21.09.22 Review

The New Russians: most successful and critical part of society leaving the country

It’s difficult to determine how many Russians left the country after February 24, but it is unlikely that before September 21, the number was more than 200 to 300 thousand people. Incomplete data from sociological surveys shows that those who left between February and September were, on average, in their thirties, 4 out of 5 of had a higher education, and the proportion of those who could afford to buy a car was seven times higher than the national average across Russia. Most importantly, emigrants of the ‘new wave’ tended to be part of the opposition. On the one hand, it was precisely these views that had influenced their decision to leave. On the other hand, the same views also provoked feelings of frustration and uncertainty about the future.

The total number of people who have fled Russia since February 24 is unknown. Data published by the FSB regarding the number of those who have left is irrelevant due to a lack of statistics to compare with; the calculation method was changed in 2019 and in 2020-2021 it was difficult to get out of the country due to COVID restrictions. Researchers from OK Russians claim that 300 thousand people have left, but the methodology they use comes off as unreliable. According to Yulia Florinskaya, a demographer at the Institute of Social Analysis and Forecasting of the RANEPA, “before COVID there were between 100 and 120 thousand people leaving Russia every year, whereas now the number could reach 250 or 300 thousand.” Unlike the estimates from OK Russians, this figure takes into account migration levels throughout all of 2022. 

Emigration in 2022 differs significantly from previous immigration waves out of Russia. If Russians used to go abroad in search of a better future (economic emigration), currently 55% of emigrants are insecure about their ability to provide for themselves and their loved ones, and 75% expect their working conditions to worsen in their new location. In 2022, the decision to leave was predominantly made quickly and spontaneously, for political reasons, and often as a result of people fearing persecution. Half (50.8%) of the respondents had experienced political pressure in one form or another before leaving: 20.4% of them had faced psychological pressure, 10% had received threats at work or at school, 12.1% had been detained, and 32.9% had been subjected to police searches.

The data was published by a group of independent researchers who, in late March and early April, conducted an online survey of 2,000 people who had left Russia after February 24. Respondents for the survey were recruited among members of relocation-themed online communities (the exact list is not given). The results were supplemented by semi-structured interviews with the participants, as well as with experts. 

An analysis of the data shows that the participants are typically 14 years younger than the average Russian, are more likely to have a higher education (81% versus 27%), are less burdened by family obligations (39% are married and 24% have children, while among Russians the figures stand at 51% and 31% respectively) and are more successful economically (27% of respondents can buy a car, while only 4% of Russians are able to do so).

Socio-demographic characteristics of the new emigration wave: emigrants vs. population of Russia

The majority of those surveyed (the study sample may be biased due to how the respondents were selected) chose Turkey (24.9%), Georgia (23.4%), Armenia (15.1%) and Israel (2.8%) as their destination. The rest went to numerous other places, from Uzbekistan to Lithuania.

Less than half of the respondents (43%) planned to stay in the countries they had arrived in: 18% were going to go elsewhere, 35% were unsure about their plans, and only 3% were ready to return to Russia. The rest cited fears of political persecution (11%), economic difficulties (17%), or both (51%) as reasons for not returning to their homeland. Respondents also mentioned the threat of mobilization and the total closure of borders as factors that make it impossible for them to return to Russia (other studies have also revealed similar fears among emigrants).

Representatives of the new wave of emigrants who participated in the survey hold pessimistic views regarding the future: 72% of them are sure that their lives will significantly worsen in the coming year, 70% do not believe that the political situation will improve and 72% are afraid of being discriminated against in their new place of residence. People currently in migration, despite experiencing high levels of confusion and even despair, find solace in their ability to self-organise and build new communities based on “alternative ideas about what Russia could be, which is also the topic of debate among two opposing groups: those keen to label Russians as either “good” or “bad”, and those who support ideas of acceptance,” the researchers write.