Russians abroad are not the enemy | Russia-Ukraine war

The surreal factor about your nation being in an offensive struggle is that you would be able to proceed with life as regular. You may go to work, do your buying and water your crops as if nothing is occurring. You may even go to a celebration, when you can abdomen it.

So since Russian troops began encircling Ukrainian cities and shelling Ukrainian properties, hospitals and authorities buildings, that’s what most Russians have been doing. They’ve been going to work, doing their buying, taking part in with their youngsters, making small speak with acquaintances … as if a brutal struggle shouldn’t be being waged of their title towards their neighbours.

Positive, some act this manner as a result of they assist the actions of the regime, or as a result of they merely don’t care about what’s going on past the nation’s borders. For a lot of others, nonetheless, persevering with with enterprise as typical is a defence mechanism – a solution to keep away from experiencing guilt, psychological anguish and nervousness over one thing that they can not management. They know the struggle is unjust, pointless and brutal, however they can not increase their voices, protest, work to reveal the reality, for one cause or one other.

For them, performing as if nothing is occurring is a legitimate psychological well being determination.

If I used to be not working within the enterprise of reports, I might have maybe tried to do the identical. Nevertheless it was inconceivable to disregard the unfolding disaster whereas going by over a thousand updates a day on my nation’s “particular army operation” in Ukraine. The stress and frustration steadily grew to become insufferable, particularly as I used to be not even allowed to make use of easy phrases like “struggle” and “invasion” to explain what was taking place. The Russian media has been diminished to what it was within the Soviet period, and finally was solely allowed to unfold state propaganda. On the seventh consecutive day attempting to cowl a struggle that was supposedly not a struggle, my physique gave up – I spent hours on the bathroom puking my guts out.

I used to be not solely disgusted and bodily exhausted by the state of affairs, but additionally fearful – as I had made my views on the “particular operation” clear on-line and attended protests, I knew the police would finally knock on my door. So my accomplice and I made a decision to go away Russia earlier than it was too late.

We did so urgently and covertly, with out even saying a easy goodbye to our family members.

Once we reached the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, the sense of urgency that greeted us made us realise we weren’t alone – hundreds of others, carrying a number of suitcases, pets, and even small items of furnishings, have been additionally heading out. All of it appeared like a mass evacuation, and maybe it was – we have been all escaping from a struggle, regardless that its entrance line was miles away.

It quickly turn out to be clear that we have been proper to go away once we did. Whereas we have been nonetheless en path to Georgia, President Vladimir Putin launched a invoice that permits for a 15-year jail sentence for “discrediting the Russian armed forces” – it was now formally a legal offence to name the struggle a struggle, share info that contradicts the official place of the state, and protest towards it.

All through my journey to Georgia, I considered not solely these struggling in Ukraine, but additionally these struggling in Russia – courageous Russians who proceed to protest understanding that they danger going to jail for years each time they do. And people on a regular basis individuals who had no say in what the Kremlin determined to do, however are actually struggling to feed their households. I couldn’t assist however really feel responsible for leaving, and immensely fortunate to have the ability to achieve this.

However as quickly as I arrived in Georgia, and began heading in direction of Tbilisi, I realised that I’m not fortunate both – that I didn’t actually handle to “escape” this struggle. I realised that Russians, even these of us who’re within the opposition and who’re towards the invasion, aren’t welcome in Georgia.

I realised that within the eyes of most Georgians, we’re all responsible, merely for having Russian passports; we’re all answerable for what Putin is doing; we’re all sponsoring the struggle with our taxes. And extra importantly, we’re answerable for the struggle in 2008 that devastated their nation.

Right this moment, Tbilisi seems beautiful lined head to toe in Ukrainian flags – it’s inspiring to see a whole nation standing in solidarity with a rustic in misery. However it’s equally heartbreaking to see this present of solidarity additionally contains overt hostility towards us, Russians who’re looking for a secure haven on this stunning nation. Between Ukrainian flags it is not uncommon to see graffiti on partitions that learn “Russians go residence”, “return to your ugly nation”. It is not going to be the oligarchs who truly assist and fund Putin’s struggle who see these hurtful phrases – they’re weathering the disaster of their palatial properties in Switzerland and London. These phrases will damage solely us, Russians who got here to Tbilisi to flee the identical aggressor. Russians who know – like me – that they could find yourself in jail in the event that they return residence.

On our first day in Georgia, one among our pals was bodily attacked merely for speaking Russian. After that incident, we determined to speak solely in English anyplace public. However Russophobic assaults from members of the general public are the least of our worries in Georgia.

For us Russians – and in addition Belarusians – in Georgia accessing essentially the most fundamental providers is a large battle.

The Financial institution of Georgia, for instance, calls for that Russian residents signal a particular kind with their utility to open a checking account. “I condemn Russia’s aggression in Georgia and Ukraine. I agree that Russia is an occupant that invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 and 2022. I agree that I received’t share Russian authorities propaganda and assist combat towards it,” the shape says, noting {that a} violation of those phrases will end in a termination of the checking account. Even when a Russian citizen wholeheartedly agrees with these statements, signing this doc might imply agreeing to by no means return residence. Certainly, Russian prosecutors may simply classify signing this way as an act of treason.

Ultimately, we managed to open accounts with one other Georgian financial institution with out signing our demise sentences, however securing lodging proved to be much more tough. Most landlords merely refused to hire to us due to our nationality. The advertisements we noticed in newspapers and on-line had warnings on them explaining that Russians and Belarusians mustn’t apply. Beneath my publish in a Fb group asking for assist with discovering a long-term rental, a landlord prompt that I “seek for an condo in Kharkiv as an alternative” – the Ukrainian metropolis underneath heavy Russian bombardment.

We in fact perceive that there’s a tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, and Georgians are rightfully upset. We even settle for that Ukrainian refugees must be given precedence once they apply for lodging in Georgia. However we simply need Georgians to grasp that we’re not the enemy – that we additionally need assistance. Positive, our properties haven’t been destroyed by missiles, however many people haven’t any likelihood of returning to them within the foreseeable future. Sure, Russians have to talk up and inform the reality concerning the struggle, however we can not do this from a jail cell.

Fortunately, the Georgian authorities appears to grasp our predicament. It’s presently contemplating making amendments to the regulation on shopper rights to make sure companies in Georgia don’t deny providers to anybody primarily based on nationality. Such initiatives make us really feel welcome, however we additionally need the Georgian folks to begin seeing us for who we actually are: neighbours in want.

All this isn’t to say that my experiences in Georgia have been fully damaging.

Within the hostel we’re staying in, there’s additionally a Ukrainian household who fled Kyiv. I didn’t know how one can act round them at first. I ready an apology in my head and hoped to work up sufficient braveness to strategy them and clarify that I, too, hate this struggle. However, in some way, they already knew. When she observed us, the mom simply smiled sadly. She then made us cups of tea and sandwiches and gave us a block of cheese. Later that day, I met a taxi driver who requested me how I used to be faring in Georgia. I advised him how I used to be struggling to discover a rental. He instantly provided to accompany me to my subsequent viewing and clarify to the owner in Georgian that “I’m not a supporter of Putin’s aggression”.

As Russians, we all know that any ache or inconvenience we expertise in Georgia and elsewhere is insignificant in comparison with what that household from Kyiv and numerous different Ukrainians are going by in the present day. However we, too, are victims of this mindless struggle. Russia’s aggression additionally devastated our households, crushed our sense of being and made us homeless. All we wish is just a bit understanding from our neighbours.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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