Alyona Lakomkina: "Partisan protest makes sense in Russia.
Alyona Lakomkina was not afraid of being put on trial, but still left Russia to continue her informational protest. She is one of the editors of the opposition telegram channel "Close Tver for Me(https://t.me/tverskey)". Because of it, in the early hours of May, law enforcement officers raided Alena's apartment. They took away Alena's equipment. According to her lawyer, the girl could face from 5 to 10 years in prison.
Alena Lakomkina is 25 years old, grew up in Tatarstan, studied in Tver. She taught English and Russian. She speaks about protest sentiments, opposition in the regions and lessons of "patriotism" in the Eyewitness Project.
Tell us about yourself
- My name is Alyona, I'm 25 years old, I'm from the city of Tver. I came to Tver from Tatarstan to study at university. By education I am an elementary school teacher of English. I started activism in Tver. In seventeen, Alexei Navalny came to us and opened his headquarters, and that's when I thought about volunteering there. But unfortunately, I didn't get there. I started volunteering more or less actively in 2021.
Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?
- Anxiety, despair, and terror. On February 24, I remember as if it were yesterday. I woke up to my sister coming home from work and crying. I immediately realized what had happened. It's always scary when people are killed.
Why did you have to leave Russia?
- I was forced to leave Russia. I am the editor of the "Close the door behind me" telegram channel, and I was searched in a criminal case about fakes.
On May 12 at 6:20 a.m., the SWAT officers kicked my tambour door in, punched me in the arm, knocked the phone out of my hands, and yelled at me - why I didn't open the door for them! As the FSB officer told me, it's their psychological technique to come in early.
They were looking for illegal substances, weapons, and equipment with which I was working. They seized my laptop and phone. The laptop, which unfortunately was not encrypted, had materials on it that could be glued to anything. Please encrypt your laptops and devices!
My lawyer told me: "Just know that you're looking at five to ten years. Sooner or later I would have been detained, probably put in a detention center, so I decided to leave. I got ready at night on May 14. May 15 is my birthday. Now every year I will celebrate not only my birthday, but also my freedom.
What does "Close the door behind me" write about?
"Close the door behind me" is an opposition regional telegram channel. They write posts there that are unpleasant to the current government, and they look at how the budget is being squandered. In the Tver region, they cannot build roads, villages are dying, but nevertheless, we have many churches being built. Recently, we launched a protest vote. This is something like smart voting because this year municipal elections were held in Tver. Now we're writing about the mobilized.
What is Tver like?
- I would call Tver a protest city. In January 2021, about 4,000 people took to the streets of Tver for a rally. It was one of the biggest rallies in the city's recent history. They were not marched for Navalny. They were protesting against rising housing and utilities rates and police brutality, and were coming out simply because they had had enough. In Tver, people come out not only to rallies, people go to anti-war pickets, people are detained almost immediately, instantly. I was detained both at Navalny and anti-war rallies. I was talking to a police officer and he said to me: "Alain, how do you think, here we police officers have calls, somewhere someone was killed, somewhere someone was robbed, and somewhere someone stood up with a placard. Where do you think a police officer would be sent?" I say, "Well, probably where somebody got killed." He says, "No, the chief will tell them to go and get someone who's standing in the square with a placard.
Does the protest make sense?
- If a person wants to come out against the war, to say, for example: "No to War," he should have the opportunity to come out and say so, and not be detained. In today's Russia, it makes sense to engage in partisan protest. Going out with pickets and sit-ins, I don't think it makes sense. Informational protest is effective, you can talk to your family in the kitchen, you can talk to your friends, you can talk to your colleagues at work, draw graffiti, hang up flyers with instructions on how not to mobilize, for example.
I came out with a picket at the end of February, with a placard reading "Russia Doesn't Want War. I knew that people were out walking, so I went out at 11 p.m. Some people reacted very well, some hugged me, some gave me a thumbs up, some said warm words. There were some who swore at me, but didn't touch me. One minute a man came up from behind me, read my poster, tore it up, told me I didn't need to stand here. Two guys were standing next to me and they started asking why he did that. He took out a pepper spray and sprayed it in my face.
What are you most afraid of?
- I am not afraid of anything. They will put me in jail, torture me, kill me, but the future won't change anyway. My father was in prison. He told me about prison, that it's not shameful at all, that there are people just like us. You don't have to be afraid of prison. My daddy's a carpenter. He said, "I work as a carpenter like Jesus.
How did those close to you feel about your departure?
- A friend of mine telegraphed me, "Alyona, please call Daddy soon, because he's calling everybody, screaming." He was looking for me. My dad is a very testy person. I thought I was going to call him now and he was going to yell at me. I told him: "Hey, Dad! How are you?" He said to me, "Hi, Alyona! Are they gonna lock you up?" And I cried right at the airport. He was positive about my departure, because the most important thing for him was that I was safe and free.
How do you feel about mobilization?
- As Mr. President states, we have no war, we have a special military operation. I don't understand why people have to be mobilized. In Tver, as far as I know, we have a plan to mobilize eight thousand people. I understand that it is legally possible to mobilize them, but to send people simply as cannon fodder to war is unacceptable and incomprehensible to me. Recently my sister got a call from my friend from Suvorov Military School, and he said that about 2000 people were mobilized there. He said: "Look, I'm getting mobilized." She asked: "Do you know what's going on now? Are you ready to kill?" He said: "If I have to, yes."
Why did the authorities so easily crush critical thinking in the population?
- Those who believe in all this happiness of patriots also go to the mobilization.
As a teacher, I know how patriotism is instilled in schools. Patriotism, as spelled out in the federal state standard, is love for the motherland, love for its nature. But in reality, patriotism means uniforms, marching, military songs, and "can do it again. No one at school has the right to propagandize anything to children, it's written in the law. But they started sending down teaching aids, unbelievable materials on the friendship between peoples, on the theme that Ukraine is the same as Russia. I didn't have such conversations with schoolchildren. In history classes they talk about the Soviet Union, about how we used to fulfill five-year plans, then we had a war, and we won that war, we planted the flag, we-something, we-something. When I was in school, I used to come home and tell it with such admiration: "Can you believe it, Dad, here we are!" And he would tell me how it really was, how these five-year plans were carried out, no matter what, how people were dispossessed, how they were exiled to the Gulags, so I formed a critical mind, and then I checked everything. I had two points of view.
How do the children feel about what's going on?
- They call it war. They understand what's going on, and they don't like patriotic education lessons. They sighed a lot and said, "Oooh, it's that lesson again today, we're going to sit on our phones.
Will you go back to Russia?
- I'll be back for sure. It may be five years from now, ten years from now, twenty years from now. But when I finally see the green light, when they wave at me and say, "That's it, you can go there," I will definitely go. The word "patriot" is very solemn, but only in emigration did I understand what it means to be a patriot.