Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky has already left Russia twice this year. First after the outbreak of war, then after the declaration of mobilization.
Migration instead of mobilization. To Kazakhstan instead of Ukraine. More than 200,000 Russians have chosen this route since mobilization was announced. One of them was Raslan Sokolovsky (27) from Shadrynsk.
Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s (70) decision to invade Ukraine forced the blogger to flee. “I didn’t want to accept Putin’s decision and I wanted to support his regime with my taxes. I posted anti-war videos and I was afraid of the consequences after the new laws were introduced,” he tells Blick.
He spends half a year abroad. In September he returned to his homeland to sell an apartment. But immediate mobilization is announced. “My family and I were panicking that I might be drafted.” So he packs his things and flees again.
“Actually, I wanted to go to Georgia. But because of the high demand, the airfare went up even more.” Even a nearly two-hour flight from Chelyabinsk to Astana (Kazakhstan) costs the equivalent of CHF 11,270. It should be different. “On September 25 my father-in-law took me to the Kazakh border.” After a five hour drive it was over. A convoy of about 160 cars has retreated to the border. Sokolovsky decided to continue on foot.
“Many had to quit their jobs and leave their families.”
When it comes after half an hour, you have to wait. for three hours. “There were 300 men of draft age. Everyone seemed depressed, no wonder. Due to the actions of their government, they have been forced to flee in a hurry.
In conversations, Sokolovsky learns that very few people have jobs that allow them to work from home. “Many had to quit their jobs and leave their families. Not only did they not know when they would see their wives and children again, they also had to find new jobs abroad.”
If they make it domestically. At the checkpoint, Sokolovsky sees some people forced to turn back. He himself is lucky and allowed. “The border guard asked me my reasons for traveling. I told them that I was against war and did not support the occupation of my country.
“What if Putin gets me out of this?”
The mass influx of Russians is reflected in prices and waiting times. “I was shocked at how high the rent was. In the beginning I paid 200 francs a night. And when it comes to administration, patience is also required. “The government has built a complex of a cultural center to register all the Russians,” he says.
Currently living off her savings, the blogger wants to stay in the country for at least two months. Basically, he feels safe, but sometimes he is still afraid. “I’m abroad, but somehow very close to Russia. What if Putin frees me from this?”
He also misses his family and friends and familiar surroundings. The war took everything from him. Before the invasion, he recorded podcasts for Echo Moscow. A key Kremlin channel was blocked in March. “The government started a war and shut down a media outlet I worked for. Thank you very much,” he says ironically.
Stand in Red Square with a “Putin is an idiot” poster
At some point he would like to return home. But it is very dangerous now. “It will be a trip straight to jail,” he is convinced. “Repression is increasing. Anyone who disagrees with Putin goes to jail.
He himself was behind bars. He was jailed for six months in 2016 and sentenced to 3.5 years probation for offending religious sentiments after he played “Pokémon Go” in a church. In 2019 he stood in Red Square in Moscow with a poster reading “Putin is an idiot”. He was fined for this.
He doesn’t want to go back to jail. He has great respect for opposition members such as jailed Alexei Navalny, 46. “No one doubts the credibility of these people. These people want the best for their country, so they are willing to serve prison terms.”
Return to Russia after the war
He wants the best for Russia, he insists. But he is unlikely to fight against the government. “I am realistic about my options. The government has a lot of money through gas revenue. With this money, the police apparatus has been equipped with weapons in recent years. I have no weapons and cannot compete with these elements.”
He believes that regime change requires different processes. “If Putin doesn’t have the money to keep the police apparatus going because of sanctions, the people can overthrow the regime. Or the siloviki, the secret service agents and the military, rebel against Putin because they are no longer paid.
One thing is clear to him: “I will return to Russia only after the war is over and there is a change of regime. This is very important for my country.
“Wannabe pop culture fanatic. Zombie advocate. Entrepreneur. Internet evangelist. Alcohol fanatic. Typical travel buff.”