"For me, the year of war is a year of hatred, repression, and funerals."
Irina is 53 years old. She has three sons and three granddaughters. At first she lived in Yakutsk, then she moved south to a small village in Krasnodar region and worked in the sea port of Taman. Irina and her husband built a house where they planned to welcome their grandchildren and spend their old age in peace. But on February 24 everything changed. Attempts to change people's minds and anti-war posts on social networks brought Irina to the attention of the authorities. Her husband and son left Russia in September, and she left in November. Now Irina and her husband and son are in the United States, seeking political asylum. Here is her story:
– My opposition views began to take shape when the murders of truth-tellers (Starovoitova, Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Nemtsov) began. The bombings of apartment buildings, the terrorist attacks at Nord Ost and Beslan, the "seizure" of NTV from Gusinsky, the arrest and seizure of Khodorkovsky's business, the war with Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, the closure of independent media, the poisoning and arrest of Navalny... The list is endless.
My husband and I were interested in what was really going on, we drew information from the independent media (like Kasparov.ru), we watched Youtube, and we understood that the news on TV was propaganda dictated from above. We hoped that life would change, that we would be heard and that people would be interested. But we were wrong. The people around us didn't believe us, they looked at us as if we were sick. As it happens, the Russian mentality is to follow the tsar's orders and be patient.
We lived in a small village near the Crimean bridge. Back in the summer of 2021, we saw military equipment moving toward Ukraine, trains with tanks and guns. Later, there were cars with soldiers, entire columns. Military helicopters and planes were flying. It was a preparation for the war. When we talked about it and sent out photos and videos to social networks, people did not believe us. They said that we were talking nonsense, that it was just a drill and that "everything was fine" and that "Putin was the best president".
On February 24, I woke up early in the morning and saw the news: Putin had decided to be the discoverer, Peter the First, but turned out to be Adolf the Second. Russia attacked sleeping Ukrainian civilians. I experienced horror, a kind of emptiness inside, shame, pain, fear, a feeling of helplessness. My soul felt like it was burning out, I didn't know what to do with myself.
The worst thing was that acquaintances, colleagues and friends approved and supported this bloodshed. It was forbidden to talk about it at work. My husband and I became outcasts, traitors and 5th column. People succumbed to the propaganda and supported terrorism and genocide. This shook me the most. I only met a couple of like-minded people in my circle. Most of the people around me not only believe in the rightness of what is happening, but support the decisions of the authorities and proudly post "Z" and "V". Everything is divided, everyone is divided. Families are at odds, ties that have been strong for years are being lost.
There came a time of complete confusion about what to do next... My husband and I could not keep silent, openly expressing our opinions. I made posts, sent out newsletters. We tried to convince acquaintances and strangers, but we could not find like-minded people. It was hard on the soul, you understood that it was useless, they didn't hear you, and they laughed at you.
After the outbreak of war, it became uncomfortable to be inside a state that bombs your friends from a neighbouring country, stigmatises all dissenters as foreign agents, or simply imprisons them for calling for peace. Mobilisation was the breaking point.
Our active position and that of my son, an artist and singer, a public figure, led to angry comments and threats. Curses and harassment and problems at work began. My son was forbidden to perform, and he refused many events on his own if they were in support of the war and the government. Went to rallies, posted on social networks, spread information about how to avoid mobiliыation and how not to go to war, all of this led to the interest of the authorities in us. It was dangerous to stay.
The decision to leave Russia was very hard. We are people of pre-retirement age. We had a job, we had a house that we built. Our children grew up there, we dreamed that our grandchildren would be there too, and we would meet our old age there.
On September 22, my husband drove from Krasnodar region to Moscow to pick up our son, and immediately they drove to Kazakhstan. A huge queue at the border, three days without sleep or rest. In two months they changed five cities in Kazakhstan.
My husband and son left early, and I stayed behind. But when I realised the danger, I sold the house for the first price. I went out to the vegetable garden, built a fire, and started burning pictures of my relatives. There were photos and documents from the 18th century. I understood that I didn't know where I was going and that I wasn't taking them with me. I burnt them and cried that our family had been scattered all over the world in a blink. I was saying goodbye to the past and leaving for the unknown. In November I came to my husband and son. We decided where to go. We didn't have Schengen, which meant America through Mexico.
We buy tickets to Istanbul, and then on to Cancun via Mexico City. Then Tijuana. We wait in line through a charity organisation. But all the foundations are being closed, and we make an appointment with an officer through an app. Four months on the road in different countries and cities . We get into America. We are protected, and we are free.
In the U.S. our main task is to get political asylum. We will try to fight the regime of power from here, condemn Putin's banditry, and not keep silent.
It's impossible to get used to war. You carry a constant burden on your heart, you can't change anything. You try to shout at people that war is the worst thing that can happen. And in response you hear: "We are liberators, we are saving the world." From whom? What are we doing in Ukraine? Whom are we defending in someone else's land? Why are we destroying rather than creating?
The feeling of guilt before the Ukrainian people has not gone away since the beginning of the war. We try as much as we can to support our acquaintances and friends from Ukraine with sympathy, compassion, communication, and remorse. It is frightening to imagine how the Ukrainian people are suffering.
Russia faces isolation, poverty, and possibly collapse. Even if Putin's regime falls, little will change in people's attitudes. At any rate, it is unlikely that we will live to see it.
I dream of peace and happiness, of peaceful life to return. For people to learn to be compassionate, to love and appreciate life. Who stayed in Russia, try to survive. Who left, don't keep silent, speak from different corners of the world about your position, unite against Putin's power. Choose life and freedom, it belongs to everyone from birth!
For me, the year of war is a year of hatred, blood, sanctions, repression, mobilisation and emigration. It is the year of the funeral.