Russian émigrés fleeing Putin’s war find freedom in the cafes of Armenia

In the days after Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine in late February, Vladimir Shurupov, a cardiologist from the Siberian city of Tomsk, felt he could not breathe properly. “I was having panic attacks, I could not eat or sleep. I just knew I had to remove myself from this place, from this atmosphere,” he said.

Shurupov, 40, had been a quiet critic of Putin’s government for years, but he had never attended a protest of any kind, fearful of unwanted attention or arrest. When the war began, disgust with the regime combined with a fear he would be sent to the front. “If there was mobilisation, I would have been called up as a military doctor, and this is not a war I would be willing to fight in,” he said.

Shurupov discussed with his wife and two sons that perhaps they should try to leave the country. The family had minimal savings but he was able to sell his car for cash and buy four tickets to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

Just two days after first discussing leaving, they flew out of Tomsk to Yerevan. After receiving Schengen visas, they moved on to Bulgaria. They have no plans ever to return home.

The Shurupov family are among hundreds of thousands of Russians to have fled the country since the war began on 24 February. Putin has referred to such people as “traitors and scum” and said their departure will help “cleanse” Russian society.


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