Jews are fleeing Russia because of Putin over Ukraine crises

By Roman Super and Claire Bigg July 03, 2015

Just a year ago, Russian journalist Vladimir Yakovlev was one of Moscow's most influential media figures.
Today, he lives a quiet life in Tel Aviv and has swapped his Russian passport for an Israeli one.

Yakovlev, the founder of the respected Kommersant publishing house
and the Snob magazine, belongs to a new wave of disillusioned Russian
Jews deserting their country for the relative stability of Israel.

"The big problem with Russia, and the main reason why I left, is the
fact that our value system was destroyed," he says. "Life in Russia has
turned into Russian roulette. Every morning you turn the roulette wheel,
you never know what is going to happen to you."

Spooked by Russia's actions in Ukraine and by the increasingly
stringent punishments for anyone deemed critical of the Kremlin,
Russians of Jewish descent have been fleeing in droves over the past 18

Surge From Eastern Europe

According to Israeli authorities, as many as 4,685 Russian citizens
relocated to Israel in 2014 -- more than double than in any of the
previous 16 years.

And the trend seems to be accelerating.

The nongovernmental Jewish Agency for Israel has released figures
showing a 40-percent surge in immigration to the country between January
and March of this year, compared to the same period in 2014.

The study suggests that while the majority of immigrants still come
from Western Europe, Russians and Ukrainians are responsible for this
increase. The number of Jews migrating from Western Europe has remained
largely the same.Yakovlev, however, doesn't consider himself a simple immigrant. He is, in his own words, a refugee.

"People usually emigrate due to domestic circumstances," he says.
"People are now leaving because they are scared to stay where they would
like to live. They are running from Russia."

Zeyev Khanin, an official at Israel's Immigrant Absorption Ministry,
says the average Russian immigrant has changed dramatically since the
last mass exodus of Jews from Russia ebbed in the late 1990s.

He says newcomers from Russia are significantly younger, more educated, and, as a rule, hail from Moscow or St. Petersburg.

"The average education level is on the rise and the number of people
with degrees in humanities has increased massively," he tells RFE/RL.
"Today's repatriates are mostly the creative intelligentsia."

Mikhail Kaluzhsky was among the 4,685 Russians who moved to Israel last year.

A journalist and playwright from Moscow, he is typical of the new wave of Russian immigrants described by Khanin.

Kaluzhsky says his decision to leave Russia is "directly linked to politics."

In January 2014, he traveled to Ukraine to witness the Maidan
pro-democracy protests that toppled Russia-friendly President Viktor

He says the unwavering determination of Maidan protesters left a deep
impression on him, together with an uncomfortable realization that
Russian antigovernment activists lag far behind their Ukrainian

"I understood that our protests were worthless," he says. "After the
Bolotnaya protests [in Moscow in 2012] in our country, demonstrators
went to the restaurant. Activists on Maidan did not go anywhere, they
stayed until victory."

Then, Kaluzhsky lost his job with the Sakharov human rights organization as a result of Russia's new "foreign agent" law.

The controversial law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in
2012, forces NGOs that receive foreign funding and are deemed to carry
out political activities to register as "foreign agents."

"The center's financial situation deteriorated as soon as talk about
foreign agents started in Russia," says Kaluzhsky. "Western foundations
said they could no longer fund initiatives that may be shut down

In fall 2014, the Sakharov Center was forced to scrap its theater projects, to which Kaluzhsky had actively contributed.

Crimea Seizure

Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was the last straw.

"After Crimea, our family decided to distance itself from all of this, most of all from the government," he says.‚Äč

The Kaluzhskys now live in the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Their son
attends a local Jewish pre-school and already speaks good Hebrew.

They have sold all their belonging in Russia and do not plan to return.
Vladimir Yakovlev, too, sees his future in Israel.
He and his wife have settled in downtown Tel Aviv, in a bright flat with a balcony full of flowers.
Most of their friends are other Russian intellectuals, and many of these friendships date back from their life in Moscow.
Yakovlev says Israel offers the best of both worlds -- a sunny,
friendly climate and the same circle of liberal, educated Muscovites
that surrounded him in Russia.

"My group of friends here is almost the same as I had in Moscow," he
says. "We live in the same house as friends from Moscow, and I keep
meeting people in the streets whom I regularly spent time with in

"No one," he adds, "should be forced to spend their life dealing with this Russian nonsense."