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Russian political prisoners’ relatives must cope with years of separation and waiting. Here’s how your donations can help.

Source: Meduza

There are more political prisoners in Russia today than there were in the final years of the Soviet Union. Mothers with multiple children, teenagers, people with severe illnesses — anyone can be arrested for anything that the Russian authorities decide threatens the regime. On June 12, independent news outlets, including Meduza, are joining the Anti-Corruption Foundation in support of the “You Are Not Alone” drive to raise funds for political prisoners. Last year, this event helped raise almost 40 million rubles ($487,800). To promote the fundraiser, the Bereg cooperative of independent journalists asked the relatives of several political prisoners to share how they cope with being separated from their loved ones and how they look forward to being reunited. 

Meduza, TV Rain, Mediazona, and HelpDesk, together with the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s media resources (Popular Politics and Navalny Live), are holding the second annual “You Are Not Alone” fundraiser for political prisoners in Russia. The money raised will go to people in Russia who have been imprisoned for political reasons and to their families. These funds are needed for various reasons: food, medicine, competent legal representation, and visitation travel. If you live outside Russia, please join the fundraising drive by making a donation. If you need help with your contribution, you can find additional information about the initiative here.

Tatiana Balazeykina

Yegor Balazeykin’s mother

In early March 2023, Yegor Balazeykin (then 17 years old) was jailed on terrorism charges for attempting to burn down two military enlistment offices. While in detention, Yegor’s autoimmune hepatitis worsened, and his liver fibrosis progressed untreated. Despite these ailments, officials refused to release Yegor and sentenced him to six years in prison.

Police arrested Yegor on February 28, 2023, near the military enlistment office in Kirovsk. My husband and I were informed only two hours later. At first, we thought we’d just sign some police report, take him home, and that would be it. But the investigator told us that he wouldn’t be coming home, that all his things were already evidence, and that we needed to bring him new ones. Then there were the searches and interrogations; everything happened very quickly. After the questioning, the case was immediately reclassified from Criminal Code Article 167 to Article 205 [from intentional property destruction, punishable by up to five years in prison, to terrorism, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, or 10 years in a juvenile correctional facility].

Before they locked him up, I still had hope: I walked around the house repeating, “How can we get you out of there?” When I came home [from court], however, my mind had turned to a different thought: “We can't rescue you from there. We need to do something.” We started searching online for information, looking for human rights organizations, and so on. On our first visit, Yegor told us not to hope for anything. He said there was no point in wasting money on lawyers: “It’s perfectly clear what will happen next. You understand that I was charged [for terrorism] not because I threw [Molotov cocktails], but because of what I said." [In court, when asked if he intended to burn down the military enlistment offices, Yegor said, “Yes, because this was my protest against the war in Ukraine.”]

Tatiana Balazeykina’s personal photo archive


Our lives have been turned upside down in these past 15 months. We’ve transformed from naive adults who believed in justice, honesty, and decency into complete realists.

The initial period after his arrest was the most painful and horrific. It felt like I’d been taken from one planet and thrown onto another where nothing around me made any sense. With each new hearing, my hopes and faith faded a bit more. We understood that he’d be sent to prison because we overheard the prosecutor and the judge's secretary whispering and calling him a political criminal. Even knowing all this, you’re still unprepared when the court hands down the sentence. Emotionally, you just can’t cope. When I heard “six years,” I started to break down, even though I’d tried to prepare myself. On May 15, they added Yegor to the official list of "terrorists and extremists." We knew to expect this, but it was still another shock to see his name there on the list. For two days afterward, I couldn’t pull myself together. It felt like a blow to my chest.

My husband was fired a month after Yegor's arrest, and he’s been unable to find new work because everywhere he applies, the background check flags us as the parents of a terrorist.

I tried to join the Leningrad region’s Public Monitoring Commission [a prisoners’ rights watchdog agency]. They were bringing on new members, and I sent in my documents, clarifying up front that my son is currently imprisoned for such and such felony offense. They told me it wouldn’t be an issue, but they called a couple of weeks later and said, “We sent the candidates list to the Federal Security Service. Unfortunately, your name is stamped: ‘Absolutely not advised to accept.’”


