Russian political refugees find new home in Kyiv

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Evacuation from totalitarian Russia. This is how the Bubeyev family from Tver refer to their journey to Kyiv. Because of their pro-Ukrainian position, they fear for not only their freedom but their lives. Andriy served two years in prison merely for a social media post. Now, a former political prisoner of the Kremlin has come to Ukraine with his wife and child to start a new life.

Two small backpacks filled with personal belongings, and a desire to live in a democratic country. This is all the family had when they fled with 5-year-old son “Ogneyar,” from the repressions of Putin’s regime. The evacuation had to be carried out in secret. Andrey Bubeyev, an engineer from the Russian city of Tver, was arrested and held for 2 years for a simple act of dissent.

Andrey Bubeyev, refugee from Russiare

We left the city secretly because we could not even appear at the train station, since we could have been squeezed for any reason, even a made up one. There, right now, the situation is such that a person can sneak drugs into your pocket, and then immediately pull it out and that’s it. The person is put away for a long, long time. And if a person has irritated the regime, then that’s it. It’s physically unsafe.

The family fled a few days after Andrey was released from prison. His case is shocking. He was arrested for 2 years simply for reposting a pro-Ukrainian group’s post on his social media profile. He also reposted a link to an article called ‘Crimea is Ukraine’, as well as a picture of toothpaste with the caption ‘Squeeze out Russia.’ He had only 12 friends on his social media page. But he was treated as a dangerous criminal.

Anastasia Bubeyeeva, Andrey’s Wife

I saw in the window police officers in combat uniforms, with carbines, automatic weapons — basically special forces. We opened the door, and I was thrown back, the child was thrown back, and the cops ran in and grabbed Andrey. They told him that he’s accused of extremism.

Anastasia searched for a way out for her family for a long while. Finally, she found one. She discovered that Andrey had the right to become a Ukrainian citizen — he lived in the Kharkiv Oblast in 1991. He’s already received the needed documents and will soon be changing his passport.

Right now, Bubeyev and his family live with some acquaintances in Kyiv. They’re falling in love with the Ukrainian capital — with the architecture, and with the people. They’ve even begun learning Ukrainian.

Andrey Bubeyev’s case is not unique in Russia. From 2012, the number of people charged under anti-extremism laws has increased dramatically. More than half of those cases have been based on social media posts. There are several hundred such cases per year.

Mark Feygin, Russian Human Rights Lawyer

This is actually a demonstration, a sign. To dissuade others. Look at what will happen to you if you try to do the same. It doesn’t matter where you write this, even anonymously — your account can have a different name and surname, or completely anonymous, but we’ll still find you and charge you. Don’t dare to say or write anything that opposes the government’s position.

While the Russian system is repressing any sign of dissent, Bubeyev’s family is settling into their new, but already beloved, city. They say that they can breathe easily here because they feel free.

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