Emigré Russians find shelter in remote Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, Karakol-Déjà vu was overcome when veteran Russian political activist Ilya Shafranov was detained in an anti-war protest.

Unlike in the past, he was not arrested in an opposition demonstration in Moscow — he was detained by police officers in a remote town in Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia.

“I’m against the war, so I left Russia for Kyrgyzstan,” read a sign that Shafranov temporarily held earlier this month at Karakol at the foot of the snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains. rice field.

Shafranov, one of the tens of thousands of Russians who fled abroad following the invasion of Ukraine, decided to settle in a small settlement around the former Russian Empire, rather than in big cities such as Tbilisi, Riga and Istanbul. I have selected. Emigres.

Like many post-Soviet countries, Russian is still widely spoken in Kyrgyzstan.

“The phrase’Russian world’is engulfed in the actions of Petinoid,” 56-year-old Shafranov told the Moscow Times insulting the ardent supporters of President Vladimirputin.

Ilya Shafranov.
Alexena Parkov

“But it’s still worth it and reflects reality,” he said. “Karacol remains the frontier of the Russian world to this day.”

Currently retraining for a data science career, Shafranov has spent days exploring nearby mountains and the picturesque Lake Issyk Kul.

The beauty of the landscape and its remoteness were the main selling points for other Russians who settled in Caracol since the invasion of Ukraine.

Travel blogger Alexei Naparkov, 26, took almost a week to drive to the town from his hometown of Orenburg, near the border between Russia and Kazakhstan.

“We were an introverted family and didn’t want to live in a big city,” Naparkov said of the decision to move to Karakol, which has a population of only one-tenth of Orenburg.

“Caracol is the least modern, but it’s a” safe haven “and cozy,” he told the Moscow Times. “It’s easy to breathe here.”

English and French, the vacation destinations for mountaineers, skiers and hikers around the world, are often heard on the streets of sleepy towns.

Naparkov joined Shafranov’s protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine after reading about it earlier that day.

“It’s hard to explain my feelings about freedom, but after Russia, I feel like a more free person here,” he said.

In total, the protests outside Karakol’s stadium attracted only four participants, including Naparkov and Shafranov.

View of Caracol city center. Bruno Riceman (CC BY 2.0)
View of Caracol city center.
Bruno Riceman (CC BY 2.0)

And some locals did not kindly respond to the activities of their new neighbors. One passerby suggested that the demonstrators “return to Russia.” A group called Issyk Kul’s Russian compatriots later filed complaints accusing Shafranov of “stirring ethnic tensions.”

Despite various acceptances, Kyrgyzstan has a long-standing reputation as a “democratic island” surrounded by more authoritarian Central Asian countries.

“Kyrgyzstan was touted as a small democracy with free speech,” said travel blogger Naparkov.

And the freedom available in Kyrgyzstan seems even tougher when compared to Russia, which has witnessed unprecedented crackdowns on activists and independent journalists since the invasion began.

Before fleeing Russia, Shafranov was an active member of Moscow’s liberal opposition.City deputy supporter Julia GariyaminaHe was detained several times, including opposition in 2019 protest Over the Moscow City Duma elections.

Russian protesters in Karakol.
Russian protesters in Karakol.

“I will not return to Russia until Putin loses power and democratic reforms begin,” Shafranov told the Moscow Times last month when he visited Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. “I hope it happens while I’m alive.”

Central Asian countries have walked a political tightrope since the beginning of the war, balancing their deep economic ties with Russia and their reluctance to relate to what appears to be the revenge of the Moscow empire in Ukraine. I am.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, who spoke with Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last week, said his country would not recognize Russia-backed eastern Ukraine’s secession republic.

Shafranov and Naparkov planned to stay permanently in Karakol, which was established as an outpost for Russian troops under Emperor Alexander II, but other recent Russian arrivals in the area are less committed. It wasn’t done.

Anna, who asked to refrain from the family name, said the family originally left Russia because the war made her husband’s job difficult. She sought refuge in Cholpon Ata, a resort town near Caracol with less than 15,000 people.

Ilya Shafranov was detained in Moscow on July 27, 2019.Catherine Sakarowa
Ilya Shafranov was detained in Moscow on July 27, 2019.
Catherine Sakarowa

“We fell asleep in the sound of the rain, woke up to the chirping of birds, and breathed clean air in the cool sun,” she told the Moscow Times. “We all went to the sanatorium’s indoor pool twice a week.”

However, when her husband, an IT specialist, solved a job problem, the family decided to return to their hometown near the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

Returning to the anti-war protest in Karakol, Shafranov was taken away by a plainclothes guard and taken to a local police station.

After three hours of cross-examination, he was finally released.

“Because we have left Russia, where freedom of speech is restricted, it is ridiculous not to take advantage of that freedom of speech in countries where it still exists,” he said outside the police station.

“”[But] I hope they will not file a criminal proceeding against me. “ Emigré Russians find shelter in remote Kyrgyzstan

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