"I'm done, I got out of Russia." A happy ending to the story of torture in the basement

Photo from the hero's personal archive

At the end of November of last year our website published the story of a failed escape from Russia. Our eyewitness was born in Krasnodar Krai, grew up in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, moved to St. Petersburg in 2005 and lived there for 17 years, and since 2021 lived in Moscow. Because of his participation in anti-war rallies he got into trouble with the police. Sitting in a police van, he decided to apply for political asylum in Europe.

He tried to get to Poland, illegally crossed two borders, was captured in Ukraine and miraculously returned alive to Moscow. Then, for the safety of the hero in the publication, we changed his name and illustrated it with images generated by a neural network. Two and a half months passed and we received a message with the continuation of this story.

Vadim Kurka (the hero's real name) fulfilled his dream and made it to Los Angeles. An unknown girl named Julia from Cincinnati helped him. She bought him the tickets after she read Vadim's story in the Ark chat room, where he had sent a link to the Witnesses  material asking for help. That's how Vadim's rather grim story got a sequel:  

 I started writing from Moscow in all the chats related to America, asking people to help me get out of Russia. I wrote without any hope that anyone would respond. One day, however, a girl wrote to me and said, "I can buy you tickets and help you move to America.

And she didn't ask me for details: who I am, what I am, why I need it. I was very surprised and alarmed. She asked for photos of my passport, so she could buy tickets – I sent them over. She asked: "How do you want to fly - through Turkey?" I had read in the chats that there were a lot of "U-turns" of russians in Turkey: most of those who fly to America U-turn. And I told her that only not through Turkey and not through Europe (there are also many "U-turns").

In the end, half an hour later she sends me the tickets – I got them! A ticket from Ulan Bator (Mongolia) to Bangkok, another ticket from Bangkok to Mexico City with a layover in Tokyo. I was thrilled beyond belief, very happy that the heavens had finally opened up and God himself had extended his hand.
Santa Monica
Photo from the hero's personal archive

It was the beginning of December. I was on a train from Moscow, traveling via Ulan-Ude to Ulan-Bator. At the border with Mongolia, I was very worried, afraid that I might be turned away. First of all, I would be "mogilized" because I was in the first reserve category. Plus I have unpaid bank debts, fines. Plus detentions. I thought they would never let me out.

The train stood at the border for two hours - and for two hours our border guards filled my head with nonsense. I'm already gray-haired, but there, at the border, I turned even grayer. In the end, with moans and groans, they still let me out of Russia. 

At first I was shocked and nervous. I came to my senses when I arrived in Bangkok. I realised that that was it, I was out of Russia, that I would never go back to Russia. At any rate, not until the authorities there have changed fundamentally, starting with the president and ending with the constitution, laws, and everything else.

San Diego
Photo from the hero's personal archive

I have two passports. I arranged with my sponsor, the girl who bought me the tickets, that I would mail one passport to her from Bangkok. At the post office I mix up my passports and send the one I used to enter Bangkok. I am left with another passport, clean, with no markings that I entered Thailand.

 They showed me this when I was already checking in for my flight to Mexico. I panicked. What am I going to do? I'm boarding a plane right now, my tickets are just going to burn out.

The Thais are very friendly people. They see my situation and say, "Okay, come down. There's a police station down there. Say you lost your passport. They'll make you a paper saying you lost it." While I was running to the police, my plane left. They told me: "We'll change your ticket for the next date. The next day I come to board again. But there's a misprint in the paper I got - they put a number somewhere wrong. I had to run to the police station again to get another paper. I run, I get there in time. They let me out of Thailand.

I was a little worried that they might not let me into Mexico, but they let me in safely and stamped my passport for 180 days of stay.

Photo from the hero's personal archive

The next day I was already taking a bus from Mexico City to Tijuana. There were six checkpoints along the way. In the chats, they wrote that money and anything of value could be taken away, and they could shake me down. But they treated me adequately, seeing my Russian passport. Nobody took anything from me. I think a lot of things in the chats are exaggerated, too far-fetched. Maybe those who write such horror stories have never left Russia.

For two days we rode the bus. Already closer to Tijuana, the bus stops outside the city. There's no connection. It's like the middle of nowhere. Two men walk in, wearing some lame camouflage bought at the cheapest secondhand store in Mexico. There's a woman in the same camouflage with them. They cover their faces with handkerchiefs, pulling them up over their noses.

There were several Africans sitting behind me. They were on their way to the U.S. border for the same thing I was. This trio pulls the Africans and me off the bus. In the translator on the phone, one of them indicates: "You have to leave us money." I tell him, "I don't owe you shit. I won't leave you anything. If you have any questions, call the police and we'll deal with it." They saw my serious attitude and looked at my passport. Then one of the men in camouflage threw it to me, swearing in Spanish. And the Africans, I look at them, almost trembling with fear. Well, I went to the bus and sat down. I don't know whether the Africans gave them the money or not.

