A photograph of Aleksei Navalny in Sandarmokh, Karelia, where thousands were murdered and buried during Stalin’s purges. Photo: Telegram channel "Karelia and I"

Destroyed hopes and thoughts of suicide. How opponents of Putin regime in Russia perceived the death of Aleksei Navalny

The death (more precisely, murder) of Aleksei Navalny has deprived the Russian opposition of an informal leader. However, this tragedy reverberates far beyond politics: some Russians, who wanted change for their country, perceive this as a personal loss. There also are those who still see Navalny as a “Kremlin project” – even after the three hundred days the politician spent in a segregation unit. The Barents Observer spoke with opponents of the Putin regime who remain in Russia about how they feel after the death of the opposition leader and whether they are ready to accept his wife as the new leader of the protest movement.
February 23, 2024


We have withheld the names of three persons featuring in this article for their safety. The other two are named as they said they were not afraid of possible consequences.

A., a journalist from Karelia

I heard about the death of Aleksei Navalny from my coworkers. It was like a blow to the head. Colossal pain. I know that many of my friends, grown women, cried. 

Like a normal human being, I feel sorry for the very interesting and outstanding politician. He has grown a lot in recent years and has shown such courage that is beyond compare. And this combination of extraordinary perseverance, courage, humor and faith in one’s destiny greatly intensifies the pain of his death.

I feel that, no matter how scary it is to say this, there is much more hope now. This death has showed how many of us there are who disagree. Those who are able, no matter what, to resist. I don’t feel hopeless or that his death was in vain. This feat will still bring us to the point where we will change life for the better.

Karelia is probably the only region where people were not detained during the laying of the flowers. I do not know why. I would not want to praise our law enforcement. It would be easy to say that we have such a “soft” region – but this is not so, we know very well that the police can be very tough.

Aleksei Navalny died in a penal colony in the Yamalo-Nenets Region on February 16. The Federal Penitentiary Service said the politician suffered a blood clot detachment. His family has not yet received his body, and the real cause of death is unknown. However, what happened to Navalny can be qualified as murder in any case  – he was kept in torture conditions for a long time, spent hundreds of days in a segregation unit, and suffered from the lack of medical care.

On February 19, Navalny’s wife, Yulia, made a public announcement that she would continue her husband’s work.


Olga Kuznetsova, an activist from Arkhangelsk. She was detained at a rally in memory of Alexei Navalny

For me, Alexey is not some abstract politician. I talked to him when he came to Arkhangelsk. The story is this: we had a rally, which Leonid Volkov was streaming, and I spoke so well that he said, “I wish I could hug this woman and kiss her.” And when Aleksei came to us, I asked: where is Volkov, who wanted to hug me? And then Aleksei answers: let me hug you myself!

We wrote letters to Aleksei when he was in prison, and he wrote back to me twice. So I perceive him as a very dear person. And for me the news of his death came as a shock. And I immediately decided to go out to protest – this is the only chance to show the state what I think.

I found out about what happened while shopping. I got a call: prepare for the worst. The first thought was “Aleksei was killed.” I threw all the groceries and ran home. And while I was walking up to my sixth floor, I had the thought of committing suicide. Because life was over for me. I told the police about this: there is no hope, there is no beacon through which my country will return to normal life.

I really thought he was immortal. That he survived, returned, that we need him… Some compared him to Jesus, others to Danko, who tore out his heart to light the way for people. I was always scared for him, but I didn’t even allow myself to think that he would die. 

I am not saying that there are no worthy people in Russia; when Nemtsov was killed, Navalny took his place. Somebody, perhaps, will come to replace Navalny. But now the light has gone out for me, I don’t see any prospects for myself. Yulia will not be able to replace him. By the way, we also wrote each other with her. But I believe that this will not happen and should not happen.

Activist Olga Kuznetsova. Photo: Olga Kuznetsova’ friends 


I., an engineer from Karelia

There is no doubt who gave this order – judging by how Navalny was being killed over the course of three years. This is probably the most extreme point of baseness of this power and of a particular person named Putin. He killed my last dream. Aleksei Navalny was the only one who could lead the country and lead it to a normal and bright future. And the president knew this – that was why he eliminated his main enemy, whom he was afraid to even call by his name. And the authorities are afraid of him even when he’s dead – look at all these arrests because of flowers.

As the saying goes: we reached the bottom, and then it was broken through. The feeling of lost hope is there right now, but there is a second component: do not give in, including to your thoughts. I like the idea that the opposition needs to unite now, to go into dialogue with the leaders of large Western countries – or with the Russian elite in order to stage a palace coup. We, inside here, need help… However, I would not be able to accept Yulia Navalnaya as the leader of the opposition, to be honest with you. I can name Mikhail Khodorkovsky in this function.

Memorial to the victims of political repression in Petrozavodsk. Photo: From Karelia with freedom


Vladimir Tikhonov, an activist from Petrozavodsk. He opposes the war in Ukraine and harshly criticizes Vladimir Putin and his policies. He has also criticized FBK (Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation) for having a management structure that he thinks is too authoritarian.

I did not care. At first I thought that Navalny’s death was fake news, then it turned out that it was true. But I had no emotions, even on a human level. I don’t like the fact that all the world’s media have been writing and talking about this for days now. In my opinion, it would be better if Nemtsov was remembered more often.

I don’t have any feeling of lost hopes, I understood what kind of person he was. I have no doubt that this was a Kremlin project, and his offices were needed only to count all the dissatisfied. And he died because the project was closed, he was no longer needed, he was removed because he knew a lot.

Vladimir Tikhonov. Photo: “Stolitsa na Onego”


A., a former politician from the Arkhangelsk region

The news sounded like a bomb. Not to say it was unexpected; subconsciously I expected this outcome. The photos of an emaciated, sick Aleksei which were made public several months ago made you afraid for his health. And he spent all his time after that in the segregation unit! And reading about the conditions of his detention, I was afraid that he might not last.

Then, after he was sent to the High North it became clear that he was being removed from the public – to a place where it would be easy to deal with him. But I still thought that the Kremlin decided to simply minimize his contacts with the public so that his voice would disappear from the political agenda. And I didn’t think that he would be brought to death so quickly. I don’t see any difference whether he was poisoned or his death was the result of being kept in colonies, of three hundred days in a segregation unit, and so on. In any case, this is a deliberate murder, period. Yet another crime of the Putin regime.

I don’t feel like I’ve lost hope. After all, Aleksei was in prison, little depended on him. And I regret all the more that he decided to return; the decision is understandable and explainable, but imagine what kind of voice of Russia he would be if he were free! How he could unite people and push the United States or the European Union to action.

When I hear that everything is hopeless, we won’t get anything, I recall two specific events. In January 1917, Lenin, while in Switzerland, complained to his friends that he would not see a revolution in Russia in his lifetime. The throne would only last forty days after that. And here is the second historical fact: who on January 1, 1991 could have imagined that the great, terrible, huge Soviet Union would not exist as a state by the end of the year? And the USSR was not Putin, it was much bigger.

At the moment, the situation is quite hopeless. On the one hand there is propaganda, on the other there is repression. On the third side there is a carrot with which a certain part of society has been bribed. We cannot influence the situation, even the elections that will take place in a month. No social structure or movement will crush this regime under martial law. But history knows many cases when a ruler is there forever – and then he’s gone all of a sudden.

















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