“The countries bordering Russia retain a very strong memory of Soviet domination and its violence”

Ukrainian refugees cross the Polish border, in Medyka, on April 10, 2022.

Director of Studies at the EHESS and at the Center for Studies of the Russian, Caucasian and Central European Worlds, Françoise Daucé has just returned from a mission to Vilnius, on the theme of welcoming opponents of Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, the Russian and Belarusian presidents. In an interview at Worldthis specialist in the former USSR explains that aid networks in Eastern Europe were set up well before the war in Ukraine.

Where is the Russian emigration generated by the invasion of Ukraine?

Thousands of Russians left their country and joined Europe, especially the Baltic States, countries of Central Asia, Turkey… All are not opponents. Some were afraid, for themselves or for their children, of a general conscription. Others left because they feared they would no longer be able to work, especially in the digital realm. This is the case, in particular, in Georgia, where 50,000 Russians arrived very quickly.

There are also researchers and academics, an upper middle class that seeks to escape the straitjacket imposed on it. We are very much in demand by our colleagues from the universities of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, within the framework of the “Pause” program [programme d’aide à l’accueil en urgence des scientifiques en exil] created in 2017 originally for Syrians, with the support of the Collège de France.

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Their desire to leave is due to two main reasons. Either they had taken a stand at the start of the conflict and were arrested or feel threatened; or their research topic has become too sensitive. I know a doctoral student who worked on self-proclaimed independent territories such as Transnistria or South Ossetia. She was clearly told that she could not defend her thesis. Another had its work on independent media suspended. Since the beginning of the war, three hundred researchers, Russian but also Ukrainian, have sent requests.

Not all Russian and Belarusian exiles apply for refugee status. They come, of course, to take shelter, but while remaining close and with the idea, or rather the hope, of continuing to go back and forth, because they remain very attached to their political fight. Those going to the Caucasus, Georgia and Armenia feel a little less safe. Many criminal cases have been opened in Russia against these opponents.

Why is the Russian or Belarusian opposition – just like the Ukrainian refugees, but for other reasons – concentrated in the ex-Soviet countries or former satellites of the USSR?

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