+++lead-in-textnnAleks bought a one-way ticket out of Russia on February 21, right after Vladimir Putin recognized the breakaway Ukrainian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.A software developer working remotely for a European tech firm, Aleks—who asked that his full name be withheld—says that was a sign that worse things were coming.“I thought, Putin won’t stop there,” he says.“He’d probably try to take Ukraine by force.
Which is, well, basically what happened.”nn+++nnConfronted with the likelihood of crippling sanctions, a plummeting ruble, and a country turning aggressively inwards, Aleks made it to the airport with his wife and hopped on a plane to Georgia, where he has some relatives.He was among the first Russian technology workers to make a run for neighboring countries at the outset of the Ukrainian war, but he soon realized he would by no means be the last.
Over the past few weeks, throngs of fellow Russian techies have joined him in Tbilisi, [making rents soar](https://oc-media.org/features/evictions-surge-as-rents-skyrocket-in-yerevan-and-tbilisi/).“The property market is empty.You can’t find anything, and if you can, it will cost you three or two times more than it used to cost a month ago,” he says.But for the time being, Aleks’s future is there.
Going back to Russia scares him too much.nnRussia’s invasion of Ukraine has precipitated a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude, with the displacement of more than 10 million Ukrainians [fleeing their country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees](https://twitter.com/FilippoGrandi/status/1505455082778812417).But tens of thousands are also leaving Russia, worried that Putin’s wartime regime will destroy their livelihoods, career prospects, and individual freedoms.nnMany members of this self-exiled crowd are technology workers.Because of their interconnectedness with the global digital economy, they were quick to feel the pain from sanctions and the departure of Western technology companies, and they have an easier time making a living from their laptops regardless of location.nnAccording to RAEK, a Russian technology trade group, between 50,000 and 70,000 tech workers have already fled Russia, and [70,000 to 100,000](https://www.interfax.ru/digital/830581) more could leave in April.With flights to the West canceled, they have wended their way to countries where Russian citizens can still travel visa-free.nnKonstantin Vinogradov, the London-based Russian-born principal of global VC firm Runa Capital, has teamed up with other industry figures to create a “talent pool” website that helps anti-war technology workers from Russia, Belarus (which is supporting Moscow’s military maneuvers), and Ukraine find suitable jobs elsewhere.nn“Mostly they are software engineers and data scientists.
There are plenty of people from large Russian tech organizations like Yandex, VK, Sberbank,” Vinogradov says.“But there are plenty from smaller ones.”nnHe says that out of about 2,000 people who have entered the pool, about 60 percent of them are currently located in Turkey, Armenia, or Georgia.
A *New York Times* article says the [Armenian government estimates](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/20/world/middleeast/ukraine-russia-armenia.html) that some 80,000 Russians have entered the country since the start of the war on February 24, and 20,000 of them are still residing there; the [Georgian minister for economic affairs](https://civil.ge/ru/archives/477839) put that number at between 20,000 and 25,000, which he said was similar to 2020 figures.Many of these people plan to move elsewhere: 90 percent of the participants in Vinogradov’s talent pool indicated the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands as their preferred final destinations.nnVinogradov says that some of the Russian tech workers he has spoken to have left Russia because they are opposed to the war and to Putin on moral grounds.“You can’t ignore politics anymore, because it’s not even about politics: It’s about ethics,” he says.nnBut the descent of Russia to the status of global pariah has made it harder for technology workers to do their jobs.As companies including [Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Netflix, and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram](https://www.wired.com/story/plaintext-big-tech-wartime-push-against-putin/) have pulled out of or limited their services to Russia—or, in some cases, have been pushed out by Moscow itself—doing business as usual has grown harder by the day.nnJacob Udodov, CEO of the Latvian team-collaboration software company Bordio, employs five Russians, two of whom have relocated from the country so far.
He says that he had to provide all his Russia-based staffers with VPNs to allow them to access some services, and to make sure they’ll be able to keep working in case Russia decides to heavily censor the internet.Bordio has already had to adjust, because it runs social media campaigns for European customers, and Udodov says Russian employees became unable to work on those projects after Facebook prevented all Russia-based accounts from posting ads, on March 4.(On March 21, a [Russian judge declared that](https://twitter.com/KevinRothrock/status/1505935002168705036) Facebook’s parent company, Meta, was carrying out extremist activities.)nnPaying Russian-based employees has also become harder due to Russia’s exclusion from the international payment network, SWIFT, Udodov says.“We tried several banks before we found the one which sent the money through,” he says.