Photo from the hero's personal archive
In Tijuana, I tried to cross the border at the crosswalk 20 times, and the border guards kept turning me away. I was angry, hungry, cold, going in circles. It was nighttime outside. They let everyone in. Some people didn't even have passports, they had white cards and they didn't even look at these cards, they just waved: "Come on in." And me, seeing a Russian passport in my hand, they would not let me in, in the most rude manner. 

The first time I approached, the border guard almost threw my passport in my face and grabbed his gun holster. He had such an angry look on his face, as if I had insulted him personally. Why such aggression on the part of U.S. border guards? It surprised me a lot.

In the end, I realised that I couldn't get through here. I remembered that there was another border checkpoint nearby. I went there, but they wouldn't let me through either. Then I wrote in my interpreter: "Why aren't you letting me through?" The border guard: "You can only pass the border at that checkpoint. I said: "I came from there. They won't let me through there. So I started to put on my Russian character: I wasn't going anywhere. I was there for a long time, swearing and arguing.

But they wouldn't let me in. There was nothing to do - I went back. Three hours one way, three hours the other. There are no buses at night, and I have no money for a cab.

I go back. Again I stand in line, and again I approach the border guards. They won't let me in again, and I say: "Take out your gun: either shoot me, or let me through. I'm not going anywhere." The border guard pulls out his latest model iPhone, takes a picture of my face and says something over the radio.

After about 10 minutes, a Mexican man in uniform comes up to me and shows me his phone. The interpreter says: "Friend, you need to get out of here right away, or else the migration police will come and deport you back to your country." I don't want to go anywhere, but on the other hand, I understand that I don't want to go back to Russia either.  I am struggling with myself, with my pride. I hesitated, gritted my teeth, and left.

I buy a ticket to the next town, get there. I walked four hours to the border. There is a river, on the bank there are obvious traces of migrants like me. Abandoned bags with food, backpacks with belongings, and many other things. It was all at night. I shined a flashlight from my phone into the water, and I looked, the water was transparent, I could see the sandy bottom. I undressed, put my clothes in a backpack and sneakers in my hands. The river was shallow, up to my waist. On the other side I got dressed, put my shoes on - and went to surrender to the border guards.

Santa Monica
Photo from the hero's personal archive
I said the cherished words: "I am asking for political asylum," and they "accepted" me. I spent three days in one border, three days in another, and 11 days in detention. 

In the second border, I slept on the cold concrete floor with foil under me. On the second day I had a cough and snot, my throat was sore. And on the third day I was transported to the detention centre, where I was tested for covid. Two days later they come to me and say: "You have covid. I said, "That's great. And the fact that I slept in your border for three days on the floor, is that okay?"

As a result, I was placed in a quarantine unit. Every day the doctor came and measured my blood pressure, oxygen content in my blood and other things. Every day all my readings were normal. They were supposed to keep me in a quarantine unit for 10 days, but since all my readings were good every day, they only kept me for 9 days.

I was released early. They took me, along with others who had been released, to some church in Arizona, where they fed us.

My guarantor, who was willing to vouch for me in front of the American court system, is in San Diego. I used the last of my money to buy a ticket to San Diego, and that was it, and from then on everything was fine. I crossed the Mexican-American border on December 10, and was released from detention on December 28.

Photo from the hero's personal archive
I've been in Los Angeles for three weeks now. I just like it here. My future plans are to get legalised: fill out asylum forms, get refugee status, and so on all the way up to a green card and American citizenship. 

But I don't have any money for anything right now. With the i220 form I can't do almost anything. In order to move forward, I need money - to hire a lawyer, who will [legally support] the movement in terms of legalization. There is a problem with work now, because there is a flurry of migrants from the CIS, especially from Russia, and rampant joblessness. Here in America, it is very hard to find a job. They say that at the end of February there will be work, the season will start, and there will be more jobs. But this is as illegal as Uzbeks and Tajiks [in Russia] work illegally. I'm waiting for something to turn up, I'm constantly looking for work.

I never met the girl who bought me the ticket. I wrote her that I wanted to thank her in person, but she didn't need it. All I know is that she lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, that she moved from Russia a long time ago, and that her name is Julia.

When asked "Why help?" she said, "I read your story, impressed by your determination to leave by any means necessary. I realised that if you stayed, you would just disappear there. They will mobilise you by force, and nothing good will come of it. That's why I decided to help, to give you a chance."

In America I want to live the way I didn't live in Russia: to make money, then open my own IT company. Because I have a hankering for IT technology.

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