March 16

Russophobia

My name is Alexander Agri, you may know me through the concerts and tours I've made at Forest booking. We may become acquainted at multimedia art festivals or during international travel somewhere around the globe. Or you may not know me at all.

On February 24th an impossible thing happened — my country's government started a conflict in the fellow state of Ukraine. I do my best to support the friends and colleagues there, who reply from the basements of their apartment buildings, hiding from Russian rockets, bombs and bullets. It's just terrifying. If you have any chance to support Ukrainian refugees, please do so through the relevant humanitarian funds.

Despite all this terror and violence that our brother nation is currently going through, I would like to spotlight another problem, which is personal to me and will last for decades regardless of the outcome — what's gonna happen to Russians, especially those who stand against this ridiculous conflict.


My first acquaintance with the regime happened in December 2011. The Parliament elections were so obviously rigged, they didn't even bother fixing the numbers on national TV, the summary was 146%, instead of 100%. People got mad. We went on the streets, having no idea what we're gonna do. Most of the people protested for the first time in their lives. The police acted quickly, and soon enough I found myself in a police bus with a negative temperature inside, peeing in a plastic bottle for 10h straight with no food or water. There was no record, no case, no court. Just a guy in civil clothing writing down my passport details, refusing to name himself and show his ID. Those were "good days" compared to what it is today.

The comprehension came quickly: if there's an injustice, and the police, who are supposed to look into it, instead beat you up, that means we have some sort of a conspiracy here. And that's how my "amazing" adventure began.

My strategy was and will always be staying in the legal field. Even if the law is directly against what you're willing to do — never break it. Unlike the majority of people who disagreed with the government, I had options. Well paid IT-job, bilingual, traveled the world, worked at European companies. If something bad happens, I'm better off staying alive and free, helping those who's in need. It's just more useful this way — my worth in prison would be zero, outside — above zero. Simple math. Some may call it "cowardness", I called it "consciousness".

Throughout the last 10+ years I was taking part in street protests, volunteered at independent candidates election campaigns, donated to human rights and anti-corruption organizations.

I realized the main problem of Russia was election fraud, so I squeezed into the government election system. Pretending to be a political party member, I registered myself as an election worker, and when the other activists were observing the elections, I was the elections. That gave me access to all the internal documentation, protocols and procedures, helped to understand weak points of the system that can be used for fraud. The police, who's usually quite hostile towards the independent observers, couldn't do anything to me, because technically I was supposed to be the one giving them orders.

Starting 2014, I worked at presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. With others like me, we were able to compare the actual election results with those that were published afterwards, finding the protocols that were rigged. I stopped "carousels", when the same people were able to vote multiple times for money, and gave them to the police. I was a mole finding other "bad moles" in the system.

But despite the efforts, the elections always had one winner. Those who voted tended to support familiar things, but the vast majority of citizens just didn't care at all. I tried to talk to people, agitate them to vote against, but the interest was extremely low. I was considered a weirdo doing unnecessary things. "Don't mind the government's business, and it will not mind yours", they said, "it's gonna be okay". Both statements were wrong.


On Feb 24th, 8AM, my mom called me: "Son, the war started, you have to get out of the country. Now". But I didn't need these instructions, my bags were already packed 5 days prior.

I escaped Russia on one of the last planes before Europe closed the sky. Literally flew over Poland 2 hours before they refused any Russian plane to enter their airspace. Probably the aircraft that brought me there is still stuck or arrested at Zagreb airport.

A laptop, an electronic reader, 5 t-shirts, underwear and socks. That's it. A beginning of a new life. Some friends didn't understand why I left, since Russia seemed to be a relatively safe place to be at the time. But I was running from possible political repressions, tortures, deadly economic crisis, closing the borders or even mobilization.

First few days were blurry, as my brain tried to absorb the shock and overcome the psychological trauma. Constantly calling my friends and family, checking on everyone, supporting those who live in Ukraine and trying to figure out what to do next.

My business was destroyed. 8,5 years of building an independent international concert agency turned to nothing in 1 day.

Some projects where I was representing Russian artists got cancelled, some with hate speech towards myself.

I lost access to most of my funds — no bank transfers, no Visa, no Mastercard, no PayPal, no plastic cards. I was carrying a pile of US dollars, exchanging to local currencies like it was 2003 again.

And then xenophobia started. I've read about cases when Russians abroad got bullied or even attacked because of their nationality. Regular people watching western news happened to be not that tolerant of how they tried to appear, and became very quick on their judgements. I had to keep a low profile for a while, not disclosing my nationality unless I was directly asked to do so. And I have to say: it is terrifying.

It is no news that Russia lost its dignity and respect for decades by starting this war. That is the burden every citizen has to carry regardless of personal beliefs, and I will also do so at least knowing my conscience was not compromised.

I was opposing the regime for over 10 years, tried to prevent bad things from happening, and now protesting is considered a state treason, up to 15 years jail sentence. So I ain't coming back home. On the other hand — outside Russia there's a lot of tension and possible danger, because I carry a Russian passport.

It's like being in a WWII scenario, in which I am both a Jew and a nazi.

I would kindly ask all the readers of this post — please prevent russophobia when you see it at work or everyday life. A lot of Russians are and will be evacuating from the country in the upcoming months. Those are mostly the intellectual elite — programmers, creative industry workers, artists, engineers, managers or political activists. They left, because they disagree and are in danger. They are amazing people, who lost their past, present and future at the same time. And no international help is coming for them.

When the fog of war dissolves, we'll be the ones fixing this fucking mess that "the government" none of us voted for has created.


DONATIONS

Since "day 1" I received many words of support from my western colleagues, partners and friends, asking how they can help. My personal position has stabilized significantly, I got access to funds to live on for a few months, but let's see what the future brings. Right now there's a much more severe problem that I'd need to fix:

Majority of my friends and colleagues in the creative industry lost their jobs. Concert promoters, designers, photographers, 3D modellers, targeting ads specialists, content managers and many more.

Our whole industry went down, Facebook and Instagram are blocked, making it impossible to quickly find any source of income. Western clients went away for moral reasons. And those who still want to work with Russian freelancers simply can't pay them, because there's no payment instruments anymore.

Some of my colleagues want to leave and start a new life, some want to stay and adapt, all personal and family situations are different.

If you feel like donating, please do it to my EU-based PayPal account: forestbooking.info@gmail.com

I will then spread it across those who need it. I've never done anything like this before, no idea how to make it transparent and report back to you. I guess you'd just have to take my word and trust my reputation if we have a chance to know each other in the past.

Praying for all this madness to end as soon as possible.

Take care and stand for each other!

Alex


Telegram channel where I'll continue posting the stories of my escape: https://t.me/alexanderagri