Staunton, April 15 – Emigration from Russia is typically a one-way street with those who leave never returning, especially when they are aware that the fate of those who did return was anything but positive as viewers of the classic 1999 film East-West are certainly aware. But that is not always so, and it is not the case of some who have left in recent months.
As two new articles make clear (the-village.ru/people/people-about/rossiyane-kotorye-vernulis and themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/15/unprepared-emigres-trickle-back-to-russia-as-war-drags-on-a77369), most who left over Putin’s war and increasing repression aren’t going back. But some are, often because they have found it hard to live abroad and want the familiar even if it is unpleasant.
Few report that they have yet suffered on their return, although enough say that they have encountered sufficient suspiciousness about their motives by officials to lead to the conclusion that their future in Russia may be anything but bright. And some indicate that they are only returning for a time and plan to leave again to live and work abroad.
What is clear is that the new wave of emigres bears some but not all of the hallmarks of earlier ones. Those who have skills that are not tied directly to language, such as IT professionals, musicians and dancers quite often do very well and are able to make a go of it abroad while those whose skills are tied to language face far greater difficulties.
A fuller picture of the more than 200,000 Russians who moved abroad since the start of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is now emerging thanks to a number of surveys and expert assessments (okrussians.org and holod.media/2022/03/19/nenastoyashhaya-zagranicza/). And Sergey Abashin says that many now refer to this flow as “a relocation.”
That is a very different term than was used for those Russians who left after 1917, during World War II, or in the last decades of Soviet power; but it reflects the particular composition of current flow and the complicated motivations behind it, the historian at St. Petersburg’s European University says (liberal.ru/povestka/relokanty).
Almost two thirds of those who have left are people between 25 and 45, Abashin says, most with higher education and two-thirds of whom are IT professionals. There are also managers and a far from small number of people from the humanities. But their motivations for leaving are quite varied.
Some don’t want to remain in an aggressor country and bear the responsibility for that, he continues. Ohers don’t want to suffer from sanctions. Others fear either criminal prosecution for opposition or being drafted to fight in Ukraine. And still a third group fear the future as they are uncertain what it may bring.
“For some,” Abashin says, “departure and the direction of flight were unexpected and not planned earlier,” but for others, these things had been discussed for some time and even prepared for with the purchase of property abroad, the securing of visas or even of dual citizenship. And many are uncertain whether they will return or be gone forever.
According to the St. Petersburg scholar, “polls and simple observations find a broad spectrum of emotions: fear, anxiety, confusion, longing, anger, and shame but at the same time relief, feelings of liberation and hope, and desires to find new opportunities and gain new life experiences.”
Because of this diversity, the flow is now being called “a relocation” and those involved in it “relocators,” Abashin says. This term originated in Belarus in 2020 to designate a new category of departees (pramen.io/ru/2020/12/belarusy-za-granitsej-relokanty-ili-bezhentsy/), and it is now applied to Russians many of whom don’t fit into the usual categories of such people.
“’Relocators,’” he continues, “are simultaneously labor migrants, IT migrants, ‘digital nomads,’ refugees, and political emigres, and even tourists but at the same time none of them are fully the one or the other or the third.” They certainly don’t think of themselves in those terms and don’t want others to treat them as if they were the one or the other.
“We don’t know for certain what will be the case tomorrow or even more the day after that. Unpredictability has become the norm,” Abashin says. But it is possible that “’relocation’ and ‘relocators’ are the harbinger of a new social or political reality, although perhaps they are only a brief episode in Russian history.”