Our friends and relatives have been divided on this. Some accused Yegor of being a traitor, while others said he’s just a foolish kid and now he’ll have to pay the price. They said that, believing the courts are generally fair and that he’d surely be acquitted and sent home. When this “fair” court rendered its verdict, these people were shocked. Nobody completely took Yegor’s side. The only ones like that came after he was jailed — his subscribers, people who attended the hearings, the people who wrote him letters.

We’ve always supported our son and will continue to do so. He may not have expressed his views in the best way, but he has a right to those views.

Tatiana Balazeykina’s personal photo archive


I’m overwhelmed by a sense of hatred, and it scares me. I wish I were like Yegor because he has no hatred towards the people who put him in prison or those who are causing this madness in our country. I should wish to rid myself of this feeling because hate is bad.


We absolutely need to support these prisoners. Otherwise, a person stuck behind bars starts to feel like he’s all alone. When people began writing letters to Yegor, it lifted his spirits so much! He told me: “You have no idea what kind of people are writing to me. They’re so strong and daring that I regain my faith in people, and I believe again that things will eventually get better in this country.”

Letters help prisoners stay connected to reality. People send news, keeping them more or less informed about what’s happening in the world. And these letters come from all over the world: Montenegro, Germany, Switzerland, Canada. The letter-writers share stories about their cities, and it’s broadening Yegor's mind. I’m in several chatgroups where the people writing these letters talk, and I’m in awe of their work — sometimes each of them writes 20 letters in a day. The strength of these people is incredible; they’re collecting the news and retelling stories to each political prisoner they write to.

Tatiana Balazeykina’s personal photo archive

Financial support is also very important. It helps pay for lawyers and care packages and funds political prisoners' inmate accounts so they can buy small personal items on the inside. By the way, you need to be careful sending parcels: there are no weight limits for minors, but everything is strict with adults, and any unscheduled parcel can disrupt the entire schedule.

People outside Russia can also support political prisoners by organizing events, sharing their stories, and engaging others. I follow the picketing in support of Yegor, but there’s not much. Recently, there was a gathering in Berlin to write letters to political prisoners, and we connected with them by video call. I told them about Yegor, and afterward, they wrote letters to him. You can do all sorts of things, but what you absolutely cannot do is remain silent.

Tatiana Skurikhina

Dmitry Skurikhin’s wife

In early August 2023, a court sentenced activist and former alderman Dmitry Skurikhin to 1.5 years in prison for repeatedly “discrediting” the Russian military. His offense: writing the names of Ukrainian cities attacked in Russia’s invasion and anti-war slogans on the wall of his store in the small town of Russko-Vysotskoe. The specific act that triggered his felony prosecution was a poster that read, “Forgive [us], Ukraine,” which Skurikhin displayed on the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion.

In the late 1990s, we had the opportunity to buy a building in our town, and Dima decided to make it a store. This is the same place where he later wrote his slogans and hung those posters. When the corporate supermarkets started replacing the street stands, Dima renovated the building a bit and began renting it out. I’m an accountant by training and always helped him.

Dima’s interest in politics was something a bit separate from me. You know, there were our five children, occasional work, accounting for the store. He began running for local office in the 2000s, and he really took to it. He became a municipal deputy when there were a dozen of them — 11 from [the ruling political party] United Russia and he was the only [independent].

Tatiana Skurikhina’s personal photo archive

It wasn’t easy for him: it was always 11 people voting in favor, and he was the only one against. For example, with any increase in utility fees (as mandated by the regional authorities), everyone would vote yes, and he was the only no. It was hard for him; it was psychologically hard to endure. He started dealing with utility issues: people would come and tell him about their problems, things like heating outages, cold apartments, and rising utility costs. And Dima began addressing all these issues. There was a time when he was even threatened. They told him: “You have a family. You’ve got children. If you keep sticking your nose in this, we’ll fix that.” The local authorities absolutely did not like him, so his entire tenure as a deputy [from 2009 to 2014] was very tough for us.

