Russian environmental activists move abroad amid war and persecution

Dozens of environmental activists fled Russia after the invasion of Ukraine in a mass exodus that has reduced focus on fighting climate change and weakened the country’s nascent environmental protest movement.

“Since the beginning of the war, it has been much more dangerous to talk about the environment,” said Ivan Drobotov, a Russian environmental activist who fled to neighboring Georgia in June.

“There are fewer and fewer people willing to speak at all. Doing it alone has become more complicated and dangerous.” So many people were stunned and lost the ability to think and act. too much. “

Many of these activists left because they feared political persecution amid a wartime crackdown on any kind of dissent. While some continue to pressure the Russian government from abroad, others have shifted their focus to opposing the war in Ukraine or redirected their energies to address domestic issues in their new homes.

For Ksenia Klimova, a volunteer with Greenpeace in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, it was constant pressure from the police that forced her to leave.

“I spent time in prison. They accused me of defaming me [the Russian Armed Forces]. For several months, the police did not leave me alone. “I was very afraid that they would come to search my house,” Klimova said.

Ivan Drobotov Ivan Drobotov / Facebook

Ivan Drobotov
Ivan Drobotov / Facebook

“I didn’t really want to leave. I hoped it would all stop. But at some point, I realized that nothing stops and that it is impossible to live your life.”

In the early days of the war, the police detained Many well-known environmental activists.

Drobotov, who previously worked with Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, was arrested on charges of working for the youth protest movement Vesna. He was banned from leaving the country before a court hearing, yet he fled to Georgia.

They will put me in jail [if I come back] Because there is already a criminal case against me and I’m on the federal wanted list,” said Drobotov.

Environmental issues and climate change are particularly pressing in Russia – the world’s fourth largest producer of greenhouse emissions. The Arctic and Siberian regions are warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world.

The country has taken tentative steps in recent years to address environmental issues, ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement and last year announcing The goal is to reach net zero emissions by 2060. But the Ukraine war has led to important steps backward, from the persecution of activists to Reducing It is an important environmental protection.

While Drobotov and Klimova went to the southern Caucasus country of Georgia, Lyuba Samilova, the Russian coordinator for the global climate outreach group Friday For Future, moved to Germany.

Ksenia Klimova Ksenia Klimova / VKontakte

Ksenia Klimova
Ksenia Klimova / VKontakte

“Stabilization takes a long time,” Samilova told the Moscow Times.

“We arrived in April and [for several months] We had no registration or visa. Two months ago, we’ve been living here illegally. No bank account, just a SIM and insurance.”

Since leaving Russia, Samilova said she has focused on anti-war protests and only attended one event related to climate change.

Other activists said they chose to focus on protesting the war.

“Honestly, this is difficult,” said Klimova. After September 21 [when Russia announced mobilization] It is particularly difficult to work on environmental issues.”

Perhaps Russia’s most prominent climate change activist, Arshak Makechian, left the country in March and now also lives in Germany. McKeishian has linked protesting war to fighting to stop global warming.

The revolution in Russia is the solution [the] climate crisis” chirp advance this month.

However, the activism of immigrants does not end with a protest against the war.

Lyuba Samilova Lyuba Samilova / Twitter

Lyuba Samilova
Lyuba Samilova / Twitter

In Georgia, Russian activists have been involved in efforts to improve the local environment, Drobotov and Klimova told the Moscow Times.

“Locals are also starting to get involved in this environmental movement that our immigrants brought with them,” said Drobotov. “That’s cool. So [our] The state does not let good practices settle in our country, let’s use them in other countries.”

Russian environmental activists in both Georgia and Armenia have formed groups that meet and collect trash, according to Drobotov.

“People were kicked out of their country…and cut off from everything they had worked so hard for—but as soon as they got to a new place, they looked around and started making the world better,” said Drobotov.

“It is very true and very satisfying. One day we will put things in order in our country.”

When asked about their future, exiled activists tend to say they don’t see themselves returning to Russia anytime soon.

“I don’t understand yet what Russia means to me now,” said Sonia Epifantseva, a climate activist who left Russia for the United States last year. “For now, I’m trying not to lose heart and think I still have a chance to see my country liberated from tyranny and imperialism.”

Arshak Makichyan Anna Antanayrite / Greenpeace

Arshak Makishian
Anna Antanirett / Greenpeace

Russian climate change groups and activists, including Epifantseva, last month Foot A lawsuit in the Russian Supreme Court against the government for its failure to act on climate change.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in several countries – but this is a first for Russia.

“We wanted to file a lawsuit in the spring, but we are postponing it to the indefinite future because of the war,” said Epifantseva. “It may seem insignificant, but I think the more nails you put in the coffin of the regime, the better. I don’t think we will achieve anything in terms of Russian legislation. But it is an important precedent documenting Putin’s responsibility for the climate crisis.”

Most of the activists who spoke to The Moscow Times said that environmental protests have the potential to play a major role in shaping Russian policy if – and when – there is a change in the regime.

“Environmental issues are the impetus that can move citizens’ actions to protect their rights into the political sphere,” said Vladimir Nikolaev, a veteran environmental activist from the Siberian city of Tyumen who moved to Georgia after the invasion of Ukraine.

Sonya Epifantseva Sonya Epifantseva / Twitter

Sonya Epifantseva
Sonia Epifantseva / Twitter

“Environmental activists have serious potential as a political force. If there is a way to use this potential [in Russia]He said.

Drobotov sees environmental protests and climate change as a way to reach a large number of Russians who would otherwise not engage in politics.

“A lot of people see the fight for the environment as commonplace and think it has more support than purely political initiatives,” he said.

“It’s easier for people to join these kinds of protests.”

However, activists agreed that it is unlikely that environmental activity will return within Russia any time soon.

“At the moment, all activities in Russia have been completely suppressed,” Klimova said.

“As long as Russia is under the control of the people in power now – there can be no activity at all.”

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