Kyrgyzstan Sees Struggle, Opportunity in Wave of Russian Emigration

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Russian entrepreneurs Yulia and Ilya Kuleshov worked hard to transform their large rented house in the Kyrgyz capital into a creative volunteer project center after they moved from St.

However, when President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial” mobilization at the end of September, Kuleshov’s two-story house, where they also lived, became a temporary refuge for fellow Russians.

“We were showered with requests for people to crash somewhere for at least a night or two,” Kuleshova told The Moscow Times from the eight-room house she and her husband named “Red Roof.”

A chaotic exodus of hundreds of thousands of Russians of mobilization age triggered by the Kremlin’s month-long draft has dramatically rebuilt former Soviet states such as Kyrgyzstan, raising housing prices and giving a major boost to local economies.

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

Drawing on a decade’s worth experience running charity startups, Kuleshovs quickly organized a team of volunteers at the end of September and rented a separate house to provide short-term living space for new arrivals.

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

At one point, Kuleshova said the Red Roof was housing up to 20 Russians who had left the country to avoid mobilization.

“People sleep three to a room and on a couch in the hallway,” Kuleshova said. “The people of Bishkek answered our call to donate mattresses and sheets so we could set up a sleeping place on the floor.”

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

Alexandra Litvinova, an activist who fled the Russian high-tech city of Innopolis when the war began, had planned to move in with Kuleshov. Instead, he found himself sourcing beds for Russians who had just arrived in Bishkek.

“I myself and almost everyone I know from the first wave have couchsurfers living with them,” he told The Moscow Times at an orientation event for new Russian arrivals in a Bishkek bar.

Litvinova also volunteered to help with a chat group on the Telegram messaging app that provides information for Russians who have arrived in Kyrgyzstan.

our partner
House “Red Roof” couple.
Ilya Kuleshov

He said the chat’s administrators were “very surprised” because the number of subscribers increased more than fivefold after the mobilization announcement and they started receiving inquiries from Kyrgyz journalists.

While the Kyrgyz reaction to the arrival of many Russians has been particularly positive, some tension has been sparked by the wealth of many new arrivals (per-capita purchasing power in Russia is six times that of Kyrgyzstan, according to to the World Bank).

In particular, Kyrgyz landlords have walking rent – some up to 100% – and there are cases of local tenants evicted in favor of Russia.

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

“Everyone is scared,” Litvinova said. “But it’s a chat that offers help and doesn’t cause war. So we have to ban 2,000 accounts.

Some Russians have encountered rental fraud and attempts by airport police to extort money, according to Litvinova, but she says these incidents are rare.

“The negativity is more immediate and visible, although the positive experiences here outweigh the negatives,” he said.

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

Alexandra Litvinova (Randa) at the Red Roof event.  @beureumbish
Alexandra Litvinova (Randa) at the Red Roof event.

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

“We were in a hurry and panicked, so we chose the itinerary that best suited our financial situation,” she said.

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

While those who fled Russia at the start of the war were mostly IT workers or other specialists with high incomes, Russians fleeing Putin’s mobilization have become more diverse economically and socially. according to to migration researcher Yan Matusevich.

Post-mobilization emigration includes “kids from smaller towns with zero money” and ethnic minorities from Siberia and the Far East with “absolutely no resources,” Matusevich said in a Twitter thread published in late September. “They were mostly shocked and confused, leaving only double bags behind.”

This lack of preparation, coupled with Putin’s announcement last month that Russia’s “partial” mobilization had ended, meant that some Russians who fled in September were already there. returned houses, easing pressure on rents in cities like Bishkek.

But many more are going to stay abroad, fearing that the mobilization could start again.

Alexandra Litvinova (2nd R) at the Red Roof event.  @beureumbish
Alexandra Litvinova (2nd R) at the Red Roof event.

Litvinova even predicted that Kyrgyzstan would soon face a “third wave” of Russian emigres. “These will be women and children who will accompany their husbands after completing their affairs in Russia,” he said.

And growing pains from the arrival of so many Russians have also come economic opportunities.

Kyrgyzstan’s economy grow 8% in the first eight months of this year, up from just 3.6% in all of 2021. Another popular destination for refugees is Russia, which has also seen an economic boom, with the South Caucasus countries of Georgia and Armenia now expectrespectively 10% and 13% economic growth this year.

Economist forecast the arrival of specialists and potential investors from Russia, as well as multinational corporations like apples relocating their staff to Bishkek, will provide a tangible boost to the Kyrgyz economy.

“I really hope for at least part of their money [Russians] bring and pay here will be a way into the state budget,” said Litvinova.

“I want this wave to benefit Kyrgyzstan.”

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