Russian activists leave the country: “Everyone is in danger”

As Russia undergoes an election that few believe will be democratic, the repression of the country’s opposition continues. Over the past two years, the regime’s grip has tightened, with increased repression, imprisonment and violence.
TV4 News has met two Russian activists in exile in Berlin: Arshak, who took up the climate fight after being inspired by Greta Thunberg, and Olga, who continues her fight for human rights.

It’s a beautiful spring day in Berlin’s Mauerpark in northern Berlin. Parts of the Berlin Wall remain in the park where graffiti artists work diligently with their latest creations.

Arshak and Olga live nearby but prefer to meet journalists out in public. Security concerns are a constant feature of life for many Russian oppositionists in exile; the memory of the murder of a Chechen separatist five years ago, carried out in the middle of Berlin by a suspected Russian agent, is still fresh. And last year a Russian journalist claimed she had been poisoned on a German train; the police investigated connections to Russia.

“It means everyone is in danger”

Both Arshak and Olga demonstrated against the war in Ukraine in Moscow. But after activists were abducted and disappeared into the Russian prison system, they both decided to leave.

– Many of our friends are in prison right now. This means that everyone is in danger, says Arshak to TV4 Nyheterna.

It is unclear how many Russian dissidents have left the country, but it is in the thousands. Many have sought refuge in Berlin.

For Arshak, it is not even possible to return to Russia. The Russian authorities have revoked the citizenship of him and his entire family, he is now only a citizen of Armenia.

Lacks support from the outside world

Arshak sends photos from the demonstrations he attended in Moscow as a climate activist, before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. He was often alone with his signs with the Fridays For Future logo.

Then he felt that he had the support of the entire climate movement worldwide. That feeling is missing now, even though support is more important than ever to demonstrate against Putin, the war, the repression of the opposition and minorities.

– People in Russia want to demonstrate. But they are afraid. They feel they are alone, says Olga.

Instead, they feel they are being criticized for not doing enough. People wonder why the activists don’t stay in Russia and demonstrate to overthrow Putin.

– But it was the West that supported Putin all these years, says Arshak.

– They continued to buy his fossil energy.

Choices without choices

That Putin will win the election in Russia is already clear. It is rigged, and no real opposition is allowed to run, both say.

But Arshak and Olga hope that it can bring something positive anyway, that people inside Russia start talking more about politics again. And that the West is once again reminded that Putin is now a dictator.

Arshak snorts when Putin speaks.

– All he did in his election campaign to continue being president was to kill Navalny, he says.