Russians who oppose Putin’s war are finding new life in neighboring Georgia

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.

When the invasion of Ukraine began, Russians fled the country in droves. And now 100,000 Russians live in Georgia.

However, some Georgians fear that their arrival could lead to a “Russification” of their country and serve as a pretext for Russia to invade Georgia again, as it did in 2008, when the country captured about 20% of Georgian territory.

Emmanuil Lisnif, George Smorgulenko and Pavel Bakhadov came to Tbilisi last year. They are all Russians in their 20s and fled their home country for fear of being drafted or punished for speaking out against President Vladimir Putin.

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

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“It’s really important for me to tell the large audience that can see this that the Russians are really against the war,” Bakhadov explained.

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

60 minutes

Bakhadov said that anti-Russian graffiti could be seen from the window of his apartment: “Russians are going home.” But Bakhadov paid no attention to this suggestion.

“I’m already home,” he said to 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 documented underwater caves for National Geographic.

When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Vashchenko, who holds a Ukrainian passport, said she was afraid of what might happen to her in Russia and feared for her friends and family who still lived in Ukraine. She said she couldn’t stand living in Russia, the aggressor in a war against her homeland.

“Physically and mentally I couldn’t. I couldn’t stay there. I couldn’t sleep,” Vashchenko said.

They decided to flee Moscow. Lyagushkin called some friends who lived in the north, hoping they could stay with them before fleeing to Norway. They asked whether Vashchenko supported “fascists” in Ukraine and said that if so, 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 back seat of her car because she was very afraid of what might happen to Ukrainians at Russian checkpoints. They eventually made it across the Georgian border.

“I’ll keep that in my mind forever,” Vashchenko told 60 Minutes. “Cross [the] You reach the Georgian border and feel safe. Freedom. No Putin.”

Alfonsi asked Lyagushkin if he would ever return to Russia.

“No. And this conversation we are having right now is punishable by up to eight years in prison under Russian law,” he said.

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

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