Watch CBS News

Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine drives thousands of Russians to flee their own country

Some leave Russia to oppose war
Some Russians leave home to oppose war 03:23

Istanbul, Turkey — A large, mostly Russian crowd pulsed to music from a stage in Turkey recently. The message blaring from the speakers was for the whole world to hear. 

"No to war!" shouted prominent Russian rapper Oxxxymiron from the front of the crowd. He was giving a voice to the many Russians who do not back their president's war in Ukraine.    

Oxxxymiron's March concert in Istanbyl, the proceeds from which went to help displaced Ukrainians, drew a large crowd of like-minded Russians. Many had only recently left their country in protest of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Russia's neighbor to the west.

Anti-war rap concert by Russian rapper Oxxxymiron, in Istanbul
People hold anti-war placards before a rap concert to benefit Ukraine, by Russian rapper Oxxxymiron, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 15, 2022. DILARA SENKAYA/REUTERS

While it pales in comparison to the roughly 4.6 million Ukrainians driven from their country by the war, an estimated 200,000 people fled Russia during the first 10 days of the invasion alone.  

Adrei Andreev was among them. The 35-year-old pianist left Russia soon after the attack on Ukraine began on February 24 — a couple weeks before he was scheduled to play a concert in St. Petersburg. 

After studying in the United States, Andreev established himself as an artist in St. Petersburg. But the war shattered his confidence in Russia.     

"The situation in Ukraine made a lot of Russians to be concerned with their future, about their career and safeness," he told CBS News.

Now he seeks solace in Beethoven's symphonies, and hopes his self-imposed exile will be temporary. 

Speaking out against the war in Russia now has grave consequences. Independent analysts say more than 15,000 people have been detained in Russia for protesting against the war.

Putin signed a law weeks ago making it a crime to even refer to the war as a "war," criminalizing any reporting that contradicts the his government's version of what it calls the "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Media crackdown leaves many Russians in the dark about conflict 02:56

Independent Russian journalist Gleb Pianykh and his family arrived in Turkey a few weeks ago. He's now reporting from Istanbul. 

"I have a lot of comments to my reports," he told CBS News. "Half of them are: 'You are the traitor; you are not a patriot; get out, never come back to Russia.'" 

Pianykh said the government's propaganda, delivered by the state-run official media channels, dominates the narrative of the war in Russia, and even some of his friends believe the bizarre claims. 

"I asked all of them, 'Don't you understand who is bombing Kharkiv, Kyiv, all the cities, don't you understand?' 'Those are the Ukrainians, Ukrainians themselves bomb the cities,' they say. 'Why do you believe it?' They say, 'Because we see it on TV.'" 

Reports of women in Ukraine being sexually assaulted by Russian led forces 05:51

The reporter's bravery and determination to continue telling the truth came at a cost. He left a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle in Moscow for an empty flat in an Istanbul suburb.   

"You don't allow me to call this war a war, what should I do as a journalist?" he asked rhetorically. "Well, I escape." 

While the war continues to increase Russia's isolation on the world stage, Vladimir Putin's country seems also to be losing many of its best and brightest citizens.   

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.