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Russians opposed to Putin's war find new life in neighboring Georgia

Anti-war Russians find new life in Georgia
Anti-war Russian emigrants find new life in Georgia 05:03

This week, 60 Minutes correspondent  Sharyn Alfonsi reported from Tbilisi, Georgia, the capital of the small country that shares a 556-mile border with its much larger neighbor, Russia, which is waging a brutal and seemingly endless war of aggression against Ukraine.

As the invasion of Ukraine began, Russians fled the country in droves. And now, 100,000 Russians are living in Georgia. 

But there's significant concern among some Georgians that their arrival will lead to a "Russification" of their country and be used as a pretext for Russia to invade Georgia again, as it did in 2008 when they took about 20% of Georgia's sovereign territory. 

Emmanuil Lisnif, George Smorgulenko and Pavel Bakhadov arrived in Tbilisi last year. All Russians in their twenties, they fled their home country for fear of being drafted or punished for speaking out against President Vladimir Putin. 

Alfonsi spoke with the three young men at the Russian-owned comedy club where they work. She asked Bakhadov why he decided to speak to 60 Minutes.

"For me, it's really important to say for the big audience that can see this, that Russians are really against the war," explained Bakhadov.

George Smorgulenko , Emmanuil Lisnif and Pavel Bakhadov
George Smorgulenko , Emmanuil Lisnif and Pavel Bakhadov are all Russians living in Georgia. 60 Minutes

Bakhadov said there is anti-Russian graffiti that is visible from his apartment window: "Russians Go Home." But Bakhadov doesn't pay that suggestion any mind. 

"I'm already home," he told Alfonsi. 

60 Minutes also spoke with a married couple, Viktor Lyagushkin and Bogdana Vashchenko, who have a unique story. Lyagushkin is Russian. Vashchenko is Ukrainian. Before the war, they lived in Moscow and worked documenting underwater caves for National Geographic. 

When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Vashchenko, who holds a Ukrainian passport, says she became terrified about what could happen to her in Russia and feared for her friends and family still living in Ukraine. She said she couldn't tolerate living in Russia, the aggressor in a war against her home country.

"Physically, psychologically, I couldn't. I couldn't stay there. I couldn't sleep," Vashchenko said.

They decided to flee Moscow. Lyagushkin phoned some friends that were living up north, hoping they could stay with them before fleeing to Norway. They asked whether Vashchenko supported "fascists" in Ukraine and explained that if she did, they would have to report her to Russian intelligence. 

The couple then drove more than 1,200 miles from Moscow to Tbilisi. Vashchenko said she hid under a blanket in the backseat of their car because she was so afraid of what might happen to Ukrainians at Russian checkpoints. They eventually made it across the Georgian border.

"I will keep this in my head forever," Vashchenko told 60 Minutes. "To cross [the] Georgian border and you feel you are safe. Freedom. No Putin."

Alfonsi asked Lyagushkin if he will ever go back to Russia. 

"No. And this conversation that we're having right now is, according to the Russian law, punishable by up to eight years of jail," he said.

The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and Will Croxton. It was edited by Will Croxton.

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