buruma193_Daro SulakauriGetty Images_russians leaving Daro Sulakauri/Getty Images

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The choice to escape an oppressive regime by leaving one’s country invariably provokes a great deal of self-righteousness among regime opponents who leave and those who remain. The bitter rift that often develops between people who should be on the same side but made different existential choices is a victory for such regimes.

NEW YORK – It is not exactly clear how many Russians have left their country since the beginning of the war on Ukraine. Some say more than a million, some say less. But sheer numbers may be less important than the caliber of many leavers. They are among the most highly educated Russians: writers, computer scientists, journalists, filmmakers, musicians, academics, actors, and so on.

Some leave because they have no choice. Journalists who were critical of the war, such as Yevgenia Albats, editor of The New Times, had to flee to avoid being arrested for spreading “fake news” or being “foreign agents.” Others leave because they find life inside Putin’s Russia insupportable.

Olga Smirnova, prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet, moved to Amsterdam. She said that she “never would have thought” that she’d be “ashamed of Russia,” but that the war made it impossible for her to stay. Hundreds of thousands of young men fled ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s recent “partial mobilization,” rather than risk being sent to fight in a war they never wanted.