One Year on From the 2022 Russian Call for Conscription

Tbilisi, Georgia – with the one year anniversary of the ‘Russian Mobilization’ call for conscription (Частичная мобилизация в России, Chastichnaya mobilizatsiya v Rossii), approaching it begs the question; what happened to all the Russians who fled?

Georgia, a country that sits along Russia’s Southern border in the South Caucasus region, became a hot spot for the mass migration of Russian men fleeing conscription often with their families in tow. Stories of paying taxi drivers lump sums for 20+ hours overnight drives to the Georgian border, or scrambling to get on the last flights to places like Tbilisi or Turkey riddle through the Russian community that made it out.

Now that the dust has settled, many Russians have decided to stay in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, as they await their next move or for the foreseeable future. Uncertainty makes up the core of their new lives as they walk past yet another graffitied wall saying “Go Home Russians”.

Many Russians have found some comfort in their new home, living amongst fellow countrymen. Many (if not all) have come to find their exile liberating. Being able to speak freely about the conflict, wearing the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag as a badge of honor as a unified Russian opposition to the war from abroad.

These Russian transplants look very much like the faces of the west who have been at odds with the continuous conflict throughout much of their lives, but rather than simply being innocent bystanders from tens of thousands of miles aways, these individuals were on the cusp of being thrown up to the front lines. Young bartenders, digital nomads, influencers, and tech consultants all make up the faces of the Russians attempting to blend into the daily hustle of the Tbilisi streets, none of which look like the grizzled faces of individuals prepared for war.

With the recent turbulence seen in Moscow, rather than having a sense of hope for the possibility of returning to their former lives, the Russians in refuge continue to look westward. Murmurs in bars and cafes are that this instability is just the beginning and a fear for what’s next is gravely apparent. Russians young and old are aware that there is not a divine figure on the other side of Putin’s leadership but rather a series of men with similar world views (sometimes even worse) ready to snatch at any opportunity that may come their way.

Now that the hope of going home soon to the comfort of the former Russia has begun to wane now they have settled in for nearly a year. The question is what’s next? Some see themselves in Tbilisi as it sits as a comfortable, relatively stable city. Others have looked for lineage visas allowing them to move to places like Israel with having Jewish ancestry. But ultimately places like Tbilisi and Israel are merely steps in the journey as many of these Russians idealize the west as a true place of refuge. Young Russians in particular share western values associated with freedom.

Often English speaking and well versed in the vernacular of western pop culture these are not the Russians that support the ongoing war in Ukraine. As we move towards the one year mark, this September, of the ‘Russian Exodus of Fall 2022’ (as it should be known) we should rethink our stance on supporting these Russians in refuge. Like all of the victims of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, the circumstances of these Russians are at the hands of a regime that has little care for them.