And I am not used to lying to children and avoiding difficult topics.”
Still, the family hesitated. “I wanted to continue teaching because it was a cause that was very important to me. I had a feeling that if I left, I would be betraying the children and those who I worked with,” continues Asya.
However, it all came to a sudden end. “I was denounced for conducting anti-war propaganda. They went on my social media. And this was just when the mobilization began [in September 2022], and really I was writing about how to get around it. In the end, the education department fired me in one day – and made the decision retroactive,” says Asya.
The family went to Lithuania. “We were taking the train, and a huge crowd came to the station to see me off – students, alumni of our school. The conductor even got nervous when she saw the entire platform flooded by young people,” recalls Asya.
She has not cut ties with the school – she does research, conducts online seminars and helps her former students: “Many of my kids are now studying at the Free University
; some left, some stayed. I am not cutting ties with any of them.”‘I’ll leave when people completely stop protesting’
Pavel [name changed at the interviewee’s request – TR], on the contrary, wanted to leave for a long time, since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But he understood that given his profession as a corporate lawyer, it would be hard to find work abroad. So, he prepared: he bought an apartment in Spain, learned the language and the laws of the country where he was going to go. “I planned to work with the Russian diaspora, helping with relocation, opening their businesses, working with local contractors and so on. Even then it was clear that such a business would find demand,” says Pavel. He helped several families and was thinking about opening a company in Spain even before moving there. And then the war broke out.
“When there was the rumor that the borders would be closed on March 6 [2022 – TR], I sent my wife and kids to Spain,” recalls Pavel. But he himself is still in Moscow and does not know when he will leave. Or whether he will at all.
It all started with the first protests against the war – back then they were still rather widespread. Pavel’s acquaintances called – their son had been detained at a protest. “They did not have any lawyer contacts besides me; they did not want to contact OVD-info
lawyers, afraid it would only make things worse. Although I practice corporate law, challenging the legality of a detention is not a big task. So I went,” says Pavel.
The guy whom Pavel helped turned out to be the only detainee in that police department who was released without an administrative or criminal case being opened against him. “Of course, I was happy for him, proud of myself and horrified by our local ways. But to keep doing this? I did not consider it,” admits Pavel. But as he went on preparing to leave for Spain, another acquaintance called with a request to help free someone else. Then another. And so on.
Now, Pavel, along with several colleagues, regularly deals with detained protestors. “We are not an officially registered human rights group – this is dangerous now. We are not defending famous people. Sure, I am not a criminal lawyer, though we do have some on our team. My job is to get a person out after he is arrested without even an administrative case being opened, if possible. Because two administrative cases and the third is a criminal case. It does not always work out, but I try to at least reduce the size of the fine,” says Pavel.
He continues to think about leaving, but... “I cannot yet, we have work to do.