Artyom Kotenko, a 50-year-old Russian citizen born in the territory of Soviet Ukraine, told AFP that he was “devastated” by the attack launched by Moscow on February 24.
A week later, this artist and graphic designer, who had worked for the Hermitage Museum and the Tovstogonov Theatre, left Saint Petersburg for Finland before heading to Paris.
In the French capital, “the feeling of suffocation, of dying day after day, stopped, I could breathe again”, he told AFP, during a meeting in the 13th arrondissement, where the pro-Ukrainian street-art works cover many walls.
On the other hand, complains Artyom, it quickly became clear that obtaining papers to work legally in France was going to prove very difficult, unlike Ukrainian citizens who, fleeing the war, are welcomed with open arms, like a almost everywhere in Europe.
“This must change because there are plenty of people like me (anti-Putin Russians who fled repression, editor’s note) and there is work for us”, insists the artist.
In the weeks following the invasion, tens of thousands of Russians, many of them educated, left Russia to shelter themselves from the turn of the screw, the effects of economic sanctions and possible military mobilization. A brain drain that is reminiscent to some of that of 1922 after the consolidation of the Bolshevik regime.
In Germany, which already has a large Russian minority since the fall of the USSR, Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck indicated that the government could favor the immigration of new exiles: “We want them to know that we could really have need them”.
The Russians who have chosen France therefore believe that Paris should follow this example. Asked about the subject, the Ministry of the Interior did not comment.
“If people want to settle here, we have to support them,” said Daniel Kachnitsky, a 41-year-old Muscovite who left Russia with his wife and four children after the outbreak of war.
He says he realized it was time to leave after spending a night in a cell for demonstrating against the invasion. Especially since his eldest son celebrates his 18th birthday in May, and will therefore become called up for service.
– Solidarity Fund –
“It was important for me to take the children out,” explains this specialist in public health issues.
Since his arrival in France in April, it has been a succession of administrative pitfalls, he says, housing his family at his expense in a hotel near Paris. For the duration of the examination of his asylum application, they obtained accommodation in Alès, in the south of France.
Daniel hopes to be able to “work as soon as possible” and return to Paris if he is granted asylum.
Antoine Nicolle, a 29-year-old doctoral student, participated in the creation of the “Solidarity Fund for Russians in Exile”. Its purpose: to provide financial support to those who, for political reasons, have left their homeland.
“We created this association because we saw that nothing was done for the Russians”, says, in Russian, the former teacher of the French University College in Moscow.
But, he says, because the fund has the word “Russian” in it, banks are reluctant to work with him in the context of sanctions, so he can’t get a bank account.
“It’s really nonsense”, judge Antoine Nicolle.
Artyom Kotenko, the designer from St. Petersburg, says he understands that Ukrainians take priority and get more support. But according to him, the exodus of Russians will continue, as repression increases and the economic crisis sets in.
“More and more people like me will appear, and they will have to have a chance to settle down, to work legally”, he judges, “otherwise the Russians will just settle illegally”.