‘I’m never going back’: the high-profile Russian defectors rejecting war

Igor Volobuyev spent two decades working in the heart of the Russian business establishment, first for Gazprom and then for its affiliate Gazprombank, where until February this year he was vice-president.

Then Vladimir Putin launched his war on Ukraine in late February, and Volobuyev decided he could no longer stand living in Russia. He packed a small rucksack of possessions and a stack of cash, and flew out of the country on 2 March, pretending he was going on holiday.

A few days later, he crossed from Poland into Ukraine, where he spent his childhood years. Now, he spends his days trying to convince officials to provide him with Ukrainian documents and allow him to sign up for military service.

“I want to go to the place where I can defend my homeland with a weapon, I’m trying every day,” he said, in an interview in the suburbs of the capital, Kyiv. “I am never going back to Russia.”

Hundreds of thousands of Russians are believed to have fled the country since Putin launched the war, and many intellectuals, journalists and activists have voiced their opposition to the conflict. However, among the political and business elites, defections have been extremely rare. Despite reports of widespread dismay over the invasion of Ukraine, only a tiny handful of people have spoken publicly to condemn the war.

On Monday, Boris Bondarev, a career diplomat posted to the Russian mission to the UN in Geneva, became the highest-level Russian diplomat to denounce the war. When he resigned, Bondarev published a scathing letter in which he wrote that he was “ashamed” of his country and called the invasion a “disaster”.

Bondarev said he made his mind up to resign on the day Russia launched its invasion, but it took months to gather the resolve to go public.

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