It was important for Dima to be involved in public life and in making the town better. I never nagged him with questions like why he got involved in this. And I didn't hold him back. Only once did I say, “Don’t do this,” and that was when he came out with that “Forgive [us], Ukraine” poster. By then, they’d already opened the felony case against him and placed him under certain restrictions (he wasn’t allowed to use the phone or any of his gadgets), and I just asked him not to do it because I had a bad feeling. But he said nothing bad would happen, and in the evening they came for him.

Tatiana Skurikhina’s personal photo archive

It was his parents’ wedding anniversary. Several cars arrived, Dima went out to talk with them, and they allowed all the guests to leave until it was just me and two of our kids. We got into our car and started driving, and I realized we were being followed. By that time, the police had already raided our home twice, and I couldn’t bear it anymore. When they trample your courtyard, blow their smoke, drink their coffee, curse, and avoid even looking you in the eye, it’s hard to swallow. These savage faces barge in, breaking down your front door and smashing your windows, not presenting a shred of a warrant, and behaving like a gang of thugs. And they take everything. After the first raid, they didn’t even leave us enough money to refuel the car. They took everything, saying they needed to “check it.” The morning after, we were left with a bashed-in front door and empty pockets. There wasn’t even money to feed the children. Fortunately, a collection was quickly organized, otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened.

I told my husband that we weren’t going home because I couldn’t handle more searches. We made it to Krasnoye Selo, and Dima gave me the keys and said he was going to St. Petersburg “for a spell.” Then I drove home alone with the children, knowing that a car was following us, and I thought, "I'm 46 years old, a mother of five, and here I am in some kind of spy game."

That evening, Dima returned. He climbed in through the window, and we sat in the dark because we knew the house was being watched. In the morning, they took him away. I was shocked by this treatment [from the authorities]. They treat you like that when you’re no thug or killer or drug dealer. I thought to myself: what a government we have, what a “bang-up” job they’re doing.


Tatiana Skurikhina’s personal photo archive

I don't understand why Dima is ruining his health for this. If they’ll imprison you for your opinions, we’re better off leaving this country. Maybe it would be better for the children, too, and we have many children. I think about how we’d manage, what we’d do. I don’t know exactly, but I panic now about how we’ll live here when Dima gets out [at the end of the summer]. I have no idea. We already have a “black mark” on our names. How can we do business here now? Especially since they can prosecute you again based on any accusation.

I don't regret what happened. But how do we live with it going forward? Dima, of course, doesn't want to leave. But I tell him that we’ve already hit rock bottom. I don't know how we'll manage if we go abroad, but I'm curious to find out. Because I've seen a lot here, and I don't want to see any more. Dima says, “We've lived well together.” And I tell him that we haven't lived at all; we still have children to raise. And I want to raise them to be decent people.

Ksenia Kagarlitskaya

Boris Kagarlitsky’s daughter

Police in Moscow arrested journalist and sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky in late July 2023 on felony charges of “justifying terrorism.” The basis for the criminal prosecution was a video on the YouTube channel of Kagarlitsky's publication, Rabkor, about the bombing of the Crimean Bridge in the summer of 2022 (the video has since disappeared from Kagarlitsky's channel). In December 2023, a court fined him 609,000 rubles ($7,425) and banned him from administering websites for two years. In February 2024, a military appellate court overturned the initial ruling and sentenced Kagarlitsky to five years in prison.

I was in the eighth grade when I fully realized how unsafe it is what my dad does. There was a protest at Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and Dad insisted that I attend. For some reason, I didn’t want to go, even though I’d already been to protests before (my dad had been taking me along since I was in fifth grade). My first protest, by the way, was [in September 2008] to defend the television network 2x2 [which aired dubbed Adult Swim programming]. My dad asked me, “Do you want to keep watching cartoons, ‘The Simpsons’?” By our second protest, I was already speaking (at Dad’s suggestion), saying that killing endangered animals for fun is wrong. So, I had experience, but I don’t remember why I refused to go to Bolotnaya with him.

