June 25, 2022

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Russians leaving Putin complain about an isolated reception in France

Artyom Kotenko, a 50-year-old Russian citizen born in Soviet Ukraine, told the AFP he was “devastated” by the February 24 attack in Moscow.

A week later, the artist and graphic designer, who had worked at the Hermitage Museum and the Dostoevsky Theater, left St. Petersburg for Finland before heading to Paris.

In the French capital, he told the AFP, “The suffocation, the feeling of dying day by day, has ceased, I can breathe again,” during a meeting at the 13th Arrondissement, where several pro-Ukrainian street-art works covered the walls.

Artyom, on the other hand, complains that it is going to prove very difficult to obtain documents to work legally in France, unlike Ukrainian citizens who have fled the war and are welcomed with open arms almost everywhere in Europe.

“This must change, because so many people like me (anti-Putin Russians who escaped repression, editorial note) and we have work to do,” the artist insists.

In the weeks following the invasion, tens of thousands of Russians, many of them educated, fled Russia to protect themselves from the twists and turns, the effects of sanctions and possible military mobilization. A brain drain reminiscent of some in 1922 after the consolidation of the Bolshevik regime.

In Germany, which already has a large Russian minority after the fall of the Soviet Union, Vice President Robert Hebeck pointed out that the government could encourage the resettlement of new deportees: “We need to know that we really need them.”

The Russians who chose France believe that Paris should follow this example. Asked by the Home Ministry about this, he did not comment.

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“If people want to settle here, we have to support them,” said Daniel Kashnitsky, a 41-year-old Muscovite who fled Russia with his wife and four children after the war broke out.

He says he realized it was time to leave after spending a night in a room to protest against the invasion. His eldest son in particular will be invited to the service as he celebrates his 18th birthday in May.

Solidarity Fund

“It was important for me to take the kids out,” explains this expert on public health issues.

Since he arrived in France in April, it has been a series of administrative failures, he says, that has kept his family staying at his expense in a hotel near Paris. For the time being considering his asylum application, they were granted accommodation in Ales in the south of France.

Daniel hopes that if he is granted asylum, he will be able to “work as soon as possible” and return to Paris.

Antoine Nicolle, a 29-year-old doctoral student, was involved in the creation of the “Solidarity Fund for Russians in Exile”. Its purpose: to provide financial assistance to those who have left their homeland for political reasons.

“We formed this association because we saw that nothing was done for the Russians,” says a former professor at the French University College in Moscow.

But because of the word “Russian” in the funds, banks are reluctant to work with him in the context of sanctions, so he says he can not get a bank account.

“This is really nonsense,” said Judge Antoine Nicolle.

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Artyom Kodenko, the designer of St. Petersburg, understands that Ukrainians receive priority and support. But according to him, the expulsion of Russians will continue as repression increases and an economic crisis develops.

“People like me will appear more and more, and they should get a chance to immigrate and work legally,” he concludes, “otherwise Russians will immigrate illegally.”