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Forced to leave the Russian Federation, Deputy Pirogova: It is important to remain human | Russia and Russians: a view from Europe | DW

Independent Deputy of the City Council of Novosibirsk Helga Pirogovaforced to leave Russia after the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (IC RF) opened a criminal case against her under the article about “fakes” about the Russian army. The official reason was her subsequently removed tweet about the funeral of volunteers who died in Ukraine. DW Pirogova spoke about how the situation around her criminal case is developing, how her fellow deputies reacted to this, and what the opponents of the war who remain in Russia should do.

DW: Where are you now and what do you know about the criminal case against you?

Helga Pirogova: Because of the criminal case opened in Russia, I was forced to leave for Georgia. In fact, I know, apparently, the same as everyone else. Because all the information is faster in the media than my lawyer. This applies to both criminal and administrative cases. And this, in my opinion, is very ugly on the part of the state, although the situation itself is very ugly.

– What’s the latest information from your lawyer?

– I have an administrative court scheduled for August 15 in connection with the tweet. As for the criminal case, I was supposed to have an interrogation on July 25, but I left. So far, there have been no further investigative actions from the Investigative Committee on the criminal case.

– Did you, in principle, expect that for your position, for some of your words, for your speeches, you would be persecuted in Russia?

– on this scale definitely didn’t expect. That is, from the very beginning, from February 24, when the war began, it was clear that the anti-war position would be persecuted in Russia. We have seen precedents, and some kind of internal self-censorship worked. There is not even the word “war” for which they usually cling, there is no false information, there is nothing – just pure emotions. And for this, not just a criminal case, but massive large-scale persecution at such a high level. This certainly cannot but surprise.

– You are talking about the same tweet that you even deleted later, but it became the reason for persecution. If you knew that a criminal case would be opened, would you delete it?

– I still would. After all, I didn’t delete it out of fear of some kind of criminal case or something else. These were emotions, and when I cooled down, I realized that I had expressed myself incorrectly, that the text might be misunderstood. In this regard, actions on the part of law enforcement agencies have nothing to do with deleting the tweet.

– Was there any reaction to what happened from your fellow deputies?

– Yes. There was a collective letter, or rather to call it denunciation, head of the Investigative Committee Bastrykin, first of all, from the vice-speaker of the Legislative Assembly Andrei Panferov. And another similar letter from colleagues in the city council of deputies, and from the deputies of the Novosibirsk region. This is one of those who decided to arrange such persecution.

Helga Pirogova in an interview with DW

Helga Pirogova in an interview with DW

But there were also coalition deputies who wrote to me and supported me morally. It couldn’t have been done publicly, but still. And I also appreciate it when they write to me: “I do not agree with you, but …”, and then words of support also come. This separation of my tweet from my personality, my activity is very valuable to me.

– How difficult was it for you to make the decision to leave and how did you make this decision?

– Incredibly difficult. I really didn’t want to leave Russia. I wanted to live in Russia, work for Russia, make my city better, and I am incredibly sad that now my opportunities are limited – they have been partially preserved, I continue to do my deputy work, – but at the same time, a huge layer of everything falls out anyway. It was very difficult for me to leave, but I had a choice: either to be sad, but free, or to be in Russia, but in a pre-trial detention center. Since I am five months pregnant, this has greatly accelerated the decision. Because now I am responsible not only for myself, but for one more person. As a result, literally in an hour and a half everything was decided – I left without stopping home, with practically no things.

– It is clear that today one cannot trust the statistics, but, according to your feelings, those people who are against the war, even if not explicitly, but at least internally against it, how many are there? Not necessarily even in Russia, but in Novosibirsk, which do you know?

– Lots of. I, for example, to those who is against the war, I also include those who, for example, believe the TV. But if you ask him: “Are you against the war?”, not specifically the one that is happening today, but in general, then they are really against it. More precisely, I do not classify them as opponents of the war, but I cannot classify them as supporters either. They simply live in an information vacuum, within those rigid limits where propaganda aggressively drives them. They just think that everything they are told on TV is true. In fact, they are completely kind, sympathetic people, they sincerely empathize and sympathize with Ukraine. And here the question is only how quickly the propaganda will end. Two days and these people will say: everything that happens is disgusting, and confess their love to Ukrainians.

– What do you think, what can a person do today who is against the war and lives in Russia at the same time?

– First, hold on and remember that he is not alone, that there are indeed many such people. The answer to the question: “What to do?” depends on how much you’re willing to take the risk. It is clear that going out somewhere today is very risky. But, of course, there are a huge number of people who take risks and go to solo pickets even now. I am madly in awe of people who risk themselves like this and do what they see fit – they are real heroes.

In addition, there are silent picket formats that are actively used in Russian cities. Because people who are against the war and around them constantly see this letter Z, they hear these jingoistic speeches and appeals, it is necessary to understand that they are not alone. And then some anti-war inscription on the fence, somewhere a green ribbon is tied, somewhere red paint is symbolically spilled … It would seem such small steps, but it gives strength and is very important. This is also such a way – to show that you are not alone. In any case, we must try to keep ourselves afloat and not lose courage. This is the most important thing now. Because one day it will all end, of course, and it is important to just remain human until the end.

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