Young Russians reflect on war from Ireland

*The surnames of some sources have been omitted to protect their identities. 

When Marina* left her western Russian home last month it marked a significant change of plans for the 25 year-old. A year after returning home from college in Dublin, she departed for Ireland again, a place free of war where she could pursue a career in marketing. 

The time of Marina’s departure also marked a turning point in Russia’s nearly 8-month-old invasion of Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation five days prior. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not only forced out thousands of Ukrainians, but the war has caused some of the country’s own citizens to leave, with a few young Russians arriving in Ireland. 

For years Marina had considered moving as she lived through events like Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, along with her father’s constant encouragement to achieve her dreams somewhere more free. The war in Ukraine made these plans urgent. 

“Like OK I would move one day, but we didn’t know that it would be like it is now,” she said.  

Marina is among the young Russians opposed to the invasion of Ukraine like Alexander*, an 18 year-old student in Dublin. He arrived in September after brief stints in Bulgaria and Israel. 

Alexander, who’s from a different western Russian city, was arrested in an anti-war protest with his father in early March, he told Babylon. After their release from jail the police posted a note on his home notifying passers-by of the arrest. 

It soon became clear that his family must leave. The war had been hard on their mental health with the inescapable realisation that “Oh, we are living in a country that (is) attacking the other country, and we cannot do anything or we can, but it will do nothing,” he said. 

His immediate family is now split across four countries. 

The dissent to the invasion among young Russians is not surprising, Katja Bruisch said, an assistant professor in environmental history at Trinity College.

 “I think we have been seeing for a while now that there is a generational gap in people’s support for Putin in Russia,” she said. 

This trend is not to say that there are no younger Russians who support the war but rather that among those opposed to it, it’s more likely that they are younger, Bruisch said, a historian with a focus in modern Russian history. 

While Marina estimated that the vast majority of her generation are against the war, Alexander was hesitant to guess. Many of the people he knows are more “democratic” and against the war, but he is aware of some his age who are supporting the invasion to follow the idea of being a patriot, he said. 

Bruisch declined to give any estimates of the support for the war among young Russians. Sociologists have indicated that public polls about the war in Ukraine are likely unreliable due to factors like those who are against the war not responding to the polls, she told Babylon. 

Opposition to the war is not just predicated on age but also by class and where people reside geographically, Bruisch said. These demographic factors remind her of the protests following the 2011 presidential elections, which were especially seen in Russia’s large cities. 

Thousands of Russians have fled following Putin’s announcement of the partial mobilisation on September 21. Alexander nor Marina fled the mobilisation, but both have family and friends who’ve left since the announcement. 

The influx of Russians leaving following the mobilisation is likely driven by a combination of those protesting the war and others who are afraid to die in battle, Bruisch told Babylon. The Russian army’s high number of losses is known back home, she said. 

“It’s not a secret in Russia anymore,” Bruisch said. “That has reached the population and people don’t want to sacrifice their lives for a war that they may either not support or they may be even against.”

An exploded house in Borodyanka, Ukraine.
Russians in Ireland

Ireland has not seen a massive increase in Russians arriving this year. Visa applications from those of Russian nationality through August of this year was more than 2,600, whereas in 2019 Ireland received nearly 18,000 applications, according to data from the Department of Justice. 

However, there has been a significant increase in the number of international protection applications from Russians. Whereas only 22 individuals claiming Russian nationality applied for this status from 2019-2021, 48 had already applied this year through September.

Ireland has not seen an influx of Rusians fleeing the mobilisation likely because Ireland is not part of the Schengen Zone, the world’s largest visa-free zone, and because Europe has generally been more restrictive on giving Russians tourist visas, she said. While the Schengen Zone does not include Russia, “there seems to be migration to the EU from Russians who had had a Schengen visa already,” Bruisch wrote via email. 

These restrictions complicated Marina’s arrival in Ireland, she told Babylon, as she had one visa to arrive in Finland, a Schnegen country, and another one to work in Ireland. It’s unclear when she’ll return home. 

Marina wants to return to an improved Russia, she told Babylon, similarly to Alexander. Once Russia is a “normal country” with political diversity, free media and less corruption he will return, he said. 

If things improve, Marina would like to return to spend time with her ageing parents. 

“So of course you would love to spend (time) with them, more time now, before they would pass so that’s tough,” she said. 

The war appears to be entering a new phase. There have been some successful counter offensives for Ukraine in recent weeks in addition to a symbolic victory as the Kerch Bridge, which connects Russia and the previously-annexed Crimea, was damaged in an explosion two weeks ago. These gains have been met with increased Russian drone strikes on places like the capital, Kyiv, and the country’s electrical grid. 

“Pro-Kremlin officials” are currently leaving Kherson, a Ukrainian city captured early on, as Ukrainian forces continue to advance, as reported by RTÉ earlier today.

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Jacob Owens

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