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Musicians fleeing Russia find a new audience in Georgia


2023-01-30T09:15:38Z

Until September, Aleksei Antropov was playing double bass for the Russian Philharmonic orchestra in Moscow.

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

The classical musician is one of hundreds of thousands of Russians, many of them young men, who left the country to avoid the risk of being called up to fight a war that some do not agree with.

The Georgian capital Tbilisi was a popular destination, because it can be reached by land, has relatively lax entry and exit rules and enjoys close cultural ties with Russia.

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

He is also keeping his passion alive and has gathered a small group of classical musicians who, like him, are Russians, with a view to performing in Tbilisi and possibly Yerevan, the capital of neighbouring Armenia.

“I do not have an orchestra now,” Antropov told Reuters. “So I am building my own.”

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

Antropov does not intend to return to Russia for the foreseeable future, even if the political leadership changes.

“The next Russian Putin could be even scarier than the current one,” he said, sitting in a Georgian café that serves local cuisine.

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

“We were driven to the border on country roads, bribing police officers, and then walked more than 10 km up a mountain,” he said, with a wry smile.

He hopes to buy a property in Tbilisi one day.

“I need a home – a place where I can come back. And I hope Tbilisi will become such a home for me. It is a beautiful city.”

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

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

While SBPCh continues to perform in a slimmed-down version, Dobrynin now spends much of his time at Practica, a rehearsal space in Tbilisi that organisers designed as a meeting place for musicians from Georgia and abroad.

Jam sessions happen every two weeks, while Dobrynin also teaches the drums.

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

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

Russian singer and guitarist Anastasia Ivanova, better known by her stage name Grechka (“Buckwheat”), is able to keep touring but has not been able to perform in Russia since leaving last spring, saying she was on a “blacklist” for her opposition to the war.

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

“I was very warmly welcomed by the Ukrainian audience,” Ivanova said. “So when Russian TV says that Ukrainians hate Russians, I know it is bullshit.”

Related Galleries:

Musicians play during the first rehearsal with the small symphonic orchestra of fellow Russian musicians that Alexei Antropov, 29, is trying to build in Tbilisi, Georgia, December 26, 2022. Antropov is keeping his passion alive and has gathered a small group of classical musicians with a view to performing in Tbilisi and possibly Yerevan, the capital of neighbouring Armenia. “I do not have an orchestra now,” Antropov told Reuters. “So I am building my own.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Alexei Antropov, 29, a classical double bassist from Moscow, carries his backpack as he moves to his new apartment from the hostel he was temporarily staying at in Tbilisi, Georgia, December 27, 2022. Antropov is embarking on a new life abroad, initially living in a cheap hostel on the outskirts of Tbilisi before moving into an apartment with a friend and holding down a modest job and hopes to buy a property in Tbilisi one day. “I need a home – a place where I can come back. And I hope Tbilisi will become such a home for me. It is a beautiful city.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Grigory Dobrynin, 38, who is the drummer of the Russian band SBPCh, 38, looks at books at a street vendor in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 25, 2022. Dobrynin now spends much of his time teaching and playing the drums at Practica, a rehearsal space in Tbilisi that organisers designed as a meeting place for musicians from Georgia and abroad. “I don’t consider teaching to be a step backwards for me. Teaching and playing in a band are just different things they cannot be compared,” he said. “(But) to be honest, I really miss the gigs and the concerts. It’s a big loss for me.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Young women attend Anastasia Ivanova’s concert in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 6, 2022. Ivanova, 22, a Russian singer also known as Grechka, has not been able to perform in Russia since leaving last spring, saying she was on a “blacklist” for her opposition to the war. She told Reuters she had performed in Ukraine after the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014. “I was very warmly welcomed by the Ukrainian audience.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Alexei Antropov, 29, a classical double bassist from Moscow, checks a room before guests arrive at Pino Vere Palace Hotel, where he works, in Tbilisi, Georgia, December 23, 2022. Antropov is embarking on a new life abroad, initially living in a cheap hostel on the outskirts of Tbilisi before moving into an apartment with a friend and holding down a modest job and hopes to buy a property in Tbilisi one day. “I need a home – a place where I can come back. And I hope Tbilisi will become such a home for me. It is a beautiful city.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Anastasia Ivanova, 22, a Russian singer also known as Grechka, performs during a concert in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 6, 2022. Ivanova has not been able to perform in Russia since leaving last spring, saying she was on a “blacklist” for her opposition to the war. She told Reuters she had performed in Ukraine after the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014. “I was very warmly welcomed by the Ukrainian audience.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

A musician plays clarinet before the first rehearsal with the small symphonic orchestra that Alexei Antropov, a fellow musician from Moscow,  is trying to build in Tbilisi, Georgia, December 26, 2022. Antropov, 29, is keeping his passion alive and has gathered a small group of classical musicians from Russia with a view to performing in Tbilisi and possibly Yerevan, the capital of neighbouring Armenia. “I do not have an orchestra now,” Antropov told Reuters. “So I am building my own.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

A viola sits in its case before the first rehearsal with the small symphonic orchestra of Russian musicians that Alexei Antropov, 29, is trying to build in Tbilisi, Georgia, December 26, 2022. Antropov is keeping his passion alive and has gathered a small group of classical musicians with a view to performing in Tbilisi and possibly Yerevan, the capital of neighbouring Armenia. “I do not have an orchestra now,” Antropov told Reuters. “So I am building my own.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Grigory Dobrynin, 38, who is the drummer of the Russian band SBPCh, sits in front of his drums as he talks to someone at a Practica rehearsal studio in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 18, 2022. Dobrynin now spends much of his time teaching and playing the drums at Practica, a rehearsal space in Tbilisi that organisers designed as a meeting place for musicians from Georgia and abroad. “I don’t consider teaching to be a step backwards for me. Teaching and playing in a band are just different things they cannot be compared,” he said. “(But) to be honest, I really miss the gigs and the concerts. It’s a big loss for me.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov