"If you have an opinion in Russia, you are a danger for Putin."
I met Sasha and her girlfriend Katia at the protest site. Since they do not see a future, they left Russia and live in Istanbul. They participate in protest actions organized to support the Ukrainians in Istanbul. Like other Russian dissidents, they carry a different Russian flag. Just white and blue. Sasha says they deleted the red color on the Russian flag because it means blood. "We don't want a bloody flag," He explains. Our conversation took quite a long time. I am only quoting certain parts of it here.
Here are their stories.
"We lived in Moscow for the last seven years and I've been a photographer, and studio owner. So that was my job. The first time I participated in a protest in Russia was in June of 2020. It was a protest for the freedom of Navalny. My first protest was in the center of Moscow. Then I moved there, and from the first minute, I was so afraid just to walk on the street, just to walk on the city center, because all the police has heart trouble sticks. I knew that they had tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.. I don't know how people can be can feel careless. I don't know. Because they knew that the police on any day could just block all the cities and could put police in every corner, just to prevent any kind of dialogue, prevent any kind of meeting. even if it's just one person with a white banner with no words on it. You can be jailed because it's prohibited. If you have an opinion in Russia, you are a danger for Putin. So it's better for you to move and every government structure will show it to you so you will have a problem until you will move from the country."
"We came to Istanbul one and a half years ago. We've been kind of political refugees for the last ten years. We joined the protests in Russia against Putin and the ruling party. Mostly we participate in legal protests. But at some point, they become illegal only because our government made them illegal in any way. First, you are only allowed to protest on the outskirts of the cities where nobody will see you. Then they start pushing us even from this place and they start telling us how many people can come. And if more people come, organizations of this project were punished and jailed sometimes. So then Coronavirus came. And during Coronavirus, our government used pandemic to prevent all processed activities in our country. So we were unable to have any form of protest. And we started donating to opposition parties just to increase their media activity has a lot of people who support them. They became very successful in the last two years in media, especially on YouTube and Instagram. There were a lot of interesting projects in which we participate. But at some point, I was a business owner and I was forced to sell my car. Our government learned that I'm donating to some opposition members. So they started coming to my house every day. We realized that it's impossible to stay in Russia for now. So we just take our things and we moved to the country that was open at the point and this country was Turkey at this time. It was the only available option that allow Russian tourists with no visa or special vaccines. So we came to Istanbul. We've been here before, we had a lot of friends here. And anyway we chose just Istanbul and to stay here. And then step by step we became local. We can say we have a lot of connections now and we have no reason to leave this place for now. We realize that we have no options to go back for now. It's just illegal to be in opposition not just to express your feelings. They can charge you even if you're posting something against the war or against the government or against the army. And sometimes it's a very strange situation. They can charge you a penalty even if you're posting some symbols without any meaning, just because they think this is very dangerous. So that's how we finished our life in Russia one year before. We are not going to come back. Probably we will stay for one year. We had some different plans. We wanted to go to Argentina or some different countries with easy visa restrictions. And Argentina. it's easy to get an Argentina passport. You need to stay in the country just for two years and it's a very powerful passport, not like a Russian one or Turkish for example, a very high level passport of world countries. So probably we will move there one day. Yes, I will move to France because I didn't see my future in Russia. I could not get good high education in Russia. I didn't feel myself protected in Russia. So that was the reason why I moved to Istanbul to work a bit. I'm working as a model and it's much better to work as a model in Istanbul than in Moscow. They gave me much more money, it's much easier and the market for models here is bigger. I stayed here, I learned French for two years and next year was the year I will move to France. I hope so. I will try my best. Before we started my chance was higher but now it's not that high because maybe it could be hard for me as a Russian person to make a visa."
Do you think Russia's invasion of Ukraine was justified was the only way?
"Of course, it was not the only way and it was not the way at all. And to clarify this, I need to say that Putin doesn't want any dialogue, not inside the country, not outside the country. He is always acting with his power. So there is no reason for that. He was very successful inside the country in his powerful actions and he suppressed all the positions now he was very happy and he decided that he can move forward. He can push not only his own country but also Ukraine. He was wrong. Unfortunately, he was wrong and he fails. For now, we know this, we can clearly see this is the only way for people who only rely on power, not on dialogue. He stops all the dialogue and now he pays the price for it's. There is the only difference that separates us from animals as a human and this is our ability to have dialogue. And he is acting like an animal only with clear power because he doesn't respect dialogues. So that's what's happened. Yes. And now we see a world not between only Russia and Ukraine, but between democracy and dictatorship. So Ukrainian became good democracy, they built their freedom. Most people say it's bullshit, but anyway they are able to have dialogue so they have a lot of possibilities to express their feelings. And in Russia, people, don't have any freedom of expressing themselves. Only Putin has. So he believes that he is always right. And every his action will be automatically approved not just by Russian society, but by all the world."
You are probably being followed by the Russian police here, will not be a danger to you when you return to Russia?
"Yes, we are followed by yhe Russian police. We know that they come to the protest. We can clearly see them. We will not return to Russia in any way. We have no choice for this. We have no reason for us for this. We will stay in Turkey as long as we can. Then we will move forward. You know, as a person, you don't need to live in your Native country. Our propaganda in Russia, they say you can only survive in your local community, in your country or the whole world is is a form of danger for you. This is untrue. I travel a lot. But I never heard any problems with the local societies, never had any experience of discrimination. I will move forward not to Russia. As you remember a few moments ago, we talked about 70% of Russian people who support the war. It's impossible for me to imagine living with these people around me. It will be hard to have any dialogues. And I need dialogues, you know. I don't want to spend all my life talking about nonsense films. Something like this. The world would or not. It's just stupid. War is always bad. This is not an investment in people. This is not an investment in society. This is just the destruction of everything. People's lives, people's communication, all government systems. It's just a bullshit. It's impossible to survive this. I believe that for the next 20 years, our country will be all locked in this kind of dialogue. We will only talk, Oh, if this war was good or not. I don't believe that I can join this dialogue for so much time. So I need another place with better people who understand this easy truth. That war is always bad. There are no winners in any war in the 21st century, especially if there is a war of conquest, which as Russian-Ukrainian war is."
Also Putin, he invades our educational system. between me and Katia there is seven years difference. I am age and 27, She is 20 and we have totally different school experiences. In my school. I have just normal lessons in physics and mathematics, some language skills. And now it's not. It's not. In practice, they've had religious lessons and some army lessons, and it was not necessary for them to learn the English language even. But why? How can you? It's necessary. It's not necessary now for the government. Yes, it's necessary for the government to stop preventing your parents from saying it. Can you imagine them not using the Internet because they are afraid of this thing? Because Putin is always saying the internet is so dangerous. I'm not using it, and he is not. He cannot use our computer and he's proud of this. He say, I don't know what it is exactly Internet something. Some American things that I don't respect. He's very destructive to our society. "