Where Russian athletes are fleeing from sanctions and Kremlin policy: Europe has opened the door to emigrants from Russia

Olena PavlovaSport
Russian athletes dispersed throughout Europe

The full-scale war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia in international sports have forced a number of athletes from the aggressor country to think about changing their citizenship. However, most of these athletes are not leaving Russia for the CIS countries, but for prosperous Europe, which Kremlin propagandists are spreading, predicting a rapid decay without the "great and mighty".

OBOZREVATEL collected the most high-profile cases of Russians and looked at which countries are happy to give sports citizenship to "refugees" from Russia. Among the leaders was France, which will host the 2024 Olympics. And when it comes to sports, there is a noticeable brain drain: after the February 24 invasion, several leading chess players moved to other countries or permanently broke off relations with the aggressor country.

FRANCE. One of the first cyclist Pavel Sivakov, who made no secret of the fact that he changed his sporting citizenship because of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, refused to compete under the Russian flag back in March 2022. It is true that Pavel never actually lived in Russia and received a French passport more than five years ago, but he continued to compete for his ancestral homeland.



"I was born in Italy and moved to France when I was one year old. It's where I grew up and was educated and where I fell in love with cycling, which led me to racing. It's like my home. I've wanted to become a French citizen for a long time and applied to the UCI, but given what's happening in Ukraine right now, I wanted to speed up the process," Sivakov said.



Three-time European shortstroke champion Anastasia Kirpichnikova, considered one of the most promising Russian swimmers, took French citizenship. Kirpichnikova was also a silver medalist at the World Short Course Championship and became the first Russian female swimmer to win awards in both the pool and open water.



For more than four years Anastasia has been living and training in France and dating a local swimmer, and sanctions against Russians in swimming only pushed her to finally move. And already in July the athlete is supposed to represent her new homeland at the World Open Water Championships in 5 and 10 km distances.



The 22-year-old tennis player Varvara Gracheva, who was defeated by Elina Svitolina at a recent tournament in Strasbourg, has already applied for French citizenship. The 41st racquet of the world notes that she has been training in France since 2016 and has already passed the language exam. Gracheva has not played for the Russian national team, so she can freely play at the Billie Jean King Cup and the Olympics.



HUNGARY. After the sanctions, Russian skaters are also scattering around the world. So a whole bunch of Russian skaters decided to skate for the Hungarian team. Polina Dzhumaniyazova from Moscow, Alexey and Alexander Vlasenko from Tyumen, who studied at the academy of Evgeny Plushenko, and in a duet with Maya Benkevich became Mark Shapiro. Hungarian skaters are already rebelling against the dominance of Russians in the national team.



SWITZERLAND. Russian chess star Alexandra Kosteniuk has officially represented Switzerland since March 3, 2023. The 12th world champion obtained her citizenship more than 10 years ago through her marriage to a Swiss, but she played for the Russian Federation and, after sanctions, under the FIDE flag in neutral status.


In May 2023, Kosteniuk admitted she was shocked by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. According to the 38-year-old grandmaster, she didn't believe it was possible until the last, and now she understands how important freedom is.


GERMANY. Two-time world junior rhythmic gymnastics champion Anastasia Simakova refused to play for Russia at the end of 2022. The 18-year-old from Omsk moved to Nuremberg with her parents under the repatriation program, and now the titled athlete will try to establish herself in the German national team.



POLAND. Former Russian chess players Alina Kashlinskaya and Alexandra Maltsevskaya are now playing under the Polish flag. With rating 2498 Kashlinskaya immediately topped the women's rating in Poland. In Russia Alina was third, behind Goryachkina and former Ukrainian Lahno.



Under the Russian flag Kashlinskaya became the European champion and the winner of the world team championship. In 2015 the Russian married Polish grandmaster Radoslaw Wojtaszek, and they have been living in Warsaw for several years. But the Muscovite decided to change her citizenship only now, and she maintains her social networks in Polish.



