History International Russia-Ukraine

Russian Exiles

Silar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Monika Zgustova / CounterPunch

A century ago, the October Revolution of 1917 and the Civil War that followed it generated a vast wave of Russian exiles: it is estimated that up to two million people left Russia as a result of the revolution and the war. Among them, a large part of the intelligentsia left in order to have the freedom to carry on their creative work, with names that have become world famous: Marina Tsvetaeva, Vladimir Nabokov, Nina Berberova. If Tsvetaeva became known for her verses on the sad fate of the refugee, those who remained – among them no less well-known names such as Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak – were persecuted, and in many cases murdered, by the Stalinist regime. This is how Akhmatova describes it: “No foreign sky protected me, foreign wings did not protect me. I was among my people then and I shared their misfortune with them.” Although it should be said that ‘foreign wings’ did not protect the exiles either: at a time when much of the European intelligentsia admired the new Bolshevik country, the émigrés were condemned as “White Russians” or enemies of everything progressive. Disliked everywhere, they had doors closed to them in their home country, and in their adopted country they found it hard to get decent jobs. “Love means sharing an artichoke leaf,” Nina Berberova wrote, describing life with her partner, the poet Khodasevich.

Just like a century ago, the wave of Russian exiles engendered by Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, has involved a significant brain drain. Of the 150,000 Russian refugees to date, it is estimated that the majority are relatively young people who have been well educated in Russian universities, a third of whom are computer specialists. Among this migratory wave, received in the West without much enthusiasm, just like a century ago, are some famous creative people.

Chulpan Khamatova, one of the most revered Russian actresses – in the West we saw her in the film Goodbye Lenin, among others – signed a manifesto against the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the beginning of the war. The Kremlin authorities warned her that her signature could get her into trouble. Faced with this threat, Khamatova fled with her daughters to Latvia, where she is now hastily learning Latvian in order to return to the stage as soon as possible. Olga Smirnova, one of the great stars of classical ballet, left her job at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow to join the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. “Every fiber of my soul is against this war,” Smirnova, whose grandfather was Ukrainian, said as she left Russia.

Writer and physician Maxim Osipov left in March 2022 for Yerevan, capital of Armenia, a country that does not require visas for Russians, making it an exception. Georgia, another of the former Soviet republics, in addition to a visa requires loyalty: every immigrant must present a statement condemning Putin’s regime. (Other favorite destinations for Russians are Baku (Azerbaijan), Samarkand (Uzbekistan), Tel Aviv (Israel), Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan), as well as several Turkish cities. (It should be remembered that the EU does not accept flights from Russia). Osipov found the attitude of the passport control guards who asked travelers bound for Armenia, humiliating: “If you are going on vacation, as you insist, why are you taking your birth certificate and university degrees, plus a dog?” From Armenia Osipov took a plane bound for Germany. “I am frozen, ashamed, relieved,” the writer said about his escape. He stresses the feeling of being humiliated and embarrassed: every time he had to show his passport, his face fell with shame.

Viktor Muchnik, director of TV2, fled from the Siberian city of Tomsk, also to Armenia. New laws that have been decreed since the conflict began, have meant that TV crews can be arrested and imprisoned at any time if they make even the slightest comment on the war. In addition, censorship blocked TV2 along with many other television and radio stations. A few days after the station’s closure, Muchnik and his wife Viktoria packed their bags and left for Armenia. “Probably for good. We don’t want to live in a country that has started a war and among people who support it. It’s very hard to live in Russia in the midst of such militaristic hysteria. We won’t be going back.”

The punk-rock band Pussy Riot also fled: Nadia Tolokonnikova to Georgia, Maria Alyokhina to Iceland, disguised as a food delivery courier.

And the fact is that many exiles, in addition to those who remain in Russia and are against the war, are at loggerheads with their families and lifelong friends. The war has broken up families and friendships. Russians residing in Western countries have lost the right to own bank cards and their survival is becoming increasingly difficult because they cannot find work: Western sympathies are now reserved for Ukrainians. Although this is understandable, we should devote more attention to Russian citizens who oppose Putin’s regime. They think like us, they want the same as we do: for this war to be won by democracy.

Monika Zgustova

Monika Zgustova is a writer. Her most recent book is Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women’s Voices from the Gulag. (Other Press 2020)


    1. This nice story is a nice lie that is being repeatedly and incessantly told by nice Western warmongering media.

      On nice SP blog it is sheer waste of nice space.

  1. That Counterpunch(once a great progressive voice guided by
    that great devilbeater Alexander Cockburn)has now been renamed
    by me(‘I had to re-arrange their faces and give them all another name
    -Bob Dylan) Rabbitpunch in large part due to the now regressives
    at Rabbitpunch who support the NAZI REGIME in Ukraine.

    Putin is in fact the hero and victor in this NATO war of aggression
    against Russia. I have named him Vlad the NAZI IMPALER Putin.

    NATO is self immolating and Donald Trump was absolutely correct to
    seek a positive relationship with Russia- destroyed by the regressive
    Proponents of the vast lie that is Russiagate.

