Guide to the Free World

Non-governmental organization

Guide to the Free World
Гайд в свободный мир
PredecessorRelocation Guide from the Russian Federation (Russian: "Гайд по релокации из РФ")
FormationFebruary 25, 2022; 9 months ago (2022-02-25)
FounderIrina Lobanovskaya
Founded atIstanbul
TypeNon-governmental organization
PurposeHelping people leave Russia after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
Roughly 200,000[1]
Official language

The Guide to the Free World (Russian: Гайд в свободный мир, romanized: Gaid v svobodniy mir), is a non-governmental organization dedicated to helping people leave Russia after the 24 February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was founded and is headed by Ira Lobanovskaya (Russian: Ира Лобановская), a former marketing strategist. It maintains the eponymous Russian language Guide to the Free World website collating information, and the Relocation Guide from the Russian Federation (Russian: Гайд по релокации из РФ, romanized: Gaid po relokatsyy iz RF) Telegram chat that originated it, the largest such chat on the subject.

Relocation Guide from the Russian Federation chat

Irina Lobanovskaya, a Russian citizen[3] who spent a lot of time abroad, started the Russian language Telegram chat "Relocation Guide from the Russian Federation" (Russian: "Гайд по релокации из РФ") on 25 February 2022, the day after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. She wanted to gather the stories of the most recent émigrés in her closest circle of acquaintances, those who left Russia in the past two years, to serve as instructions for others who wanted to leave.[4] She realized that there would be a demand, but not how much of one. She didn't advertise besides posting about the chat on Facebook.[5] The chat started with 20 people who already lived outside Russia. After two days, there were 2000 people in the group; she remembers thinking that was many.[6][5] After two weeks, by early March, there were over 100,000.[7] There are other Telegram chats on this theme, but this is the largest.[8][9]

The initial questions asked in the chat were, first, where people leaving Russia could go immediately,[10] and second, what they could do when they got there.[5] The primary destinations discussed were Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey, secondarily Mexico, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.[5] People would go where they traveled already, and where they could speak Russian.[5] The initial people interested in leaving were from the creative industries and information technology workers.[5] Later participants came from all social classes.[6] By October 2022, there were over 50 subsidiary chats focusing on specific topics and countries.[1]

Participants in the chat help on three levels. First, by providing and compiling the Guide to the Free World: how to leave Russia, where to go, what issues would be encountered at the border or upon arrival. Second, they help émigrés find work - they gather both resumes and companies willing to hire.[11] Third, they discuss how to export Russian culture.[5]

The chat is moderated, originally by Lobanovskaya, later also by moderators she knew and trusted.[6] The chat's popularity brought spammers, scammers, and a wave of Kremlinbots, spreading disinformation that the moderators battle.[6][12]

Guide to the Free World

The physical Guide itself is a website of information collected from that regularly repeated in the chat, and from other media writing about where Russians could go without a visa. It contains information on how Russians can move to other countries, and what to do when they get there. It contains over 3,000 pages[1] of instructions for 36 different countries.[8] It was published on a Notion platform, and first linked in the chat when the chat had approximately 10,000 people in it.[5][6] It is regularly updated,[11] usually 12-20 updates per day, with a digest of changes released in the chat.[6] By July 2022, it had a staff of 12 editors, including three with a legal education.[2]

22 September 2022, the day after the announcement of the 2022 Russian mobilization, the website received 1.5 million visits, as many as in the whole month of March when the guide was first published.[13][3] Lobanovskaya reported that plane and train tickets for leaving Russia sold out even faster than at the start of the war.[14] She said that after invasion and before the mobilization, the Guide to the Free World organization had helped 40,000 Russians escape the country; in the two days after the mobilization, it was another 100,000.[15]

The Guide to the Free World non-profit collects donations to help Russians emigrate through the web page and the Telegram chat's built in donation system.[12] Lobanovskaya says that it's crucial that the Guide remain a non-profit, that's part of the chat rules. She says she gets regular offers for advertising or other ways to monetize the project, laughs at the presumption of telling an IT marketer how to monetize products, and blocks the senders.[6]

