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A Message to the World From Inside a Russian Prison

3 minute read
Yashin is a Russian dissident and political activist. After condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he was arrested in 2022 and is currently serving an 8.5-year prison sentence.

Read this story in Russian.

Soon it’ll be a year since the start of the war that the Kremlin unleashed against Ukraine. It has taken thousands of human lives, destroyed entire cities, and turned millions of families into refugees. Vladimir Putin, as the one responsible for this tragedy, has become a true symbol of evil, cursed around the world. But it also seems that, more and more often, the Russian people are treated as enemies. The main claim against the Russians: You did not resist the aggressive policies of your government, and that makes you accomplices to crimes of war.

My name is Ilya Yashin, a Russian opposition politician, whom the Kremlin has kept in prison since the middle of last summer. I’ve been sentenced to 8.5 years of incarceration, because I publicly spoke out against the war in Ukraine. But today I want to say a few words in defense of my nation.

First: We did resist. Since the start of the war and throughout 2022, the police in Russia arrested almost 20,000 opponents of the war. According to human rights groups, protests have taken place almost every day in different cities since February 24, 2022, and only 18 of those days have passed without arrests and detentions. Against this background, we have seen astonishing examples of civil courage. For instance, Vladimir Rumyantsev, a provincial fireman, got three years in prison for building a ham radio to broadcast reports against the war, while Alexei Gorinov, a member of the Moscow city council, got seven years after he called for a minute of silence during a meeting of that chamber to honor the Ukrainian children who had been killed.

Second: People are fleeing from Putin. In the past year, around 700,000 citizens have left Russia. The majority of them have emigrated, not wanting to be involved in military aggression. I want to draw attention to the fact that this is twice as many people left the country than were drafted into the army. Sure, you could probably blame those who chose to escape instead of choosing the path of resistance, prison, and torture. But the fact is that hundreds of thousands of my countrymen left their homes behind, having refused to become killers on the orders of the government.

Third: Those who remain in Russia are living with the rights of hostages. Many of them don’t support the war, but they remain silent, afraid of repressions. But the silence of a hostage who has a terrorist’s gun to his head does not make him an accomplice to the terrorist.

I want to appeal to the wisdom of the international community. Do not demean the Russians, as that kind of rhetoric will only strengthen Putin’s power. By shifting the blame for war crimes from the Kremlin junta onto my fellow citizens, you are easing the Putin regime’s moral and political burden. You are giving him a chance to hide from the just accusations of people who have in essence become a human shield in this situation. I see that as a serious mistake.

Putin has brought enormous suffering to the Ukrainian people. But with this barbaric war he is also killing my country—Russia. I believe that Russians can become allies of the free world in resisting this tyrant. Just extend a hand to my fellow citizens.

-Ilya Yashin

Detention Center No. 1, Udmurtiya, Russia

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