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Russia’s top talent fleeing to other countries
By Michael Laff
August 3, 2023

Russia’s top talent fleeing to other countries

Russians are leaving their country at rates not seen in decades. Above, people walk through Red Square in Moscow in 2019. (© Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)


Alexandra Prokopenko, a Moscow native, worked for Russia’s central bank in 2022. She enjoyed the job and running in Meshchersky Park, which reminded her of a giant forest. Following Russia’s full-scale 2022 invasion of Ukraine, she moved to Germany. She misses Moscow but believes it offers little opportunities for her. “I don’t think Russian authorities will admit it, but we’ve seen a massive brain drain,” Prokopenko told National Public Radio.

Taking their skills elsewhere

Young Russians are leaving their homeland in waves. The Washington Post called the current exodus “a tidal wave on scale with emigration following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.” About 1 million Russians have left since 2022, including an estimated 100,000 IT specialists who comprise 10% of the technology sector.

‘No future’

Many young, highly educated Russians who speak foreign languages and travel abroad decided they have a better future outside of Russia.

One week after Russia started its war against Ukraine, Vladimir Belugin quit his job at Yandex, a Moscow-based search engine company. He moved to Cyprus. “I think there is no future,” says Belugin of his remaining in Russia.

“The war and emigration speaks to a whole generation of Russians who feel their future has been stolen from them,” Timothy Frye, a Columbia University professor of political science and a Russia specialist, told ShareAmerica. “This class was hoping to be citizens of the world. Now that option is no longer available to them.”


Russians are seen attempting to leave their country to avoid a military call-up for Russia’s war against Ukraine. Lines formed at the Kazbegi border crossing into Georgia September 28, 2022. (© Davit Kachkachishvili/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Many reasons for leaving

Russian citizens who migrated to Armenia and Georgia cited three reasons for leaving, in order of importance, during interviews (PDF, 1MB) Harvard University conducted November 2022 and January 2023:

  • A repressive political climate.
  • Russia’s war against Ukraine.
  • Mobilization of men for military service.

The average age of migrants in both nations who were interviewed was early 30s. Russian citizens were leaving the country, however, even before Russia’s February 2022 Ukraine invasion. An exodus began in 2020. Many Russians left for greater economic opportunities or because they were disillusioned with the corruption and political repression, said John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He co-authored a 2019 study about Russia’s brain drain (PDF, 4MB), surveying 400 Russian emigres living in Europe and the United States. “It was and is a serious brain drain,” Herbst said. “Those who left are by and large more educated and more enterprising. That is a net loss for the Russian economy.”

Talent goes to other countries

The loss for Russia is a boon for other parts of the world. Russians who fled to countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are buying up or starting small businesses such as cafes, tire shops and small farms and real estate, Cynthia Buckley, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois, told ShareAmerica. That investment could have stayed in Russia.

Russian pop singer Alla Pugacheva, right, poses with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a 2014 award ceremony. She left Russia in opposition to Putin’s war against Ukraine. (© Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin/AP)


A July 2023 report from the French Institute of International Relations said the Russians leaving were “self-made and independent-minded.” It noted Russians’ “capital flight” totaled more than $30 billion. Talented people with careers in art, entertainment or science unrelated to politics also are leaving. Many high-profile figures who emigrated face criminal charges in Russia for criticizing the war under the Kremlin’s “foreign agents” law.

“There is only one reason so many artists have left: It’s unsafe and dangerous to express a negative opinion of what Russian authorities call ‘a special operation,’ and what the world calls an invasion,” wrote Alexander Molochnikov, a prominent director. He left after criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine. Molochnikov is in New York, studying at Columbia University. He says he is “trying to find a way to stage plays again … trying to find some safe passages for colleagues in the Moscow art scene who have been left behind.”