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Thousands flee Russia over government crackdown on protests, news outlets: "I'm a refugee again"

Ukraine war triggers Russian exodus
Putin's war on Ukraine triggers many Russians to search for freedom in other countries 04:42

Thousands of Russians are fleeing their home country as the Kremlin cracks down on anyone protesting the war in Ukraine and news outlets reporting on it. The Russian government has enacted new laws threatening jail time for spreading "misinformation" about the military.

A mother and her two children managed to escape to San Francisco, citing the fear of being persecuted.

"I'm actually very angry that I had to go. But... what did it for me was another of Putin's speeches when he mentioned atomic weapons, I was like 'now I'm scared,'" the mother, Yulia, told CBS News.

Yulia, her sister Olga and her brother Yakov are all U.S. citizens. Their parents fled the Soviet Union in the 80s as political refugees. After college, though, Yulia returned to the country.

"Russia was very exciting," Yulia said. "It was new and it just seemed very free. So then, cut to 20 years later, I'm a refugee again."

"I'm trying to fight the feeling of being a failure," she added. "I mean, my parent's did so much to get us out, and here I am again."

Yulia and her children are dual citizens, which made it easier for them to get out of Russia. But, she said she was forced to leave behind her 93-year-old grandmother.

Yakov visited Moscow from his home in Massachusetts and took over trying to get their grandmother out, but he said he soon realized what he was up against.

"We talked to almost every single embassy in Europe," Yakov said.

Anaida Zadykyan, an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, told CBS News that Russians are hitting a dead end when it comes to fleeing.

"All the sanctions that western countries took against Russia, there is basically no flights. It's really hard to get out right now," she said.

More Russians are heading to Mexico, where it is easier to get a tourist visa, before making their way to the U.S. border to seek asylum.

More than 7,000 Russians have entered the U.S. through the southern border this year — almost double the number from last year.

Zadykyan said of those feeing that, "most of the people that I see are the supporters of the opposition, bright individuals, educated. Some people are members of the LGBT community. It's like younger crowds in their 20s."

"It's going to be really bad for Russia, not just in an economic sense, but like, in a cultural sense," Yakov said.

Yakov later told CBS News over Zoom that an embassy was able to fast track an emergency visa appointment in Armenia because of his grandmother's medical issues. After a month and a half, the family finally welcomed their matriarch to the U.S.

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