Daria Yudina: "Putin is not Russia
"The time for romanticized flashlight actions is over. Now it's time for direct action. Daria Yudina worked for many years as a political technologist on the election campaigns of independent candidates, but was forced to leave Russia when the war broke out. Now, for all these months, Daria has been helping people who are persecuted in Russia for political reasons to leave. She raises money, looks for grants, buys tickets, and helps find housing for the first time in new countries. The announcement of mobilization in Russia was a new round of active assistance to those who might be taken to war: "A surgeon cannot operate if he has not been trained. It's the same with the military. People who have never fought, never held a gun in their hands-all these people are on their way to their final destination." To find out exactly how to leave Russia now, what kind of difficulties people face, and what awaits Russia, watch the new episode of the TV2 project "Eyewitnesses."
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Daria, I'm 32 years old, and before the war I was involved in political technology, I worked as a political technologist on different kinds of campaigns of independent deputies. The municipal level, the level of legislative assemblies, the level of the State Duma. But after the war everything changed and now my main activity is helping people to leave Russia. I fundraise funds, resources, and opportunities for them to leave the country.
How did you learn about the war?
I was one of the very first to hear about the war. I was leaving for a meeting in Moscow, I had a plane from St. Petersburg at 4 a.m., and at 6:30, when the plane landed, someone in the back rows said that while we were flying, the war had started. And the whole moment as I was riding the aeroexpress, I couldn't hold back the tears, because I knew something of the worst that we thought had happened, and now it was the point of no return, that there was no going back.
Why did you leave Russia?
I left right after the war started. I went out to the rallies, and on the 24th, when I went out to Gostiny Dvor, there were a lot of people, and a lot of people of absolutely different ages: some came with children, some came in a very old age, and then I had hope. But when I came out on 25, I saw barely a third of the number that came out on February 24th, and I clearly understood that protest in Russia and a form of stopping the war in this way was impossible. So I decided to leave Russia in order to do all the things I'm doing now in a safe place.
What are you doing now in Yerevan?
Initially I just worked for an international crowdfunding company and for different kinds of social projects and private initiatives I found funding through cryptocurrency, through different investors, private investors and foundations, but then it turned out that I had to take a friend out who needed funds just to buy a ticket, and then basically everything started to happen. My relatives, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances began to leave, and I realized that my way of stopping the war, my way of fighting was just to preserve human resources, to ensure that these people were safely located, and I began working with different foundations - about 18 of them for different fields, separately for human rights defenders, separately for cultural figures - I began to help them leave, I began writing emergency grants and now, in general, I have about 50 realized cases. I also help people out privately, and whole families with a lot of children and animals, and so it turned out that I became my own foundation that takes people out.
How do you help people leave Russia?
Well, there are three ways. The first way is when a person has some kind of resource and opportunity and, accordingly, there are a lot of projects that are already in other countries that help with housing, for example, the same Ark, which helps with advice on some legal issues, on relocation and other things. There's a way where a grant is won for a person's relocation, for their tickets, for their housing, but these are usually very narrow grants to a very small audience. As a rule, these are human rights defenders and those activists who are subjected to political persecution and repression by the Russian state. There is a third way that is absolutely clear, accessible, developed when, through social networks, we simply make collections, raise money, and a person is, in general, re-located already at the expense of the so-called civil society, which does not exist in Russia very much, but we would like to have it.
What are the difficulties in getting people out?
First of all, if we are talking about fundraising, there are certain bureaucratic moments in any organizations and structures. I always run into it, because it is often very urgent to leave, and coordinating any grant, transferring money, especially in the absence of any transfer, swift transfer in Russia, is all very difficult. In addition, for example, there are cases that cannot leave the country because they do not have a passport, and we have to use the countries of the Caucasus, our neighbors and Belarus. If we're talking about Belarus, almost no one pays for a relocation to Belarus, because this country is an ally of Russia, and in this sense it is very difficult to just go through the bureaucratic process, often investing your own money, which I have done more than once, and yet it is worth it.
What changed in your work after mobilization?
It's not that it's more difficult, it's more aggressive, because everything that our state does, such as searches of people who left long ago, or these mobilization measures - it doesn't intimidate people. In my personal opinion - it only causes anger, anger, which turns into action and we use, now I began to use, much more, so to speak, illegal methods, because if we're talking about war, and war is happening, then all means are good here, because Putin does not hide from any of the tools that he could and could not use. In this sense, I have become much more aggressive in saving people, precisely because they are all in a defenseless state. I have started openly agitating for people to leave, for people not to sign the subpoenas they receive, for people to flee the war as quickly as possible, because it may not seem humane, but if most of the strong, grown men leave Russia, it is another tool to weaken Putin's army and end the war sooner. And it is absolutely clear that the time for romanticized flashlight actions is long gone and now it is time for direct action.
What awaits people in sudden emigration?