Ira Lobanovskaya

Irina Lobanovskaya was born 16 March 1989,[5][6] and grew up in Ust-Labinsk, in Krasnodar Krai in the occupied North Caucasus. [16] She was torn between studying mathematics and psychiatry, and decided to split the difference by attending the Saint Petersburg State University of Engineering and Economics to study advertising.[16] She dropped out at the end of the fourth course, as the university required payment, and her parents had gone bankrupt in the 2008 crisis.[16][17] She worked as a waitress until 2011, when she moved to Moscow.[16] There she worked at different jobs, producing films, journalism, public relations, and media, until winning the only scholarship at the Wordshop advertising school in Moscow, supported by the BBDO advertising agency, and learning the work of a marketing strategist.[16] Afterwards she worked with multiple Moscow marketing agencies, advertising both Russian and Western brands.[18][19]

Lobanovskaya first visited the United States in 2016, intending to stay for a week, but that turned into six months.[17] For the next six years she would be a citizen of the world,[10] not living in one place for more than half a year, with the exception of two years in Silicon Valley.[5] At the same time she began getting Russian language media attention. In March 2018, she wrote about the time she spent in Mexico after her four month marriage and the death of her father from alcoholism.[20] In April 2018, she was interviewed and photographed for an internationally published style article about her favorite outfits.[21] In 2019, Schweppes and Afisha magazine called her one of their self-made heroes in an article about her favorite cocktail - non-alcoholic, as she had recently stopped drinking.[22] In 2019 Lobanovskaya co-founded a San Francisco photography startup called Piqls, initially described as an Uber for photographs, allowing users to order a photographer who would arrive quickly and take photos on their smartphone,[16] which later pivoted to business-to-business.[17][23] Before Piqls closed in 2021,[24] Russian media repeatedly interviewed her as an expert on Silicon Valley startups.[23][25][26] Also in 2019 Lobanovskaya co-founded an online Russian language volunteer project called "Same" (after the English expression "same shit"),[16] where people could share anonymous stories about their psychological and emotional problems.[27][28][29] In 2020, she co-founded the social marketing platform Camp with the founders of Dobroshrift [ru].[30][31]

In February 2022, when she started the chat, Lobanovskaya worked as the marketing director in an information technology startup.[7] She had returned to Russia, and left for Istanbul days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She was planning to move to New York City, for which she had received an O-1 visa (a temporary worker visa for the extraordinarily gifted), but changed her mind after the invasion. Instead, she spent all her time as an activist.[5] One woman from Mariupol passing through Moscow wrote to her and Lobanovskaya personally helped her find housing, money and transportation.[6] The first few days she fainted once, didn't shower, and only ate when friends brought food to her computer.[5][6]

In March, as the Guide chat became more popular, Lobanovskaya was interviewed and written about by foreign language media, including RAI from Italy, and the New York Times from the United States.[7][6][32] She realized that she risked legal charges for violating the Russian fake news laws or even for treason.[6] She received threatening messages saying she had been reported to the Russian authorities - she says her favorite was: "It's good that you get out of Russia, but a pity that you won't be shot."[6] She begged her mother to leave the country, but her mother refused, instead asking why she was doing this as she had a good life.[6] In April, she lost her job at the IT startup because she was unable to interact with the Russian market.[6]

Since the start of the Guide Lobanovskaya has been regularly cited as an expert on the Russian wave of emigration since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[33][34] Her estimate that 70,000 Russians had left or were planning to leave the country since the start of the war was cited internationally immediately after the 21 September 2022 Russian mobilization.[35][36][37]


