Why I Left Russia—But Hope to Return

April 25, 2013
The Bolotnaya Square protests

On May 6, 2012, I was arrested together with other participants in the events on Bolotnaya Square, and taken to a police station. Actually, I was arrested after the rally, when I was sitting in a café calling Alexei Navalny. His phone was picked up by some other person, who identified himself as a police officer and suggested that I come directly to the police station where Alexei was kept in custody. In about ten minutes, police stormed into the café where I was sitting. They arrested me, put me in their bus and brought me to a police station. They probably found out where I was by tracking my mobile phone. They didn’t touch anybody else in that café, just me. Then they took me to court and sentenced to five days in jail.

I realized that they would keep on arresting people as soon as they classified the events on the square as “public unrest”. It became clear that what had happened there had been a setup: police blocked access to the place where the rally was taking place, which caused a stampede. It was very hot and crowded, people started to panic, but the police made it worse when they started to beat people up. After that, they detained the leaders who tried to get things under control. Once they were arrested, everything spun out of control. By the end of the day, the authorities classified the events as “unrest”. Then it became clear that everything had been set up and arrests would follow.

Nevertheless, I never even thought about leaving the country. The first person who suggested that I should was one of my friends, whom I saw on May 7 when we were sitting in the police bus waiting for the court verdict. Then there was a trial, I was locked up for five days. Before I was released, I sent a note to Navalny, who was in the next cell. I wrote that I was considering leaving the country and I needed some legal advice. Alexei helped me find an attorney.

Once out of jail, the very next day I switched to “underground mode”: changed residence, turned off my cell phone, stopped going to work and to university. I had to keep my social life to a minimum to avoid being arrested. Next came the first arrest under the “Bolotny case”: Sasha Dukhanina, who at that time was under 18, was charged with attacking police officers and participating in public unrest. At the end of June I left Russia.

I spent some time in Europe, then my visa expired and I came to Georgia. While I was in Europe they searched my apartment. They also searched my parents’ apartment, where I was registered but hadn’t lived for over a year. Nevertheless, in the search record it was noted that they confiscated the clothes I was wearing at the rally on May 6. That, of course, was complete nonsense. After the search, I spoke to German lawyers about applying for asylum, but having weighed all pros and cons I decided not to rush it and to wait until it becomes absolutely necessary. I left for Georgia, and started sending applications to European universities.

I am not asking for political asylum and I don’t consider myself a refugee. I am not an emigrant either. I am a student, I study here. When I was submitting applications to Polish, Georgian, Lithuanian and Estonian universities it was already August, so it was too late to register for the upcoming semester. In this regard, the recommendations by Kasparov and Nemtsov helped a lot. I managed to get accepted. Since December, I’ve been a graduate student in Tallinn Technical University studying international relations and diplomacy. In Moscow I studied political science for four years. My schoolmates were Denis Lutskevich and Filipp Galtsov. The former is in jail for participating in the rally on Boltnaya Square, and the latter is in Ukraine trying to secure political asylum. I was expelled from my school right after it was visited by investigators, so I am happy that I will be able to graduate and get my degree in Europe. In Russia I would not have that chance.

Before I started to study in Tallinn I’d spent four months in Berlin, where I came from Georgia last September. In Berlin I studied German. All that time I stayed with my friends. A lot of people helped me – my friends, the Solidarity movement, even some strangers.

Since I never applied for asylum, I do not receive any help as a refugee, and I am not getting any financial aid. I am trying to survive by working three jobs. I hope to get some experience working in the EU institutions, such as European Commission, or in some international organizations, such as the Council of Europe. Then I would like to return to Russia, because I’ve always wanted to be useful for my country.

It just happened that the Russian government and I have different opinions as to what’s best for that country. Also, they think that 20-year olds who have different opinions have to be locked up for about four years. Yaroslav Belousov, a student, has been in jail for almost a year. He is married, his child just turned two. A young Russian family, whose life has already been destroyed by the authorities. Of course, I would never put up with all this. With these policies, with this government. Time will show who was right.

But Russia is still my home, my country, and I am waiting for a chance to return.

Hopefully I’ll get this chance by the next elections.