It all depends on the country. For those who go to Kazakhstan, the worst thing is to go through the Russian border, because on the border with Kazakhstan they get support. If now Russian activists, so to speak, are collecting for underpants, socks and thermal equipment for the front, collecting money among people, people from Kazakhstan are absolutely clear, I know several examples from guys I took out, they meet them with hot tea and set up even covid camps to temporarily ensure the location of people there. There are people who, for a number of reasons, cannot cross the border to Kazakhstan, who cannot cross the border to Georgia at Upper Lars, and they are forced to temporarily relocate to Belarus. And that's where the mood is completely different. People are not leaving their homes, people are trying to order food or medicine remotely if they are suddenly sick, because they absolutely understand that like Putin, the President of Belarus is absolutely the same bloody tyrant and despot, as a result no one can guarantee their safety, but this is a forced measure, because one way or another, an even worse end is waiting in Russia, because all those people who go voluntarily now, sign summons and go to war, they go to a bloodbath, which will not end for them in any way. They will be declared missing, and the state will once again save money on people, and no one will get their lives back.
Why do people go to the military registration and enlistment offices themselves?
First of all it is ignorance of the law, because something that you do not take a summons is not some kind of super offense. Yes, now there is a new legal framework, which implies some kind of criminal punishment, but there should be an absolutely clear choice. You can potentially serve time or pay a fine, but it's better than going back in a zinc coffin because you won't survive there. People who don't have a profession can't perform it well. A surgeon can't operate if he hasn't been trained, accordingly, it's the same with the military. People who have never fought, never held a gun in their hands, who are oppressed by fear, misunderstanding of the situation or under the influence of relatives and propaganda, all these people go to their final destination. There is a part of people, these fine z-patriots, who support the war, but all this is absolutely clear influence of propaganda, or ignorance of their own history, or just some kind of stupidity. I used to always assume between some stupidity and malice that it was stupidity, thereby giving the person some hope and an opportunity to correct, now I absolutely do not give that hope and absolutely clearly understand that this is malice and certain attempts by the presidential apparatus to influence different target audiences. I think that with each new day of the war a large part of the population becomes less loyal to Putin and goes from the category of doubters to the category of deniers of the war, but at the same time our civil society is not enough for people to be active in any way now. All of this happening is an absolute disaster for civil society, for Russian society as a whole.
Why does Putin need war?
I believe that Putin, having been in power for 20 years, could have gone completely bonkers. I am in no way belittling the strategic capabilities of his team, but I am absolutely clear that, like any autocracy, they are forced to invent external enemies in order to fool society as long as possible and to keep power in their hands. I am absolutely clear that he is going to lose this war. I think he understands that too, he's just preparing some kind of block, I don't know, propaganda, that here's a common collective west attacking us. Now we have to stand up, unite again, be patient... Everything he did before, conventionally, raising the retirement age and some other things, one way or another, they could have been considered in The Hague, for example, but what he did on February 24 is an act against humanity and it is impossible to understand, accept or in any way justify. He committed a crime that cannot happen in the 21st century. Half of all Russians have relatives in Ukraine. We used to go quietly to visit each other, now we are forced to justify why we are Russians. We justify why we are Russians, in the West, when we come to Europe, we justify ourselves among ourselves by talking and explaining that I didn't choose him, I didn't want this war, it's not mine, he's not my president. Putin is not Russia.
How do you see the future of Russia?
The future of Russia, the one I would like to see, is unfortunately still a long way off, precisely because the war is likely to continue for some time. Well, six months to a year, I don't know exactly, but some time. And then will come, even if it comes, the time of elections in 2024, I think it will be some kind of succession, purely conventional Kirienki, Sobyanin and Shoigu.
What are you most afraid of?
I am permanently afraid that my youth is not going the way I want it to. I missed my mother's 60th birthday, and I will soon miss my father's birthday, which will be in November. I doubt I will be able to return to Russia safely. I am missing very important dates and losing valuable minutes that I could have spent with loved ones who are in Russia. I can't see my cats, I can't walk the streets of St. Petersburg, I can't have coffee with who and where I want, I can't walk and walk with my friends, I can't study at the university where I wanted to continue my studies and go to graduate school back in early February. I am missing the most precious moments of my life. I'm in another country, and I'm forced to fight a regime that I didn't choose, I'm forced to explain every day, day after day, to people that Putin is not us, that we are different, that we must unite. And these moments, they are very important in terms of my social significance, but I'm afraid that another year, or two, or three, and I will lose my own life, myself, in terms of what might be happening in Russia, because I was leaving Russia in tears, because that's where my home is.
Under what conditions will you return to Russia?
I would like to go back tomorrow, but I will only go back to Russia when Putin is out of power. We need to change the courts. We need to change the police. We need to abolish the FSB as a body in the format in which it now exists, because this is unacceptable corruption and some kind of unlimited power and lawlessness with regard to what they do. Only by changing all these institutions, only by changing the form of Russia's existence, only by changing the very institutional basis on which any democratic electoral system is built, only then will we be able to start some economic reforms, some social reforms, we may even get to the point of passing a law on domestic violence and so on and so forth, and only then, in my view, will we be able to somehow start building that Russia, the Russia that I would like to live in.