Konstantin Samoilov and Alexey Prokhorenko are among the hundreds of thousands of Russian men who fled Russia to avoid being sent to Ukraine to kill Ukrainians. Andre Kamenshikov had already left Russia for Kyiv, and is now traveling in Central Asia meeting other emigré Russians. Doug Saunders is the international affairs columnist with the Globe and Mail and is writing a book now about the plight of migrants who have difficulty finding a place to settle that will accept them. We discuss the predicament of these Russians and what can be done to help them create new lives. For the video, audio podcast, transcript and comments: https://tosavetheworld.ca/episode-544-russians-who-left-russia.
Russia, people, Uzbekistan, Russians, Ukraine, Andre, Russian, country, exile, war, day, tourist visas, Moscow, Ukrainians, Putin, called, visa, tester, refugees, Warsaw
Konstantin Samoilov, Alexey Prokhorenko, Andre Kamenshikov, Metta Spencer, Doug Saunders
In this discussion, three Russian exiles discuss their reasons for leaving Russia and the challenges they faced. They share their personal experiences and the circumstances that led them to seek refuge in different countries.
Konstantin Samoilov decided to leave Russia with his wife shortly after the invasion in March of the previous year. The mobilization acted as the final push for his departure, fearing a knock on his door due to his outspokenness against the war. The process was painful, and he had only 36 hours to leave everything behind. Konstantin observed a mass exodus of Russians, mainly men in their 30s to 50s, leaving the country. He ended up paying $5,200 for a ticket to Tajikistan, from where he walked over the Uzbek border.
Andre Kamenshikov, with a dual US-Russian background, had led a small nonprofit organization focused on peacebuilding and human rights in Russia. As the political climate changed, his organization faced difficulties in cooperating with local officials. After closing the organization, Andre moved to Kyiv, where he felt his experience would be relevant due to his contacts and knowledge in the field. He has been living there for about eight years.
Alexey Prokhorenko, an interpreter aged 39, faced the risk of being enlisted in the Russian military. He decided to leave Russia and initially went to Istanbul before settling in Warsaw.
The speakers discuss the increasing number of Russians who are leaving their country due to the political situation, including mandatory drafting of citizens, even those above the age of 60 or with health issues. Alexey shares his sympathy for Ukraine since the Orange Revolution of 2004, and how the war in 2014 and the “active phase” in 2022 has led to a change in his life. He describes his efforts to help Ukraine, including creating stickers to place in public spaces to show support for the anti-war sentiment, and engaging people in conversations about the war.
The speaker recounts his experience of realizing he would be drafted as a lieutenant of the Russian Army Reserve, and his subsequent attempts to leave Russia. He eventually secures a ticket to Istanbul, where he spends two months before obtaining a Polish humanitarian visa as a dissident. He has been living in Warsaw since the end of November.
The discussion then moves to the broader issue of how countries should handle Russian exiles and whether or not they should be allowed to seek refuge in other countries. Currently, many independent Russian newspapers and television outlets are operating out of the Baltic states, and there are also groups of Russians in exile attempting to draft new constitutions for a post-Putin Russia.
However, Russian citizens are generally not allowed to be accepted as refugees in the European Union or even get tourist visas. Some European governments argue that they are already handling millions of Ukrainian refugees, while others believe that Russia becomes more dangerous if it loses its democracy-minded people and educated middle class.
Doug Saunders, the journalist moderating this conversationm asks whether there should be a move toward general acceptance of Russians in exile, the establishment of more institutions and bodies for democracy-minded Russians, and what countries in North America and Europe can do to make this possible.
Konstantin Samoilov shared his experience of leaving Russia and settling in Uzbekistan. He expressed a mix of relief and sadness after leaving Russia due to the fear of being forced to fight in Ukraine. Once in Uzbekistan, he noticed thousands of Russians like him, feeling sad and lost. To cope with this, he started a community called Tashkent Breakfast Club, where like-minded Russians could gather and support each other.
The community grew rapidly, with multiple groups forming in Tashkent, focusing on various aspects such as education and healthcare. Konstantin mentioned that the majority of these Russians are well-educated professionals, who are anti-war and against the Russian government. However, most consider Uzbekistan a transit point and wish to move to countries like Europe, the USA, or Canada to contribute to their economies and societies.
One of the major issues they face is obtaining visas to these countries, as Europe requires them to apply from Russia, and getting a US visa is difficult. Many are stuck in Uzbekistan, fearing extradition back to Russia. Konstantin shares the story of a neurosurgeon who wanted to become a software tester to increase his chances of moving to the US or Canada, which highlights the predicament many skilled Russians are in. They feel stuck and unable to contribute to the global community.
In response, Konstantin has been working to help these individuals find ways to move forward legally and pursue their careers in other countries. He believes that these professionals could be a valuable asset to any nation, and he is determined to help them find a path to a better future.
In a discussion with several Russian exiles, the panelists talk about the challenges they face and their views on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. They note that many Russians who are against the war and are at risk of persecution are not recognized as refugees. Andre Kamenshikov highlights the difficult choice faced by many Russians: fight in the war or face imprisonment. He adds that it is important to recognize that leaving Russia does not mean being disconnected from the situation, as modern communication allows for ongoing involvement.
The panelists discuss the different motivations behind people leaving Russia, emphasizing that it is impossible to neatly divide individuals into categories of dissidents, political exiles, humanitarian refugees, or economic migrants. Alexey Prokhorenko suggests that personal choice is a more accurate description of the people leaving the country, as it reflects the individual decisions they have made. He explains that promoting the idea of personal choice and freedom could help Russians be treated not as enemies but as hostages of Putin’s regime.
The speakers also stress the importance of being accepted and given the opportunity to work and contribute to their new host countries. Konstantin Samoilov mentions that many Russians in exile are angry and frustrated but could unleash their potential if given the chance. He concludes that there is a huge untapped force among Russian exiles, and if they are supported and provided with opportunities, they could have a significant impact on Russia’s future.
