YEREVAN — Thousands of Russians, many of them tech professionals, have migrated to Armenia since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing tightening of Western sanctions against Moscow.
The unprecedented influx is particularly visible in the center of Yerevan where mostly young Russians can now be seen not only walking the streets and dining at restaurants but also queuing up in local banks or outside ATMs.
Virtually all migrants randomly interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service were information technology (IT) or finance specialists. Most of them gave economic reasons for their decision to leave Russia. Some said they decided to get out in protest against the Russian military assault ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
“I have come here to avoid problems with work and to make sure I’m in a calm state of mind,” said Ilya Kornienko, an ethnic Ukrainian from Moscow who arrived in Yerevan on Monday morning.
“Of course I’m upset,” he said when asked about the conflict in Ukraine. “It’s sad. I have relatives on both sides.”
Kornienko, who is currently staying in a local hotel, will be joined by his girlfriend later this month. He is already looking for an apartment.
Andranik Harutiunyan, a real estate agent, estimated that apartment rents in Yerevan have risen by 20 to 30 percent over the past week. “Demand [for housing] is very strong,” he said.
As 33 countries — including all 27 European Union member states — closed their airspace to Russian carriers late last month, Armenia became one of the few destinations still accessible for Russians keen to travel abroad. The South Caucasus state is Russia’s main regional ally and the majority of its citizens speak Russian.
On Monday alone, there were over two dozen commercial flights to Yerevan from Moscow and other Russian cities.
“My choice was between Armenia and Georgia, because those were the easiest destinations to reach as some airports had already been closed,” explained Alexei, another Muscovite. “Logistically, the easiest way for me was to get to Yerevan.”
Dmitry Kuzmin, a resident of Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia close to the Ukrainian border, arrived in Armenia with his wife and children.
“One of the reasons for coming here is this troubled situation,” he said. “But we had long wanted to visit Yerevan.”
The sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union include measures aimed at restricting Russia’s access to high technology and complicating Russian companies’ financial transactions abroad.
“I have heard that many companies will be moving abroad in the near future, because doing business in Russia in spheres connected with import, export, finances is no longer possible,” said another arriving Russian, who chose not to disclose his identity.
Armenian Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan claimed on March 1 that Russian tech companies are already moving operations to Armenia to evade the Western sanctions. But he did not disclose their names or give other details.
The Armenian government appears to welcome the arrival of IT engineers and other skilled workers from Russia. The Ministry of Economy set up last week a working group tasked with helping them settle in the country.
The government has not yet ascertained the total number of Russians who have entered Armenia since Moscow launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24.
“We will be able to talk about figures in about a week when things get calmer, but as of now we can say that some professionals from Russia have already got jobs in Armenia,” said Hayk Chobanyan, executive director of the Armenian Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises.
Armenia has a vibrant IT industry that has grown rapidly for nearly two decades. According to expert estimates, there were at least 2,000 vacancies in the sector before the coronavirus pandemic.
Not all of the arriving Russian nationals plan to stay in Armenia. As one of them put it, “Most likely I will stay here for a couple of months. After that I’ll get a job in Europe.”