"Managed to shout a few anti-war phrases. Then he was detained."

Photo from Alexei's personal archive

Alexei lived in St. Petersburg. By the age of 49, he had managed to try many applied professions, from builder-assembler to high-rise survey engineer. He went to the polls to vote against the ruling party, and took part in all the major protests. On February 24th he was detained on Nevsky Prospekt for shouting anti-war slogans. He left Russia only after the announcement of the "partial" mobilization, and now sought political asylum in Finland. He told about why people with practical specialties cannot decide to emigrate, and what information support, in his opinion, is really needed on Internet sites for Russian emigrants, in his letter to "Eyewitnesses of February 24.

"Some years ago-when, exactly, doesn't matter-I found that I had almost no money left in my purse, and that there was nothing left on earth to keep me occupied. So I decided to get on a ship and sail around for a while, to see the world from the water's side as well."
G. Melville

- Unlike the hero of Melville's Moby Dick, I had no existential problems. The world had not yet shown me half of its beauty. I was earning and able to pay for my adult toys, family and actual love left no chance in general for desires to go beyond the Edge of the Universe.

In my youth I probably had to study the philology department, but that train left a long bloody time ago. My activities were in the practical plane of "working with my hands and head": rescuer, installer, director of my own construction and installation micro-firm, engineer for the operation of base stations of communication operators, builder of rope adventure parks, survey engineer of high-rise structures. Even hobbies – mountaineering, skyrunning, trail-running, adventure racing – to which a considerable part of my life is devoted, allowed me to earn only verbally, and only writing articles for one outdoors brand brought income, and that for a short time and almost ten years ago.

My world came crashing down on February 24 with the outbreak of war. I had been a consistent opponent of the current government for 12 years before that, and I had never missed a major rally. I only took state initiatives in the form of participation in the repeated farce called "elections.

Leaving aside the typical reflection in the spirit of "I did what I could, and could I do anything else?", I will say that before the war I had already lived for many years in a state of so-called internal emigration. Approved the minimum acceptable list of rules of the game of interaction with the state: "I don't violate the Criminal Code. I pay my taxes on time.  In return, the state, while doing terrible things with individual rights and freedoms, does not literally touch my personal space".

If someone is ready to claim that all other liberally minded citizens lived in a different paradigm, let him begin by explaining to me why there were no barricades and hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets in 2011? Why didn't they storm city halls and local Kremlin/Smolny?

The shock I experienced on the morning of the invasion showed how quickly one can go from "the hell with them" to "unacceptable". It was the collapse of the entire built reality and imagined world. A catastrophe. An embarrassment whose magnitude I cannot describe. Horror at the thought of what was to come.

What could a normal person be thinking at all when the war began? And what can a man who went to Odessa almost every school vacation of his childhood and accumulated friends there think? And a man who in his student days made friends from Kiev, Poltava, and Lvov?

I sat in a stupor for the first half of the day. When the ability to think constructively returned, I quickly did the minimum necessary. Then I found myself on Nevsky Prospect, where for five minutes I managed to shout out several anti-war phrases, investing all my hatred of what was going on. After that I was detained.

Then everything followed the classic pattern of detentions and punishments of the first day of the invasion: almost a day in the police station, a speedy trial, a minimal fine.

After a while, the shock and depression pass. One gets used to the war going on somewhere in the distance and begins to live. My period of feeling of disaster and despondency lasted until the beginning of May.

Alexei. Photo from personal archive

Everyone determines for themselves how much they have nothing to lose or, on the contrary, how heavy a suitcase of obligations he carries through his life. Depending on this, different people choose between "shoot themselves" or "join the Ucranian military" and "live as before with a small adjustment for": transferring money to opposition resources, wishing victory to Ukraine, or "liking" on YouTube. Some more variants of the conformism to which all of us - the "liberal public" - have become accustomed over the years of living in Putin's Russia. Working, trying to distract ourselves, paying taxes. Well, how else not to go crazy?

There is a chasm between internal emigration and real emigration. From the first days of the war, we discussed in the family and with close friends the options for the development of events. All the scenarios were negative. It was clear that with each passing week, the day when staying in the country would become more and more dangerous. And the ethical f**king sufferings with anti-war overtones would be replaced by questions of personal survival and family safety.

In my case the last straw was mobilisation and an unforgettable spectacle: in the middle of the day cops pick up men right off the street. During the day in St. Petersburg, cops pick up men of various ages on the street and take them to a van. Indiscriminately, in a row. This was impressive.

I knew what I would do if they took me away and brought me to a military unit. I knew that it was a dead end, like jumping into an abyss. I also knew that I didn't want to do anything like that, that at the age of 49 I hadn't fulfilled all my plans and desires...

Further action was fleeting, like an avalanche: On September 27, my wife and I left for Finland. The border crossing was very nerve-racking, but successful: one let us out and the other let us in.

It is possible to discuss long and wordily about the justification of certain decisions, about individual or collective guilt. All this "we should have done sooner" and "run away, you fools" becomes just white noise the minute we make a decision.

