The Terrible Cost of Resisting Putin with Anastasia Shevchenko

Anastasia Shevchenko, the first dissident convicted under Russia’s “undesirable organizations” law, profiled in Oscar-shortlisted film “Anastasia,” addresses the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for her prepared remarks.

Prepared Remarks:

I am a politician by accident. But I was always meant to be a mom.  

When I was 21 years old, I gave birth to my first child, a healthy baby girl. But when I went to take her home, the doctor said “Leave her here, she’s going to be disabled.” I was shocked – what do you mean?? He said she’d contracted encephalitis in the hospital and that her brain would never function properly again. “Please submit a written statement refusing to be her parents,” he said, “and we’ll hand her over to the state.”   

I refused.  

We spent the next 3 years in and out of the hospital with her. The doctors said she’d probably never learn to walk, talk, feed herself, or go to the bathroom, and they were right. We struggled to get her medication, even though it was guaranteed by the state. So, I started writing letters to our local government, demanding better care. I became a journalist, and an activist. I had two more children, a daughter Vlada & a son Misha. And I started working on elections and advocating for human rights. Around that time, Navalny emerged as a political figure and I was immediately intrigued by his messages about corruption in Russia. I printed out his work and left it in mailboxes for people were influenced by propaganda.   

I was fined and detained multiple times for my activism. In January 2019, I was arrested. My children watched in horror as they searched my apartment, taking everything out of my wardrobe and throwing it onto the floor. What I didn’t know then is that they’d installed a hidden camera in my air conditioning unit 6 months prior. I was disgusted – what kind of person watches a woman alone in her bedroom?  

They detained me in prison for 2 days & sentenced me to 2 years & 1 month of house arrest while I waited for my trial. I’d be the first person tried under a new law against “undesirable” organizations.  

That same week, Alina got bronchitis and they took her to the hospital. I literally begged the judge to let me go see her; I explained how small her body was and that with her condition, even the most trivial illness could be her last. The judge smirked and said no. 

After they interrogated me, my lawyer told me that Alina’s heart had stopped twice and that she’d been transferred to the ICU. When they finally approved my request to visit the hospital, I walked into Alina’s room to find her pale blue. I reached for her hand… When you hold your child’s hand, something magical happens; they feel better instantly… But nothing happened… She was cold. And a couple of hours later, Alina died… 

My first month on house arrest, I barely got out of bed because I was mourning my daughter. My ex-husband had to arrange her funeral. I was forced to stand there alone, monitored remotely by guards, and forbidden from talking to anyone. I thought about a conversation I’d had with an American journalist. He adopted his son in St. Petersburg and they also told him he’d be disabled for life, but the photo he showed me was of a healthy, young man. Alina might’ve had a chance if she lived in another country. But because we lived in Russia, she suffered every single day of her life. 

And now, all of our children suffer. When I was on house arrest, my 14-year-old daughter & 7-year-old son became adults overnight. They went to school alone and ran errands for me – to the grocery store and the bank. And in 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and our children became tools for propaganda. Teachers made students write letters to Russian soldiers, wishing them victory. My friend who volunteered at an orphanage near the border said they received over 500 Ukrainian children in one single day. The next week, they were gone – scattered to orphanages across Russia. They changed the children’s surnames to try to erase their identities…  

I escaped Russia last summer with my daughter, my son, and our dog, and we live in Vilnius now. It’s my daughter Vlada’s 19th birthday today. She’s studying politics in University and few months ago, I met one her classmates from Ukraine. She hugged me and said, “I want to go home to Ukraine”. She was looking at me with tears as if she was saying “Do something, please!” And I want to say, I’ll do everything I can. Russia’s actions can’t be undone, but to the people of Ukraine, I ask for forgiveness… Even if forgiveness is impossible, I’m still ready to bend my knees in every Ukrainian city and village, destroyed or attacked by Russian troops. 

Because Putin is a criminal and a terrorist. He arrested Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, he killed Boris Nemtsov, he imprisoned Navalny, and my friends and colleagues Vladimir Kara-Murza and Artem Kamardin among others. And if I returned to Russia, I’d be arrested immediately too. They say I’m a threat to the defensive capacity of Russia. Isn’t that bizarre?  

So let me address all those who remain in Russia today. At least Russian police will watch it; that I’m sure of!  

I’d like to express solidarity with the tens of millions of Russians who refuse to participate in Putin’s regime & the war in Ukraine, and especially those who have the courage to speak out against it. There are many Russians like me who will continue to organize political rallies, fight propaganda, and advocate for human rights.  

As the Russian democratic forces, we’re committed to these fundamental positions:  

  1. The war against Ukraine is criminal. Russian troops must be withdrawn from all occupied territories. We must restore internationally recognized borders of Russia; bring war criminals to trail, and compensate victims.
  1. Putin’s regime is criminal and it must be liquidated.
  1. Russia’s imperial policies that discriminate against ethnic minorities at home and abroad are unacceptable.
  1. Political prisoners in Russia and prisoners of war must be released, forcibly displaced Ukrainian adults & children must be allowed to return home.

As a mom, I dream of one day coming back to Russia and making it a better place for all our children. A place where politicians care about citizens, where children are loved and everyone has equal rights. It sounds utopian, perhaps. But I will never stop fighting for the people of Ukraine, and the people of Russia, and our children. Putin’s reign must come to an end so, together, we can all be free. 

Thank you.

Speakers and Participants

Anastasia Shevchenko

First dissident convicted under Russia’s “undesirable organization” law, subject of Oscar-shortlisted film “Anastasia”



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