By: G. Dutra
Tbilisi, Georgia. A city in a country which was perhaps known for wine, orthodoxy, and the silk road before 2022 has more recently been put on the map for something else: Russian émigrés. Following the invasion Russian of Ukraine in February of 2022 and the consequent mobilisation of 300,000 young men, the city has taken in over a hundred thousand draft-dodgers, many of whom describe themselves as refugees displaced by Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Russian citizens are allowed to spend 365 consecutive days in Georgia without the need for a visa. If they leave the country during this period and renter, they’re allowed to spend another 365 days. This liberal visa policy has allowed vast numbers of Russians to move to the country, with young people being keen to escape the consequences of the tens of thousands of sanctions placed on Russia in 2022, including the exit of hundreds of corporations, the lack of international flights to the west, the Russian disconnection of SWIFT, and the exit of major credit card companies such as Visa and Mastercard from the country. The Georgian government does not, however, allow Russians to easily open bank accounts and establish themselves in the country.
Young Russian people are thus forced to go across the border with nothing besides cash and a dream of escaping their oppressive government. They cannot take their savings with them, nor do they have any guarantee of being able to establish themselves across the border. They risk running out of cash before opening an account, they risk the denial of a work permit and ending up homeless, and they risk being labelled as foreign agents by the government. They are forced to leave their families behind to head for a new land, without the knowledge of if they’ll be able to go home without being prosecuted by the government. Russians without Georgian visas also risk being unable to renew their passport in Georgia, and they are not allowed to apply for visas in western nations, effectively forcing political refugees to stay in Georgia indefinitely.
Those thinking of fleeing are thus faced with a dilemma: Remain home where they risk prosecution, conscription and have bleak opportunities for the future or leave, where their credit cards don’t work and where they face an increasingly difficult environment to enter the western world. With the option of leaving being open only to those who are economically well off enough to take months of savings with them in cash, most young Russians have been left with only one option: staying in a country where the seas are looking increasingly rougher.