are strong opponents of Vladimir Putin, who are now showing their support for Ukraine by volunteering for a new project by Russian exiles, ‘Helping to Leave’, that organizes evacuations of Ukrainian civilians from the war zone. Others are business people – often in IT, who try to steer clear of politics, but hope they can help Georgia’s economy by creating a new ‘silicon valley’ there.

But Georgia, itself invaded by the Kremlin’s forces in 2008, has a tense relationship with Russia. Georgia’s a hospitable country – but the new arrivals are not universally welcome. Georgians worry that the exiles – often wealthier than local people – will force them out of the property market. And they fear the Russian influx may include spies and provocateurs who might provide Putin with a pretext to intervene there again. The new exiles may sympathise with Ukraine – but do they understand Georgia’s long struggle with Russia?

Reporter: Tim Whewell
Produced by Tim Whewell and Rayhan Dmytrie.

(Image: Russian exile, Katya Lapsha Credit: Lago Gogilashvili /BBC)