It was dark in the evening, and life came back to Istanbul when Denis Smirnov took the stage in Kadikoy.
– These are not entirely good times for a Russian comedian, because perhaps there is not so much funny about Russia anymore, says the stand-up comedian to chuckles from the audience.
Most of them arrived in the Turkish capital after Vladimir Putin announced partial mobilization.
– He adds that he can be compared to being a stand-up comedian under the Islamic State.
This Wednesday, the hall was only half full, but the mood is high.
Have you ever struggled to explain to the natives what it feels like to have Putin in office and to leave the country? Denis asks more in Russian, for exampleSo he compares Putin to someone who is looking for Pokemon.
He sees enemies when they are not there, and he sees things that no one else sees. It’s like going with the phone and saying, “There’s a Charmander.” But there is no Charmander there. Stop!
Denis Smirnov, 31, did not dare joke about Putin when he was a comedian in Moscow.
But after he and his wife Snezhana Matskevich (24 years old) emigrated in April, he had nothing.
– I think it’s important to be able to laugh at Putin because. He is just a man. Smirnov says Putin is terrified of being ridiculed because he no longer appears as a strong leader.
He and his wife decided to leave Russia forever until then Opposition politician Alexei Navalny arrested At the Moscow airport a year and a half ago.
They bought plane tickets the day before Putin went to war.
We just want to live happily without fear, with freedom to say what we want, says Snezhana Matskevich, who refers to war as meaningless. But their parents did not understand why they wanted to go.
– After the order to mobilize, we hope they understood more, they say.
I hope Putin dies
In the hall there are mostly young men, but there are also some women. Many refer to themselves as tourists, but do not have a return ticket. Many people find it liberating to be with the Russians in the same situation they are in.
– If I had a nuclear bag, I would also go to bananas, says Kirill Lavroknem in a deep voice into the microphone.
The stand-up comedian arrived just a few days ago.
– I’ll start by insulting a country, for example Iceland. I would say “go to hell Iceland”.
But although he joked about Putin promoting the war, he left Russia with a sad heart.
– I loved my life. Moscow is a wonderful city.
I hope to wake up every morning to the fact that Putin is dead, he says.
The growing community of exile
It is difficult to determine the number of Russians in Turkey because there are no official figures. But the Russian language is now heard everywhere, even in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara.
While many countries have refused them entry, planes are heading to Turkey as before. They do not need a visa and it is cheap to live there.
Eva Rapoport, 38, hears her mother tongue everywhere.
— There is a noticeable change since March, she says.
She leads a startup organization called KovchikAn “ark” that provides temporary shelter and advice to those who leave and are primarily persecuted.
We prioritize people with an activist background, journalists and other persecuted people, she says.
They have rented several apartments in the city.
The money comes, among other things, from the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who for several years was behind bars in Putin’s Russia.
So far, they have helped about 500 people in Istanbul alone, but after mobilization the orders have completely fallen off.
– Now the people who previously supported and fought Putin will be absorbed, she says.
on barren ground
Albert Sarkisians, 31, is one of those helped. He fled in a hurry to avoid being sent to the front.
– In Russia, my future was either to go to prison or to go to war, he says.
Albert was already in prison twice for participating in anti-war protests at his home in Saint Petersburg.
When mobilization came, he was visiting his parents in Moscow. He booked a ticket and went to the airport for two days, with only jeans, a jacket, cash and his cell phone.
When he arrived at the airport, he was turned away along with 20 other young men, but after a few questions of control he was allowed to leave.
– It was terrifying, and I was afraid they would change their minds and take me while I was waiting to board the plane, he says.
But he is about to run out of money he brought from Russia and the Mir banking system can no longer be used even in Turkey after pressure from the European Union.
Now the wife sells furniture and other assets in Russia and comes after.
– Do you feel like a refugee?
– We’ve thought about it. Yes, maybe we are refugees, says roommate Eugenie.
What do you miss in Russia?
– When I think about what I miss, I think it has already been destroyed. Everything is occupied by the Putin regime. Albert says I’m just trying to focus on my new life and the future.
But his friend Eugenie lists what he misses:
Friends, family, city, university.
– Are you afraid you won’t be allowed back?
– No, I think one day I can go home, says Eugenie.
Albert is glad he escaped, but says the future is uncertain.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”