Woman from Winnipeg living in Moscow speaks about life during wartime

A woman from Winnipeg who has lived in Russia for more than three years says she and her husband are looking to get out after the Russian government launched its invasion of Ukraine. 

CBC News has agreed not to name the 25-year-old living in Moscow, who asked not to be identified out of concern for her safety.

New laws suppressing criticism of the war and granting police greater powers to search and detain people has led to a growing number of people looking to leave Russia, the woman said.

“A lot of people have actually already flown from the country, or are still trying to flee just due to the insane increase in control, all the new restrictions,” she said.

In addition to the increased limits on individual freedoms, sanctions by countries around the world, including Canada, have drastically increased prices for essential items.

“There has been crazy inflation since the economy has drastically dropped,” she said. She estimated food and household items are about 20 per cent pricier, while some items have jumped 100 per cent or more.

The woman and her husband have been considering leaving for the last few weeks, and hope to leave as soon as her husband’s visa is approved. They plan to go to Belgium, where his job is based.

Sanctions impact work

Those sanctions have also made it more difficult for people living in Russia to find work, especially with companies based outside of the country.

“It’s going to lead to a brain drain,” said Kenneth Zaifman, an immigration lawyer based in Winnipeg.

“It’s going to lead to a group of talented individuals who’ve got good skills, many of them working for multinational companies, in sectors … where they can work remotely. And I think you’ll see a lot of those people leaving.”

One client of Zaifman’s arrived in Winnipeg just over a week ago. 

The man, who works as an IT professional, left Russia a few weeks before the invasion of Ukraine began. He intended to go back, but after the invasion he decided to come to Canada.

“He, I think, will have no difficulty finding employment. He’s in an occupation and in the line of work that is in demand in Canada and various places. And so he’s here now, continuing to work, and he’s probably looking at some pathway to resettle.”

Thousands fleeing Russia

Zaifman’s client and the woman in Moscow are not alone in their desire to leave Russia. Thousands of people have reportedly already fled, but getting out of Russia is becoming more difficult. 

With European airspace closed, crossing Russia’s borders with Finland, Estonia or Latvia are among the only routes out of the country, as long as travellers have the necessary visas.

Another difficulty facing those trying to leave is that all Russian males between the ages of 18 and 27 are eligible for conscription into the military, and cannot get visas to leave the country unless they have served. 

“I think a lot of young men, especially in the big cities and those who have access to the internet and therefore are getting a counter-narrative … a lot of them are certainly not happy about this and don’t want to serve,” said Norman Pereira, professor emeritus in the departments of history and Russian studies at Dalhousie University.

The woman in Moscow says it’s increasingly difficult to get information that does not come from the Russian government. She uses virtual private networks to get around censors and access news from around the world, but she has had to download new programs as the government has begun to block them.

Although many people oppose the war, they are afraid to speak out, and many others support what Russian president Vladimir Putin insists on calling a “special military operation.”

Some of the woman’s friends have been beaten and arrested for attending rallies opposing the war, she said.

“People are just too scared to be honest about what they feel. So they can’t get together and try to come up with a plan to, you know, go against the government,” she said.

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