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Artur Levin's column

Panic, flight, new life. Anastasia Koss on how the war divided her life into "before" and "after”


Media Loft columnist Artur Levin talked to Anastasia Koss, a Russian journalist, psychologist and poet, about Russian culture, emigration to Armenia, "losing" her loved ones, and finding herself.

- Was the decision to leave conscious or was it an escape? Was it easy?

- The decision to leave was difficult. Our first thoughts about emigration appeared in 2007. My husband is a programmer, and even then there was the option of relocating to the suburbs of London.

At that time we had no children, but the very thought of giving birth somewhere in a foreign land, far from my homeland, among strangers and a foreign culture was very frightening to me. So I said that I wanted my children to grow up in Russia and refused to go, even though my husband insisted.

Then, one way or another, we kept coming back to the subject of emigration since 2014. And in 2019, we started preparing documents. This is, of course, a strong word, but we were keen to go to Amsterdam. We chose the country, found out about schools and kindergartens. But the pandemic struck, and all thoughts of emigration began to melt away.

Well, on February 24th, my son came home from school, and I very gently asked him what his classmates were saying about everything that was going on.

"We are at school discussing when we are going to whack them all!" - was his reply.

I can't even begin to tell you the range of feelings I experienced at that moment. It was very scary to hear that from my own child. And I got this idea in my head: you wanted to bring up children in Russian culture - get it and sign it...

It is hard to remember. But it was then that it became absolutely clear that I would not stay here.

"A premonition of war"

- What was February 24th like for you, do you remember?

- It was a terrible day. The fact is that we had a premonition of war. All throughout the previous year we had been reading in the press that troops were being brought to the borders of Ukraine. And we often argued with our friends and relatives that there would be a war.

We all understood, but we did not even bother to get our own passports. They were overdue when the war started.

To say that we were scared is an understatement. But we had to act. My husband had the opportunity to go to Armenia. The company where he works has a representative office in Yerevan. And the position was offered to him immediately.

I wanted him to go, I wanted him to go a lot. I was afraid that general mobilization would be announced, I did not want him to go to war, so I told him to go.

But the thing is that adults can enter Armenia with a Russian passport, but children can only enter with a foreign passport. And everything came to a standstill.

- Can you explain why?

- I do not know how to formulate it correctly. Anyway, my husband said "OK, I'll go" but he did nothing. Didn't look for a flat, didn't solve any domestic issues, work issues. What was that? Stupor? Fear? Reluctance to leave the family (we have two children, a son and a daughter)? I still don't know.

- And how was the situation eventually resolved? What was the magic kicker?

- I allowed him to go with my daughter. Probably the first time I'd ever decided to leave her for that long. The thing is, she was the only one with a valid passport.

So they left.

With my son it was much more difficult. Exactly one month after the beginning of the war, on March 24th, he was 14. We had to get a new identity document. So we had to deal with all the bureaucracy first.

- What was more frightening: leaving your husband and little daughter in the unknown, or staying in Russia?

- The day my husband left, there were a lot of reports on the web that there were law enforcement officers at the airport, checking not just documents but even personal correspondence in social networks. We got away with it.

And here we are, saying goodbye and not realising for how long… maybe forever?

We both knew that we might never see each other again. Borders could simply be closed. I still have that feeling. But I'm not afraid now. We're all together.

Back then it was very scary. You just send your five-year-old daughter and your husband away, thinking that you will never embrace them again. And you cannot say goodbye properly because you are afraid that some ‘friends’ will take you by the hand.

It is a horrible memory, I will never forget it and I will never forgive those people who arranged it all, the fear I experienced ...

Our family was reunited much later. Everything is fine now.

"They think we are traitors"

- Was it difficult to say goodbye to your relatives and friends?

- My husband's parents, his sister and her family stayed in Russia, and my mother and my sister stayed with me. To be honest, they all don't really understand why we left.

But Roma's (husband's) parents are a separate story. They're stoked about the war, and they think we're traitors. And most importantly, they do not hide it. My own son is a traitor to his motherland. It is unthinkable.

My mother, she is a gentler person, she knows that I used to work in news service and she knows very well from the inside how propaganda works. But she knows and understands everything, but anyway she watches TV and everything reverts to the way it was before.

- Are you afraid that the war has torn you apart forever? Not only physically but also spiritually?

- It is difficult to say. I have no contact with my mother-in-law. My husband keeps in touch through sheer force.

And as for my mother... You know what I'm thinking. I'm really afraid that if something happens, I won't be able to go to her funeral. That's it.

I can't even say there's hope of meeting up with her, I somehow see everything in a pessimistic light. I am afraid that the war will never end.

- How did you settle in Yerevan?

- I am still amazed at how many Russians there are here. By that I mean the amount of them that arrived after February 24th.

My daughter goes to a private kindergarten. There are many schools here: Russian, Armenian, commercial, state. Everything is all right, really.

- Are you homesick?

- A miracle has to happen for us to return. But I don't believe in fairy tales. Even if tomorrow they announce the withdrawal of troops, the consequences that await Russia after the war are disastrous.

There will either be a civil war, or... Well, the second option is collapse. A total collapse. First of all, the country will cease to exist within the borders that it has now.

I am aware that my words may be seen as a call for separatism, but it is only an opinion.

By: Artur Levin

Photos: Instagram

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