  1. ^ a b c Verma, Pranshu (15 October 2022). "The online guide Russians use to escape Putin's war". Washington Post. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  2. ^ a b Klyagina, Irina (6 July 2022). "«Место, где можно отдышаться»: как эмигранты создают сообщества и помогают друг другу" ["A place to catch your breath": how emigrants create communities and help each other]. Forbes Russia (in Russian). Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  3. ^ a b Abbasi, Hyder; Britton, Bianca (24 September 2022). "Zelenskyy calls for 'sabotage' as thousands of Russians flee after mobilization call". NBC News. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  4. ^ Bouscaren, Durrie (17 March 2022). "The new Russian diaspora finds a home in Istanbul". The World. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sandurskaya, Sofia (8 March 2022). "Куда уехать? Какие нужны документы? А где найти работу? Из-за войны россияне бегут за границу — и ищут ответы в чатах об эмиграции. Мы поговорили с создательницей самого популярного из них (на 100 тысяч человек!)" [Where to go? What documents are needed? Where to find a job? Because of the war, Russians are fleeing abroad and are looking for answers in chats about emigration. We talked to the creator of the most popular of them (for 100,000 people!)]. Meduza (in Russian). Retrieved 29 September 2022. Also available as Sandurskaya, Sofia (15 March 2022). "Куда уехать? Какие нужны документы? А где найти работу?" [Where to go? What documents are needed? Where to find a job?]. The Russian America newspaper (in Russian). p. 8. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Lobanovskaya, Irina (27 April 2022). ""Хорошо, что ты свалишь из России, но жаль, что тебя не расстреляют"" ["It's good that you get out of Russia, but a pity that you won't be shot"]. The Village (website) [ru] (in Russian). Archived from the original on 27 April 2022. Retrieved 29 September 2022.
  7. ^ a b c Troianovski, Anton; Kingsley, Patrick (13 March 2022). "'Things Will Only Get Worse.' Putin's War Sends Russians Into Exile". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2022.
  8. ^ a b "«Мы не эмигранты, мы релоканты». Как живут россияне, уехавшие после 24 февраля" ["We are not emigrants, we are relocators." How do Russians who left after February 24 live?]. [ru] (in Russian). 17 March 2022. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  9. ^ Ogloblin, Vyacheslav; Filina-Kogan, Veronika (10 March 2022). "Последний рейс: россияне устремились за границу" [Last flight: Russians rush abroad]. (in Russian). Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  10. ^ a b Zafesova, Anna (9 March 2022). "in due giorni la frontiera con la georgia e' stata è stata attraversata da 20 mila cittadini russi" [In two days the border with Georgia was crossed by 20,000 Russian citizens]. La Stampa (in Italian). Dagospia. Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  11. ^ a b Zhitkova, Valeria (29 April 2022). "Специальная военная эмиграция. Как россиянам найти работу за рубежом в 2022 году" [Special military emigration. How Russians can find work abroad in 2022]. The Bell (website) [ru] (in Russian). Retrieved 29 September 2022.
  12. ^ a b Borak, Masha (29 September 2022). "$620 for an HIV diagnosis: Russians buy their way out of military service on Telegram". Rest of World. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  13. ^ Sauer, Pjotr (22 September 2022). "'I will cross the border tonight': Russians flee after news of draft". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2022. Also available as Sauer, Pjotr (22 September 2022). "'I will cross the border tonight': Russians flee after news of draft". The Guardian. MSN. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  14. ^ Tenisheva, Anastasia (26 September 2022). "'Total Chaos': Russian Mobilization Exodus Accelerates Amid Border Closure Rumors". The Moscow Times.
  15. ^ Sommarström, Johan-Mathias (25 September 2022). "Hon hjälper unga ryssar att fly mobiliseringen" [She helps young Russians escape the mobilization]. Sveriges Radio (in Swedish). Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Zhuravleva, Margarita (16 October 2019). "Из Усть-Лабинска в Калифорнию. Стратег Ира Лобановская — о том, как придумать работу мечты и учиться на практике" [From Ust-Labinsk to California. Strategist Ira Lobanovskaya on how to come up with a dream job and learn by doing]. Цех (Zeh) (in Russian). Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  17. ^ a b c Lobanovskaya, Ira (12 October 2020). "«А такая ли уж ты классная?»: Как я запустила стартап в Калифорнии" ["Are you really that cool?": How I launched a startup in California]. Wonderzine [ru] (in Russian). Archived from the original on 14 December 2020. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  18. ^ "Маркетинг инноваций. Ира Лобановская 16 мая, 19.30" [Innovation Marketing. Ira Lobanovskaya May 16, 19.30]. Wordshop (in Russian). Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  19. ^ Skorohodova, Anastasia (12 July 2019). "Как составить маркетинговую стратегию: позиционирование, коммуникационные сообщения, каналы" [How to draw up a marketing strategy: positioning, communication messages, channels]. CoMagic. