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Buenos Aires

‘No one here tells you how to live’ The anti-war Russians who have made Latin America their new home

Source: Meduza
Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
Gustavo Garello / Getty Images

Story by Meduza. Abridged translation by Carol Matlack.

After Moscow launched its full-scale war against Ukraine, Russians who opposed the war started leaving the country en masse. Then, when Vladimir Putin announced mobilization seven months later, emigration spiked again as potential conscripts scrambled to avoid being sent into battle. While hundreds of thousands of these emigrants stayed relatively close, moving to countries like Georgia and Kazakhstan, hundreds of others went all the way to Latin America. Meduza spoke with emigrants in Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, and Costa Rica about their decision to move to the other side of the world, the difficulties they’ve encountered, and the freedoms they’ve experienced in their new homes.

South America


76th place in the the World Happiness index (Russia is 80th) 

30th place in the ILGA’s LGBTQ+ rating (Russia is 113th)

88th place in the Freedom House ranking of civil liberties in countries (Russia is 172nd)

79th place in the Global Peace Index (Russia is 160th)

Anton N.

Product manager

I decided to leave on September 21, when the mobilization was announced. A friend and former colleague wrote to me: “Would you like to go to Latin America?” The idea was not hypothetical, because his acquaintances had offered us jobs there. It only took me a minute to decide to move to Ecuador, which was a place I knew nothing about.

I was afraid the Russian border would be closed, so I bought tickets to Vladikavkaz the same day and crossed the border into Georgia on foot. In Georgia, I stayed with friends: at the time, it was difficult to find even temporary housing in Tbilisi. A week later I flew to Turkey, where I met my friend, and from there to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

What surprised me most about Ecuador was the weather. The temperatures are the same all year round, rising to 19 degrees (Celsius, or 66 degree Fahrenheit) during the day and dropping to 9 degrees (Celsius, or 48 degree Fahrenheit) at night. 

Daily expenses are not much different than in Moscow. A spacious apartment near Quito’s central park costs $850 for two people. The cost of groceries depends on whether they are imported. A pack of local pasta is only about one-third the cost of imported Italian pasta.

fleeing to Kazakhstan

‘The locals treat us like refugees — and they’re right’ In his own words, a Russian man recalls fleeing to Kazakhstan to evade the draft

fleeing to Kazakhstan

‘The locals treat us like refugees — and they’re right’ In his own words, a Russian man recalls fleeing to Kazakhstan to evade the draft

I work remotely for a Moscow-based company, so my salary goes into a Russian account. It’s not clear what will happen when I am officially no longer a Russian resident, which would raise my tax rate to 30%.

Luckily, I have a Georgian bank card, to which I can easily transfer money using cryptocurrency. You can only open an account in an Ecuadorian bank if you have a residence permit, which I don’t have yet. There are some inconveniences in using the Georgian card — for example, people here prefer to pay rent and big purchases only by bank transfer, which I can’t do.

Because of the time difference, I work from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. (Editor's note: Quito time is eight hours behind Moscow time.) It’s difficult, but on the other hand, time flies fast at night.

My Russian friends here are helping me get a residence permit. They took me into their business as an external expert in the local market. I help with projects in the banking sector, as I have experience in banking. Recently, I received a certificate of no criminal record from the Russian embassy, which is necessary to obtain a residence permit. Now I just have to wait for my turn at the migration service to get the permit.

I'm gay, and that gives me an advantage in meeting people and immersing myself in the local culture. In my experience, the LGBT+ community is always more open. Also, people are immediately sympathetic because of Russia’s reputation for homophobia. It’s unusual for me to be in a country where there's no political pressure on the LGBT+ community. My friends joke that I'm very shy and inhibited, because out of habit, I try not to talk openly about the community. It’s hard to feel free. But friends say that loosening up is just a matter of time.

I’ve already encountered street crime. Some of my local buddies and I were sitting in the car, getting ready to go home from a party. Three criminals opened the doors, threatened us with a screwdriver, and took our phones, watches, and car keys so that we couldn’t follow them. The police didn’t help at all. Through Find My Phone, we located our devices at a place in a tough neighborhood where stolen goods are sold. But none of us risked going there.

I can’t say that I’m completely euphoric about the move. My subconscious still reminds me that I had to leave a lot of the things I was used to behind in Russia. But I try to stay positive and tell myself that it takes time to adapt.

South America


57th place in the World Happiness index (Russia is 80th)

9th place in the ILGA’s LGBTQ+ rating (Russia is 113th)

55th place in the Freedom House ranking of civil liberties in countries (Russia is 172nd)

69th place in the Global Peace Index (Russia is 160th)

Mark Boyarsky


My wife Viktoria and I had been thinking about moving for years, but we didn’t know where to. Since 2011, we’d been going to rallies and protests, and each year, we had less and less hope. After the annexation of Crimea and the amendments to the Constitution, we realized we didn't have the strength to keep hoping. 

