Nina Alexa: "I was told that I was undesirable in Russia.
Nina Alexa now lives in Georgia and works for the Free Russia Foundation. She left before the war. She covered pro-Navalny rallies, came under pressure from the security forces, and was told directly that she was an undesirable element in Russia. And before that, she worked for the state media. Nina has a personal grudge against Russian propaganda. Since the beginning of the war she has not been able to talk to her own mother. Eyewitnesses February 24. Another issue.
Tell us about yourself.
- My name is Nina and I am 35 years old. I come from Moscow. I have been in Georgia for more than a year, I arrived in June 2021, there was not yet such a large Russian community here. I am an eyewitness of three waves of Russian expats. The waves were how they appeared - some kind of trigger happened, something happened, they started pushing the First Department - the First Department left (then the Team 29), they started pushing the FbK and the Navalny HQ - the Navalny HQ went. But, of course, the biggest is the third wave, these are the people who came from the beginning of the war, in the first months. Before that, I was a journalist in Russia, I also worked at the federal headquarters of Open Russia, and I continued to work remotely here. I wrote articles, made some videos and scripts, managed my own projects, but gradually the community part became my main job. At first I didn't get anything, I was just interested. Later I was invited to work at the Free Russia Foundation. Now I work here officially, I do a lot of help, consultations and adaptations for Russian expats. I help to create this community, I help with the organization of different events. These are lectures, actions, performances, film screenings, and I have a lot of fun with that.
What does the Free Russia Foundation do?
- We are with you in the office of the Free Russia Foundation. Until then, all four floors were quite empty; now it is home to many political emigrants. Here they can continue their projects. We have a co-working space where people work, write, film, in general, conduct any activity they had in Russia. They have jobs, they have the Internet, they have colleagues with whom they can talk, discuss something, maybe finalize some idea or idea.
Why did you leave Russia?
- I left after the Navalny rallies. There were two rallies of Navalny - on January 23rd and 31st I covered as a journalist and streamed from the rally, and on April 21st I also left. Now nobody was detaining anyone, they were going home with their own protocols, fines and everything else. Even though I was wearing my 'Press' vest and had my press card, they still came and told me to come to our office to prove that I was an accredited journalist. They said to me: "You're not an accredited journalist, you don't have this, you don't have that, and you don't have the QR-code or the mask - so you're guilty, you took part in the protests. Since I covered them, there's a broadcast, here are the links, look them up, go in, like them, subscribe if you need to. Still, I knew I was walking on thin ice. They didn't give me an administrative charge, they just said if I didn't stop, they were going to keep pulling me, they were going to keep coming to me. And I was registered with my mom, and they were yanking my mom, they were coming to me, they were coming to my ex-husband. It seems to me that they had no desire to put me in jail, but - this is just the same way to squeeze a person out. And I thought - I'll go away... Especially since the elections were ahead of me. Maybe I could spend the summer somewhere more useful. I packed and went to Georgia and I thought - ok, elections would be held and... Just not to irritate anyone with my presence, but I would come back after elections. Now everything will go back to normal, and then I can do what I like. And I come back after the elections, in September, I go out to Pushkinskaya Square, I make broadcasts for RusNews, and then there were pickets in support of the media, recognized as foreign agents, then Meduza and other media... And they take me along with the picketers, even though they did not know what to give me, what to give out. They make a long fuss, I am in the police station for 4 hours, and during the interrogation they say: "According to our information, you left. Why did you come back?" I said: "Well, how? I'm a citizen of the Russian Federation, I went away for a vacation, to spend the summer in a beautiful warm place, I came back." They: "You are undesirable." Me: "What do you mean? It seems to me, in principle, a citizen of the Russian Federation cannot be undesirable." They: "Well, you are undesirable." That is, there were such innuendoes, and I realized that it was hard to argue with this. Indeed, it is probably worth a little quiet, to go somewhere, and I took my ticket, in two days I was here again.
How did you learn about the war and what were your first feelings?