Is it possible for a liberally-minded person to stay in Russia? To take the path of active resistance to the regime inside the country, or to go underground, go to the woods, damn it? This all sounds a little crazy. Was there a scenario other than "lay low" or "get out"?

Some people can put on dark glasses and live "in a shell", shutting off from the outside world with psychological protection, while others do not. You can unsubscribe from all news channels, you can not look around and not discuss politics with your wife, among friends and acquaintances. I know many people who can do this.

 But what's next? The second and third waves of mobilisation, martial law, the rebellion of the security forces after a series of defeats at the front, armed gangs and roadblocks on the streets of major cities, shooting and looting. Or alternatively, strikes with tactical nuclear weapons to full operational depth and much larger scale combat operations. A terrifying picture.

What am I running from? From these hypothetical scenarios? Or from not being able to ease my conscience anymore? From death in a police cell for refusing to fight, or from death at the firing range after receiving a weapon? Or more specifically from saving not a life, but a conscience?

"The ship sailed in the fog.
The fog was white.
In turn, which was also white
The ship, (see the law of displacement of bodies)
In the milk seemed chalky.
And the only black thing was
Coffee, while I was drinking.
I. Brodsky

I am not a programmer, a theatre director, a journalist, a psycho-coach, or even a gay man. Never in my life have I tried to make a living by recording "how to stop worrying and start living" videos, giving online advice for money, teaching success, or collecting likes on YouTube, monetising my own stories about how black is black and the world is not perfect.

What should I and others like me do? Should I go to Turkey to spend my savings? To Thailand, to Armenia? What can a person with practical skills in today's world do? Will a turner who disagrees with the actions of the Russian authorities and has an opposition-minded attitude find his place in the emigrant reality? What will a rigging engineer, who has seen Autocad only once in his life and who last drew on a drawing board 25 years ago, be able to earn? 

A coach who teaches "the way to self" has a better chance of making money in conditional Turkey than a person who has spent several years tuning radio relay spans. What will people who do not have a remotely operating business that will allow them to at least rent an apartment and eat in a country with a visa-free regime have to live on?

How many such people are there in St. Petersburg and Moscow, not to mention Russia as a whole? Working as assemblers and construction workers, aware that no one needs them abroad. Who understand that in the case of emigration poverty and the fate of Khludov awaits them. Do they want to go to war? Do they want to stay in Russia at all, understanding all the resulting risks?

Human rights and humanitarian opposition resources do not provide answers to these questions and do not even bring anything to the public that would show their understanding of the problem.

The posts on Ark's Telegram channel are like this: a webinar on how to withstand the pressures of external circumstances, stress adaptation training, online job interview training, a webinar on working with collective trauma, a therapeutic group on psychological preparation for emigration (this one is especially impressive).

Gentlemen, it is necessary to prepare for emigration not psychologically, but practically. Do you have only programmers there with good salaries at remote work and panic attacks, which you collectively help them cope with?
Photo from Alexei's personal archive

My story is more banal than Tolstoy's "Walking in Troubles". After reading a lot of information on the topic on various resources, not having a variety of options for action and not seeing the prospects for legal employment in the conditions of emigration to any of the civilised countries, I went almost Remarque's way.

I am living in a refugee camp, waiting for the appointed date of the "Asylum Application", then the interview, then the decision of the authorities. Sometimes my heart breaks at the thought of the possible prospect of never seeing the woman I love. For this to happen, all Russia has to do is close its borders from the inside, or the few European countries that still allow Russians with a C visa to stop doing so.

I miss my friends, my usual way of life, the apartment I left behind, my hobbies, my parents. I longed for the fucking world, the past that would never be the same again.

However, I have no psychological problems with integration into EU civilian life. I am not bothered by the issue of family relationships in war. Even without participation in webinars I have an excellent idea of what identity is and how to maintain a resourceful state. I only don't know how to keep my sanity when I live in a dormitory, closely neighboring with thousands of refugees from different countries. That's what I don't know, yes. I believe that the next Ark's webinars will be devoted to this very topic.

It is unlikely that readers are really interested in how I obtained a Schengen visa in April and what the procedure for "surrendering" myself to the authorities of another country as an asylum seeker technically looked like.

I don't doubt for a second that I made the right choice, and I would do the same again now. I hate Putin's power. I hate all this rabble, who crawled out of the darkest corners of the country, calling themselves "patriots," lying right and left to their own people about current events, and recruiting like-minded people from among those convicted under the "grave" clauses of the Criminal Code and prisoners of war.

I am an ordinary Russian from St. Petersburg, having studied, read, worked, and failed to come up with an explanation for why I should stay in Russia.

Soon, though, I'll be ready to give a lecture course on "Surviving Refugee Camp" and perhaps become an online coach for marathon and ultra-marathon running in the mountains. I'm a trailrunner, after all. In a former life.

1 comment to ""He managed to shout a few anti-war phrases. After which he was detained."

  1. And what is a 64-year-old woman of liberal views from Siberia who has been under tremendous pressure from state agencies and the church to do?

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