Metta Spencer proposed holding two additional discussions with her guests to address two issues they had only scratched the surface of. The first issue concerns helping the many expatriate Russians who are stuck in difficult situations to find a way to contribute to society in countries willing to accept them. They hope to have another conversation with someone experienced in changing regulations and influencing government decisions.
The second topic involves the influence that Russian diaspora can have on the future of Russia. Spencer believes that facilitating conversations about Russia’s future with political figures and others could contribute to the development of a network of people who are interested in influencing the country’s direction. Both Samoilov and Saunders expressed interest in participating in these follow-up discussions, emphasizing their importance.
Spencer will share the URLs for the conversations to allow more people to engage with the topics, and she invites participants to continue the discussion online at tosavetheworld.ca in the public comment column on the Governance page.
The following transcript has been machine generated using “otter.ai.” Prior to using information from the transcript, please watch the video to catch any obvious errors.
Metta Spencer 00:00
Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today we’re going to have a really thrilling occasion because I get to be with three, four of my friends and, and they’re scattered around the world but they’re very dear to me all of them. In let’s go from a nice my thumbnails from from right to left. At the top of my screen, I see my friend Konstantin Samoilov, who is in Tashkent and, and he is a Russian who has, has fled from Russia, in order to keep from being sent to Ukraine to kill Ukrainians. He has a, the most wonderful daily streaming show, which I recommend highly. It’s the only thing since Northern Exposure that I watched every day of the week without fail, because it’s such an interesting thing. So you want to look up his streaming show which is called Inside Russia. Is that the right word for it Konstantin?
Konstantin Samoilov 01:03
Thank you very much, Metta. Yes, it is absolutely right Inside Russia. Thank you for such introduction. Thank you.
Metta Spencer 01:11
Okay, and next is Andre Kamenshikov. Andre is also somebody who’s left Russia, but he left a little earlier than the others. He is a dual Russian-American citizen. But he has been living in Kyiv for the last several years as a coordinator of a network of Eastern European peace groups. But right now he’s on the road traveling around Central Asia, trying to put together a network of the Russian diaspora these largely composed of the men such as Konstantin, and such as Alexey, who have fled Russia in order to avoid being conscripted and sent to fight in the war. So hello, Andre, how are you?
Andre Kamenshikov 02:02
Good to see you all.
Metta Spencer 02:03
Yeah, Andre you’re in Astana, Kazakhstan now, is that right?
Andre Kamenshikov 02:08
Not in Astana I’m in a city called Taldyqorghan at the moment, and I’ll be in Almaty in a couple of days.
Metta Spencer 02:16
Okay, Okay. And in Warsaw is an Alexey Prokhorenko, Alexey was an interpreter …
Alexey Prokhorenko 02:16
Metta Spencer 02:21
A good morning, or afternoon or whatever it is for you. And it’s evening, I think. Alexey has many languages. And he was interpreter in Moscow until September, when the mobilization began. And so he went to first to Istanbul for a couple of months. And then to Warsaw, where he’s settling for the time being, as much as anybody can settle that way. And here in Toronto with me is another dear old friend is Doug Saunders. Doug is the international affairs, main honcho at the Globe and Mail. And he’s been doing and the reason I wanted him to be with me today is that he’s writing a book about migration, and particularly about the plight of migrants who are unsettled, they’re on the road, they don’t know where they’re going, they’re sort of perched here or there traveling around trying to get on their feet. And I think that is the situation of the other three men, the Russians who have left Russia and are trying to figure out where do we go from here? Good morning, Doug.
Alexey Prokhorenko 03:31
It’s evening, it’s evening.
Doug Saunders 03:41
Good morning, Metta. Good to be with you. And …
Metta Spencer 03:45
I want you to take over most of the questioning, because you probably in the course of your research on migration, you probably have have ideas or thoughts or questions that occur to you, that simply wouldn’t occur to me, so it’s all yours.
Doug Saunders 04:01
Well, thank you, Metta. And look, it’s really great to get the three of you together because you’re encircling Russia in a lot of different countries and situations and timezones. So, so I appreciate your logistical efforts and late hours in doing this. Almost everyone I know, in Russia, who is you know, democracy minded or university educated or so on, it seems now is is living abroad in Europe or Asia, except for a couple who are being very quiet in Russia. And I think, since over the last year since Putin’s second invasion of Ukraine, we’ve seen two groups of people attempting to to live in exile. The first is is what is the the democracy minded educated middle class, you could say. Many of whom, including people like, like, Andre here, have been living abroad since after the 2014. invasion and so on. So this was a an amplification of that. And we have another group who are attempting exile or refugee status, or asylum, who are a less or less middle middle class and less educated group of people who are mainly young men who, who fear the being recruited into the military. And who maybe maybe, because they oppose Putin’s ideas and means, or maybe because they simply fear for their lives, realistically speaking, but one way or another don’t want to support the war, and are attempting to leave. So one of the things we should talk about today is the question of whether there should be refugee status for this second group. But first, let’s I’d like to go around and, and hear from each of you about your own circumstances. What? What moment caused you to realize you had to leave Russia? What it, what it took to get out of Russia and into another country? And, and, and how that is similar to other people in Russia, who may be seeking to do the same thing? What are the what are the challenges? Who shall we start with? Let’s start with Konstantin. Who’s up the latest? Who was in Uzbekistan? Now? When did you when did when? What did it what did it take for you not to live in Russia?
