August 15, 2023

Laying Low

Laying Low

On March 18, 2018, Mikhail Podivilov, a student at the Kolomna Polytechnical College, happened to hear that it was election day in Russia.

“I considered myself to be apolitical and thought all that had nothing to do with me,” he said. “I only went there because they told me at the college: ‘Go vote.’ I got there and wondered, ‘Who should I vote for?’ I wound up voting for Putin.”

Soon afterwards, big changes occurred in Podvilov’s life: a year later he went to his first protest rally, began to serve as an election observer, and then, one of the first activists in Russia to stage a one-man picket: he stood alone with a sign reading “No to War.” Soon he found himself hiding from the authorities in a remote village while simultaneously doing IT work for Yandex and eventually sneaking across the border into Georgia, now under a new name: René Coignard. His amazing story – part arthouse noir, part Hollywood mystery – was published by Vot Tak, a Polish-based broadcaster producing material primarily in Belarusian, but also in Russian.

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