Anti-war Russians find refuge in Cyprus


The tip of spring in Limassol, a seaside resort on the south coast of Cyprus. The solar glints off a stressed sea and umbrellas flap within the wind. Dmitry Gudkov, a 42-year-old Russian exile, compulsively checks his cell phone, hidden behind darkish glasses. At his collar, a badge within the blue and white of the Russian anti-war flag. “The purple [the third colour in the Russian flag] reminds us of the blood spilt in Ukraine,” he explains between sips of espresso.

Like Gudkov, many different Russians have sought emigrate to Tbilisi, Yerevan, Istanbul or Tel Aviv. Because the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military on 24 February 2022, greater than 8 million Ukrainians have fled their nation, in accordance with the newest figures from the United Nations Excessive Fee on Refugees (UNHCR). Of these, 3 million are estimated to have since returned dwelling. However roughly 500,000 Russians – amongst them journalists, dissidents, activists, executives, and enterprise individuals – have chosen exile over Vladimir Putin’s Russia. A determine, cited by Gudkov, that the Russian inside minister to this point refuses to touch upon.

Some exiles made it to Limassol at the same time as worldwide sanctions in opposition to Russia have been imposed by the USA and the European Union in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Greater than 10,000 Ukrainians fleeing the struggle now dwell among the many Russian group current on the island for years. Limassol has lengthy been a vacation spot of alternative for rich Russian expatriates – town was even nicknamed “Limassolgrad”, partially as a result of its status as a hub of Russian offshore finance and a tax haven for these wishing to cover their wealth.

In 2020, Cyprus suspended its controversial “Golden Visa” programme, which granted nationality to foreigners in alternate for sizeable native investments. This determination sounded the demise knell for the luxurious development sector in Limassol, and constructing on a number of properties got here to an abrupt halt. Launched in 2007, the Golden Visa programme turned notably enticing after President Nicos Anastasiades got here to energy in 2013. Finally, the Golden Visa programme injected greater than 8 billion USD into Cyprus’s failing financial system after the 2013 monetary disaster.

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Within the wake of perestroika, the wave of reforms that marked Mikhail Gorbachev’s years in energy (1985-1991), the group of fifty,000 Russians in Cyprus skilled exponential progress. In the present day, store indicators with Cyrillic lettering abound, together with Russian newspapers, radio stations, colleges and church buildings.

Martial legislation and persecution

Gudkov just isn’t an obscure determine in Russia. From 2011 to 2016, he was a member of the opposition within the State Duma, the decrease home of the Federal Meeting of Russia, and voted in opposition to the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In 2019, his Civic Initiative was prevented from operating within the Moscow legislative elections. “It’s a tactic recurrently employed by Putin’s regime, as a result of if we had run, we’d have gained,” asserts Gudkov. After being jailed for 2 days on a spurious cash laundering cost, whose essential goal was his aunt, Gudkov was pressured to flee to Cyprus in 2021 along with his household for worry of persecution.

“In the event that they don’t have the grounds to make a felony cost in opposition to you, they give you one in opposition to your loved ones, and you are feeling accountable for the persecution of your kinfolk,” explains Alexander Solovyev. Gudkov’s 34-year-old former parliamentary assistant can be exiled in Limassol. “Now we have no alternative however to depart the nation. It’s an authoritarian regime quickly deteriorating right into a totalitarian one”, he continues.

Most Russians left as a result of they worry being imprisoned beneath the martial legislation that permits the Kremlin to limit the liberties of its residents, and to punish “the general public dissemination of false info” in regards to the struggle with 15 years in jail. “In Russia it’s prefer it was with [the Soviet inasion of] Afghanistan: in the event you inform the reality in regards to the struggle in Ukraine you could be despatched to jail”, says Gudkov.

“We really feel terrible for the Ukrainians which are struggling, however a big a part of Russian society is now doubly punished – persecuted for his or her political stance in Russia and the victims of sanctions”

Alexander Solovyev

From Cyprus, Gudkov is an lively member of the Russian Anti-Battle Committee, an initiative launched by political and public figures in exile to assist different Russian expatriates and Ukrainian refugees. Georgia and Armenia permit Russians to enter with out visas and stay for a yr. Turkey additionally permits entry with out a visa, however solely permits two months of residence.

In March, within the oppressive environment of the start of the struggle, Daria, a 33-year-old monetary analyst, determined to pack her life into two suitcases and catch a airplane from Moscow to Cyprus through Istanbul – a journey that ended up taking two weeks. “It was troublesome to withstand Putin’s dictatorship, so I made a decision to cease paying tax and to depart. I don’t need to ‘take part’ on this shameful ‘particular navy operation’ – it gained’t be in my title, in any case,” she says.

Everyone seems to be attempting to achieve the EU. However many middle-class Russians like Daria, who’ve been fortunate sufficient to exile themselves to an EU nation, have watched their financial savings soften away as a result of worldwide banking sanctions. Whereas she waits to open a checking account, Daria is paid in money by the consulting agency the place she works. “We really feel terrible for the Ukrainians which are struggling, however a big a part of Russian society is now doubly punished – persecuted for his or her political stance in Russia and the victims of sanctions,” says Solovyev. “Many Russians need assistance to legalise their standing in European nations. They deserve help and a simplified process,” he emphasises.

“It’s arduous for me to know the purpose of the sanctions – they aren’t going to cease Putin,” says Nikita, 26, who hopes to acquire a residence allow in Cyprus. He and his spouse determined to depart Russia simply after the struggle started, and travelled by Kazakhstan to achieve the island. “Once we crossed the Russian border, we deleted all of our apps and anti-militarist discussions, as a result of they’ve precipitated issues for some individuals at passport management on the airport,” he says.

The younger gross sales supervisor describes feeling powerless within the face of occasions. “I need to do the whole lot I can to cease the struggle, however I don’t know the way,” he says, tears in his eyes. The Russians fleeing Putin’s regime have seen their worlds collapse. For them, so long as Putin is in energy, returning to Russia is inconceivable.

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