When the war started, we hesitated for a week: stay or go? By then, we had a mortgage, a home that was a third of the way through remodeling, a rental apartment, and my job as a photographer, which can’t be done by telecommuting. Viktoria was on a long maternity leave and had been blogging about housekeeping. But how do you write about the comfort of home when such horrible things are going on around you?

We bought tickets to Nepal, where friends had invited us. Living in Nepal for six months changed our family and made us stronger. It turned out we could adapt to a lot of things that we'd never known before. Most importantly, it was an opportunity to reboot.

We met with representatives of an organization that helps families relocate. They suggested Great Britain. But we were refused. By then, we had wildly overstayed our Nepalese visas, and we had to pay a fine of $3,000. We felt as if we were in a fog.

We bought tickets to Buenos Aires and flew there on September 10. We had been thinking about Argentina for a long time. We had subscribed to the blog of a woman there who has a wife and two daughters — a nice queer family. The blogger’s posts made Buenos Aires look perfect for us. We found a temporary apartment on Airbnb the day before our flight from Kathmandu.

We rent our apartment for $800 a month and spend about the same amount on other expenses. My wife works as an editor and receives her salary in rubles on a Russian card. We use cryptocurrency to withdraw it.

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In Moscow, I never had to look for work; orders for photo shoots poured in. But in Argentina, no one knew me. In Moscow, I had mostly done food photography. I did some free shoots here in Buenos Aires to establish myself, posted them in online communities, and orders started coming in — not a lot, but it was alright. I earn less than in Moscow. There I made 7,000 rubles (about $100) an hour, while here it’s about 6,300 (about $90) for an entire shoot. 

Another challenge was finding a school and a kindergarten for our two children: Hannah, who is seven, and Joseph, who’s four. We arrived in September, but the school year in Argentina starts in March and ends in December. It’s almost impossible to get into a public school at the end of the year, so we enrolled them in a private school. Compared to Moscow prices, it was super cheap: 10,000–12,000 rubles (about $143–$171) a month per child. Hannah had completed first grade in Moscow; now she’s in first grade again, but this gives her an opportunity to adapt, and in March she’ll enter second grade.

You can stay in Argentina without a residence permit for 90 days, with an extension up to 180 days. We’re in the process of getting a residence permit.

the Russian language abroad

A taste for resistance Philologist Gasan Gusejnov explains how Russian-speakers beyond the Kremlin’s control are learning to use language to undermine the Putin regime

the Russian language abroad

A taste for resistance Philologist Gasan Gusejnov explains how Russian-speakers beyond the Kremlin’s control are learning to use language to undermine the Putin regime

For the last two years, I’ve been learning Spanish on Duolingo, because my wife and I had been thinking about moving to Spain. My basic knowledge is still not enough, so I’m continuing to study with my family. It’s hard to interact with people at our daughter's school without knowing the language, but surprisingly, not impossible. The teacher uses Google Translate to give us important messages.

When I introduced myself in the school’s parent chat group, nearly all the parents responded with personal greetings and offers of help. We’ve encountered this attitude everywhere in Argentina.

Here, children can express themselves without fear. For the first time, there are LGBT+ families among our friends, and their example helps the children see this is normal.

In Nepal, we were embarrassed to say that we were from Russia, afraid that we might be judged. As time passed, we were able to process our feelings about the war and about being Russian, and to understand the difference between collective responsibility and guilt. We’ve let go of that, and if we’re asked about the war now, we find the strength to answer those questions.

South America


30th place in the World Happiness index (Russia is 80th)

3rd place in the ILGA’s LGBTQ+ rating (Russia is 113th)

6th place in the Freedom House ranking of civil liberties in countries (Russia is 172nd)

46th place in the Global Peace Index (Russia is 160th)

Polina Vinogradova

Musician, translator

I moved to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, in August 2022 with a single suitcase. I only said goodbye to my mother. I had long dreamed of living in a more liberal country, and the war spurred me not to wait any longer. It was difficult and lonely for me, and I often cried. It's not like I can just go back home for a week when I'm homesick.

This is not my first time emigrating, so I know that the first six months to a year is the hardest part. It's the time when you're getting used to the new country and struggling with the desire to return. You have to get over it, and then it becomes easier. Things get done, it’s easy to breathe, the sun shines.

The hardest part of the trip was the long flights, which took more than a day. There were no special questions at the borders; no one asked where I was going and why.

My husband and I are in business together, and he's also a programmer. I work remotely at a job that I love, and I don’t want to change it. I have to carefully calculate my online hours, though. (Editor's note: Quito time is six hours behind Moscow time.) I usually start about 7 a.m. and finish around 3 p.m.

