‘Putin Is My Enemy.’ The Revolution of Yulia Navalnaya

Yulia Navalnaya

Simon Schuster in Time: In Russian custom, the soul of the dead is believed to remain on earth for forty days, finishing its business among the living before it moves on to the afterlife. Surviving friends and relatives often spend this period in mourning and reflection. But the loved ones of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading dissident, did not have much freedom to abide by this custom after he died in an Arctic prison camp on February 16.

For them, and especially for his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, the days and weeks that followed his death rushed by in a blur of studio lights, airport terminals, hotel rooms and video calls. Somewhere in that time, between consoling their two children and being consoled by them, she met with President Joe Biden in San Francisco and addressed the European parliament in Strasbourg. She accused Vladimir Putin of killing her husband, and she implored the Russian people to help her get revenge. Along the way, to the surprise of many of her husband’s followers, Navalnaya took on a role she had never occupied before — no longer the first lady of the Russian opposition, but now its figurehead.

It was in this new role that she agreed in early April to an interview with TIME, a little more than forty days after her husband was killed. The location took some time to figure out. Her family’s exile from Russia has forced her to move around in recent years. But we agreed to meet in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where her husband’s activist organization has its base of operations. At the appointed time, Navalnaya arrived in the company of a bodyguard, striding through the parking lot in a stark black suit and patent-leather heels.

Some of her husband’s friends and allies had warned me that she could come off as distant and aloof. One of them unkindly referred to her as a “snow queen.” But as we sat down to talk over coffee, her memories of Navalny often made her smile as she recalled his sense of humor, the lightness with which he faced the darkest moments in his life. Not once in those two hours did her voice catch in her throat, and only a few times did she allow the pain of the previous weeks to show in her eyes. “There has been so little time to think, to plan, to process,” she admitted. “But we have to keep working, to keep moving forward.”

For her husband’s followers in Russia, the way forward looks far from clear with him gone. It took well over a decade of campaigning and activism for Navalny to earn his place within the opposition movement, as the only dissident to pose a genuine threat to Putin’s rule. Even after his imprisonment in 2021, Navalny continued to run his revolutionary network, to campaign against corruption and to spread his promise that Russia would one day become a normal European democracy. That hope dimmed after Navalny’s death, and for many it was extinguished.

His wife could see that in the messages she received after his death. “I saw how many people feel this loss very, very deeply,” Navalnaya says. “And I really wanted to support these people, to give them some kind of hope.” Her best chance of doing that, she says, was to step into his role and continue his struggle. So that is what she decided to do. In a video address three days after his death, she fought back tears as she told the people of Russia: “Share my rage – the rage, anger and hatred toward those who dared to kill our future.”

More here.