The Secret Life of Russia’s Remote Freedom Fighter
After being threatened with her life, this democracy activist packed up and fled. Now she’s fighting from afar—with one eye over her shoulder.
Illustrations by Isip Xin | Edited by Brendan Spiegel
On December 27, 2012, Natalia Budaeva punched in the security code of her apartment building and walked in to find her normally lit lobby dark. At first she didn’t give it much thought. Bulbs blew out from time to time, and one evening without light wasn’t unusual; a caretaker would fix it the next day. It was around 10 p.m. and Budaeva was getting home from a day full of meetings. As the director of the Moscow chapter of the International Republican Institute (IRI) a democracy-promotion organization, she’d just participated in IRI’s conference on political parties and local elections, held for the first time since new legislation allowing the opposition to register and appear on election ballots was passed in Russia in April 2012.
The first disquiet surfaced when — still by the front door — she noticed a man loitering near the elevator. His silhouette loomed in the dim light of the street lamp outside. But it wasn’t his presence tha…