A Putin Opponent’s Last-Minute Flight From Wartime Russia


In April, simply months after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Sergei Filenko turned the primary individual in Russia’s northern Karelia area to be punished for violating a brand new regulation focusing on those that purportedly “discredit” the Russian armed forces.

He was discovered responsible of the identical infraction in June, and when it got here time to pay the positive, Filenko did not relent on his activism: He scrawled anti-war messages on the 5,000-ruble payments he deposited to settle the debt.

“I forbid this cash to be spent on battle and Putin’s minions,” he wrote on one.

Filenko, a carpenter, author, and native activist within the regional capital, Petrozavodsk, has an extended document of opposing Putin’s authorities. In April 2021, he was detained at a protest in help of opposition chief Aleksei Navalny. A video of the incident exhibits him reciting a Rudyard Kipling poem as riot-police officers carried him to an awaiting van.

However up till late final month, he had resisted fleeing Russia as tons of of 1000’s of his compatriots are estimated to have completed since Putin launched the battle on Ukraine on February 24.

Even after Putin introduced a mobilization to spice up Russia’s troop numbers on September 21, Filenko was hesitant.

“I considered it like this: I will not go to the military, they usually will not have the ability to take me away by power. Nicely, even when I am taken away in handcuffs, the bus will cease someplace for a pee break. Everybody might be already drunk. And I might take off. However you possibly can’t disguise from jail indefinitely,” Filenko advised RFE/RL’s North.Realities.

However on the urging of a buddy, Filenko turned one of many final wave of Russians to flee to Finland on a vacationer visa earlier than authorities within the Nordic nation successfully closed the door to Russian vacationers final month.

Filenko has now joined the almost 1,000 Russians who’ve utilized for political asylum in Finland this 12 months, a large spike in comparison with earlier years.

He now lives in a sparsely furnished condominium with 4 different Russian asylum seekers within the city of Imatra, about 10 kilometers from the Russian border, all of whom arrived after Putin introduced the mobilization.

Filenko hopes to seek out work quickly to help his household that is still in Russia.

“I’m continuously pondering tips on how to deliver them over, the place and once we can see one another once more. However the primary factor is to seek out some use for my arms,” he stated.

Vacationer, Carpenter, Repeat Offender

Finland has lengthy been a fashionable entry level for Russian vacationers into the EU’s Schengen space. However within the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Finnish authorities has applied extreme restrictions on Russian vacationers.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated in August that “it’s not proper that whereas Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal battle of aggression in Europe, Russians can stay a standard life, journey in Europe, be vacationers.”

On September 30, Finland’s tightened restrictions on Russian vacationers took impact, with Helsinki saying that Putin’s mobilization “and the quickly growing quantity of vacationers arriving in Finland and transiting by way of Finland endanger Finland’s worldwide place and worldwide relations.”

The transfer, together with comparable measures by different European governments, has triggered debate within the West about whether or not closing borders to Russia is a justified and obligatory response to Moscow’s aggression or whether or not such restrictions punish Putin opponents attempting to flee Russia and assist feed the Kremlin’s anti-Western propaganda.

Filenko’s lengthy observe document of opposition activism is more likely to make a extra compelling case for asylum than these Russians who fled solely as a result of Kremlin’s mobilization drive.

He advised North.Realities that whereas crossing from Russia into Finland on September 26, he was questioned for a number of hours by Russian border guards about his political persuasions earlier than he was allowed by means of.

“They took my passport forwards and backwards and requested questions, like whether or not I actually consider that Navalny was poisoned,” Filenko stated, referring to the 2020 poisoning of the opposition chief with the chemical weapon Novichok that Navalny and Western governments attribute to the Kremlin.

When it got here time to use for political asylum, Filenko once more discovered himself explaining his political positions in a proper asylum interview with a Finnish police official. When he advised the official by means of an interpreter that he was a carpenter and repeat offender, the police officer straightened up and appeared perplexed, Filenko recalled.

“I needed to inform about all my repeat administrative offenses, at what rallies and for what I used to be detained: at first I used to be indignant that Navalny had been poisoned, then concerning the occupation and invasion [of Ukraine]. With every subsequent ‘repeat offense,’ the policeman turned friendlier,” Filenko stated.

‘Epicenter Of Evil’

Filenko expects to obtain permission to work in Finland within the subsequent three months. Within the meantime, he frequents the library in Imatra, attends Finnish classes twice every week, and spends the majority of the remainder of his time finding out the language on his personal, he says.

Filenko now spends a lot of his time finding out Finnish.

In early October, Finnish authorities introduced that Ukrainian and Russians in search of shelter in Finland can be housed individually, citing Ukrainians “relating fears attributable to Russian asylum seekers being housed in the identical areas” following Putin’s navy mobilization.

Filenko describes how his personal encounters with Ukrainian refugees in Finland triggered deep emotional responses in him.

After arriving in Finland, he spent a number of days in and across the metropolis of Joensuu , assembly native buddies and acquaintances and attempting to determine tips on how to put down roots in his new environs.

Whereas there, he went to a group heart the place Ukrainian refugee households would collect to drink tea and low, eat pastries, and let their youngsters play.

“I sat at a desk the place Ukrainian girls have been speaking and ingesting tea, and I felt like a soldier who escaped from the Wehrmacht, someplace in Switzerland with French refugees,” Filenko recalled. “My nation has occupied France, I do not perceive tips on how to behave.”

He says he stood up and left the kitchen, “strolling down the hall, holding again my feelings.”

“After which a boy runs up behind me, hugs me [by the legs], appears at me…. I additionally take a look at him and nearly cry,” Filenko recollects. “I really feel like I’m within the epicenter of evil, and nothing might be completed.”

Tailored from the unique Russian report by Carl Schreck

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