Countryless I

Since February 24th, 2022, many people left Russia. Some with a plan, some without. Some immediately after hearing the news, some later. Some were more or less preparing for it, some have never thought about leaving their country before.

Since the war started I had a feeling that it is simply so senseless. People there had enough problems already, and the decision to invade Ukraine only multiplied them.

The reality is that this situation is not even new – the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has been ongoing for eight years already, and February 24th simply marked a new, tragic chapter in the history of both countries. Every day I wake up and hope it stops, but the end doesn’t seem to be near. And like in every war, everybody involved loses.

What is one to do when they feel they can no longer identify with their own nation and its actions? What choices are left when they cannot evenspeak out for fear of being silenced with imprisonment, violence or even death?

These are just a few stories of people who fled from Russia to Kazakhstan because they opposed the war and Russia’s deplorable conduct. Here I share the experiences of people who chose to leave their home country, perhaps forever, because they rejected its path of senseless and despicable violence and could no longer be a part of it. They have nothing to do with government decisions, but were powerless to change them.

Their situation is very different to that of Ukrainians forced to flee the threat of Russian terror-bombing. Their country is not under existential threat; if they ever return, their houses will still be standing. To call them victims of this war would be to falsely equate their hardship with that of the Ukrainian people. Yet in a different way, they have also lost their home.

“We lived close to the Russian-Kazahk border, where it takes 6 hours to get to Astana (for Siberia it’s not far. For us (Siberians) Kazakhstan is not another land, it’s very close and we are strongly connected. I came with my two eldest sons on the 9th of May (the victory day in Russia, a celebration of WWII ending). Everybody thought it was a likely day for the government to declare mobilisation. Although my wife was not sure if she should go. While I and my parents are very “anti-war”, she prefers to live her own life and stay away from politics.

I had some agreements with the University in Astana and I didn’t want to get stuck in Russia in case of a mobilisation. But if I went alone leaving Maria with 3 children, it would have been too much for her. So we decided that she stays just with one; it was the most convenient solution for both of us.

In the summer (about a month later) she changed her opinion, and she also got into Astana with our son. I can’t say that it was an exact event that changed her mind, just many little things. In this situation, it is getting harder to stay away from politics.

I can’t come back to Russia. It is simply dangerous for me. What’s next? I might get a position in Brazil. But we don’t have an exact image of the future. We are working on
many ideas, in such a situation one needs a plan B or even C”.

How can i miss something that doesn’t exist?

“I came here in March but had to get back to finish school in Russia. In September I’ve started my bachelor here in Astana. In the beginning, I did not want to leave, I called myself a patriot, even though I did not support Putin’s politics. In the first weeks after the declaration of war, everybody went crazy, nobody knew what is going on. I took the carrier boxes for our cats from the top shelves and put them near the door in case we all would have to quickly run to a shelter. When my mother said she wants to leave, I cried. Afterward, I realized it was not a bad idea.
I don’t miss Russia. How can you miss something that doesn’t exist? I mean, my idea of ‘what is Russia’ was not entirely correct. I’ve read more about Russian history and colonization. I don’t want to be a part of this and pay taxes for supporting a lie. What I miss is something more personal, some friends, some places… Life here is different.
What’s next? Right now I want to continue studying. And I hope this war ends. It would be nice to travel, to live somewhere else, I don’t want to spend my whole life in one place. But I am not sure if it will be possible. For now, I am grateful for an opportunity to be here”.

“I came at the end of September when mobilisation started. I am trying to get to Europe. I was going to start a Ph.D. In Russia, Ph.D. students are not obliged to go to the army, but I decided not to risk it. I was also politically active and have been in Ukraine twice since 2014 (before the Russian invasion in 2022 started).
Some people support the war. Luckily, not in my circle. Although some have an opinion that fleeing makes the situation even worse [because the future of the country doesn’t look bright if all reasonable people leave it]”

All the photos made on Zenith E, Helios 50 mm, kodak HP5. Astana, October 2022.

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