About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Viacheslav against a wooden plank background

Viacheslav Zavgorodnii

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Photo and interview by:




Sinawi Medine

“My dream?” asks Viacheslav (22), a refugee from Russia now living in France. “I have interest to take my family in France and go to university, learn French language and understand French culture, because it’s like – I like this culture now.” Viacheslav fled Russia, he says, after being labelled an extremist by the Russian government for his involvement in organising protests against, amongst other things, corruption and the war in Ukraine. “I dream change, change my country,” he says. It’s “hard” though, he explains, knowing that he might not see his family for years. “But in France, we speak ‘c’est la vie’.” Navigating French bureaucracy has also been a challenge. He was helped through it by other Russians as well as by various local organisations. He now helps other refugees in turn. “I help him,” he says. “And I happy if he have normal life here.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Uh, my name is Zavgorodnii Viacheslav, Slava.

Okay, Slava. Can I call you Slava?
Yes, it’s correct.

OK, thank you Slava for your time. And I will go on the question, but feel free if the questions you don’t want answer it, you can not answer it.

What kind of house do you live in now?
What house?

Yeah, where you live?
Here in…?

What looks like? Can you explain a little bit, describe?
It’s community about anarchism. And all people in the France I think know this person Cedric.

Do you live with Cedric?

OK, how long?
Three months now.

How you find it? You feel, you are fine now?
I like live here. Yes, yes. It’s nice place seriously. In Europe I live three years and in France. And before I have much problem. I have document but it’s very difficult search the job in the quarantine. I lose my job after one of my friend, he helped me search this place because it’s very hard to search a job now.

How do you spend your time? You work, I imagine.
Yes, we work here. All people work here. It’s normal and it’s farm and it’s nice to body. And it’s keep to relax. We work but brain we don’t use much brain. And it’s, I use this time to reflexive about my life now. Yeah.

Uh, what are some more things that brings you joy?
I’m not understand questions.

Is there something that makes you feel joy? For example, to be enjoyed, to be relaxed. What kind, like sport or uh?
Um well now uh…

The working? You know.
Now I like music. If I, if I’m not to work to other people, if I’m one. Uh, well, today I go to take eggs chicken. I, uh, I like take my music and, uh, audio books. Now, I, J’écoute Martin Heidegger, Zarathustra. Yeah. I like also[…] and uh, music.

Good. Uh, how, how has life been since you arrived in Europe? Can you explain your life in Europe when you arrived in Europe?
Ah même chose a Russia, je ne sais pas. (Ah, it’s the same thing in Russia, I don’t know). Yes, plus in Europe we have much liberty because in Russia. But, but it’s other liberty. In Russia we have one liberty. In France we don’t have some liberty what we have in Russia. In my life, some change. But I back to Russia because I’m a political activist and I not have a choice. It’s not, it’s not me to ” Ah, I go to live in Europe”. No, it’s political questions. I make a big problem in Russia and the Russian government don’t like me now.

What is difficult in Europe and what is easy?
Um, difficult because it’s some other culture. And you want to change your mind first time, because if you don’t change your mind, people don’t understand you and it’s normal because in Russia you want to some aggressive sometimes because the government not protect you, but here you have much protection. Plus, if we think about Russia, but, uh, other hard, it’s system to bureaucracy. It’s other bureaucratic system and you want to understand how this work in the your.. People first time lose much time to understand that because it’s so hard. But in, uh, in France, we have much Russian people who help to some explain if you don’t understand. And in France have much social organization who help explain if you don’t understand something.

Uh, how how does being away from the rest of your family, alone I imagine. Uh, so what do you feel? Because your family is in Russia.

Live in Russia. What you feel inside you as?
It’s hard. It’s, uh, it’s hard because all the time I lived to my, my grandmother, my mother. And now I understand to I, I’m not seeing my family for years. It’s hard. Yes. But a France, uh uh, we speak c’est la vie.

Ok. This is a life.
It’s a life. Just life. If I have a chance to seek my family. Yes, I think. But I speak in the Internet of to my family.

When you think about your family, what you feel? Sometimes you imagine, you think your family inside you. What you feel? You feel…
I see only one. I wait a moment to think my family know. Only this. Because very nice to my family not have a problem. Only me in my family, only me who have a big problem to political. My mother lose a job, but it’s, it’s all what problem my mother have about me.

Can you imagine before, before you leave your home country? This kind of life or to be or are you prepared before?
In Russia we have the same system, the same bureaucratic problem, the same problem to migrant Russia. It’s it’s not looks like Algeria. Russia it’s some European country. We have, we have the same culture. We have the same religion. And I go to France, in, in my life never change. Only one: I want to learn French and I want to understand bureaucracy. It is all what changing my life. And I’m not have a diploma because I, my university, are arrest all my documents and not, not send me that. Only small problem.

