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Young People In Russia Are Rebelling Against Putin's Rule


On this New Year's Day, Vladimir Putin marks 20 years as the leader of Russia, sometimes as president, sometimes as prime minister - in power the whole time. He took power amidst the poverty crime and chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. He prides himself on Russia's return to stability.

But these days, a new generation of Russians who grew up under Putin is not so interested in how people lived before they were born. They measure themselves by their peers in Europe or the United States, and they don't like what they see. A recent poll shows more than half of these young Russians would like to leave their country. Young people are starting to rebel against Putin's rule even in Russia's conservative heartland. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Dmitry Nikolayev didn't used to care about politics. He was just a normal 20-something from Tula, an arms-producing town south of Moscow. His dad was a factory worker, his mom a saleswoman in a store.

DMITRY NIKOLAYEV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Then out of the blue, he says, he was called in by the police. He'd posted on social media about a heavy metal band whose songs the government had labeled extremist.


KORROZIYA METALLA: (Singing in Russian).

NIKOLAYEV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "At that moment," Nikolayev says, "I understood that something was wrong with my country." He joined the political opposition to Vladimir Putin. In conservative Tula though, most older people support the president, a generational divide found across the country.

Just off a new pedestrian street in the historic town center, I meet Yuliya Savelyeva, a 46-year-old engineer in one of the town's factories.

YULIYA SAVELYEVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says Putin gave the weapons factories new business. When I ask her about a wave of anti-government protests in Moscow this summer, Savelyeva shrugs.

SAVELYEVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "I'm not very interested in politics," she says. "I'm perfectly happy with the way things are." That kind of thinking infuriates Dmitry Nikolayev, the young man who joined the opposition. He supports Alexei Navalny, Russia's most famous anti-corruption campaigner who tried to run against Putin two years ago before he was banned from the election.

NIKOLAYEV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "I ran Navalny's Tula headquarters," Nikolayev says.


KIM: Navalny, almost 25 years younger than Putin, was there to open the campaign office. Putin of course was reelected. The Navalny campaign office has been shuttered, and Nikolayev's closest aide, Filipp Simpkins has fled the country. I visit Simpkins's mother - her name is Yelena Agayeva - in a grim Tula suburb.

(Speaking Russian).

YELENA AGAYEVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says her son Filipp just packed his bags one day last year and left, saying he could no longer live in Russia. He flew to Switzerland and now has political asylum.

AGAYEVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Agayeva says her son's political activism caused him to be kicked out of the vocational school where he was studying to be a train engineer. He'd already been locked up a week for organizing a rally and was threatened with more jail time if he continued.

AGAYEVA: (Through interpreter) He thought that if we all stand up against Putin and corruption, everything would change. But he didn't change Russia. The government changed his life.

KIM: All that Filipp left behind is a computer, a mountain bike and his cat. Agayeva switches on the computer and plays a song he used to sing. The name of the song is "I'll Be Back," and it's by a singer who grew up in the same gritty Tula suburb as Filipp. I ask Agayeva if she thinks her son will also return.

AGAYEVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "No, he's not coming back," she says, "and I don't want him to. He's safer where he is now."

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Tula. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
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