Yulia Navalnaya against Vladimir Putin

Alexey Navalny and Yulia Navalnaya hugging after his release from the custody, after an appeal from the prosecutor's office. Date 19 July 2013. Image by Evgenii Feldman, Novaya Gazeta. CC BY-SA 3.0.

The shock of Alexey Navalny's death in the Arctic Yamal penal colony Harp on February 16, 2024, was felt by millions of people in Russia and abroad.  The informal leader of the opposition to Putin, he was optimistic about his and Russia's future even after three years in jail and over 300 days in unbearable solitary confinement. 

Urban-type settlement of Kharp. Image by ValeryZatolochny. CC BY 3.0.

With his death has come an overwhelming, sense of hopelessness, as witnessed by the social media feeds of people with opposition views and people mourning his death at the funeral. 

However, on February 19, only three days after the death of her husband, Yulia Navalnaya stepped in. In her first ever video posted on both her husbands and her own new X account and YouTube account, she said: 

Привет,  это Юлия Навальная. Cегодня в первый раз на этом канале.  Я хочу обратиться к вам. Меня не должно было быть на этом месте, я не должна была записывать это видео. На моём месте должен быть другой человек, но этого человека убил Владимир Путин.   3 дня назад Владимир Путин убил моего мужа Алексея Навального. Путин убил отца моих детей. Отнял самое дорогое, что у меня было. Самого близкого и самого любимого человека. Но ещё Путин отнял Навального у вас. Где-то в колонии на Крайнем Севере, за полярным кругом, в вечной зиме Путин убил не просто человека Алексея Навального. Он вместе с ним захотел убить наши надежды, нашу свободу, наше будущее. Все эти годы я была рядом с Алексеем. Я была счастлива быть рядом с ним и поддерживать его. Но сегодня я хочу быть рядом с Вами потому что я знаю, что вы потеряли не меньше, чем я. Алексей больше всего на свете любил Россию, любил нашу страну и вас. Он верил в нас, в нашу силу, в наше будущее, в то, что мы достойны лучшего. Не на словах верил, а на деле, настолько глубоко и искренне, что был готов отдать за это свою жизнь. И его огромной любви нам хватит, чтобы продолжить его дело настолько долго, насколько понадобится. Убив Алексея, Путин убил половину меня, половину моего сердца, и половину моей души. Но у меня осталась вторая половина, и она подсказывает мне, что я не имею права сдаваться, я буду продолжать дело Алексея Навального, продолжать бороться за нашу с вами страну. И Я призываю вас встать рядом со мной, разделить не только горе и бесконечную боль, которая окутала нас и не отпускает. Я прошу вас разделить со мной Ярость. Ярость, злость, ненависть к тем, кто посмел убить наше будущее. Я обращаюсь к вам словами Алексея, в которые очень верю. Не стыдно сделать мало, стыдно не сделать ничего. Россия –  свободная, мирная, счастливая, прекрасная Россия будущего, о которой так мечтал мой муж. Вот что нам нужно. Я хочу жить в такой России. Я хочу, чтобы в ней жили наши с Алексеем дети, Я хочу вместе с вами её построить именно такую, какой ее представлял Алексей Навальный: полную достоинства, справедливости и любви.

