Yerevan, Armenia — Russians arrive at Lumen Café, the capital of Armenia, as soon as the door opens, ordering specialty coffee, opening a sophisticated Apple laptop and navigating a diminishing choice to start over. Try to gate.
Identity music and sunlit interiors are a calm counterpoint to a desperate departure from their country, which left the feeling of parents, pets, and homes that had almost disappeared when Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
“This war was something I never thought could happen,” said Moscow web designer Polina Loseva, 29, working with a Russian private IT company that she doesn’t want to name. increase. Is possible. Already they are imprisoning people on Facebook using harmless language. It was safer to leave. “
This is another kind of escape. With tens of thousands of young, urban multilingual professionals, you can work remotely from almost anywhere. Many are freelancers in the information technology and creative industries.
Russia is bleeding young appearance experts who were part of the world economy that severely cut off the country.
Before the outbreak of the war, only about 3,000 to 4,000 Russians were registered as workers in Armenia, officials said, but two weeks after the invasion, at least the same number in this small country. Russians arrived almost every day. For other destinations, government officials said about 20,000 people remained late last week. Tens of thousands more are about to start a new life in another country.
President Vladimir Putin suppressed dissent, but until last month Russia remained a relatively free place for people to travel abroad on the almost uncensored Internet. It has provided a platform for independent media, a thriving tech industry, and the world-class art scene. Life was good, Emigré said.
For new arrivals in Armenia, a sense of controlled panic is a guilty feeling of leaving family, friends and home, as well as a fear of speaking openly and a country that likes to do what they dislike. It overlaps with the sadness of seeing.
Ivan, co-owner of a Cyprus-based video game development company, said, “Most of the people who opposed the war opposed it because they were connected to the world and understood what was happening. I have. ” I didn’t want to give him a full name for fear of his influence at home.
Loseva and her boyfriend, Roman Zhigalov, are a 32-year-old web developer who works for the same company as her, sitting at a crowded cafe table with a friend looking for a place to stay. I’m wearing jeans. Then, wearing a sweatshirt, she leaned against Mr. Zigarov and closed her eyes as he put his arm around her shoulder.
“I didn’t want to move to another country a month ago, but now I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to live anymore,” she said.
At other tables in a small cafe, young Russians tapped laptops, checked Apple Watches, logged in to Zoom meetings, and searched for places to rent without access to savings.
But those who lived in stylish Moscow apartments due to the plunge in the ruble, which at one point lost about 40% of its value against the US dollar, and the soaring housing costs in Armenia, which are priced in dollars. Is thinking about the movement. From affordable hotels to cheaper hostels with bunk beds and shared bathrooms.
Most of the people who came to Armenia work in IT and other sectors that rely on the free internet and international banking links, the country’s Minister of Economy, Vahan Kerobyan, told The New York Times.
However, some bloggers, journalists, or activists who have fled Russia feared arrest under the strict new law of the country, which even uses the word “war” in connection with Ukraine as a crime. ..
Some Russians who recently arrived in Armenia have said they have a contract to pay for remote work for at least a couple of months if they can find a way to make money. Some have stated that they have moved to Armenia by the United States and other IT. Companies that continue to pay their salaries. However, many companies are scrambled to access enough money to scrape their apartment deposits.
Visa, Mastercard and PayPal have all broken ties with Russia, leaving only Russian meal bank cards accepted in Armenia and a few other countries for electronic payments.
Mira, 26, who works for an aid agency, said she and her boyfriend went from ATM to ATM for three hours the night before leaving Moscow and tried to withdraw dollars and failed. At the forefront, she remembered that she withdrew $ 5,000 at a time until the machine was empty.
“I couldn’t say anything because I felt it was really dangerous,” she said.
While tens of thousands of other Russian asylum seekers traveled to Georgia and Turkey, Armenia, the former Soviet Republic, which remained neutral in the conflict, provided the mildest landing. Unlike the reception in Georgia, none of the interviewed Russians said they had encountered here, where they could enter without a visa or passport, stay for up to 6 months, and speak Russian widely. It has been.
For some, the pain of leaving their country is exacerbated by the feeling that the world is increasingly equating all Russians with their presidents.
“I want to be with other parts of the world, not Russia,” said web developer Zigarov. .. “
Maria, a 30-year-old Russian travel guide editor who arrived in Armenia last week, was also worried about hostility.
“What do Americans think about Russians?” She asked seriously. “Do they hate us?”
Maria said she was involved in anti-government protests in Russia in 2018.
“I was very scared,” she said, deciding to leave with her husband, the manager of the sports training center. She doesn’t want to live that way, “she said.
Most of the Russians interviewed said they left because they were unable to work with foreign companies or foreign customers because they broke international sanctions, or because they were afraid that Russia would close its borders. rice field.
Like many men who left, her husband, Evgeny, was afraid that he would be drafted and forced to fight in Ukraine. The money they had on their flight tickets to Yerevan.
Many of those who have left are industry entrepreneurs and freelancers who rely on foreign customers to break their relationships, even for jobs outside Russia.
“They just told us,’I’m sorry. We want to work together in the future, but we can’t do it now,'” video game developer Ivan told his European partner.
At another cafe, 35-year-old Alex, his blonde hair was pulled back with a hair tie and his arms were tattooed at a milestone in his life, with Jin at Moscow Airport while his flight was delayed. He said he spent four hours drinking a tonic.
“I just took the courage to get drunk at the airport. I should have left earlier, but I love my country.”
Alex, who doesn’t want to say which industry he works for, said he cried when he heard a voice message from a Ukrainian friend convened to fight.
“They were sitting, smoking, drinking beer and playing music. The next day they had to get a gun and protect the country. They have ever had a gun. Those who didn’t. That’s scary. “
For many Russians, there is also the pain of intergenerational division with parents and grandparents who grew up in the former Soviet Union.
“My parents, grandma, and grandpa are watching TV and completely believe in the TV line, so it’s hard to talk to them,” said aid worker Mira. She said, let’s not talk about it. “
“We don’t have a stable ground at our feet. We’re here now, but we don’t know where to go for a week, a month, or even tomorrow,” she said.
At Erebuni Airport last week, Victoria Poimenova, 22, and her boyfriend Brat Mustafin, 24, from the city of Mineralinie Vodi, Russia, saw a suitcase tower, a bulging backpack, and a small rescue. I carried two small carriers with a dog muka. And their tortoiseshell cat, Kisya.
Mr. Mustafin, an engineer, worked as a cinema projector technician who was unable to show movies from Hollywood studios because he broke his relationship with Russia.
Poymenova teaches web programming in an online school based in Cyprus. Their plan was to find an affordable apartment in Georgia.
“If you can’t find it, you’ll be back here. If you can’t find it, you’ll go to Turkey. If you don’t have anything, you’ll go to Serbia,” says Poimenova. We just want a peaceful life, but it’s very difficult when your country is experiencing such a disaster. “
March 20, 2022
Earlier versions of this article misnamed the little rescue dog. It’s Mukha, not Mishoo.