Konstantin Samoilov 06:51
We made a decision to not to live in Russia, me and my wife. Shortly after the invasion, I would say in March of the last year, I did leave Russia for about a month I lived here in Uzbekistan last April, then I returned simply to too many things to finish off to take care of. And we were preparing our departure. And what really was the last kick in the butt for me was the mobilization. It didn’t change my attitude towards work. Okay, but it expedited, so to speak. I made the pledge to be active, be heard. Right, right on the day, one of the, you know, 24th of February of 2022. And, well, basically, after 21st of September, I realized that at any moment, they can knock on my door. And they probably would knock on my door at first because I was being loud, you know and I left. It was a very spontaneous decision I decided to leave around early October, but then my wife insisted and I had an insight and I changed, I bought another ticket. The process was very painful, was very, it’s, it’s really hard to explain, you know, I’m writing a book about this experience as well. And really, the book is not even enough. Okay, let alone a few phrases it’s like, all of a sudden you make a decision to leave your life behind. Everything that you have, everything you have worked for, you know, basically your life, everything and everybody okay, and I had 36 hours. What was happening in Russia, it’s really hard to explain. I actually made a movie a video so people can see with their own eyes. I haven’t released it yet. I don’t feel it’s it’s the right time yet. But it was an exodus. Those tons, tons of Russians, Russian men, grown men, not young men, mostly in their 30s and 40s and even 50s. Okay, many, very many, I think majority not fearing to be drafted, to be mobilized and to be sent to Ukraine, not fearing for their lives, but mostly, most were in my position. So you know, they were heating up and finally they boiled. So the airports were overflowing with man, women, their wives, we’re seeing them off, kids. Everyone was crying, men, we’re not happy, depressed and no tickets out of Russia, I ended up paying $5,200 for my ticket. I flew to a small village well small town in Tajikistan, Gharm. That’s the only place I could secure a ticket. And then I basically walked over the Uzbek border, I took a cab to the border and the entire plan, plane that landed was full of people just like me. We all went to Uzbekistan. Okay, we all took cabs, and we all crossed the border by foot at the same time. And in the following days, I was seeing just this unheard of situation before, I think it’s the same thing that was happening 100 years ago, when the white emigration happened out of Russia, when Bolsheviks took over kind of the same thing. So the rest is history, you know. So this is my story.
Doug Saunders 11:00
Andre, Kamenshikov, you had to leave earlier. You were involved with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict. I don’t know if that was classified as an NGO in Russia, but certainly things became dangerous for people involved with such organizations. Well, certainly after 2008, but you you end up leaving 2014 or 2015 for Kyiv at first. And now you’re in Kazakhstan. Tell me about what what moment made you have to leave and then out of the frying pan into the fire I guess what what made you have to leave again?
Andre Kamenshikov 11:45
I visit here in Kazakhstan, but my home stays Kyiv and as for my move out of Moscow. See my situation is a bit unique. Because I always had this dual background, I was actually born in New York and one of my parents, American, one was Russian. So I had this this very peculiar situation all my life. And even though I spent most of my life I actually lived most of my life in Moscow. I, for over 20 years, I led a small, nonprofit organization in Russia that was doing work on basically peacebuilding and human rights, humanitarian work. Focus, focusing primarily on various aspects of peacebuilding in different areas of conflict or potential conflict in different parts of the former USSR, but mainly in the, in Russia itself, in the North Caucasus regions of Russia. And what affected me was that as the climate, I, you know, the political climate in the country began to change in a negative direction. There was this talk about, you know, the subversive role of foreign funded NGOs and all that. And in my particular case, because of my dual background, I realized at some point that I was becoming a liability even to my friends, because our organization was basically put in a situation where we couldn’t effectively work. Because as a peacebuilding organization, our goal was not just to try to expose some human rights violations, but it was set to actually try to engage various programs that would require the cooperation of, for example, different kinds of officials on the local level, we actually worked a lot with police in some of the areas where we operated. And as the climate started changing, and you know, our partners or potential partners would become very suspicious and very hesitant to work with us. And so we couldn’t really continue this work. And I finally I started getting information that it was not just because of, you know, the general attitude toward Ngos, but also was because of my personal background.
Metta Spencer 14:28
Because of your dual citizenship as a US citizen?
Andre Kamenshikov 14:32
Yes, that that was definitely a factor. And so I and I, you know, I realized how things were going so we finally made a decision that we formally closed our organization after over 20 years of work, we closed our organization, our nonprofit group in Moscow. And it’s interesting because just like two weeks after we formally closed our organization, we we, the the, the office where we used to work was visited by representatives of the Ministry of Justice that were trying to pinpoint what these foreign agents organizations are. So you know, we were, we were on list, we were, we, we closed just like two weeks before they were going to start working with us and making a case out of our organization. So, so in the sense, the, what helped me is that, besides the work with with my own small nonprofit, I also was involved with this network, a global partnership network that has been in existence since 2003. And due to this, this side of my activities, I had lots of contacts with, like minded groups in other countries, especially in Ukraine. And of course, in the situation where the war in Ukraine began 2014. There, I felt that there should be a role for me there. So I, I was basically faced with an option, either moving to the US, or trying to move somewhere closer where my experience that was just about all my experience was in this field, I felt was more relevant. So I made the decision to move to Kyiv and because, well, there were a number of reasons. One of them was that I felt that, you know, I don’t have to really start from scratch. Because again, I have contacts, in my knowledge, and my experience could be useful. So I have moved to Kyiv since and I have I am living in Kyiv now for for about eight years now.
Doug Saunders 17:00
Thank you and Alexey Prokhorenko you, you have the additional risk that I think you’re younger than the rest of us. And I don’t know your exact age. But I think you were closer to the target age for the first attempt to enlist soldiers into the Russian military. And that, that those that threat among others, I think caused you to, it sounds like an old James Bond movie first to Istanbul and then to Warsaw. Where you are now I’m sure it wasn’t quite as adventurous and fun as that.
Alexey Prokhorenko 17:36
Well, I am 39 years old. So I look younger, but in fact, well,…
Doug Saunders 17:45
Now they’re drafting everybody.
