Russia’s brain drain

Waves of younger, university-educated Russians are getting out of the country.

Russia’s brain drain
A man rides an electric scooter along Nevsky Avenue in central Saint Petersburg, Russia June 4, 2023. Reuters/Anton Vaganov

After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, many Ukrainian people made the hard decision to leave their home country for their own safety. But in Russia, a lot of residents also decided to leave because of the war. Waves of younger, university-educated Russians are getting out of the country in a way that’s been compared to the emigration after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992 and 1993.

The first wave of migration happened just after the war began last spring. Young people against the war seemed to make up a lot of the people who wanted out of the country. Then, because of Russia’s draft, many younger men and their families also left.

"Now it's a full-blown demographic crisis," says Oleg Itskhoki, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, to NPR. Even before the invasion, Russia was going through a labor shortage. With this new development, the country could be seeing many businesses shut down completely.

Although the full number isn’t available, it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of Russians have left the country since the war began, with one estimate gauging that as many as 1.3 million Russians under 35 have left the Russian workforce. This loss could be a major factor in the economic cost for Russia when it comes to the war, especially when it comes to the country’s tech sector.

Before the war, tech was actually a major driver of the Russian economy, with the IT sector contributing over a third of GDP growth between 2015 and 2021, reaching 3.7 trillion rubles (US$47.8 billion) in 2021. With over 10% of Russia’s tech sector disappearing in 2022, its cyber power could be faltering. Since 2022, Russia has actually been experiencing a surge in hacking cases.

“Russia is a big country, a well-educated country,” said Sergey Sanovich, a research associate at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton, in 2022. “Those workers will be replaced by people who are less politically involved. The replacements will be less talented, less high-quality and less oppositional.”