  2. fascist counterpunch—-Pasternak, Tvestaeva, Akmantova (Andreev) Bulgakov never imprisoned…degenerate Pussy Riot is despised by Russians….there is no brain drain; since denazification in ukieland began Putin’s approval has risen to 80+%…following 1917 popular revolution—amerikans despise socialism—prefer barbarism—only ruling class and the hated kulaks emigrated…more proof Gorer is correct, “the amerikan liberal wants to preserve the essence of the past, the conservative wants more and more progress; the European radical wants to hasten the transformation of the future, the European conservative wants to preserve the essence of the past”

  3. This is outright propaganda and not worthy to be found in the pages of Sheerpost. I’ve got to run, it seems Putin is burning my dinner…..

  4. the marxist Meszaros describes USA as “the most aggressive nation in modern history”. even Schlesinger a liberal and Huntington a conservative understood this. Hegel explicitly wrote that wars that resisted fascism and exploitation were moral…Russian denazification in Ukraine humiliates amerikans militarily economically and morally

  5. “They think like us, they want the same as we do: for this war to be won by democracy.”

    What democracy? USA is not a democracy and neither is Ukraine.

  6. Every sentence in this sophisticated propaganda piece is either a fringe opinion, straight lie or contortionist spin on reality full of unfounded insinuations, innuendos and fake historical analogues.

    It is insidious purposefully confusing manipulative story that does not enlighten western reader a bit but in fact corrupts perception of reality of Russia and its peoples response to Russian intervention in Ukraine which is overwhelmingly positive and understanding for historical reasons.

    Also this is disingenuous for author to scare western audiences themselves exposed to extreme censorship and attacks on good name and livelihoods of those who think independently from Western regimes’ narratives about war, with Russian censorship as their worse crime is to follow the west in gagging opposition and independent media.

    While there is small but noticeable long standing western backed opposition to Putin policies for decades censorship or war plays only minor role in decisions of potential Russian emigration.

    Nobody because of the war is running away from Russia in shame and that is the reality of Russia in 2022 author tries to undermine.

    And no wonder since Zgustova is a prime example of anti Russian propagandist, EU centric fanatically Russophobic Czech who is still bitter for Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

    Interestingly such hatred does not extend to now fellow NATO member Poland that invaded Czechoslovakia twice in 1938 annexed part of the country on its own and 1968 intervened as a part of Warsaw Pact. Are bygones bygones? Not for propagandist like Zgustova who is unable to recognize post Soviet reality and capitalist Russia.

    Authors analogy of alleged 150k leaving Russia to Bolshevik Revolution related wave of mostly ideologically motivated great emigration is simply ridiculous if compared in scale and scope.

    Better comparison would be escape, emigration of five millions of Ukrainians who rejected Western backed Nazi Kiev regime since 2014. Four millions of them fled to nowhere else but to Russia to seek safety from billionaires like Poroshenko or Zelensky backed Ukrainian Nazi terror.

    None of author’s assertions about general Russian attitude to Ukrainian war are backed by any sources. Everything is anecdotal from mouth of obvious western backed Putin’s political opponent.

    Author manipulatively insinuates that some anti Russian resentment, discrimination or hatred embedded in many post soviet republics, Georgia, Uzbekistan etc., former eastern block countries and fueled by the west in the feat of further disintegration of Russia, as in any way is specifically related to intervention in Ukraine. That is utterly false as such nationalistic attitudes were long embedded in their politics and now achieved fever pitch of fanaticism funded by the west.

    What’s shameful is not being Russian these days but how so called enlightened western societies stoop into pure fascism and apartheid to bully, humiliate, cancel all Russians even those who politically oppose Putin.

    And it does not even matter since Russians are not being listen to at all unless they submit in humiliation and support western political terrorism against country they love.

    Not only emigres of Bolshevik Revolution but even Solzhenitsyn regretted his decision to emigrate calling western societies fascist, full of soulless, greedy bastards.

    Ethnic Russian western citizens living abroad for decades are being insanely blamed for the war they have nothing to do with. They are persecuted their cultural heritage condemned their children harassed at school, attacked and bully on the streets, Russian language prohibited or condemned civil rights blatantly violated. Parents being fired from jobs , their bank accounts baselessly frozen because of their ethnicity.

    Russian culture is erased from EU countries like Jewish culture was 1930s The hypocrite west is not welcoming “fleeing Putin” Russians but they want to humiliate proud Russian nation.

    The reality that old and new Russian emigres face is conveniently ignored by author as it does not fit her Russophobic propaganda line.

    How many westerns countries border officers required from American travelers to demonize, condemn America and US President for Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam invasions or interventions in Libya, Syria, Serbia, Yemen, Panama, Granada, Somalia. None as doing so is simply fascist denial of human dignity. So is asking the same from Russians.

  7. “We don’t want to live in a country that has started a war and among people who support it.”


    Guess Monika will be leaving Spain soon. Of course, the US is completely off limits to her, being as it is the most warlike nation on Earth. Just ask the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, etc.

    This is a person who has made a career out of bashing the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation, as if those nations were purely evil and never got anything right. She doesn’t have much to say about the worst offenders, though.

    Scheerpost just needs a couple more like this to make it past the toilet trap. From there it’s a straight shot to the sewer. Who is making these decisions?

  8. It is to Scheer’s credit that allows article from differing points of view. Would you want him to censor views you do not feel are appropriate

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