Thousands of Russian opponents seek refuge in Israel due to the war

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Russian filmmakers Anna Chichova-Bogolyubova and Dmitry Bogolyubov feared being singled out at any moment as foreign “agents” for their opposition to Vladimir Putin when they decided to leave Moscow for refuge in Israel at the start of the war in Ukraine. “We were next on the list,” the couple say from a friend’s apartment in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv.

Being on this list means being forced “to self-censorship or to jail in a more or less short term,” says Dmitri, 42. “In recent years we felt threatened. Especially in the last few months, people were spying on us and taking photos on our sets,” explains 36-year-old Anna.

“The war in Ukraine is incompatible with my way of thinking and my moral values; me sick”

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, some 24,000 Ukrainians have fled to Israel, according to the Immigration Ministry. Many benefit from the “Law of Return”, which offers Jews, children or grandchildren of Jews, the right to obtain Israeli citizenship.

But in the shadow of the war, Russian opponents have also started reaching out to Israel. An Israeli immigration official estimates that some 10,000 have arrived since the invasion. “Most are educated, urban, middle-class people,” he stresses.

Olga Romanova, a 69-year-old linguist from Moscow, applied for a passport after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. “I was already thinking of meeting my two children settled in Israel at some point, but I understood that something was wrong in Russia,” she says. . In the early hours of February 24, when Russian tanks entered Ukraine, “it became clear that I had to leave as soon as possible,” she tells AFP. “The war in Ukraine is incompatible with my way of thinking and my moral values. It makes me sick,” she sighs.

This wave of immigration, Ukrainian and Russian, is the largest in Israel since the early 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of Jews left the former USSR to start anew on the shores of the Mediterranean.

“Here we feel safe, we eat and sleep normally again, my four-year-old daughter, who is diabetic, is fully cared for. But we don’t know if we will stay, it will depend on our work”, explains Anna.

Sergei, a violinist who asked to use a false name, flew in from Moscow with his wife, a pianist, and their three young children. He explains that Israel could be just a stage: “I don’t know if we will stay. We’ll probably go somewhere else.” The Jewish state remains unknown and nostalgia for Russia is not far away.

“I lost my country. It was stolen from me. Putin and the KGB thugs took it away”, regrets Olga, who left with two books among the 20 kilos of luggage, one of her work and the other, a novel by the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov.

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