Zhanna’s story

After Russia
6 min readMar 29, 2023

We lost the chance to choose our future

My wish is to give my children greater opportunities

My name is Zhanna. At the moment, I am in Russia with my family. We are among those many people who would like to leave the country. Everyone has their own reasons for why they make the decision to change their lives. For me, it’s the desire to give my children greater opportunities. As the children grew up, I thought more and more about their future university education, and of their self-realisation. I understood that in our country I would not have the option to pay for university for both my children at once (they are a year apart), and it’s a lottery to get a scholarship even if the exam scores are high. There are ten of these state-funded positions out of 360 in the high-ranked universities in our city.

Preparations to leave

In 2018, we began looking into relocation. There was no question about choosing which country — only the Czech Republic. I was in the Czech Republic in 2006 as a tourist and, of course, fell in love with it. In May 2019, I found a job in the Czech Republic. Since the main source of income in the family was from my husband, we decided that I would be the first to go in order to get used to the place, find somewhere to live. In December of 2019, I already had a visa. We sent in an application for a work visa for my husband, which wasn’t accepted because, as they explained to us, the Christmas holidays had started and the consulate stopped accepting documents and that they would resume service on January 9th, 2020.

On 1st of January 2020, I left for the Czech Republic for work, leaving my husband and two children in Russia in the hopes that after six months tops they would follow me. But in January 2020, the consulate didn’t resume work, citing technical problems. They announced that they would be accepting documents on February 1st, which also didn’t happen. They again postponed, this time to March. In March, the pandemic started and all countries closed their borders and consulates.

Our family lost the opportunity to reunite; we couldn’t even come visit each other to see and hug loved ones. We lived in such a difficult emotional state for over half a year; there was no opportunity for my husband and children to submit documents. Realising that our separation could drag on for at least another year, I had to terminate the employment contract and return to Russia to my relatives because my heart was breaking every day, hearing my children cry and seeing my husband upset.

But we didn’t give up on the idea of moving and continued to wait for the consulate to start working again so we could submit an application: working visas for my husband and I, and family reunification [visas] for the children at the same time. In November of 2021, we submitted applications. My husband’s documents were accepted, but my application did not go through. Then I decided to apply for a reunification visa for myself and the children and a work visa for my husband so that we could all leave together. My husband submitted documents on December 15th 2021; the filing date for my children and I was set for January 16th, 2022. We were happy that we were closer to our dream and waited for the decision. February 18th, my husband received approval; I managed to sign up to send in documents for a work card on March 16th. We thought that I would apply for a work visa, and we would leave. My husband started to arrange insurance for the visa and then…February 24th. The day that dashed all of our expectations and efforts, when the world shattered.

The war started

The war started; and with it, the oppression of all Russians, as if WE ALL voted FOR this war. No sane person can be FOR the war. That which is happening is beyond our control. We don’t choose the country we are born in; we don’t choose nationality or ethnicity. I was born in Ukraine and lived there until the age of ten, until my parents decided to move to Russia. I am Tatar by nationality. I liked living in Ukraine. Growing up, I started to wonder about moving from Russia. And only with the advent of accessible internet and various information platforms did I manage to find a way towards making my life-long dream come true.

I have been missing the Czech Republic since my first visit to Prague in 2006. I often remember the little Prague streets along which I walked, that atmosphere. And now that I have personal experience living in the Czech Republic not as a tourist but as an ordinary person, I miss it even more. I want to return to that city where I lived, to meet again with the people with whom I was in touch. I still continue to communicate via WhatsApp and by email, including with Czechs. After February 24th, it was very scary to write to them; I thought that they wouldn’t want to respond, but I am very glad that our conversations continued and politics were put aside.

We didn’t immediately realise what had happened; we spent days on end reading various information sources and watching the news, hoping for the fastest possible resolution. Many of my friends started to say that Russians who are in Europe were being persecuted. They especially told me a lot about the Czech Republic because they knew that I used to live there. But I always argued and said that there was no cruelty towards Russians there. I don’t want politics to become a stumbling block in relationships between people, as it used to be because of skin-colour, nationality. Now, because of the country you live in. Meanwhile, the possibility of changing countries is gone.

Even before the war, I didn’t see my life to Russia

Now I am in a despondent mood. Even before the events of the war, I didn’t tie my life to that country in which I lived, but at least I had the opportunity to change my life, and now we’re deprived of this opportunity. Observing how store prices rise every day, while the salary remains the same, I want to cry.

Many people in my circle are very interested in the topic of moving and are learning about the process. I want to fulfil my dream and move and I hope that we will succeed. I plan to start studying [to become an] IT-specialist; perhaps that will open up more opportunities.

Recently, the visa application process for Russians has been very complicated. It was difficult to find a job and collect all the documents. In Russia there was no special program, unlike in Ukraine, to help collect documents and curate the process; we did everything ourselves. But, despite the difficulties, there was hope that everything would work out; now, there is not even that ghostly chance. We are willing to do everything on our own under the same conditions as before, as long as documents start being accepted. I would like to get that chance again. I urge the government of the Czech Republic to reconsider its decision and provide the opportunity for Russians to move.

In this situation, watching Youtube videos helps me. There are bloggers whom I trust in terms of information. I want people in power to sympathise with us and understand our motivations.

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