Maria Solenova: "This man ruined millions of lives.
Two years ago she left the country because she felt it was dangerous to stay. Now in Warsaw, she is working on the Warm for Ukraine project, raising money together with volunteers to buy generators and boilers for Ukrainians. She is not thinking about returning to Russia in the near future — Maria has already been subjected to two administrative cases for "discrediting the army," and the third may become a criminal case.
Tell us about yourself
— My name is Maria Solyonova. I am from Moscow. I was a municipal deputy in Moscow from 2017 to 2022. Now I am in Warsaw. I do a lot of things, different media projects, even cryptocurrency projects, educational projects, human rights projects. But now, most of the time, maybe almost all of the time, I am engaged in one project, the most important one. Right now this project is Warm in Ukraine. Under this project we're raising money to buy generators and boilers for Ukraine, and we're also providing infrastructure for the facilities in Ukraine. That's the main project I'm working on.
Why did you leave Russia?
— At some point it became unsafe, literally, for me and my children. It had nothing to do with the war, because it happened more than two years before the war and, frankly, I had thoughts of going to Russia, maybe going back, or at least visiting. So to speak, to understand how much I feel good there, bad, do I need it, do I not. But all this lost its meaning when the war began, February 24.
Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?
— I remember that as early as February 23, I myself was sure that there would be no war. It was all discussed by my friends, acquaintances. I remember saying, look, but it can't be, we live in the modern world, the 21st century, starlink, space and so on. Attacking, just attacking another country is kind of weird. I think that even when I woke up and read this news, I could not believe it.
It's such a mental torpor. Ten months into the war, I watch videos, read the news, and I feel like it's all the same, like it's so surrealistic. It's like, you know, they put us in a surreal world and for some reason we're in it for a while. I don't even know how to explain it. Months go by and I can't put this war down in myself. I understand that it is much easier for me than for people who have been directly affected, who have no place left to live, whose relatives have died, whose lives have been really destroyed.
How did the idea for your charitable project come about?
— As for what we do, Natalia Shavshukova and I have been thinking for a long time, meeting and discussing, and we've been told that we need to change something, to overthrow Putin and the government. We can't do that. Many people even told us: "Why are you sitting here in Europe? Go back and take over the Kremlin." But we understand that not only we won't take the Kremlin, we won't even cross the border. It looks like we'll stay there somewhere. So we began to think, what can we do? There's not much of a choice here, either. We took part in various conferences where we were invited. But, we realised that, basically, there was nothing practical yet.
And that changed more than two months ago, when Natasha got a call from her acquaintances in Kiev, and they literally said, "Natasha, we're freezing. And then she called me, we talked and discussed it. Then she actually ordered the first small stove, which we sent by mail. And after that we told Zhenya Domozhyrov about it. He also lives in Warsaw and now he's living there. And we started to think by word of mouth, where can we buy more stoves? How can we send them? And if it will be more than one stove, how do we even do that? We had never been in the logistics business or shipped, especially in this environment. And slowly people began to join us, even though we hadn't even officially announced the project. At some point we made a website.
A large part of the people who have joined us are people from Russia.
We understand that it is not safe to help our projects being in Russia, we have come up with several ways and we will not announce them, because again, it is not safe for the people who help us. But one of the things we want to say with our project is that Russia is not Putin. Not all people in Russia support the war. There are many people in Russia who do not support the war.
Why do so many Russians support the war?
— I myself have watched the news that these people watch. I don't know if propaganda has such an effect on these people.
Here I live in my information bubble, in my information bubble safely, adequately. In my social circle, shooting other people, attacking other people is savage. I can't explain it, but honestly, when they tell me that there are a lot of people in Russia who support the war, I don't want to believe it. There are no objective numbers right now, there is no objective sociology. I can't explain why a normal person who has a sense of empathy, compassion, in general, the brain with which he thinks, makes decisions, analyzes, can support aggression against another person? I mean, it's not normal in principle. Maybe propaganda clouds the brain in this way? I honestly think about it a lot. The only thing is, I think you still have to communicate with people like that. And at least on leaflets, at least in underground printers, print news, pictures, so that people can see what's going on. Maybe this can change something.
Whose fault is it that the lives of millions of people have gone wrong?
— I think the answer is obvious, it's Putin's fault. Of course, there are many people who, so to speak, work for him, the army, and so on. But, first and foremost, this is a war of one man, a war of his ambitions, a war of his abnormal, inadequate desires. In the great scheme of things he would be better not running the country, but seeing a psychiatrist, a doctor, and maybe get some kind of medication. Though, on the tenth month of war, I can hardly believe it. That is, perhaps, it is a clinical case. How could you turn the whole world against you? Now objectively the whole world is against this man. You know, yesterday a picture circulated on the Internet, where Santa is drawn in several variations. And he's got a cloud of thought, and it says, "I'm not the Killer!" What was he supposed to do? Well, we know what he did to get the whole world to make one wish. I can even voice it, this wish. We all want this man dead, as soon as possible. That he be killed, I don't know, poisoned, tripped, choked on a cherry pit, whatever. To have him die any way he wants, and as quickly as possible. Clearly, he has a lot of associates around him, but if we can talk about the root of the evil, there is one. This is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. This is the focus of evil, this is the man who has destroyed millions of lives.
