While the Western world is focused on the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled since Russian President Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine in late February, Russia is in the midst of an unprecedented exodus of tech workers.
Three days after the Kremlin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine, 35-year-old tech worker Pavel Telitchenko packed up his wife and 3-year-old son and emigrated to neighboring Latvia. Telitchenko told The Washington Post he spent years contemplating a move from Russia, fearing the eventual rise of a police state.
“I did not want to make an emotional decision, but I could not raise my son in a country like that,” he said. “The war made me realize that Russia will not change.”
According to the Post, last month the Russian Association for Electronic Communications told the lower house of Russia’s parliament that 50,000 to 70,000 tech workers have left the country, with 100,000 more expected to leave over the next month.
Ok Russians, a nonprofit group aiding emigres, used social media surveys and a sampling of data from neighboring countries to estimate that almost 300,000 Russians have left since the conflict began.
Mitya Aleshkovskiy, co-founder of Ok Russians, told the Post that, of those fleeing the country from tech, many fear Russia’s newfound global isolation, unfavorable business climate and near-complete authoritarianism.
According to Aleshkovskiy, the Russian government is “really scared and shocked,” by the swell of outbound migration.
“The prime minister of Russia has been begging these guys to stay,” he said. “He’s telling them, ‘Don’t worry that Apple leaves, we will build our own Apple Store. Please don’t go.’ … But I would say that the best people are leaving right now. … The highly skilled, highly educated, highly paid specialists.”
The current exodus is Russia’s single fastest since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, when millions of intellectuals and economic elites fled the emerging Soviet Union, global migration and Russian population experts say.
“In some ways, this is a first,” Jeanne Batalova, a global migration expert at the Migration Policy Institute told the Post. “We’re talking about a lot of people in a very condensed period, a matter of weeks. In 1917, Russia was in the midst of a civil war. But this is happening at time when there is no war within Russia itself.”
The loss of so much talent is threatening to destabilize a number of Russian industries, from the state media to the aerospace and aviation sectors, already feeling the sting of Western economic sanctions.
In a bid to curtail their losses, the Russian government passed an incentive package, offering IT firms tax breaks and reduced regulation to stay, the Post reports.
The package offers IT workers subsidized housing, salary increases and a moratorium on income tax for the next three years, as well as an exemption from military conscription. Many young Russians have reportedly fled the country to avoid military service.
Western tech companies limiting their operations in Russia, or pulling out of the country entirely, as well as Western economic sanctions are also spurring the current wave of tech emigration. Smaller Russian tech companies, or companies led by international Russians are also leaving, the Post reports.
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