Hello, this is Yulia Navalnaya. Today, for the first time on this channel, I want to address you. I should not have been in this place; I should not have been recording this video. In my place, there should have been another person, but Vladimir Putin killed that person three days ago. Vladimir Putin killed my husband Alexei Navalny. Putin killed the father of my children, the most precious thing I had, the closest and most beloved person. But Putin also took Navalny away from you, somewhere in a colony in the Far North, beyond the Arctic Circle, in eternal winter. Putin killed not just a person, Alexei Navalny; he also wanted to kill our hopes, our freedom, our future. All these years, I was beside Alexei. I was happy to be with him and support him, but today I want to be with you because I know that you have lost no less than me. Alexei loved Russia more than anything else, loved our country. He believed in you, in us, in our strength, in our future, in the fact that we deserve better. He believed not just in words but in deed, so deeply and sincerely that he was ready to give his life for it. His immense love for us is enough to continue his work as long as it takes. By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart, and half of my soul. But I have the other half left, and it tells me that I do not have the right to give up. I will continue Alexei Navalny's work, continue fighting for our country, and I call on you to stand with me. To share not only the sorrow and the endless pain that has enveloped us and does not let go, I ask you to share my rage, anger, hatred towards those who dared to kill our future. I address you with the words of Alexei, in which I strongly believe: it's not shameful to do little, it's shameful to do nothing. A free, peaceful, happy, beautiful Russia of the future that my husband dreamed of is what we need. I want to live in such a Russia. I want our children with Alexei to live in it. I want to build it with you, exactly as Alexei Navalny envisioned it, full of dignity, justice, and love.

For a lot of people, this meant that the hope returned

Navalnaya has since given a speech at the EU Parliament, met with President Biden and the EU member states’ foreign ministers. She had just called for people in Russia to express their protest and show how many people would vote against Putin. 

Because, in Russia any kind of dissent, including any peaceful rallies, has been punishable by jail sentences and huge fees, the only way to protest en masse is through “legal’ means. Examples in the last few months include giving signatures for the anti-war candidate (who was later barred from the ballot), participating in Alexey Navalny's funeral (tens of thousands showed up, over 100 people have been detained), and as the next step — showing up at polling stations at exactly 12 pm on the last of the next election that Putin is expected to win: March 17, 2024, to show how many people are against Putin.  

But who is Yulia Navalnaya?

She has a familiar face: Alexey's wife participated in a lot of his rallies — there are numerous pictures of them together; she took part in several interviews; she was by his side when he was poisoned.  It was she who appealed to Putin to let Alexey be treated in Germany after that. Nevertheless, she had hardly expressed her political views or spoke publicly before Alexey's death. On Google search, she is currently defined as “the wife of Alexey Navalny,” and indeed, this is the role she had for many years.  

Yulia Navalny, Alexey Navalny, and Ilya Yashin at Moscow rally on June 12, 2013. Image by Bogomolov.PL. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Yulia Abrosimova (her maiden name) was born on July 24, 1976, in Moscow, into the family of a scientific worker and state employee. She graduated from the prestigious Moscow Plekhanov Academy, department of international and economic relations.  

She met Alexey when she was only 22, and they got married in 2000. The couple had two children, Daria (2001) and Zahar (2008).  A popular Russian magazine claimed in the beginning of 2021 that she defined her role as “being in charge of everyday life and raising children.” Alexey Navalny‘s role as a political figure became visible in 2007, and Navalnaya has supported him since.

Navalnaya's videos and appeals to the Russian people have a very strong message. She calls Putin a murderer, and the Russian regime, a mafia state. In one of her videos, she accused Putin and his elite of only ‘pretending to be Christians.’ Apparentlythis video was made in an attempt to make Putin's government give Alexey's body to his mother after his death. Because Putin's regime had been constructing its ideology around so-called ‘traditional’ values and is closely connected to the Russian Orthodox church in its quest for legitimacy, it worked. She had not said anything that controversial since, although some people implied that she asked the EU to stop providing arms to Ukraine in her speech to the EU Parliament. She did not. 

At the moment, Yulia Navalnaya has over a million followers on Instagram, and 350,000 on X. On YouTube, she is speaking from Navalny's account. She had a meeting with Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya last month, another woman leader of the opposition to an authoritarian regime — the Belarusian. It remains to be seen if Yulia Navalnaya will indeed unite the Russian opposition as Tsikhanovskaya did with Belarusians.  She is determined and angry, perhaps this is just the qualities that people need to see in their leader in the country under Vladimir Putin, the longest ruler of Russia after Joseph Stalin.


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