The surreal factor about your nation being in an offensive warfare is you could proceed with life as regular. You may go to work, do your procuring and water your vegetation as if nothing is going on. You may even go to a celebration, should you can abdomen it.

So since Russian troops began encircling Ukrainian cities and shelling Ukrainian houses, hospitals and authorities buildings, that’s what most Russians have been doing. They’ve been going to work, doing their procuring, taking part in with their youngsters, making small speak with acquaintances … as if a brutal warfare shouldn’t be being waged of their title in opposition to their neighbours.

Positive, some act this manner as a result of they help the actions of the regime, or as a result of they merely don’t care about what’s going on past the nation’s borders. For a lot of others, nonetheless, persevering with with enterprise as common is a defence mechanism – a technique to keep away from experiencing guilt, psychological anguish and anxiousness over one thing that they can’t management. They know the warfare is unjust, pointless and brutal, however they can’t increase their voices, protest, work to show the reality, for one cause or one other.

For them, appearing as if nothing is going on is a legitimate psychological well being choice.

If I used to be not working within the enterprise of stories, I might have maybe tried to do the identical. Nevertheless it was inconceivable to disregard the unfolding disaster whereas going by means of over a thousand updates a day on my nation’s “particular navy operation” in Ukraine. The stress and frustration progressively grew to become insufferable, particularly as I used to be not even allowed to make use of easy phrases like “warfare” and “invasion” to explain what was taking place. The Russian media has been decreased to what it was within the Soviet period, and finally was solely allowed to unfold state propaganda. On the seventh consecutive day making an attempt to cowl a warfare that was supposedly not a warfare, my physique gave up – I spent hours on the bathroom puking my guts out.

I used to be not solely disgusted and bodily exhausted by the state of affairs, but additionally fearful – as I had made my views on the “particular operation” clear on-line and attended protests, I knew the police would finally knock on my door. So my associate and I made a decision to go away Russia earlier than it was too late.

We did so urgently and covertly, with out even saying a easy goodbye to our family members.

After we reached the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, the sense of urgency that greeted us made us realise we weren’t alone – hundreds of others, carrying a number of suitcases, pets, and even small items of furnishings, have been additionally heading out. All of it appeared like a mass evacuation, and maybe it was – we have been all escaping from a warfare, regardless that its entrance line was miles away.

It quickly grow to be clear that we have been proper to go away after we did. Whereas we have been nonetheless en path to Georgia, President Vladimir Putin launched a invoice that enables for a 15-year jail sentence for “discrediting the Russian armed forces” – it was now formally a prison offence to name the warfare a warfare, share data that contradicts the official place of the state, and protest in opposition to it.

All through my journey to Georgia, I considered not solely these struggling in Ukraine, but additionally these struggling in Russia – courageous Russians who proceed to protest figuring out that they danger going to jail for years each time they do. And people on a regular basis individuals who had no say in what the Kremlin determined to do, however at the moment are struggling to feed their households. I couldn’t assist however really feel responsible for leaving, and immensely fortunate to have the ability to achieve this.

However as quickly as I arrived in Georgia, and began heading in the direction of Tbilisi, I realised that I’m not fortunate both – that I didn’t actually handle to “escape” this warfare. I realised that Russians, even these of us who’re within the opposition and who’re in opposition to the invasion, aren’t welcome in Georgia.

I realised that within the eyes of most Georgians, we’re all responsible, merely for having Russian passports; we’re all liable for what Putin is doing; we’re all sponsoring the warfare with our taxes. And extra importantly, we’re liable for the warfare in 2008 that devastated their nation.

Right now, Tbilisi appears attractive lined head to toe in Ukrainian flags – it’s inspiring to see a whole nation standing in solidarity with a rustic in misery. However it’s equally heartbreaking to see this present of solidarity additionally consists of overt hostility in opposition to us, Russians who’re looking for a secure haven on this stunning nation. Between Ukrainian flags it’s common to see graffiti on partitions that learn “Russians go residence”, “return to your ugly nation”. It won’t be the oligarchs who really help and fund Putin’s warfare who see these hurtful phrases – they’re weathering the disaster of their palatial houses in Switzerland and London. These phrases will harm solely us, Russians who got here to Tbilisi to flee the identical aggressor. Russians who know – like me – that they could find yourself in jail in the event that they return residence.

On our first day in Georgia, one in all our buddies was bodily attacked merely for speaking Russian. After that incident, we determined to speak solely in English wherever public. However Russophobic assaults from members of the general public are the least of our worries in Georgia.

For us Russians – and likewise Belarusians – in Georgia accessing probably the most primary companies is a large battle.

The Financial institution of Georgia, for instance, calls for that Russian residents signal a particular kind with their utility to open a checking account. “I condemn Russia’s aggression in Georgia and Ukraine. I agree that Russia is an occupant that invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 and 2022. I agree that I received’t share Russian authorities propaganda and assist combat in opposition to it,” the shape says, noting {that a} violation of those phrases will lead to a termination of the checking account. Even when a Russian citizen wholeheartedly agrees with these statements, signing this doc might imply agreeing to by no means return residence. Certainly, Russian prosecutors may simply classify signing this kind as an act of treason.

Ultimately, we managed to open accounts with one other Georgian financial institution with out signing our loss of life sentences, however securing lodging proved to be much more tough. Most landlords merely refused to hire to us due to our nationality. The advertisements we noticed in newspapers and on-line had warnings on them explaining that Russians and Belarusians mustn’t apply. Underneath my submit in a Fb group asking for assist with discovering a long-term rental, a landlord instructed that I “seek for an condo in Kharkiv as an alternative” – the Ukrainian metropolis below heavy Russian bombardment.

We in fact perceive that there’s a tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, and Georgians are rightfully upset. We even settle for that Ukrainian refugees needs to be given precedence after they apply for lodging in Georgia. However we simply need Georgians to know that we’re not the enemy – that we additionally need assistance. Positive, our houses haven’t been destroyed by missiles, however many people haven’t any probability of returning to them within the foreseeable future. Sure, Russians have to talk up and inform the reality concerning the warfare, however we can not do this from a jail cell.

Fortunately, the Georgian authorities appears to know our predicament. It’s at present contemplating making amendments to the regulation on client rights to make sure companies in Georgia don’t deny companies to anybody based mostly on nationality. Such initiatives make us really feel welcome, however we additionally need the Georgian individuals to begin seeing us for who we actually are: neighbours in want.

All this isn’t to say that my experiences in Georgia have been completely adverse.

Within the hostel we’re staying in, there may be additionally a Ukrainian household who fled Kyiv. I didn’t know how one can act round them at first. I ready an apology in my head and hoped to work up sufficient braveness to method them and clarify that I, too, hate this warfare. However, in some way, they already knew. When she seen us, the mom simply smiled sadly. She then made us cups of tea and sandwiches and gave us a block of cheese. Later that day, I met a taxi driver who requested me how I used to be faring in Georgia. I advised him how I used to be struggling to discover a rental. He instantly supplied to accompany me to my subsequent viewing and clarify to the owner in Georgian that “I’m not a supporter of Putin’s aggression”.

As Russians, we all know that any ache or inconvenience we expertise in Georgia and elsewhere is insignificant in comparison with what that household from Kyiv and numerous different Ukrainians are going by means of immediately. However we, too, are victims of this mindless warfare. Russia’s aggression additionally devastated our households, crushed our sense of being and made us homeless. All we would like is just a bit understanding from our neighbours.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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