Escaping Putin’s ‘Paradise’
This week we have a translation of a piece that originally appeared in the Russian press. What follows is an account of a political refugee from Russia and his thoughts on adapting to life in the U.S..
Since anti-government protests took place on May 6th in Moscow, Russia, thousands of people are being prosecuted by the Russian police and some of them are facing criminal charges with a possible 10-year sentence. No wonder that the most active members of anti-government coalitions are becoming political refugees. How can they survive in a new country?
Our journalist, trying to answer this question, met with one of the political refugees.
“Since I left Russia I haven’t participated in any political actions. It’s difficult to be involved in Russian politics being so far away,” said Mikhail Gangan, now living in America.
He became a member of the banned National Bolshevists Party when he turned 15. Later, he led its branch in Samara (the sixth largest city in Russia). In 2004 he took part in a local anti-government movement called “A Peaceful Takeover of the Reception Office of the Presidential Administration.” About 40 activists walked into the office of Putin’s representative in Samara and presented a list of 12 complaints. Among the accusations were elimination of political freedoms, destruction of independent media in Russia, the lack of autonomous judiciary system, and punitive actions against the opposition.
All protesters were arrested and accused of taking a deliberate action to take control of the government. If these charges were pressed, they would spend up to 20 years in prison. The charge was later changed to a lesser allegation of mass rioting. While under investigation, Gangan spent a year in Butyrka, a prison known for its poor living conditions that became known internationally after the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009. Finally the Court sentenced Gangan to 3 years probation and he was released.
In 2007 Gangan led another anti-government action called “March of Protesters” during the Russia-EU Summit and he was accused of violating his probation. Before he was arrested, Gangan fled to the Ukraine. It was the only country that he could enter while on probation.
Later, he was captured and was about to be deported to Russia. Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists asked Ukrainian authorities not to give up Gangan but to grant him the status of a political refugee. In the summer of 2008, he got asylum in the Ukraine. The UN Refugee Agency offered Gangan political asylum in America, where he moved in 2009. A year later he was given the official status of political refugee in the U.S.
“I had no problems with assimilation in Ukraine. There is no language barrier, same mentality; Ukrainian life just slightly differs from Russian. Here [in the U.S.] everything is different and adaption has been quite difficult for me. I still can’t figure out what is what here. But it’s obvious that if you really want to make it here, it’s possible. All refugees get good benefits. The U.S. government provides us with an apartment for the first 6 months and even covers the cost of college education. For now, I got a job as a cook,” said Gangan.
Although he is pleased to have great government support he doesn’t plan on staying in America for good. He said he will go back home at the first opportunity. It will be possible if the charges are dropped. “They will drop the charges only when the political regimen in Russia changes and all political prisoners will be acquitted,” explained Gangan. He realizes that it isn’t going to happen any time soon, but he’s hoping.