- I woke up to the calls. Calls and messages - the phone was ringing off the hook. And almost all: "Wake up, there's a war going on. It took me a long time to come to my senses. I started reading, watching. For two hours I couldn't get out of bed, because I couldn't understand what was going on. I mean I was in shock, I had no strength to do anything. I had a very hot phone in my hands and my battery died quickly from all these videos and pictures and this horror. I don't know how to describe it... I must have had a day or two of reflection. I couldn't believe it was true. And then, gradually a lot of anger builds up, and you don't know where to put it. You can't take it out on the people closest to you. And that's probably the hardest part, what's going on right now. You don't know where to put it. You start writing on social media and... I had that after Bucha, when I didn't know where to put it. You go, you don't say anything, and a volcano explodes inside you. And I couldn't sleep, I remember, I got up at night, went to write, and I wrote terrible things. I started writing, commenting under the posts of my classmates, classmates. I wrote horrible things like, "The whole world will know what bastards you are, you will die, you will turn over your horrible potholes and rot there." That burden isn't even about acceptance, it's about how to carry that anger within you and not spew it out on those close to you and the people around you.
Do you feel personally responsible for what happened?
- I worked at a federal channel in my time. Before I left for Open Russia, I worked at Moscow 24, I worked for a few years. Before that, I worked at the TV Center under Luzhkov, then Luzhkov left, Sobyanin came in, created his own channel. I was a part and a cog in this system. I knew how this propaganda worked. That's why I couldn't put up with it and couldn't go on working like that, I left then. It was my own wish, and some of my colleagues left with me, some of them left, by the way, for Open Russia. I am grateful that Mikhail Borisovich gave me the opportunity to finally understand the darkness in which I was working before and that it was a big mistake to work there for so long. Probably my fault, after all, for having abetted, perhaps, this propaganda in my time. Maybe not openly or directly, but, somehow, I was a cog in that system.
How did propaganda manage to fool so many people?
- How did the propaganda succeed? And today, by the way, an interesting investigation by the Project came out. On the ratings: you may have seen how the VCIOM ratings are made. It turned out that all these opinion polls are, in principle, part of state propaganda. Here the question is how state propaganda works: it is not limited to television, radio or newspapers. No one reads newspapers at all for a long time. State propaganda is a huge, huge spider, with lots of paws that crawl into all structures. This includes student associations and our social workers. They are absolutely, one hundred percent exposed to propaganda, and not just because they watch TV. Because they socialize in this circle, because at work, in the medical institution, for example, propaganda is carried out by all means. From the head doctor to the patients. I know because my mother is a health care provider. And we have a very difficult relationship now, we haven't spoken for almost two months because this war has split us into two shores. She sincerely believes and supports this so-called special operation and considers me a big traitor.
Is the war going to last?
- I really hope not. I very much hope that, first of all, the resources of the Russian army are not enough. We can see that they are already using old equipment, that they are already recruiting through the labor exchange. I was studying this today. I was watching the news - it turns out that the unit is recruiting soldiers and servicemen via exchange of labor, because it seems that they ran out of conscripted boys - some ran away, some got rid of it, I don't know. So I understand that the Russian army has no resources. The war, I think, should be over by the end of this year. I believe in this, I really do. And what's more, I believe that something has to change, because by starting this war, Putin has taken a shot in the knee. Most adequate, understandable, neutral people will not forgive him for that. There are, of course, those phony ratings that probably shouldn't be believed anymore. I believe there aren't many people who support it. I just don't believe that people can support war, really.
Will you come back when the war is over or the regime falls?
- Go back? Of course. If we're close to the regime falling, I just won't hesitate to buy a ticket and run back, really. I'm holding myself back a lot right now so I don't run and do anything. I think that if I were in Russia I would go out and freak out, do something awful... Again - because this anger is building up. And I just can't imagine - how inside the country people restrain themselves now not to talk, to be silent, to agree with this, to watch what is being shown there now on television or somewhere else. Of course, I'm thinking about going anyway. But I just realize that I'm going to sit down right away when I get there, because I just won't have a chance to not do some horrible thing like that and freak out.