Alexey Prokhorenko 17:47
They’re drafting. They don’t care, even if someone is 60. There have been cases when people were drafted the inspite of myopia in spite of diabetes, in spite of old age, relatively old age, I mean, even after 60. There have been cases reported of such absolutely, absolutely intolerable events. They’re saying that I have been supporting Ukraine for quite a long time, at least since the Orange Revolution of 2004. When I was very sympathetic with the sentiment of the Ukrainians to get, to secure a free election, when I was in Kyiv visiting in 2009, I deliberately chose the hotel on the Maidans then, of course, I was very, very, very sympathetic with the second maidan, with the Euromaidan with people. It was for me, it was a sacred prayer, an agora, which was a placement where people were praying and where they were sacrificing their own lives, for dignity, for democracy, for truth, for such universal values, which are above everything, for their conscience, whatever. And then, of course, when the war broke out, I was I mean, in 2014. I was trying to look for ways how I could help Ukraine. But I didn’t really invent something meaningful. But when the “active phase” as they call it, started in, in 2022, or February 24. I will never forget that day because that was the day when I realized that everything I had been leading for, I had been working for both personally professionally and otherwise all has been done in vain because I, as an interpreter, I had been building bridges between the West and Russia. And on that day, that more of that terrible morning, I woke up to realize that everything had been ruined for me. And it a totally new life started, I started to do something to stop the war, I didn’t take part in the protests, because I soon realized that you would just be caught by the police. By the overwhelming majority of the police, 2 million people in Russia, 2 million soldiers of the so called Internal Troops perfectly equipped, perfectly armed. So you just whatever you, you go to the Red Square in the center of Moscow, and whatever you say, even if you say you support, Putin, you get just grabbed, you get arrested, and you pay effectively, some kind of 500 euros or five $500, which then are allocated to the war. I didn’t want that. So I chose another strategy I, first of all, I made stickers, both small like the to have it on my palm and then stick it stick them in the metro in public transit, wherever people are present. So if everyone, if anyone has doubts about their position, whether whether they’re alone in their non acceptance of the war, if they see such a stick sticker, they will be sure that they’re not alone. And it might make, make like some people think about a different stance that they could take. Even if they supported the war, they might think twice about it, that there is still another group of people who think differently, then I made big stickers which I used to attach in less populous, less requested places, such as house entrances where I would not be caught before. I do everything that I, that I had planned. So such was my guerilla stickers, story. Apart from that, I tried to talk to people, wherever. in the pharma, drug store and pharmacy in a shop or wherever I bumped into people, other than my family, because my family’s support, like they share my views. Well, I tried to make people talk, and all that I was facing was fear, extreme fear to just talk about this, which is quite partly understandable, because for example, a shop assistant, they will have to work that shop, I will come and go and they will have to work probably the atmosphere of fear. That’s understandable for me. And then, when the mobilization was declared, was announced on September 22. Ah, it was Wednesday. I don’t have to look it up in the calendar. Because I remember that day vividly. So it had, it had taken the government one day to pass all the laws concerning the mobilization. And so the mobilization was announced on Wednesday. I was shocked, and it took me about two days to understand what’s going on. Like it’s not it’s not a joke, and they were grabbing people, everyone they could get hold off. And I was a lieutenant of the Russian Army Reserve lieutenant, I had attended ROTC, which back in my day was thought as the only plausible way to, only viable way to dodge the draft. So you get an officer’s degree and you don’t get drafted. And that’s the only way, why I attended that course. But as a lieutenant, I was subject to conscription, which is why I realized that I had to leave. On Friday, September 23, I spent the whole day from morning, from dusk from dawn to dusk, trying to find any tickets at any price whatsoever to just jumping between different websites selling tickets to Central Asia to small town thats like Hujan like others, but I was not lucky. And I went to bed on Friday being prepared to drive my car to Kazakhstan, it will take me a couple of days to drive my car to Kazakhstan just to get across the border, whatever. Because if we all remember, there were so called referendums in the end, at the end of September, and there were fears that the borders would be closed after those referendums on September 28, or 29. And one of the fears were that I would, I would stay behind the Iron Curtain, which I would, I would not like at all. And then I got up on Saturday, I got up at 4am, just to buy a ticket. And I was lucky, I secured the last ticket to for $1,300, to Istanbul, for the evening of Wednesday, September 25. So I had exactly 36 hours to pack my things, to pack my whole life into, into the bag and into the backpack as well and to leave and to say goodbye to my family, to my mother to my pets. I had broken up with my girlfriend before, after the war broke out and so I didn’t have a large family back then. And so, it was it was interesting, because our Russian banking cards did not work anywhere, except Russia. So I had like a big, big number of bills in euros and dollars. Like something like 9000 ,9000, the close to the limit of $10,000 that you could have with you. And so I flew to Istanbul, where I spent two months, you can only spend two months in Turkey without getting a residential permit. During that time, I managed to secure a Polish humanitarian visa as a dissident. And since the since the end of November, I’ve been living in Warsaw, which is quite happy time for me,I must confess.
Doug Saunders 27:53
Thank you. And look, I’m I’m We’re all grateful that all three of you were able to get out, but also saddened that it’s necessary for democratic minded Russians to be living in exile. And I want to ask about this about what, to what extent we should be encouraging and formalizing exile and ref, refuge of Russians? Of course, there are a lot of institutions of what you might call democratic Russia in exile right now, the major independent newspapers and television outlets tend to be operating out of the Baltic states. Now with a little bit of friction but generally allowed to do their thing. There’s a group of Russians in exile in Warsaw, I don’t know if you know them, Aleksey, who attempted to draft a new constitution document for, for post Putin, Russia when it occurs. There are, there and then of course, there are the initiatives that you’re all involved in. However, Russians are not generally allowed to be accepted as refugees in the countries of the European Union, or even get tourist visas which are a traditional way of beginning the act of the asylum process. I’m affiliated with a think tank in, in Berlin, and last year, when I asked people from European governments about this policy, the answers I got were either, well, we’re trying to handle millions and millions of Ukrainian refugees right now. And it would be too awkward to have Russians mixed in with them. But also, some of them said, well, we don’t want to be draining Russia of all of the people who could be opposing Putin and the, we want to we want to make sure that the people who would be leading a Maidan moment in, in Moscow are inside Russia rather than outside, which this was before the draft really got going. But nevertheless, there is an attitude among some European countries that, that Russia becomes more dangerous if it loses all of its democracy minded people, all of its educated, middle class. So somewhere between those extremes what should be done at this point? Should there be, should there be a move toward general acceptance of, of Russians in exile? Do they need to be more institutions and bodies to try to bring together democracy minded Russians in exile? And what can we in in the countries of North America and Europe do to make this possible? What needs to change? I don’t know who we start with here.
Konstantin Samoilov 30:52
May I, may start.
