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Russians Transform Dubai as They Flee Putin’s War: Photo Essay

Take a look at their culture at cafes, festivals and even a sailing school.

The Dubai Marina neighborhood, favored by many Russians.

Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

By Bloomberg News

April 22, 2024 at 6:01 AM GMT+2

Thousands of Russians flocked to Dubai after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago. Fleeing military conscription and economic dislocation, they rushed to the United Arab Emirates’ business hub to buy property, found companies and start branches of their Moscow operations—or just build new lives from scratch.

Russians have tried to make the UAE more like their home. They’ve transformed Dubai’s neighborhoods, where the Russian community can now find familiar cafes, such as Dodo Pizza or Angel Cakes.

Angel Cakes cafe.Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

Dodo Pizza in Dubai.Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

They can be sure to encounter ­Russian-speaking staffs when they visit their medical centers or take classes at their Wind Rises Sailing School.

Wind Rises Sailing School in Dubai.Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

And in March they enjoyed a celebration of Maslenitsa, a popular Eastern Slavic festival marking the transition from winter to spring. Dubai has even become a mandatory stop on the touring schedule of various ­Russian- speaking performing artists.

Russians celebrating the March Maslenitsa festival in Dubai.Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

Expatriates have long relocated to this city. In a population of 3.5 million, only about 285,000 have Emirati citizenship. The UAE doesn’t disclose numbers by nationality, saying only that Indians form the largest group, then Pakistanis. Each has its own restaurants with traditional cuisine and favorite districts. In February, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple.

Dima Tutkov and Alina Tutkova, owners of Angel Cakes in Dubai.Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

Fyodor Ovchinnikov, owner of Dodo Pizza.Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

Unlike the US and the European Union, the Persian Gulf state hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia, which made it easier for that country’s citizens to buy real estate. Marina Shalaeva, a partner at property broker NF Group Middle East, says Russians like to buy in the fancy seaside neighborhoods favored by many wealthy visitors, such as Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina.

The Palm Jumeirah neighborhood.Photographer: Leo Skryabin for Bloomberg Markets

To be sure, amid rising rents and other expenses, Dubai may have passed Peak Russia. In rankings of real estate buyers, Russian passport holders slipped to No. 3 last year, trailing Indian and British nationals, after holding the No. 1 slot in 2022, according to Dubai broker Betterhomes.



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