Russians feel at home in UAE

The construction of the first Russian Orthodox church on the Arab Peninsula has begun in the United Arab Emirates. The Emirates are becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination with Russians – and some are even choosing to live there.

About 500,000 Russian tourists come to the United Arab Emirates every year. A major tourist destination and business hub, Dubai has become a magnet for those looking for all-year-round sun, scenic views and a chic lifestyle.

Many Russians decide to make the UAE their home. According to some estimates, some 10,000 Russians are living in the country now.

A new home

Five year-old Lisa knows the difference between her native country and her new home. Here it’s warmer. And no one at school speaks Russian.

Lisa’s family used to live in St Petersburg. Then they discovered Dubai and fell in love with it. They moved two-and-a-half years ago and never looked back: “Every day I wake up happy. There’s the bluest sky and the brightest sun here – always,” says Lisa’s father Igor.

And they’re not the only ones.

Rafik Gubaev, Dubai resident
Rafik Gubaev, Dubai resident

Rafik Gubaev used to work in civil aviation across the former USSR. Now he sells Dubai homes to mostly Russian clients. He says the Emirates are a country open for everyone: “There are no prejudices here linked to nationality or religion. Investors not just from Russia but from the U.S. and Europe like it here. The Germans, the Brits – there are about 200 nationalities here and everyone is welcome,” Mr Rafik explains.

For some, Dubai has given them the chance for a big break. Vladimir Budrun was born in the Urals. He was a fan of martial arts in the 1980s USSR – the time and the place where martial arts were forbidden.

When the Soviet Union collapsed he didn’t think twice before leaving. Now a professional sports manager and the President of the Dubai Martial Arts Academy, he says such a career break at home would have been impossible. He calls Dubai his real home now: “I feel myself as a guest in Russia. Everybody is speaking Russian, and you always want to add a few English words. You always get a surprise to see a woman serve you in a restaurant,” Vladimir says.

VIPs’ paradise

With its audacious real estate projects, Dubai has become a playground for Russian stars and millionaires. The Palm Jumeirah is the smallest of the three artificial islands in Dubai, self-declared as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Villas there are sold quicker then ice-cream in summer.

Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island in Dubai
Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island in Dubai

Some locals say as much as half of the island will eventually be in the hands of the Russian VIPs.

A typical villa at the island with a price tag of $US 7 MLN is what you want, if you are not just rich but outrageously rich. Two storeys, four bedrooms, a swimming pool naturally. And if that’s not enough you can have your own private beach.

The country is fast becoming the Russian Emirates – at least that’s the name of a monthly Russian-language glossy published here. Whether you’re coming to visit, to stay or to do business, it’s got the Emirates covered.

And the country is greeting Russians with open arms. Sergey Tokarev, the magazine’s General Manager, says nowadays every major company in the UAE has Russian employees: “Almost everywhere, in every shop or office, they are ready to talk Russian to you. Russians are very much at home here.”

Glitz, glamour or business, it seems more and more Russians are chasing after and getting their Emirates Dream.