From Moscow to the Siberian oil capital of Novosibirsk, and from the intellectual hub of St. Petersburg to the nuclear submarine base of Murmansk, Russians are searching for a way out in anticipation of a grim future in a country torn apart by isolation, censorship and belligerence.
Analysis of search data, immigration figures and flight information, as well as interviews with experts, activists and people inside the country, shed light on how people who can no longer live in Vladimir Putin’s Russia are trying to flee amid the president’s war in Ukraine and political crackdown at home.
Russians’ interest in the topic of “emigration” on Google quadrupled between mid-February and early March. Searches around “travel visa” have almost doubled, and for a Russian equivalent of ‘political asylum’ they jumped more than five-fold.
When searching for emigration in the past 30 days, Australia, Turkey and Israel were some of the top trending destinations, alongside Russia-friendly Serbia and Armenia, as well as Georgia – which Russian troops invaded in 2008.
It is hard to establish exactly how many Russians have actually left the country, or indeed would be able to do so. Financial constraints, skyrocketing travel prices and limited availability of exit routes after a cascade of flight suspensions risk ensnaring those who have had enough of Putin’s Russia.
“On February 24, everything changed, our lives were divided into before and after,” said Veronica, a 26-year-old digital marketer who lives in Moscow. She gave a pseudonym to protect her identity.
She didn’t want to make a rushed decision as she watched her friends and acquaintances abruptly packing their bags, breaking rental agreements and “leaving for Yerevan, Tbilisi and Istanbul, along with their pets,” days after they learned that Russia had attacked Ukraine.
Instead she went to anti-war protests in the Russian capital.