Doug Saunders 30:54
Please, please, Konstantin.
Konstantin Samoilov 30:55
First of all, I would like to add couple words to what Alexey just said. I was listening to him, and I was reliving the experience because I was right there. I was doing the same thing. I was seeing the same people that you were seeing when you were getting out of Russia. It’s still still bleeding. Anyway, alright, this is what happened. And this my thoughts back on what you’ve asked, it’s not a simple answer to this question, right? Like yes or no. Now, since I am the very insider of this exile, Russians, this is what I think. First of all, when I got to Uzbekistan, I was not a novice in this country. I spent two years doing business here back in 2012. I am interpreter and I’ve been in corporate business all pretty much all my life but also took a stint of starting my own high tech startups. And one of them was here in Uzbekistan. So I have some experience, I once I crossed the border of Russia, I felt that was very ambiguous feeling. On one thing, it was a relief, a relief of getting outside of Russia relief of not being able to get mobilized and thrown to Ukraine, with orders to kill Ukrainians, which I would never do it, I would probably end up in jail for that, you know, but I wouldn’t go to the frontlines. On the other side. On the other hand, it was a very hard feeling of life is over. It’s really hard to explain to you all, if you haven’t gone through this experience, okay. I get here and from morning till night I just walked the streets back and forth, listening to music, trying to catch my breath, so to speak, you know, trying to not to think about things because it felt so down. It was incredible. But then I noticed a very interesting thing. It’s really easy to tell a Russian from a local, by the way they dress they act, you know, especially the Russian that comes from Russia, the Russian guy, usually, you know, locals don’t wear shorts, or they wear pants, and the Russians from Moscow, St. Petersburg, come out in bright clothing, you know, look you can spot them right away. And I saw 1000s 1000s of Russians just like me, looking down, feeling sad, depressed, crushed, you know. And they were doing the same thing. Walking around is just I noticed it and I wasn’t looking around and I wasn’t trying to get my bank account and they were okay. So I saw 1000s of people and tons of Russian cars with Russian only Russian Russian license plates. And I decided to somehow to reach out to these people and try to help them. I started the community. I basically started, I picked a cafe. I sat down and I started inviting everyone who wanted to show up for coffee to join me for coffee and I offered to buy coffee, and like a porridge or eggs or something breakfast basically. And at first there was no one and then this thing took off. And community started forming not just my community, not just the community that I started, I called my community Tashkent Breakfast Club. And I started inviting Russians, just like minded Russians who fled the war, who you know, with the attitude same as mine. And basically, it was good just to sit down and share thoughts with everyone, just be around people like you, was therapeutic. Okay. So it was a support group. That’s how it started out. And then it started growing. And there were other groups and they have been other groups growing in parallel. Okay, right now in Tashkent and I, my estimation is about 30,000. Russian men, quite a few women and children came. There were quite a few communities formed families, you know, parents trying to take care of the kids picking schools, sharing their experiences, recommending doctors and stuff like that. My community is about 400 people right now, Andre was visiting Tashkent and I’m really honored that he joined us, he saw it with his own eyes. On weekends, we gather about 50 people and on mornings, it’s from five to 15 People usually, you know, they show up for breakfast. But our group, we have a telegram channel, and there are about seven or eight telegram channels and groups and Tashkenti. So this is sort of a introduction okay, to what you asked Doug. What I have been seeing around me, is quite an incredible picture. The Russians left Russia, first of all, they not one of them, supports Russian government, okay? All are anti war, all are pretty clear about their stance and they are not afraid to share their opinions here in Tashkent,once, once they are outside of Russia. Now, not all of them, I’d say minority fled because they simply fear for the lives. There are people like that, but most fled because they couldn’t take it any longer and mobilization was the tipping point. Okay, it was like kick in the butt, like I said earlier, just like it was for me. Many are active in some things that I rather not share here publicly, but they do things not, you know, I’d say quite a few. And um, all, absolutely all are not in the middle class, I’d say cream of the crop. Professionals, engineers, medical doctors, teachers, professors from universities, Moscow State University, Moscow, energy university, you know, big, big universities, engineers, lots of businessmen, interpreters. Lots of people who used to be who, used to work for themselves. Okay, lots of most, I’d say all have higher education. And most all, have had enough energy, enough courage, enough brains to get out of Russia. Okay. So this, this event became like a filter that filtered out people who are on this, on my side right now. I guarantee you, they, if any country would take them, they would create value for the economy and for the society. A bunch of Russians? Well, in my group, there are 400 I know, them all personally because they showed up for breakfast at one point or another, you know, and I know probably around 1000 people because I constantly, you know, speak to Russians here they like come to me on the streets, you know, start conversations, I attend different events and things like that. So all well, I’d say majority considers Uzbekistan a transit point, not a destination. And a lot of have already gone, they left for Uzbekistan, not not majority, majority still staying because it’s really difficult. A lot want to go to different countries, European countries, North America, Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and with one desire to work, to use skills, education, experience that they have in other countries, okay? They want to work they want to start companies, they want to pay taxes, they want to create value and this is the biggest two biggest thing we talk about at breakfast meetings is first is of course, your brain. After a while I forget about the new year I forget, getting Russians together is not enough. And I’ve made it my mission to find locate Ukrainians who fled the war as well and Tashkent. And I have quite a few families. And I started inviting them to our gathering. So I basically tried to have people sit at one table and break bread, look at each other, you know, from Russia, from Ukraine. And basically, what we talk about is Russia and Ukraine situation, the war and second is what to do next. And people are, I have couple attorneys here, Russian attorneys, couple of local attorneys who helped with visas. I have attorneys in Florida helping Russians that I recommend. And basically, everyone is trying to find the legal way how to move on and where to move on. And this is the biggest problem because we feel like not angry because we’re not in a position to feeling it okay. But we feel like it’s unfair, because what happens Russian politicians