Russia: “He left and I got sick the next day”


Russia“He left and I got sick the next day.”

Mothers, husbands fleeing mobilization aimed at fighting against Ukraine, left alone in Russia after exile.

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34-year-old Yekaterina Filimonova and her children.


Her husband, Yaroslav Leonov, via video conference from Belgrade.

Her husband, Yaroslav Leonov, via video conference from Belgrade.


Dressed in winter overalls, Yekaterina Filimonova rides a bicycle through the snowy streets of Moscow to take her three sons to kindergarten. Until the end of September, it was her husband, Yaroslav Leonov, who brought the two-, four- and six-year-old babies to kindergarten. But the software developer went into exile in Serbia, avoiding the mobilization of 300,000 reservist civilians to fight against Ukraine on the orders of Vladimir Putin.

“He left and I got sick the next day. I was so stressed that I didn’t recover for a month,” 34-year-old Ekaterina told AFP. The day after the mobilization was announced and without waiting for her to be called, her husband went by train to the Kazakh border and completed the journey by bicycle. Then he settled in Belgrade.

If there are no official statistics, there are at least tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Russians who made the same choice as Yaroslav. Some left their families, some left their wives and children behind. “The first month was very sad. It was very difficult for me, it was also difficult for the children. When they are upset, they are hysterical, they cry at night. And I realized that I have to pull myself together,” Ekaterina sighs.

“Daddy Loves Them”

Now in Belgrade, Yaroslav Leonov’s mood is dark. He says that he had no choice but to go because he was afraid of being sent to Ukraine. “I didn’t want to play Russian roulette,” he explains. In the Serbian capital, he found one of his math teachers who had left Russia when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Now they rent an apartment together. Yaroslav also continues to work remotely for his Russian employer. None of this eases the pain of separation. “We can’t play with children from a distance,” he regrets.

In her cozy family apartment in Moscow, Ekaterina gathers her sons to read their father a bedtime story via video call. “I hope my children understand that their father is there, that he loves them, even that he is from Belgrade,” she said.

If Vladimir Putin has announced the end of mobilization, many emigrants like Yaroslav fear a second wave and therefore do not want to return. Anastasiya Arsenitcheva, co-founder of the charity NGO Supporting Mothers, confirms that her organization has received more and more calls since the mobilization was announced. According to her, many women used to encourage their partners to go abroad considering it a matter of “life or death”, but now many are struggling.


While Yaroslav Leonov can provide for his family financially, this is not the case for many households. Ms. Arsenitcheva concludes: “We don’t know how to live in families where the man is the main source of income.” Alexandra, a 32-year-old from Moscow, had to find a quick way out after the departure of her cameraman husband, who went first to one of the small towns of Tajikistan, then to Uzbekistan, two poor countries in Central Asia.

Until then, Alexandra had a few knitting projects that brought her a small income, but she spent most of her time with her seven-year-old daughter. “When he left, everything fell on me. The family budget has collapsed,” he says. The young woman therefore received more orders, including 200 toys for the New Year, which led her to hire several other women. He also sells refurbished furniture online. “We’ve forgotten how to provide for ourselves…but when the kids left, we had no choice!” he says. The young woman understands the men’s exodus, but says she is determined to stay despite the uncertainty and challenges. “I am from Russia. I want to live in Russia. I never wanted to leave,” says Alexandra.


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