Here you will discover the testimony of Igor, a young Russian-Ukrainian, now a refugee in Turkey since the end of February, when the war broke out in Ukraine. The young man describes himself as a Russian-speaking Ukrainian from Crimea with a Russian passport and a Ukrainian passport. He testified in French, a language he speaks fluently. He also studies a double Franco-Russian master’s degree in economics and social sciences and did a university exchange in Strasbourg within the EM just before the first incarceration.
Le Taurillon: What are the reasons why you fled Russia at the end of February?
Igor: The war broke out on February 24, 2022. The next day I was already looking for airline tickets and on February 27 I left for Turkey. I can continue my studies and work online, so I immediately seized the opportunity to leave the country. The first reason is the psychological factor: I was immediately shocked by this attack on Ukraine and it was unbearable for me to continue living in the aggressor country. In me there was an inner clash, one of my homelands was at war with the other. The second reason is much more pragmatic. As a student, I was not mobilized to go to the front. But since the age group for conscription is 18 to 27 and Vladimir Putin is an unpredictable person, he can decide at any time to mobilize all young people. I don’t want to go to war, so leaving was the safest solution for me.
Many Russians who work in new technologies, journalism or teachers make the same decision and go to Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan because these countries are accessible to Russian citizens without a visa. Unfortunately, I think history repeats itself: as early as 1920, the Russian intelligentsia had to flee Petrograd because their ideas did not please the regime.
Do the Russian people support the invasion of Ukraine?
Already in the media, the government’s propaganda speaks not of “invasion” but of “special operation” in Ukraine. This topic clearly reflects the division in society, the polarization of opinions. For example, young people have access to social media and know that the Ukrainian government had no intention of attacking Russia any time soon. On the other hand, older people like my grandparents in Crimea can only access Russian television for information. They sincerely believe that Ukraine is headed by neo-Nazis and that Putin will liberate the Ukrainian people. The bombings would even be orchestrated by President Zelensky himself, who murders his own citizens and who had poor popularity ratings.
All this is part of a logic of destabilization of Western countries that President Putin has been implementing for years, especially with the control of the media. In 2014, when he annexed Crimea, there was still media and political opposition with opponents Boris Nemstov and Alexey Navalny who could have organized a popular movement, but the first died and the second was imprisoned. In addition, one of the few somewhat independent television channels, TV Rain, was shut down in the days following the attack on Ukraine in late February.
Has your family also fled the Russian attack?
Yes, part of my family went to Poland. My mother and my 7-year-old half sister lived in an area of central Ukraine that was spared for the first few days. Over time, however, the city’s sirens began blaring every day and they often took refuge in the basement for protection. My sister saw the Russian missiles (going from east to west) with her child’s eyes and remained happy despite everything. Since my father was already working in Europe, 7 days later they left for Lviv, a city near Poland that was said to be “safe”, and then they went to Krakow where they live with my father in an apartment that they rent.
How long do you plan to stay in Turkey? Do you want to join your family in Poland?
Currently I have a tourist visa in Turkey and I rent a room in a shared apartment for a symbolic amount thanks to contacts of friends I met in Erasmus, in Strasbourg. Unfortunately my Ukrainian passport has expired and the Ukrainian Consulate here refuses to renew it for me.
I want to go to Paris in September, for a Masters 2, at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes de Sciences Sociales in Paris. I was taken there as part of a double degree with my Russian university, Moscow’s School of Advanced Studies in Economics. This double course has been suspended because of the war: many universities have done the same, especially those whose deans have signed a petition in support of the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately, that is the case at my university. As a result, I am applying individually for this training in Paris and the French coordinator recommended me for the course because as a student I have nothing to do with this conflict, and yet it could hurt my prospects.
Have you experienced intimidation because of your commitment to the war?
Just before I left the country, there was harassment: For example, I went to class with a tote bag that read “No to war” in Russian and got a sort of reprimand from the university security service. The official reason was that according to the guards I was wearing my mask incorrectly on the premises of the establishment. I am also aware that sharing information and disputes on social networks exposes me to danger. In addition, after a demonstration against the war on February 27, 18 students of St. Petersburg State University are threatened with expulsion from the university.
As a reminder :
According to a law passed on March 4, 2022, if the dissemination of “false information” is accompanied by “production of evidence , the sentence can be increased to 10 years in prison. If the information “discredits” the Russian military (for example, when it comes to the death of Ukrainian civilians under Russian bombing), the person could be fined from 950 to 2800, which is enormous compared to the standard of living of the Russians. The term “war” does not exist, it is a “special operation”
Do you think the European Union is doing enough to fight the war?
I think the European Union is already doing a lot to help us, and the fact that implementing aid measures for Ukraine takes time is normal: as the EU is a democracy, it is reassuring that making decisions takes time, it means that different people are attuned. Conversely, Putin is detached from reality and makes his decisions alone or surrounds himself with people who are always going in his direction. This is also why he thought he could take Kiev in less than 2 weeks and his army would be well received in Ukraine due to the lack of popularity of Volodymyr Zelensky before the attack.
I am not shocked by the ban on Russian media in Europe like Russia Today, because the false information they spread is all the more dangerous in times of war. Maybe I had thought differently than usual, but here we are talking about a war.
As for Western companies that are ceasing their activities in Russia, it is true that part of the population grumbles because they have not chosen to be in the current situation, they do not support the war, they did not even vote for Putin because a Much of the vote is fraudulent and yet they are the ones who see their way of life changing every day. For students there is no big change after that as far as one can continue to apply for exchange programs or scholarships. Europeans try not to discriminate against us as young Russians.
Do you have an opinion on why Putin attacked Ukraine now and not already in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea?
In 2014, with the Sochi Olympics and economic growth, Putin overreacted to the romance of reunification with Crimea, which still has ties to Russia. Since the pandemic, however, the Russian economy is no longer really growing (only +0.35%). For him there are no more opponents to talk about a different view of Russia and he is faced with a wall: he has no national project for Russia. The invasion of Ukraine shows that he is living in the past and wants people to believe that he is denying Ukraine because he has no other political project to offer his people than to look to the past and not to the future.