Because we are in contact with many of our partners in Ukraine, we constantly, every day we literally run into people saying, "I can't, we just had shelling, we're still sitting in the shelter, just wait an hour, it'll pass, we'll come out." It's already the norm for people. I say, "Oh, well, yeah, shelling, okay." Even in my head it is already there, I know that in Kharkiv shelling means that they will wait for a while, then they will contact me, we will continue to work. But, you know, essentially it is not normal. The fact that we all consider it an everyday occurrence, it's not normal for a person.
Do you feel personally guilty or responsible for what is happening?
— This is the question: "Where have you been for 8 years, or what have you been doing?" But, I personally was not silent for 8 years, I went out to protest all those years, and I became a municipal deputy, and I tried to change what I could change at the level of Moscow, the district. That's probably not enough. But if you ask me what I should have done, what should have been done? Who's to say what should have been done? When people say that you did the wrong thing, I answer: first of all, as they say, you can't unring the bell. We should not have left Bolotnaya, that's what we should have done. That is, where did we go wrong, where did we fall short? They say that we had illegitimate elections. Yes, we know, we were involved in the preparations for the elections; I myself trained observers. What we could we did, we made sure that we had correct protocols at the polling stations where we closed them with observers. We did our little deed, but we are only human, we are few. What, what should have been done? Then you have to rewind 20-plus years ago.
The evil happened when he arrived. When Boris announced his successor. I was 16 years old at the time, and frankly, politics made me feel vaguely uncomfortable at the time. It seemed to me that politicians were people who did nothing, who talked and nothing happened. So they brought that evil.
Why does Putin need this war?
— Apparently, he invented his own world, in which there should be another world map. But, he already has Europe, the whole world, Ukraine, President Zelensky, telling him that Ukraine is an independent state. The best thing he can do is to withdraw the troops, leave, leave the people alone, give them a chance to live. Why wipe cities off the face of the earth? Why Mariupol? Why Kherson? Why Bucha? Why this savage cruelty? You can say that it's not Putin, it's his soldiers. No, it's Putin. Globally, they have permission for this brutality.
What can we do to stop the war?
— We must now try to take practical action. If I go out and stand outside the embassy, it won't stop the war. But if I sit at home at my computer, find a supplier of 10-kilowatt generators, it will solve several problems that are now hanging in my head, this is the task of my day. We need 10-kilowatt generators, there are none in Poland. That is, they are there, but the deadline for delivery is the end of February. The end of February is a very long time, that's two months of agonizing winter. In my head the task is a little simpler, more trivial, more down-to-earth. The more we do all this, the more we can help Ukraine to survive this winter and somehow win this war. Because, right now, Ukraine has to win. I believe that we have to help people.
What are you most afraid of?
— I'm afraid of war, afraid of blood. At some point I stopped watching videos and pictures in the news, and began to read only the text. Because I realised that I couldn't do it anymore. And in fact, now it's text messages that I read in my telegram feeds. Although, now it so happens that I sometimes need work-related videos and photos, I have to watch them, but I still do it on the minimum. It's probably just the way.
Honestly, even as a kid, I didn't watch all the famous Soviet war movies. Normal kids my age all watched them, I didn't. Because it always seemed to me that films about war are some kind of terrible fear, I don't understand why I should watch them at all. Living at a time when war is happening now, I guess I'm somehow shutting myself off from it with all my might. Although, I understand that my suffering is conditional when people lose loved ones. I read a story when a family came back already, that is, left Ukraine, came back and a shell hit, they were all killed, one boy survived, who was with his grandmother at that moment. I understand that everything I am experiencing is nothing at all, and an excuse to go to a psychoanalyst.
What awaits Russia?
— Frankly, I wish there was a future at all. There are a lot of curses about Russia right now. I can't even help but join them, because the Russia that we have now is no longer my country. I have a Russian passport, though. I will still remain a citizen of the Russian Federation. Even when I go somewhere, people ask me where I'm from. There is a pause, and I wonder how I can say where I am from. I understand that many Russians now avoid these questions.
Subconsciously I want to believe that the country has a future. But, I don't even know what scenario there could be at all for the country to return to normal life, for us all to return there, for example. Now every day we read in the news only about new political prisoners, new repressions, new bans, new repressive laws. I don't even know — but to overthrow Putin? Who will overthrow him? How can he be overthrown if they'll trample you, put you in jail, or even I probably wouldn't be surprised if they started killing people who resisted the authorities. The country is in some kind of black hole. Although, at the same time, there are normal people who live there. You can't move all of Russia to Europe, not everyone can leave. There are politicians who stay there and try to do something, for example, Yulia Galyamina. But we see how difficult, almost impossible, this is. Moreover, there are almost no politicians left now.
Will you go back to Russia?
— Again, I really want to go back. But, there's nowhere to go back to. I mean, for myself, I don't understand a scenario where I can go back. Let's say, for example, I already have two cases right now about discrediting the army. Maybe even more, maybe I don't know about them. I already have both of those cases ruled on. That means that my lawyer, my attorney is telling me that the next case could very well become a criminal case. It's about the same with everybody who's more or less active.