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Russian family prefers exile to 'unbearable' pro-war mood at home

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By Reuters

TBILISI – A day after Russia invaded Ukraine, married couple Olga and Nikolai Kustov locked up their St Petersburg apartment, took their children out of school, and moved to a foreign country.

Despite facing an uncertain future, they still believe they are better off than if they stayed in Russia.

The couple – along with their children aged two and seven, Olga’s Ukrainian-born mother and their pet cat – are now settling into life in neighbouring Georgia, part of a rapidly-swelling diaspora that has quit Russia in the five weeks since Moscow launched what it calls its “special military operation”, but which the West and Ukraine say is a war of aggression.

“What happened did not leave us the option to live our old lives, even if we stayed in our flat, in the same job, with friends and relatives,” says Olga.

“In Russia, I was surrounded by people who supported it (the war). It was unbearable,” she said.

She and her husband worked as electrical engineers back home and are doing their jobs remotely. Their seven-year old is being home schooled.

Grandmother Nadezhda Fyodorova, who was born in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, says she felt she was betraying her homeland by staying in a country that was waging war against it.

“It seems to me that many don’t want to understand what is happening. It is just easier for them that way,” said cardiologist Nadezhda, adding she would work in Ukraine as a doctor if the option arose.

For the family, it is too early to say if and when they will return to Russia.

“As long as the situation is as it is, as long as we are pariahs there, I don’t see any point in going back,” says Nikolai. “I honestly believe that it’s in Russia that Russians are treated the worst.”

According to Georgian government officials cited by local media, between Feb. 24 – the date the war began – and March 20, some 35,028 Russian citizens arrived in Georgia, of which over 14,000 had yet to leave the country.