Migration documents aren’t difficult to obtain: You submit the required documents through an online application and wait three to six months. You have to be vaccinated locally or show vaccination certificates from Russia. So Uruguay is not suitable for anti-vaxxers.

For a comfortable life, on average, you need about $2,000 per person per month. Renting a 1-bedroom apartment costs me $1,200, and groceries are about $600 per person. There are a lot of hipster cafes with good food; we can afford to go once or twice a week.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how well my socialization in Uruguay is going. In 10 years of living in Russia, I couldn’t find musicians for my band. But through social networks in Uruguay, I immediately found Russians to rehearse with me and prepare for recording in the studio. I already have a lot of friends, both Uruguayan and Russian. 

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I’ve encountered one difficulty: the language. My Spanish when I arrived was very basic. But after three months, I’ve mastered the local dialect at the everyday level, and that’s all I need. There are people here who speak English, which I’m fluent in.

I haven’t experienced street crime, but I know it exists, mainly at night and in poor neighborhoods. Unfortunately, domestic murders of women are common here and are a frequently discussed on the radio. Feminists often march in support of domestic violence victims.

All sexual orientations are completely tolerated in Uruguay (Editor's note: same-sex marriage was legalized in 2013). You often see rainbow flag symbols around the city. September was LGBT+ month, and I attended my first Pride march. There were thousands of people, including "traditional families" with children.

What surprised me most was the lack of judgment from people. There was too much of that in Russia. Here, nobody pays excessive attention to other people’s lives: No one tells you how to live, where to work, or how to dress. And the thrill of that is indescribable.

Central America

Costa Rica

23rd place in the World Happiness index (Russia is 80th)

63rd place in the ILGA’s LGBTQ+ rating (Russia is 113th)

36th place in the Freedom House ranking of civil liberties in countries (Russia is 172nd)

38th place in the Global Peace Index (Russia is 160th)

Olga Bastron

Sustainability project manager

My family and I moved to Costa Rica at the end of July. In February, we realized that it wasn't safe to stay in Russia, and in March, I started looking for a place to move. Initially, we decided on Israel. We had our repatriation papers ready. But after a few weeks of deliberation, we decided to move to Costa Rica. It’s far away from the current events, the armed conflicts, and hasn't had a regular army since 1949.

We thought the children would be safe in an environment where there aren't any conflicts related to the division of territory. Also, Costa Rica ranks high in the happiness ratings. People are very sensitive to the environment, and there are many natural parks and nature reserves.

We found a place right away, but I suspect we were just lucky. The housing market here is divided into two categories: one for Costa Ricans and another for people arriving from other countries. The cost difference is huge. In the first category, you can rent a modest, unfurnished place for about $300 a month. In the second, which will have everything you need, it’s at least $900 plus electricity.

We're still looking for things to do. I’m building a profile on LinkedIn and working with a teacher to prepare for interviews in English. We need to understand how we can fit into the context here and help the community. At our children’s school, I volunteered to help with the school’s Instagram account. I think our chances of adapting and integrating into the local community are high.

Our oldest daughter’s school asked for help in designing a small park in our village. I’m very interested in landscape development, so I went to the meeting. I was the only one who didn’t speak Spanish — and everyone spoke to me respectfully in English. For four days, we were immersed in the project, identifying residents’ needs and functional areas in the park that would help the community come together and become stronger. It was a turning point for me: I realized I wouldn’t be lost here.

Please, read this message from Meduza’s team:

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Not once has anyone who’s heard where we’re from shown anything but tact and sympathy for the situation. I’ve observed how, when children or foreigners react strongly or aggressively, the locals react calmly. They don’t support the aggression or start behaving aggressively in response, but simply wait for the person to return to a state where they can continue communicating.

Of course, there are differences in mentality and peculiarities of business approaches. Everything related to the service sector is slower and more bureaucratic here than in Moscow. We tried four times to open accounts at local banks and were refused for various reasons. I understand that everything can’t be identical, that we can’t get emotional and push people around when something goes wrong. That’s not how it works here.

Life here is more expensive than in Russia. What saves us is the fact that we have savings and a small passive income, and that I can work remotely. I have work calls from 8:00 a.m. until noon (Moscow is 9 hours later than Costa Rica). The schedule isn’t difficult, and there’s more work now.

We haven’t yet applied for a residence permit, as it's expensive and requires a lot of paperwork. Applicants have to pay for health insurance — $400 a month for a family of four. The easiest way to get a residence permit is to invest in real estate here, which also isn't cheap.

We didn’t expect that the people here would be so open, friendly, and cheerful. Maybe five months isn't the right time to take off the rose-colored glasses, but in Costa Rica, there is a basic sense of safety, calm, and an inner confidence that the world is good. It's going to take us some time to realize that this isn't a fairy tale.

Story by Meduza

Abridged translation by Carol Matlack

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