who openly support war in Russian government openly support you know, the one destruction of Ukraine, they are welcomed in Europe, they can easily get visas, tourist visas, they have lots of money in their public. They Instagram accounts, Facebook accounts, you know, they go on live on Russian TV and say, oh Ukraine must be destroyed, things like that. And I have examples of that. And then they have Schengen Visas. They go to Italy, Venice for vacations, their wives spend money. You know, they take pictures, they post them on Instagram and things like that, you know, and us people who fled, who are sitting in Tashkent not Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan were the same. Okay? Our location is not, doesn’t change much. And Alexey sitting in Poland, but he’s in the same shoes pretty much, right? And we feel like, in order for us to, let’s say, obtain American visa, that’s nearly impossible, we must fly to some other countries. In order to get European visa any European visa, we must go back to Russia, because that’s what European countries say. Hey, you know what, you’re a Russian citizen, then you must apply for a visa in Russia. So none of us wants to go back to Russia, right? But we cannot apply here in Uzbekistan, therefore, Europe was blocked off for us. To get to the United States, you need a visa to get there legally. Or you have to go through Mexico and some people have gone. I personally helped one of the kids to be extracted from from Russia and he bought a ticket here in Uzbekistan to to fly to Mexico and he crossed the border in El Paso and he’s in seeking for political asylum right now. Okay. And I’ve heard people doing the same thing. But it’s not you can do that, like all of us. We can’t. It’s just selected for you. And this is something I would hesitate to do myself, because it’s a very long and difficult process for myself for my family and things that you know, but this is a situation right now. Tons of people educated, smart, intellectually pleasing to talk to. Okay, and Andre was at our meeting, right a few times. You know, I would like to give you feedback about the international Tashkent Breakfast Club after Ramadan. Would you please, Andre? So, lots of people who are a fantastic addition to any country, we’re stuck here, and we basically don’t know what to do. Moreover, Uzbekistan is not too far from Russia. Kazakhstan is not too far. You know, we have, we are parts of one country in the past and the, you know, KGB services of all countries, they have connections, and if they want to extradite any one of us, peanuts, you know, so I don’t really feel safe in Uzbekistan, although much safer than in Russia, but not not completely safe. And I’ll just before I’m done, I’m sorry. I’m getting emotional. I’ll give you an example of one guy and this is just an this is mind blowing. Okay, November, people show up for breakfast without me inviting them because it’s word of mouth, you know, it’s getting spread. So we show up At 1030 every day, so I show up and there is a guy, middle aged guy about 30’s he’s sitting there and he introduces himself. He’s waiting for me for all of us. And, you know, he starts asking us, he says, we recently came, we would like to, I would like to start the career as a software tester. We have a guy who used to teach artificial intelligence in school [inaudible], okay, we have a really, really experienced developer, another guy, and they’re right there, we’re having breakfast, right? So they start tell giving them advice on how to become a tester. And they basically lay out a roadmap in like, 10 minutes. This is what we get for to help to support the channel, right? And then I asked him a question. I said, What do you do in your life? Like, why do you want out? Why do you want to become a tester? He goes, You know, I really want to go to either the United States or Canada. And that’s the only way I know testing. I said, Well, you know, Okay, understood, but what do you do besides, what did you do in Russia? Because, well, I’m a neurosurgeon. I’m like, my jaw dropped. I said, Wait a second, you’re a neurosurgeon. And you want to become a tester. They go, so I figured, if I build a career in testing, we’re about three years, I get to the United States, I’ll get legal papers or Canada, and then I’ll come back to doing you know, what I love to do research and, you know, brain science and stuff like that. And I was like, Dude, I’m not gonna let you become a tester, you know, I’m going to help you out somehow to get you to the United States. So you can go ahead and do continue doing brain research and brain surgeries. So I got him, I helped to get him a job with help of my channel with help of my supporters. He was able to get a job as a doctor here and Tashkent not a tester, right but doctor, and then we’re trying to figure out how to get him into the United States to different place. I asked him, perhaps you lost your doctor’s license? He goes, No, no, no, it’s active. So well, perhaps you don’t like, you know, doing what you do? No, it’s no, I love I love and he did some research on human, human and computer interface and stuff like that. And, you know, this is this guy is gold. Imagine how much time how many efforts how much money was spent on him to become a brain surgeon. He literally when the budget mobilization started, he literally, you know, was done with one of his shifts. He you know, he quit his job. He hopped into the car, he’s with his wife, they are like, in early 30s, mid 30s, I’d say and she’s also a doctor, she’s a pediatrician, and they just drove to Kazakhstan and from Kazakhstan to Tashkent, you know, this is one of the exams, I mean, for goodness sake, a brain surgeon. Okay, we have professors of, you know, different sciences, here, we have tons of doctors, this people would contribute so much to any country. And we feel like we’re stuck here. And many simply don’t know what to do next. I apologize. I got a little long and emotional. Andre, would you please give your feedback on what you saw here in Tashkent on Sunday?
Doug Saunders 48:25
Yes. And, Andre, I want to hear from you as well, you need to unmute yourself. But you you are, of course, familiar with your work with the United Nations Refugee charter. And it seems to me that not only all three of you, but almost the entire male population of Russia, who are, who are not supportive of the war would would qualify under the charter for for people who have a well founded fear of persecution, which is what, which is what allows people to become legal, humanitarian refugees. But this this isn’t recognized in most places. There isn’t there is not a move to recognize Russians as having a well founded fear of persecution. It’s an exception at the moment to the refugee charter. Do you think that’s one of the things that needs to change?
Andre Kamenshikov 49:23
Today Russians are faced with a choice you either you know, if if the government goes wants you, you either need to go and fight illegal aggressive war or you go to jail, you get a very severe prison sentence. Probably you’ll still be safer in prison than you will be on the front lines.
Doug Saunders 49:44
They’re now hauling people out of prison and sending them to war, so…
Andre Kamenshikov 49:48
Yes, that’s also happening so that’s, you know, you can end up in prison and and still well, they don’t, they can’t really force people to fight. You know, they kind of get people to in quotes volunteer.
Doug Saunders 50:03
Russia, Russian prisons at the moment sound like a humanitarian horror of their own.
