Musicians fleeing Russia find a new audience in Georgia | Russian-Ukrainian war

Aleksei Antropov played double bass for the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in Moscow until September.

But when President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first mobilization since World War II to bolster his faltering invasion of Ukraine, the 29-year-old fled to neighboring Georgia where he now works as a hotel receptionist.

The classical musician is one of hundreds of thousands of Russians, many of them young people, who have left the country to avoid the risk of being drafted into a war that some disagree with.

Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, has been a popular destination because it can be reached by land, has relatively lax entry and exit rules, and has close cultural ties to Russia.

Antropov embarks on a new life abroad, initially living in a cheap hostel on the outskirts of Tbilisi before moving into an apartment with friends and taking a modest job.

He also keeps his passion alive and has assembled a small group of classical musicians who, like him, are Russians, with the goal of performing in Tbilisi and possibly Yerevan, the capital of neighboring Armenia.

“Now I don’t have an orchestra,” Antropov told Reuters. “So I’m building mine.”

For the first rehearsal in late December, held in a rented basement of a building in central Tbilisi, he bought a bunch of cheap plastic chairs for the players to sit on.

Antropov does not intend to return to Russia anytime soon, even if the political leadership changes.

“The next Russian Putin could be even more terrible than the current one,” he said, sitting in a Georgian cafe serving local cuisine.

Recalling his trip to Georgia, he said it took three days to cross the border at Verkhniy Lars because the lines of people evacuating Russia were so long.

“They drove us to the border on country roads, bribing the policemen, and then we hiked more than 10 km up the mountain,” he said with a sour smile.

He hopes to one day buy a property in Tbilisi.

“I need a home – a place where I can return. And I hope that Tbilisi will become such a home for me. It’s a beautiful city.”

Grigory Dobrynin is the drummer of the Russian band SBPCh (Russian initials for “The Largest Prime Number”).

After Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, he too left for Georgia, taking only a suitcase full of belongings and two caps that he wore to concerts.

While SBPCh continues to perform in a reduced version, Dobrynin now spends most of his time at Practica, a rehearsal space in Tbilisi that the organizers designed as a meeting place for musicians from Georgia and abroad.

Jam sessions are held every two weeks, and Dobrynin also teaches drums.

“I don’t consider teaching to be a step backwards for me. Teaching and playing in a band are different things, they cannot be compared,” he said.

“(But) to be honest, I really miss gigs and concerts. It’s a big loss for me.”

Russian singer and guitarist Anastasia Ivanova, better known by her stage name Grechka (“Buckwheat”), can continue touring but has been unable to perform in Russia since leaving last spring, saying she was “blacklisted” because of her opposition to the war.

The 22-year-old, who is also based in Tbilisi, said she performed in Ukraine after the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.

“The Ukrainian audience welcomed me very warmly,” said Ivanova. “So when Russian TV says Ukrainians hate Russians, I know it’s bullshit.”

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