Ivan Sokolovsky’s Story
“My name is Ivan Sokolovsky, I’m 25 years old. All my life I lived in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. I worked as an accountant in a large state bank. In 2014, Vladimir Putin captured Crimea and started a war in Ukraine to seize power in it. This event prompted me to take part in the protests. One of these protests was in January 2021 when the well-known oppositionist Alexei Navalny in Russia was poisoned by Russian special services with combat chemical weapons, which are prohibited for use and even storage. Alexei was arrested by the Russian police when he was returning from Germany, where he underwent long-term treatment after his poisoning. In connection with this event, peaceful processions were held in my city demanding the release of Alexei Navalny from prison. At one of these processions I was detained by the Russian police and fined under a fabricated article. After that, my boss forced me to write a letter of resignation, and my other colleagues were forbidden to go to such meetings under threat of dismissal. After that, I was summoned for interrogations and preventive conversations in the police department, where I was threatened with criminal imprisonment if I continued to go to protests further. Several times I tried to get a job in other Russian banks, but it was unsuccessful. The security services of banks refused me because I had previously been convicted. I appealed my case to the European Court of Human Rights, but Russia simply stopped paying compensation and completely broke off all ECHR relations.
The police came to my house several times with summons for interrogations. My lawyer has been declared a foreign agent and now I don’t know her fate. This is another new way to get rid of unwanted people in Russia. At one point, all independent media began to accuse them of being foreign agents. Irina Slavinykh, a public figure and an independent journalist, was also accused as a foreign agent. She poured gasoline on herself and burned herself right in front of the main police building, right in front of the building where I worked. She did it because of pressure from the police because of her journalistic activities. It attracted a lot of public attention. She still has a husband and a child. It’s still hard for me to remember this, but her act has always given me courage and determination.
On February 24, 2022, a full-scale war broke out in Ukraine. I didn’t believe in what was happening until the last moment. Most of all, I was struck by the attitude of people around me. Automobile columns with symbols of support for the war and Putin began to drive along the roads of my city. Ordinary people began to glue the letters “Z” on their cars, which meant support for the war in Ukraine. I began to get the feeling that everyone around me was crazy. There were calls on social networks to go to the main streets of cities with protests. I was scared, I was afraid I would be arrested again. At least the fine for re-arrest at the rally was so large that I would have to work for 2-3 years to pay a fine, but I still decided to take a chance and went. I was amazed when I came to one of the central streets of my city – there was almost no one there. I was already thinking about going back home when I saw a street musician and decided to stand next to him and listen to him sing. He sang the songs of a very popular beer in the USSR. The song had the words: “our hearts demand change” – this song became the anthem of the Russian opposition. In a few minutes, a crowd of people began to gather with the street musician. A few minutes later, we were surrounded by the police. People joined hands and snuggled against the wall of the building. The police pulled people out one at a time and dragged them to special buses for transportation to the police departments. I was detained again. The interrogation at the police station lasted several hours. I was often asked the question: “How much was I paid?” Police officers sincerely did not understand my desire to stop the senseless bloodshed in Ukraine. This is completely normal, as employees with different thinking do not stay long and are quickly fired. During the interrogation, police officers told me that of all Russian prisons, criminals are released on parole in order to free up places for political prisoners. Before the trial, I managed to talk to many other arrested. Almost everyone had relatives in Ukraine. We cried and thanked each other for their bravery. At that moment, I realized that I had made the right decision and did not regret going to protest that day. At the trial, I was accused of preventing citizens from passing and passing cars. It wasn’t true, since I was just standing on a pedestrian street listening to a street musician. But despite this, I admitted my guilt, because in the opposite case the judge would simply impose an even more serious punishment. This is a completely normal practice in a Russian court – the more you defend, the more you are punished. I was given 8 days of punishment. I was put in a cell with homeless people and criminals who actively support the current government in Russia. All political prisoners are put separately in different cells to break their will. There were a lot of insects in the cell, all the walls were smeared in their blood – it was a terrible sight. There was a women’s cell through the wall from me. Through a slit in the wall, I found out that two girls were accused of treason – punishable by imprisonment for a term of twelve to twenty years. My situation was aggravated by the fact that Russia adopted a law on “discrediting” the army and military “fakes” (a term referring to spreading misinformation, borrowed from American English). Shortly before my arrest, 60 people were detained for rallies, inscriptions on the snow and anti-war sermons. Punishment – up to 15 years in prison. At that moment, I realized that the opposition was destroyed, activists were either imprisoned or fled to other countries, independent media were also destroyed, and the general mass of people strongly supported the authorities. I decided to leave Russia.
I contacted my colleague and asked to buy a ticket to Turkey immediately on the day of my release, but my flight was canceled for unknown reasons. On the second attempt, I managed to leave Russia. I only had half an hour to say goodbye to my parents. I could not stay in Turkey for long, as it was a friendly country with Russia, besides it does not accept refugees. The way to Europe was closed – the Russians were simply not put on a plane from Turkey, as everyone understood that we would ask for political asylum. It was a very strange situation, as officially the same Germany hosted refugees, but it was impossible to get there. That’s why I bought a ticket to Mexico. When I got to the border with the United States, I almost ran out of money. This journey was very dangerous, it took me a month and a half to get to the border with the United States. With bad English and lack of money, it was an extremely risky way, but there was no way back. I applied for asylum on April 29, 2022. I thought the hardest part of my journey was over, but I was transported to Louisiana. and when I got to an American prison, I really regretted choosing this path. I was completely unprepared for such a test. It was a real hell. I lived simultaneously with 70 people in one room without walls and partitions. All my things were taken away from me, including medicines, which helped me cope with stuttering, which manifests itself in stressful situations. For asking for my medicine, I was completely stripped and placed in a glass chamber where it was very cold. The bright light was not turned off even at night, and the guards knocked on the glass to “make sure I was alive.” That’s how I was held for a day, after which the doctor said it would be a lesson for me. I didn’t get the medicine. In the third month of my imprisonment, I was placed in a punishment cell for asking to overpower me in another cell and not to share me with my friend Boris. For this, we were given 30 days of solitary confinement. Justifying it as a “refusal to obey.” Brute physical force was used on us, Boris was thrown several times on the concrete floor with his head with handcuffs fastened behind his back. I was at the limit of my abilities. The conditions were terrible. There was no window in the cell, it was very cold, I didn’t see the sun for a whole month, and the hardest thing is that no one could answer what would happen to me next and how much longer I would be kept. In October 2022, I lost my trial. I failed to find a lawyer, and I was not allowed to get evidence in my case. The judge refused to listen to me, citing lack of time. The prosecutor and the judge accused me of lying and said that the Russian police did everything right and I posed a danger to Russian citizens. I just spread my hands to that. It was absurd. There was no limit to my disappointment. My friend Boris met Dan Gashler by phone, and he told the residents of Delaware County about us. A real miracle happened and I was released in mid-December 2022. Now I’m really happy and able to return to normal life. All this thanks to you. I am amazed by your hospitality and kindness. I’ve never seen amazing people like you. I am infinitely grateful to you for everything you do for us!”