”I’m not sure it’s going to keep supporting these payments to Russia—I’m not sure about April’s paycheck.”nnUdodov pays his staff in dollars, which has somewhat cushioned them from the financial toll of the ruble’s 30 percent crash in value since the start of the war.Other Russian tech employees, whose salaries have options that are tied to companies’ share prices, may be faring worse.nnAccording to one Russian technology worker who has also left the country, and who asked not to be named, such a brutal, sudden hit on their livelihood is the last straw that convinced many Russian tech workers to pack it in.“For a long time there was this kind of balance where the state did horrible things, but if you didn’t interact with it, if you didn’t go into the areas where the state claimed dominance, you were more or less left alone.So we don’t touch politics—they don’t touch our money, we get to build our assets and live our lives,” they say.
“By waging this war, they went into our sphere.They devalued our money, they devalued our assets, they made everything we invested in illiquid and cheap.That was a wake-up call.”nnThe ongoing crackdown on free speech—with [Moscow going as far as outlawing calling the war a “war”](https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/02/26/russia-bans-media-outlets-from-using-words-war-invasion-a76605)—and the likely state capture of any remaining technology companies were also spurs for leaving, the tech worker says.“When the Russian state turns militarist, bad things happen to Russians,” they say.nnIn 2019 the [International Data Corporation](https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/russia-information-communication-technology#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20International%20Data,%2C%20services%2C%20and%20hardware%20solutions.) estimated the value of the Russian IT industry at $24.8 billion.
The sector employed 1.3 million people and accounted for 2.7 percent of the country’s GDP, roughly as much as the energy supply sector.It is hard to gauge what impact the tech exodus will ultimately have.Even if startup founders and elite developers leave, big Russian tech companies such as Yandex, email provider Mail.ru, or social network VK might benefit from the disappearance of competitors, and from providing replacements for technologies that are now unavailable because of Western sanctions.
Those companies will also take advantage of an upsurge of laid-off tech workers who decide not to flee because of personal reasons, lack of language or coveted coding skills, or ideological alignment with the regime.nn“Russia is a big country, a well-educated country,” says Sergey Sanovich, a research associate at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton.“Those workers will be replaced by people who are less politically involved.The replacements will be less talented, less high-quality, and less oppositional.”nnPutin’s government has [signaled](https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5238127) that it regards technology workers as a strategic asset, and it has tried to stem exits by introducing new financial incentives for tech companies and announcing that IT workers would be exempt from conscription.Vinogradov says that, paradoxically, those promises had the “opposite effect” on some tech workers.nn“They perceived that there would be a massive draft for the army and they needed to relocate immediately,” he says.Exiting Russia is still possible, as long as one can find a flight, but press reports suggest that [Russians who leave the country](https://zona.media/article/2022/03/02/border) are facing aggressive questioning by border officials regarding their motives.nnKonstantin Siniushin is a Latvia-based tech investor who in the early phases of the crisis helped organize charter flights to Armenia for 300 Russian startup workers.He says that in the long run, Russia’s tech sector will split into two parts: Those happy to cater to the internal market, and those who “will write letters to their friends who have left and constantly ask how to resettle abroad.”nnRight now, those who have left are still working out what their future will look like.In Tbilisi, Aleks says, Russian tech workers have not really coalesced into a real community yet.nn“People are still in a panic.
We don’t even have our savings anymore, and opening new bank accounts is hard.” he says.“When things become a little more calm, we’ll probably have a proper community here—but not yet.”nn***n### More Great WIRED Storiesn- 📩 The latest on tech, science, and more: [Get our newsletters](https://www.wired.com/newsletter?sourceCode=BottomStories)\!n- Trapped in [Silicon Valley’s hidden caste system](https://www.wired.com/story/trapped-in-silicon-valleys-hidden-caste-system/?itm_campaign=BottomRelatedStories&itm_content=footer-recirc)n- How a plucky robot found a [long-lost shipwreck](https://www.wired.com/story/how-a-plucky-robot-found-the-long-lost-endurance-shipwreck/?itm_campaign=BottomRelatedStories&itm_content=footer-recirc)n- [Palmer Luckey](https://www.wired.com/story/palmer-luckey-drones-autonomous-weapons-ukraine/?itm_campaign=BottomRelatedStories&itm_content=footer-recirc) talks about AI weapons and VRn- [*Turning Red*](https://www.wired.com/story/turning-red-is-pixars-most-personal-movie-yet/?itm_campaign=BottomRelatedStories&itm_content=footer-recirc) doesn’t follow Pixar’s rules.
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