Andre Kamenshikov 50:08
Definitely, definitely. So that’s, that’s something that needs to be recognized. So from a humanitarian point of view that definitely needs to be raised. Also, from a practical point of view, I hear this argument that, you know, you folks should stay in the country and change it. Well, the reality is that people today do not have the option of doing it. If you’re even if you’re like, we just listened to this great example, if you’re a talented neurosurgeon, you know, the question that people have is, okay, what can you do when you’re in the country? And unfortunately, unfortunately, at this point, society has been for so many years, it’s it’s kind of it’s a problem was a society that people are not very capable of organizing. I don’t think that change in Russia will happen through the same formats that has happened in Ukraine. I don’t think we will see a Maidan event on a Red Square in Moscow. That doesn’t mean change will not happen. But realistically, I think that change will probably is much more likely to happen through some initial cracks within the [inaudible] itself. And, you know, the Russian society is not, I don’t think it’s in a state where we will see something similar to what we think. And I think that today, in the modern world, with all the possibilities of communication. If a person leaves the country physically, that does not necessarily mean that he has no say, over what is happening inside the country that he left. Because he still has his relatives, his friends, he still has means of communication. And basically, yes, you’re limited to some level, but you still can communicate, you still can share your opinion. Okay, let’s let’s take the most the most vivid example. You know, we have some very courageous people like Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Kara-Murza and some other really beacons of human rights advocates and heroes of our times. People that sacrifice, put their life on the line, put themselves in tremendous danger, and still are no one knows whether they will physically survive this ordeal. And obviously, these are people that you have, probably all have deep respect for. But you sometimes think, is it? Is it worth sacrificing your life the way these people did? Did? I think that personally, like Navalny could do much more if he would be somewhere outside the borders of Russia today. Yes, maybe he wouldn’t have this. this, you know, there’s image of almost a modern martyr that, you know, put his life on the line. He already did that so many times. So I think that we should we should recognize that leaving the country does not mean that someone you know, that he’s out of the game. Not today, maybe that was case 100-200 years ago, not today. And so I would disagree with this argument that you knw, you shouldn’t leave because by leaving you cannot be supportive of changes inside, in fact, in fact, I think I would be much safer. I am much safer today in Kyiv than I would be if I would be in Moscow.
Doug Saunders 54:23
For sure, Russia, Russian authorities can’t get to you and sieze you there. So at the very minimum in that regard, you’re safer. Alexey Prokhorenko, I should ask you you’re in. You’re in Warsaw,
Andre Kamenshikov 54:40
I just wanted to add to Konstantin’s remark as well. Yes. I was very encouraged by what I saw in Tashkent, and it was, was kind of amazing. You see all these people and I you know you don’t know I You have It’s difficult to assess what people, what were the motivations that people left with. So, some people may have might have been supportive of the war. But you know, when they faced a personal risk of being mobilized, they decided that they don’t want to take this risk. Okay. That might happen in some cases. But what’s really quite interesting that I didn’t, you know, I didn’t feel that I need to argue with anyone who I met in Tashkent, at least, you know, it seems that people were really on the same wave. That’s and, and it was interesting, because I had a long conversation with a woman was there with two children that actually came from Mariupal from from Ukraine. I think that I totally agree with considering there’s great potential.
Doug Saunders 56:00
Thank you, Andre. I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years watching situations like this is that it’s impossible to say that to divide people neatly into dissidents, or political exiles, and humanitarian refugees and economic migrants as three separate groups, almost everybody combines some of those things, because you have, you have to make a living, you’re in danger. You’re, perhaps your views are make you threatened and so on. It’s these don’t follow easy definition. So Alexey, I’ll let you have the last word and what does need to be done to make, to make things both safer and more functional as, as as an exile community that hopefully someday will come back?
Alexey Prokhorenko 56:49
Well, it’s got to be said that the parliament you’re mentioning is not like a standing body. It just gathers now and then every three months, and it only brings together the former elected the members of her different assemblies, all the way up from local town halls, up to the part of the Federal Parliament, mostly during the Democratic years, the 1990s. Some of the former members of the parliament are, have today, today’s immigrants and so that structure is only gathers once in a while, like it gathered in November, in the beginning of November when I was still in Istanbul. And it also gets gathered in February. So it’s not like something mini something meaningful, but something that’s that works permanently. The local Russian community is not it’s not big at all. The Prague community, the Vilnius community are much bigger. And here you only have relatively few people. Probably not, not all of them are active. I also like I have the local language, because I was in love with a Polish girl 20 years ago, and that’s how I learned the language. It’s a beautiful story, really. And so I am in the better position here than I was in Turkey for many reasons. And I seriously considering Poland as my second, as my new country, and I’m seriously willing to contribute to it as much as I can work here pay taxes. I really care about the country improve it as much as I can. It’s already beautiful. But I I have found Poland to be like Russia, which it would have been without Putin. And it’s very close to its a Slavic country. It’s close to Russia. I’m very grateful to it and I hope I can contribute to its, to its welfare to its prosperity. Back to your question, what can be done to help Russian immigrants I would be very careful with the words here immigrants would be the word that I describe myself with because refugees are Ukrainians. I’ve met a lot of them here. I’ve well, let me be a little bit. A little bit, frank about it. Not some not so modest. Probably. I helped some Ukrainians here as much as I could financially, psychologically, I tried to give them every kind of support, and they were refugees. They did they left their homes, some of them have their homes bombed, they cannot return they have nowhere to come back. My relatives back in Russia are in relative safety. They don’t have to fear about bombs falling on their heads. So let me be called an immigrant, not the refugee. So what can be done to help us Russian immigrants to, to survive, to find out ways, our ways in our new countries, maybe temporary countries or maybe final destinations. Of course, over these six months that I’ve spent on the road, I’ve been thinking a lot about myself about my fate about everything’s everything that’s related to me and people like me. And I, at some point, I started to promote the idea. I think it was in Turkey already. But I think it was even better shaped and better honed, when I came to Poland, the idea is quite simple. A person is not a passport, it’s not a nationality. It’s not an ethnicity, or a gender, or a race. It’s a choice. It’s a choice that every one of us makes and it’s a choice that eventually shapes every one of us, a set of choices, a sequence of choices that we make and everyone I come across, everyone I talk with gets to hear that from me that idea of, of a choice or personal choice because no, no, no one of us did have a choice where to be born, where to be raised. But finally, when the moment came, we have, we did leave our country when we left our families, we left our whole life which is not bad. Because after six months, I can say that it was very very comforting in a very beautiful understanding that everything you need can be packed into 25 kilograms in your, in your in your luggage and plus 10 kilograms in the backpack that’s all you need probably. In life having, having bought things in Moscow, having tried to improve my lifestyle, I now understand that you need, you need very little to survive. But if and I think that like Poland, countries like Poland they understand this very deeply because they don’t issue tourist visas to Russians. So you cannot, you cannot get a tourist visa, my family cannot come visit me they have to find like detours Hungary or France or Germany or whatever, to get the Schengen visa to enter the European Union and then to have to pull up Poland does not issue tourist visas under any circumstance at all. So there is no postal communication between Poland and Russia so I cannot send the postcards back home I cannot send any gifts or whatever or any clothes. I cannot receive anything from from Russia as a gift or some personal belongings. Whatever. But as for the dissidents, Poland is most supportive. It’s very open. It’s very lenient, because I wouldn’t call myself a very active dissident, not like not anywhere close to Eli Yashin, not anywhere close to Alexei Navalny, not anywhere comparable to them. But my personal struggle against Putin has helped me get a visa. And probably the idea of the personal choice of the personal freedom of action, freedom of thought, regardless of the passport. If it could be promoted even more widely among other countries of the European Union or North America. If it could be done, it would be probably the best help. So you can, so Russians can be treated not like enemies, but like, also like hostages of the Putin regime, like probably like, kind of hostages, also sufferers of Putin’s regime.
