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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Westerners Begin to Leave Crisis-Hit Moscow

Six months ago, Abraham Castro was laughing. He had a steady job at a Moscow advertising firm, money in the bank and every confidence he would be in Russia to see the millennium.

Now he has little to smile about. He lost his job at McCann-Erickson last month, and with job prospects in Russia thinning by the week, he has booked his flight home to Mexico.

With the financial crisis now in full swing and companies continuing to tighten their belts, Russia's expatriates are feeling the squeeze. Many have accepted drastic pay cuts amounting to as much as 70 percent, while others, like Castro, have simply lost their jobs altogether and are heading for the border.

Moving companies predict a mammoth exodus over the coming weeks and months, with orders jamming the lines for transportation to Europe and the United States.

"Usually we do between 25 and 30 moves a month," said Peter Vins, owner of the VinLund moving company. "But since the crisis we are averaging between 80 and 90."

About 70 percent of VinLund's moves are to Western Europe and 20 percent to the United States, he said.

A spokesman for the Crown Worldwide moving company in Moscow said orders had increased over the last six weeks. "But what we have now is nothing compared to what is planned over the next few months," he said. "Some of our multinational corporations have informed us they will be moving on a giant scale in the near future."

Michelle Tien, who was laid off at the financial services and advisory firm CentreInvest Group in August, said most of her expatriate friends have set definite dates for leaving the country.

"We're seeing the beginning of a mass exodus," she said. "In the last two weeks I've been to a leaving party almost every day."

The British Embassy said it had no indication of how many Britons were leaving the country. But the number of people registering at the embassy has risen from one or two a day to between 25 and 50, a spokeswoman in the consular section said. "There seems to be a big concern that something terrible might happen," she said.

But Scott Blacklin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, said it was premature to talk of a full-scale retreat of the foreign community.

"I suspect some companies are in the process of orderly retreat," he said. "I have heard anecdotal evidence of companies going under, but, as yet, nothing is official."

Of the 497 companies that make up the American Chamber of Commerce, just one has said it will be leaving the country, Blacklin said.

"We are certainly seeing some draining of the expatriate community, but this is not a mass exodus," he said. Besides, he added: "Lots of folks are here because they enjoy the challenge of working in Russia. A lot of them are remaining to see whether they continue the ride with another job."

All the same, the crisis has brought windfalls for some. As pensioners lined up outside their banks in the hope of retrieving some of their life's savings, journalists were cashing in on the big story.

Free-lance journalists across the capital said opportunities since the ruble crashed have never been better. "In the first week of the devaluation the phone was ringing all day with editors in London and New York wanting pieces on what was happening. We were into a full-blown media feeding frenzy," free-lancer Ben Aris said.

The Reuters news agency has taken on an extra reporter locally, and reinforcements have been brought in from other Reuter offices to beef up the Moscow bureau, the bureau chief said.