The way you live today or the or the trip since today you have for three years in France.

And have you developed some skill or some resilience to support the question or to, to make stronger yourself?
People who live in Russia are strong. Because if you live in Russia you don’t strong. you’re die. But in France I much calm and quiet. Yes. And they like it. Because in Russia you have every time stress. And now I understand what I want in my life. In Russia it’s only a question to my honor and about politics, because the Russian government very dictatorial and we have much problem about that, much corruption. But all countries have this problem. But in Russia, it’s a very big problem. In, I, I think in Europe it’s impossible to give the money to policemen, but in Russia it’s normal and they not like it. It’s not normal.

How has COVID-19 affected you personally, emotionally, or your feeling? What you feel?
First time in three months I rest my home. I’m not go to back only magazine, on the shop and I give them products and it’s all. But I’m not ever stressed, nothing. Can understand the situation. And I understand. I have only one question to drop because my contract is finished and I want to search a new job or only question about problem. My, my life never change because every time I see a sit at home, I’m not like I drink alcohol, use the drugs, never. I like to read the books and music, film, speak to my friend.

Ok.Then I will let you little back. And why did you leave your country? Can you explain what is happening?
I’m political activist. Yes. Yeah. And we make in Russia, my friend and me too. We make much manifestation about anti-corruption and anti-war in Ukraine. We make many big manifestation about problem through tax system. And after I go to Poland to political questions and I speak in Poland University election and we speak Poland political. And after I go back to the Russia, it’s not I’m not go to Polonia about ask asyl. No, I go to politicals and after Russian FSB, FSB keep me and arrest me. And they have much problem to my friend prison, in the prison all these years.

What say at the time when they arrested?
Russian government speak my friend and me too we are extremists. Extremist because we are anti-government. And Russian government speak if you don’t go to back to Russia, you go to prison. You have two choice.

When you leave your country, how was a journey to Europe? Is there any experience that you remember or you want to talk about your journey?
My journey?

Yeah, from Russia to Europe. When you come, is there any something happened especially you can remember it or you want talk about it?
I’m not understand, about what?

When you leave Russia?

To come to Europe.

The journey, the trip.

Is there something happened? You want talk about it or it was easy?
It’s easy. No, no. I have all documented. It’s one day.

Before you leave your country, what was your dream?
I dream change, change my country. I dream go to political and change my country and help people who live about me in my my city, my city in Samara and the and we do it. I’m not only imagination about it, we do it and we change. We change my city and we work about ecologic questions and we help to people who don’t have a job. And we do it much. But it’s only one. I’m not imagination about my job, about my future, because if you don’t have a future, if you don’t have never a chance to change your life, you have only one question to change your system. And after yes you change your life. It’s on what I think in my life. But now it’s changed because I’m not ever interested to change for a French. It’s not my country. It’s not my problem. It’s a problem to Serdrik and other French people. And now I make my life in here in this country.

Today what is your dream?
My dream? I have interest to take my family in France and go to university, learn French language and understand French culture, because it’s like I like this culture now. And, and to live here.

Before you leave your country, is there something you think your strength is? What was your strength in your country?
All strange in my country. Police strange system to medicine strange, school system strange. All-Russia it’s one strange country. Very strange because, you know, Putin not have normal education. It’s president who do not have education. It’s strange

I really appreciate you for the time you give me in answering the question. Is there anything that you would like to add that that may help Europe better understand refugee life?
Now I help too much refugees people, Russian people, because I have other interview in the BBC, in the Radio Liberty. And as I say in other interview, if other people want to help, I give my contact. And if other people want to help, I say information. What do you want to go what do you want to ask? You know, then and now I think I help to five or seven seven the two other refugees and every time people to ask me help in Facebook and they help you because I understand. And the other people if government help me. But I have much problem because I do not understand system and other people have the same problem and they have power to help him. And I don’t want to pay him. I don’t want to give food never. Only information. And this is a it’s a work. You speak. Man, you want to go to this apartment and ask to this woman, to this information, c’est tout. After she say help, thanks. And I hope after this woman help to other people too, who ask asile. But my preference, I help only people if I think he want to help. And it is normal people. I’m not help to alcoholic, who use the drugs because I do not want to see him here. It’s my position. I’m not like drug dealer or people who drink too much alcohol. It’s not normal. If you’re normal man, if it’s a normal person, I help him and I happy if he have normal life here.

Thank you very much. I appreciate.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.