Staunton, July 2 – Since the rise of Vladimir Putin, hundreds of Russians have emigrated to escape persecution and to seek a better life. Ironically, the easiest destination for them to reach is Ukraine, a country to which they can go without a Shengen visa or foreign passport and in which despite many problems they are finding a new home.
Yuliya Arkhipova, one of the coordinators of EmigRussia (emigrussia.org/) who now lives in Ukraine and works to help other Russians settle there, says that even though “the crystallization of a [Russian] political emigration [there] is only beginning,” its importance and some of its main outlines are already visible (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57755BFF45E4B).
A decade ago, most of the Russians who fled to Ukraine were members of groups like the National Bolshevik Party which was persecuted in Russia. Now “hundreds of citizens of Russia” are arriving in Ukraine after leaving their homeland “for political reasons” that range across the entire political spectrum but who don’t support the Kremlin’s “anti-Ukrainian course.”
Having moved to Ukraine herself, Arkhipova says that she came into contact with other Russian political emigres and “understood that not all of them had found a place as easily as she,” given that they lacked her Ukrainian roots and experience. And consequently she decided to form a group that could help those who can no longer live in Putin’s Russia.
“We do not encourage people to immediately throw over everything and move,” she says. “This question is a very personal one. Our task is to explain to activists faced with a choice of ‘fleeing or sitting in prison’ just what a move to Ukraine involves. We live in Ukraine and can explain the procedures” they will have to follow.
One of the reasons Ukraine is so important in this regard and why the Russian political emigration there is large and growing, Arkhipova says, is that “Ukraine is the only place to which, without having an open Shengen visa or foreign passport, it is possible to move from Russia immediately.”
Exactly how many Russian political emigres there are in Ukraine is impossible to know. On the one hand, she says, many who have come from Russia to Ukraine have not made contact with her organization. And on the other, some Russians who have come may not be political emigres but in fact fleeing from criminal prosecution for non-political acts.
Moreover, by her estimate, “no more than 10 percent” of Russians who apply for permanent resident status get it, and then only after a long period of legal indeterminacy and difficulties finding work. Even those who receive that status rather than full asylum are not necessarily protected against extradition if Moscow demands it.
Not surprisingly, Arkhipova points out, many Ukrainians are cautious about such Russians, even though many of the Russians involved expect more given that they have “spoken out in Russian for the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine.”
As repression in Russia increases, she suggests, the number of Russians seeking asylum in Ukraine will increase as well. For those under threat, there is no good reason to remain in Russia. And she dismisses the arguments of those who say that people who flee are weakening the opposition movement.
Indeed, Arkhipova says, there are important reasons to view political emigration as “a school” for training future leaders in Russia itself. Not only are there various ways to influence Russia from the outside but the experience of how other countries and their governments behave is instructive to Russians.
In Ukraine, “there is no three-meter-tall wall between the people and the nominal elite.” Members of both often come into contact with each other because “Ukraine is Ukraine and Russia is Russia. Thus, to speak about a Maidan in Moscow is the same to speak about a Kremlin in Kyiv.”
“In Moscow, there is no Maidan, but in Kyiv, there is no Kremlin.”
If and when political change comes to Russia, Arkhipova concludes, it will not come via a Ukrainian scenario. That may not even be desirable because “victory achieved by blood will not be a victory.” But a new generation, one partly growing up outside of Russia, may play a valuable role in bringing change to its homeland.