Ksenia Kagarlitskaya’s personal photo archive

A week after that demonstration, the Investigative Committee summoned him for questioning. He said that he was leaving for Germany in a week and told them to come on different dates if they wanted to search his home. Naturally, they came exactly on those dates. At seven in the morning, these strange people entered our home. My mom said something to them, and that was the first time I felt real danger. After that, I had no more illusions.

But I didn’t truly worry about my dad until after his arrest. The police searching your home is just a search: they come and they go. It’s tough emotionally, of course, but you get through it. After his first release [in mid-December 2023], I started thinking that I wanted him to leave the country. He could teach, do something completely different — still within his field, without making trouble. But he didn’t leave. He’s a different kind of person with a different mindset. What I want or don’t want doesn’t change anything.


On the day of the arrest [July 26, 2023], Mom [teacher Irina Glushchenko] was returning from Argentina, and Dad was supposed to meet her at the airport. But he didn’t show up. We figured there were two possibilities: either he was lying dead in a ditch somewhere, or the authorities had him. When we found out it was the latter, we felt relieved because it was something we could still try to fix. I checked [the Telegram channel] Avtozak LIVE and saw that there was a search underway at the home of Rabkor employee Alexander Argachov. There were raids happening all over the country.

Everyone was terrified and panicking, unsure what to do. But we somehow pulled ourselves together, got a livestream going online, and started a fundraising campaign. Rabkor didn’t stop broadcasting for a single day, which I consider to be a great success given that the authorities confiscated all the equipment that had taken us years to finance through donations. It was in this crisis that we launched an international campaign [in support of Dad and Rabkor] that was a brilliant success. A lot of famous people signed our open letter, such as [Slovenian philosopher] Slavoj Žižek, [British politician] Jeremy Corbyn, and [French politician and journalist Jean-Luc] Mélenchon.

Ksenia Kagarlitskaya’s personal photo archive

In the end [on December 12, 2023], Dad was released with a fine [609,000 rubles, roughly $7,425]. We were thrilled, but we also tried to persuade him to leave the country. He refused. He believed that he would be betraying his ideas if he left.

But the prosecutors thought a fine was insufficient punishment for a “wrongdoing” as unfortunate as investigators deemed the headline of a video he shared on YouTube. [The title was “Explosive Congratulations for Mostik the Cat,” referring to a cat that lived on the Crimea Bridge.] When he was first arrested, the video had already been online for more than 10 months. And that’s how the fine turned into five years for “justifying terrorism.”

That headline was the only thing they could find on my dad. He always knew how to word things delicately, always observing all Russian laws and never breaking them. Apparently, [the investigators] were simply ordered to find something, anything, on him, and that title was the only thing they could dig up.

The day before that second arrest, my dad and I spoke on the phone. I felt like they were going to imprison him, and I told him so. But he said it wouldn't happen.


The last time we saw each other was two years ago — it's terrible, two years have already passed. It was in the fall after mobilization. We discussed my departure [from Russia to Montenegro] and had dinner. After that, we talked on video calls. Like real professionals, we scheduled the calls in our calendars. We always organized everything meticulously. But now, unfortunately, that's not possible — we communicate in letters sent through the Federal Penitentiary Service.

I don’t hold back anymore. I write everything I think, censors be damned. I don’t worry about any of it. What worries me is when he’ll go free. He’s 65 years old, and it's very hard for him there. Life in prison isn’t some resort stay. I read news reports about other political prisoners, and it scares me. I don't want my dad to be sent to solitary confinement. And I also think about our cat, Stepan. He's 11 years old, he loves my dad, and he misses him. But I don’t know if he’ll live to see him again.

Alexandra Amelina for the Bereg cooperative of independent journalists

Adapted for Meduza in English by Kevin Rothrock