Putin is the only leader young Russians know: Thousands got fed up and decided to leave

Protesters against the Russian invasion chant and wave Ukrainian and Turkish flags in Istanbul (Hakan Akgun/AP)

For millions of young people living in Russia, Vladimir Putin is the only president they have ever known. The conservative and nationalist project of the Russian president, in power for more than 20 years, does not stick to the youngest of the population. This has prompted thousands of people to decide to emigrate to neighboring countries such as Turkey.

The day Russia decided to invade Ukraine, Misha quit his job. The 24-year-old packed his bags and headed to Istanbul. In town, he shares a room that costs $10 a night. With his savings, he must live for another month, the media reported Politician.

I decided to leave without thinking twice: that’s all“He says. “I was like, ‘I’m 24, I’ve got arms, legs, I’m not stupid, well, I probably won’t die.'”

This is the first time that Misha has left his country. So far in Turkey it hasn’t gone so badly for him, he feels safer there. “I’m not afraid when I pass the police, even if they have weapons. i just feel safe“, he says Politician.

The young man has lost confidence in his country. In Russia, he attended demonstrations in support of the opposition leader Alexei Navalnybut was frustrated that nothing happened.

Even before this war started, I went to Navalny rallies and various other opposition events and saw that the effect was nil! No matter how hard we try, the government keeps tightening the bolts more and more,” says Misha.

Nastya Mez26 years old and Igor Timofeenko, 28, traveled from St. Petersburg to Turkey after the invasion. Both are from the southwestern town of Rostov-on-Donwhich is only one hour from the border with Ukraine.

Police detain a protester during a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in downtown Saint Petersburg on February 27, 2022 (Sergei MIKHAILICHENKO / AFP)
Police detain a protester during a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in downtown Saint Petersburg on February 27, 2022 (Sergei MIKHAILICHENKO / AFP)

My father stopped talking to me after we moved to Turkey. I think I’m fifth columnexplains Igor.

The young man explains that his surname ends in enko, which is a common Ukrainian ending. “He was brainwashed on TV and believes Ukrainians are Nazis, even though our last name is Timofeenko“, He says.

Misha jumps into the conversation and talks about her similar situation with her father. “He is not interested in anything. Sits in a room all day and watches TV“, He says.

“I told him: “Dad, let me watch Solovyov (one of Russia’s top propagandists) for an hour with you, then you watch a YouTube investigation on Navalny.” And he says it’s wrong, the internet is wrongMicha said.

Misha is trying to inform his parents and not just consume Kremlin propaganda. He subscribes his mother to Telegram channels in which they transmit other types of information, which escapes censorship.

For Igor and Micha, one of the reasons they decided to leave Russia was fear that the economy would deteriorate and it would be harder to live.

“We grew up in the 2000s well fed. We still remember the days when everyone was getting rich, when the average salary in cities with more than a million people was around $1,000. Now it’s hard even to imagine thatexplains Igor.

Police detain a man during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in central Moscow (Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)
Police detain a man during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in central Moscow (Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

With Western sanctions, prices are skyrocketing, the value of the ruble is falling and shops are running out of essential items.

“Unfortunately, Western sanctions also hit those who oppose Putin and they don’t want to stay in Russia and pay taxes to support the regime,” says Nastya.

As to whether they have come under attack because they are Russians in Turkey, Nastya says:Nowhere are Russians treated so badly as in Russia”.

Hundreds of young exiles attend a concert by a famous Russian rapper in Istanbul.

I can’t wait for everything to be over, for the dictator to be dead and for me to be able to return to my country.says Alexander Salin, 25, from St. Petersburg.

“I hope that people like me will be useful in Europe or elsewhere and let there be no russophobiaSalin adds.

After protesting for more than 10 years against the Putin regime, Pavel Gorchakov, 31, finally decided to leave the country. He traveled from Saint Petersburg, where he left his family, and arrived in Istanbul.

Before leaving, he protests in Saint Petersburg against the war. “In a city of over 5 million people, I saw 200 students at a rally being chased by 500 riot policesaid Gortachchev.

Gorchachev remembers the Bolotnaya protests in 2012, massive protests against Putin’s re-election and his movement to change the constitution to rule Russia again.

When Bolotnaya was there, there was a feeling that freedom was pouring out of all the cracks, that something was changing. I’m telling you now, and I’m getting goosebumps. And then the national guard camesaid Gorchakov.

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