Doug Saunders 1:05:12
Thank you for that concluding note, it’s fair to say that we need to remember that Russia has also been invaded by a Vladimir Putin and with, you know, not missiles falling on its cities, necessarily, but a big humanitarian toll, a huge lost opportunity.
Konstantin Samoilov 1:05:30
To add to Alexey, you know, the refugees are so different in most people here, we have families, and we need a lot. We left a lot left, alive so jobs are, you know, real estate with, we had invested into everything that we were building, I have three kids, my youngest is going to go to first grade in September, I have two teenage girls, and I have wife and I have a couple of kids in Maine, and my ex wife and my mom and Russia still. So I need I need a lot to support them. You know, it’s not like, I have a bag full of clothes and that’s it I’m gone. That’s my situation is different. And many people here are just like that. All we asking is, accept us and give us an opportunity to work, make honest living, and actually have a message. All right, I feel the most of us here in exile are angry, and many are furious. Let us in and watch us unleash our power. We are each one of us is an army of our own. And trust me when we come to a company that would welcome us and give us an opportunity to call it new home. You watch us, we will self organize and we will start helping our hijacked old country Russia in every single case imaginable. You just watch us. But the thing is right now we are stuck. And we we lost. We don’t know what to do. There’s a huge force here. It’s boiling in Tashkent, in Astana, in Almata. in [inaudible], Belize, and all other countries. It’s boiling.
Metta Spencer 1:07:33
Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much Konstantin and thanks to Doug, we are 15 minutes over time. But I want to say that we have only scratched the surface, because I want to keep talking to you guys, there is so much more to discuss. So what I want to suggest that we have at least two more conversations, and it might involve some other people as well. But the main thing is that I see a need to discuss two different issues. One is how to help you guys who are stuck, and give you a route to to a place where you can contribute what you want to do, as Konstantin and well all of you have been mentioning that you will be a huge asset to any country that wants to let you in. And we’ve got to figure out a way to facilitate that. I’d like to have another conversation with somebody who, who can talk about the, the business end of how to to change regulations and how to have influence over governmental decisions and so on. And the second line of conversation I’d like to have is, you know, when when the discussion was just because you left the country doesn’t mean you have any (inaudible] influence in the country. And that you guys, and all of the diaspora of Russians outside can and I think will have an influence on the future of Russia. But it would be very helpful if we could facilitate that with helping, I mean, there are going to be millions and millions of conversations like this, about what the future of Russia should be, and, and conversations with political people and so on. So we I think we could make a little contribution to that by having at least one more conversation. And I could imagine a whole series of conversations about how we can facilitate the development of a network of people who, as Konstantin says, just watch us. I’m sure you don’t need help, but let’s see if we can do something will be helpful anyway. Would this be of interest to all of you to get back together again with at least two more shows?
Konstantin Samoilov 1:09:57
Absolutely. I would love it. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much. Not only I it’s been a pleasure, I feel it’s very important, what we’ve done. So I will do that again and again and again.
Doug Saunders 1:10:10
Yeah, I’d like to thank Metta, the great convener, for, for the logistical challenges of bringing this together, it’s been a great privilege, really, to speak with the three of you. And I want what you said to get the widest possible audience, so I so I really will do what I can to get the word out. Because, because this was a really useful summary of the situation and the paradox faced by the, by exile Russia, as I said earlier, democratic Russia in exile is and the things that the three of you’re doing, are brave and important. So so I really look forward to hearing from you, again.
Metta Spencer 1:11:00
I will send you the URLs for this so that you can share them with everybody. I hope that people do and by the way, we have a website called tosavetheworld.ca and, and you can go there and have a conversation. So we can continue this discussion online. As soon as I get this posted on the website, which will be a day or two, and go to go to the the URL for this show and go to the let’s say the show on human rights. Let’s call this section on governance. So go to the page on Governance and Human Rights. And there’ll be a conversation there that you can, you can continue just online until we meet again, which I hope will be soon. Bless you all. It’s God bless you all. It’s a real pleasure.
Doug Saunders 1:11:53
Alexey Prokhorenko 1:11:53
Konstantin Samoilov 1:11:54
Thanks so much.
Andre Kamenshikov 1:11:54
Metta Spencer 1:11:55
We produce several one-hour-long Zoom conversations each week about various aspects of six issues we address. You can watch them live and send a question to the speakers or watch the edited version later here or on our Youtube channel.