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  20. ^ Lobanovskaya, Ira (16 March 2018). "Это плохо кончится: Как уехать в Мексику от себя самого и встретить все страхи, от которых бежал" [This will end badly: How to escape from yourself to Mexico and meet all the fears you fled from]. Batenka, you're a transformer [ru] (in Russian). Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  21. ^ Knyazeva, Dasha (4 April 2018). "Стратег Ира Лобановская о любимых нарядах". Wonderzine [ru] (in Russian). Retrieved 1 October 2022. Also available as "Strategist Ira Lobanovskaya O Omiljenim Odjeće". Limbro denim (in Croatian). Retrieved 5 October 2022. Translated to English as "Strategist Ira Lobanovskaya About Her Favorite Outfits". Woman kind style. Retrieved 1 October 2022. Translations to a dozen other languages are available from the same web site.
  22. ^ "Прояви свой характер" [Show your character]. (in Russian). Schweppes and Afisha. 1 January 2019. Retrieved 1 October 2022..
  23. ^ a b Varshavskaya, Yuli; Bayanova, Ninel'; Rodin, Andrei (10 May 2020). "Предпринимательницы Кремниевой Долины о фильме Дудя, феминизме и женских стартапах" [Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs on Yury Dud's film, feminism and women's startups]. Forbes Russia (in Russian). Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  24. ^ Lobanovskaya, Irina. "Irina Lobanovskaya". LinkedIn. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  25. ^ Gaisina, Il'mira (16 December 2020). "Из Сибири с идеей: как 28-летняя уроженка Ямала придумала платформу для фотосессий и попала в список Forbes" [From Siberia with an idea: how a 28-year-old native of Yamal came up with a platform for photo shoots and got on the Forbes list]. Forbes Russia (in Russian). Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  26. ^ Anziperova, Marina (4 August 2020). "Батенька, да вы стартапер. К чему приводит работа «на голом энтузиазме» — и кому она нужна" [Batenka, you are a startupper. What work "on raw enthusiasm" leads to - and who needs it]. The Blueprint (in Russian). Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  27. ^ "В России запустили проект Same с анонимными историями о психических и эмоциональных проблемах" [Project Same launched in Russia with anonymous stories about mental and emotional problems]. Takie dela (in Russian). 23 March 2019. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  28. ^ Safonova, Kristina (20 March 2019). "«Ближе, чем самый близкий»: как сайт Same. помогает справляться с психическими трудностями" ["Closer than the closest": how the website 'Same.' helps coping with mental difficulties]. Афиша - Afisha magazine (in Russian). Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  29. ^ Plahova, Anastasia (19 March 2019). "Сайт дня: 12 реальных историй людей, живущих с психическими расстройствами" [Site of the Day: 12 Real Stories of People Living with Mental Disorders]. Knife media [ru] (in Russian). Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  30. ^ Yakovlev, Sergei (14 May 2021). "«Мы не будем работать "на подсосе"»: Зачем рекламщики запускают платформу для социальных проектов" ["We will not work "by sucking"": Why advertisers launch a platform for social projects]. The Village (website) [ru] (in Russian). Archived from the original on 14 May 2021. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  31. ^ Кузьмина, Надежда (19 August 2021). "На грани добра. Как благотворительный фонд и агентство шрифт не поделили" [On the brink of good. How a charitable foundation and an agency did not share a font]. Argumenty i Fakty (in Russian). Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  32. ^ "Agorà on Instagram: "Good bye Mosca!: Ira Lobanovskaya, dissidente russa che vive a Istanbul, sta aiutando i suoi connazionali che vogliono lasciare la Russia"" ["Good bye Moscow! Ira Lobanovskaya, a Russian dissident living in Istanbul, is helping her compatriots who want to leave Russia"] (in Italian). RAI. 15 March 2022. Retrieved 29 September 2022.
  33. ^ Roth, Andrew; Sauer, Pjotr (16 April 2022). "Russians who fled at outbreak of Ukraine war reluctantly go home". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  34. ^ Roth, Andrew; Sauer, Pjotr (13 August 2022). "'The west doesn't want Russians partying in the streets of Europe': calls grow for a visa ban". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  35. ^ ""Sono 70.000 gli uomini russi in fuga dalla mobilitazione"" ["There are 70,000 Russian men fleeing the mobilization"]. Corriere del Ticino (in Italian). 23 September 2022. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  36. ^ Barone, Maria Melania (24 September 2022). "Russia, Putin "pene più severe per chi diserta": 70 mila in fuga? Dubbi sui dati forniti dalla Ong "Guide to the Free World"" [Russia, Putin "harsher penalties for those who desert": 70,000 on the run? Doubts about the data provided by the NGO "Guide to the Free World"]. (in Italian). Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  37. ^ Arends, Johannes (23 September 2022). "Putin löste "noch größere Fluchtbewegung als zu Kriegsbeginn" aus" [Putin unleashed "even larger flight than at the beginning of the war"]. Kurier (in German). Retrieved 3 October 2022.

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