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Russian couple find refuge from war in their Istanbul bookstore

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ISTANBUL, Oct 11 (Reuters) – The conversation shifted from Turkish to Russian as Oleg and Aleksandra Chernousov chatted with guests at the launch of their bookstore in Istanbul, the start of a new life in a new city they once thought to be temporary. residence.

Seven months earlier, they had fled St. Petersburg with a handful of possessions and a clear thought: to get themselves and their 11-year-old daughter away from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

As the conflict raged and their savings dried up, they and other Russian émigrés began to look to Turkey and make longer-term plans.

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For the Chernousov family, those plans took shape in Istanbul’s trendy Moda district with the launch of their new bookstore “Black Moustache” – a play on the literal meaning of their surname. .

“The store is pocket-sized, not big, but we hope it will have a long and happy life,” Oleg, 33, told Reuters as visitors, mostly other newly arrived Russians, streamed into the store. .

Many say they fled Russia for fear of being arrested for opposing the invasion, which Putin calls a “special military operation”.

They also feared being forced to fight – a fear that has come true since the president ordered mass conscription.

For their new home, they chose Turkey, a NATO member that sought to balance its relations with Russia and Ukraine during the conflict.

“Black Mustache” sells books on photography, fashion and design, some of them in Russian, although shipping costs have been high.

Oleg was able to draw on the experience he gained from running a similar store in St. Petersburg, where books have always occupied an important place in the couple’s life.

“When Oleg and I started dating, in Russia, we called it the period of sweets and flowers, he gave me books,” Aleksandra said. When they fled, they had to leave most of them behind.

“That’s why I feel so good that we are opening a bookstore, because the books and shelves we had in Russia mean a lot to me,” she added. “They were an inspiration and without them I felt lonely, I felt lonely. Now I feel better.”

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Reporting by David Gauthier-Villars, Bulent Usta and Yesim Dikmen; Editing by Daren Butler and Andrew Heavens

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