Kyrgyzstan sees struggles and opportunities in the wave of Russian emigration

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Russian entrepreneurs Yulia and Ilya Kuleshov worked hard to transform the large house they rented in the capital of Kyrgyzstan into a hub for creative volunteer projects after moving from St. Petersburg in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. .

But, when President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial” mobilization at the end of September, the two-story house of the Kuleshovs, where they also live, became a temporary refuge for Russian compatriots.

“We’ve been inundated with requests for people to stay somewhere for at least a night or two,” Kuleshova told the Moscow Times from the eight-bedroom house she and her husband dubbed “Red Roof”.

The chaotic exodus of hundreds of thousands of Russians in the era of mobilization triggered by the Kremlin’s one-month draft has radically reshaped former Soviet nations such as Kyrgyzstan, driving up property prices and giving a big boost to local economies.

Cities like Bishkek, where Russian is still widely spoken, have become popular destinations for fleeing Russians, who had few options to leave the country due to Western flight bans, border closures and the skyrocketing cost of flights to. the few destinations available.

Drawing on a decade of Experience Running charitable start-ups, the Kuleshovs quickly organized a team of volunteers in late September and rented a separate house to provide short-term living space for newcomers.

Yulia and Ilya Kuleshov in front of their “Red Roof” house.
Ilya Kuleshov

At one point, Kuleshova said Red Roof was hosting up to 20 Russians who had fled the country to escape the mobilization.

“Three people slept in one room and on sofas in corridors,” Kuleshova said. “The residents of Bishkek have responded to our request to donate mattresses and sheets so that we can set up beds on the floor.”

Nearly half a million Russians arrived in Kyrgyzstan in the first nine months of this year, according to official Kyrgyz data, which is more than double the number recorded in the same period last year. While many have since left, tens of thousands are believed to have settled in the country in the medium or long term.

Alexandra Litvinova, an activist who fled the Russian high-tech city of Innopolis when the war began, had plans to move in with the Kuleshovs. Instead, she found herself looking for beds for the newly arrived Russians in Bishkek.

“Me and almost everyone I know from the first wave of couchsurfers lived with them,” he told the Moscow Times at an orientation event for Russian newcomers at a Bishkek bar.

Litvinova has also volunteered to help run a chat group on the Telegram messaging app by providing information to Russians arriving in Kyrgyzstan.

The couple’s “Red Roof” house.
Ilya Kuleshov

He said the chat administrators were “absolutely shocked” as the number of subscribers grew more than fivefold after the mobilization was announced and they started receiving inquiries from Kyrgyz journalists.

While Kyrgyzstan’s reaction to the arrival of so many Russians has been overwhelmingly positive, some tensions have been triggered by the wealth of many newcomers (the per capita purchasing power in Russia is six times that of Kyrgyzstan, according to to the World Bank).

In particular, the owners of Kyrgyzstan have walked rents – some up to 100% – and there have been cases of local tenants evicted in favor of the Russians.

Litvinova said she often sees anger over the overheated housing market among the 23,500 Russian members of the Telegram chat she helps manage.

“Everyone is afraid,” Litvinova said. “But it’s a chat that offers help and doesn’t ignite wars. So we had to ban 2,000 accounts. “

Some Russians found rental scams and attempts by airport police to extort money, according to Litvinova, but noted that such incidents were rare.

“The negativity is more immediate and visible, even though the positive experiences here far outweigh the negative ones,” he said.

Rising prices in Bishkek also forced newly arrived Russians to disperse to more remote locations in this landlocked and mountainous country of 7 million.

Alexandra Litvinova (R) at a red roof event.  @redroofbish

Alexandra Litvinova (R) at a red roof event.
@redroofbish

A Russian woman who requested anonymity to speak freely told the Moscow Times that her family’s meager savings meant they had decided to move to Jalal-Abad, a city of 120,000 in the fertile and multi-ethnic Fergana Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan. .

“We left in a hurry and panic, so we chose an itinerary that best suited our financial circumstances,” he said.

“It was a random choice, but we are grateful to fate, the country and its residents.”

While those who fled Russia early in the war were mostly IT workers or other specialists with high disposable income, the Russians fleeing Putin’s mobilization drive were far more economically and socially diverse. according to to migration researcher Yan Matusevich.

Post-mobilization emigrants include “children from smaller cities with no money” and ethnic minorities from Siberia and the Far East with “absolutely no resources,” Matusevich said in a Twitter thread posted in late September. “They are mostly completely shocked and bewildered, having only left with a duffel bag.”

This lack of preparation, coupled with Putin’s announcement last month that Russia’s “partial” mobilization had come to an end, means that some Russians who fled in September have already returned home, easing rent pressure in cities like Bishkek.

But many more intend to stay abroad, fearing that the mobilization could resume.

Alexandra Litvinova (2nd R) at a red roof event.  @redroofbish

Alexandra Litvinova (2nd R) at a red roof event.
@redroofbish

Litvinova even predicted that Kyrgyzstan would soon face a “third wave” of Russian emigrants. “These will be women and children who will join their husbands after they have done their business in Russia,” she said.

With the growing pains of the arrival of so many Russians, economic opportunities have also come.

The economy of Kyrgyzstan he has grown 8% in the first eight months of this year, up from 3.6% for the whole of 2021. Other popular destinations for fleeing Russians have also seen economic booms, with the South Caucasus nations of Georgia and Armenia Now waitingeconomic growth of 10% and 13% respectively this year.

economists foresee the arrival of specialists and potential investors from Russia, as well as multinationals such as Apple the transfer of their staff to Bishkek will provide a tangible boost to the Kyrgyz economy.

“I really hope at least some of their money [Russians] bringing and paying here will go into the country’s budget, ”Litvinova said.

“I really want this wave to benefit Kyrgyzstan.”

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