AUSTRALIA. Swimmer Mark Nikolaev, 25, has already started the procedure to change his sports citizenship and will play for the Australian national team. The athlete has been living and training on the Green Continent lately. In Australia, Nikolaev already won the national championship in the 25 meter pool.


ISRAEL. The cyclist Mikhail Yakovlev will no longer play for the Russian national team. The 21-year-old athlete, who in the fall of 2021 won the first ever medal for Russia in the men's keirin, became an Israeli citizen. And he is already winning under a new flag.


"We are losing a very talented rider, and we can only regret it," said Vyacheslav Yekimov, president of the Russian Cycling Federation, after Mikhail, who in May 2022 set a world record in the 200m dash at the Moscow Grand Prix.

And Yakovlev's Instagram avatar for a long time showed the flag of Ukraine and a heart as a sign of support for our country.


The Israeli team was also joined by Russian figure skaters. Maria Dmitrieva was a triple axel skater by the age of 14 and at one time was in Alexei Mishin's group. And 13-year-old Sofia Shifrina is a student of Yevgeny Plushenko's academy.

DENMARK. Sofia Prosvirnova, four-time world champion and five-time European short track speed skating champion, has decided she will compete under the Danish flag. According to the athlete, she made such a decision because of her desire to be close to her husband - the Danish skater Viktor Torup. At the age of 25, she has already participated in three Olympics.


GREECE. Dauren Krugliev, Russian freestyle wrestling champion in the weight category up to 86 kg, will play for the Greek national team. The 30-year-old native of Dagestan won the European Championship in 2017 and the European Games in 2019. The wrestler's coach, Gaidar Gaidarov, said that his mentee dreamed of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, so he decided to break off relations with Russia.


CYPRUS. Russian rhythmic gymnastics champion Vera Tugolukova changed her citizenship so she would not have to compete for Russia. The 14-year-old from the Moscow region will now represent Cyprus. Tugolukova won the Russian junior all-around championship in February 2022 and was considered a very promising gymnast.



SERBIA. European 2023 chess champion Alexei Sarana finally changed his citizenship in April and now represents the Serbian national team at international tournaments. The talented chess player has not resided in Russia since February 2022. The grandmaster condemned the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and left for Serbia.



NORTH MAKEDONIA. Viktor Plitsev, a two-time winner of the World Biathlon Junior Championship, will run for the national team of Northern Macedonia. The 27-year-old native of Udmurtia will be able to run under the flag of the new country in the upcoming season. The Russian Federation immediately stated in their style that this is "not a person of the national team level," so they won't miss Victor.


UZBEKISTAN. European Rowing Champion - 2021 and silver medalist of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Anna Prakaten has joined the national team of Uzbekistan. Anna, 31, had already changed her passport. The future European champion and vice-champion of the Olympics was born in Minsk, where she grew up as an athlete and played for the national team of Belarus until 2016.



Now the rower is leaving Russia. It makes no sense for the titled athlete to return home - Belarus is also under sanctions because of the war, and she opted for Uzbekistan. In Russia Anna's departure was called a great loss and refused to coordinate the transfer, but it is very likely that the issue will be resolved directly with the International Rowing Federation in favor of Prakateni.


ARMENIA. Russian former world heavyweight champion Murat Gassiev received Armenian citizenship. The 29-year-old native of Vladikavkaz lost to Ukraine's Alexander Usik in the final of the 2018 World Boxing Super Series. At the same time, TASS propagandists said that their compatriot is not going to give up his Russian passport. He just wants to bypass the sanctions of the organizations.



KYRGYZSTAN. Sardana Trofimova, Russia's best track and field athlete in the marathon, announced her move to Kyrgyzstan in July. She said she couldn't compete in international tournaments, missed two Olympics in a row and had very dim prospects in her home country. And the athlete is already 35 years old, and she really wants to compete at the Games-2024 in Paris.


In April 2023, under the new flag, Yakutia Trofimova took second place in the 36th Belgrade Marathon.

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