Ilya Yashin: Everyone Chooses for Themselves

Ilya Yashin. Photo by Irina Zhirkova

I have been behind bars for almost eight months and increasingly I come across across a question in the letters people write to me. Was it worth it? they ask. Do you regret staying in Russia? Admit it: if you could turn back time, you would prefer emigration over prison.

To be honest, this way of posing the question stumps me. What am I supposed to regret?

I feel tremendous support from people, and my life is filled with meaning. I understand that the truth is on my side, and everyone around me understands this, including my fellow prisoners and my jailers. I am gaining experience in life that makes me stronger, wiser and, oddly enough, kinder. And most importantly: I live in harmony with myself.

Yes, of course, the day-to-day discomfort can be annoying. Yes, I want to hug my loved ones. I can’t go out in nature and I’m bereft of social contacts and certain small domestic joys. But I know for certain that if I had fled, I would have ended up an unhappy and emotionally crippled person, devoid of self-respect.

Almost every day I say to myself these lines by Yuri Levitansky, which jibe with my philosophy in life:

Everyone chooses for himself
A woman, a religion, a road.
To serve the devil or the prophet,
Everyone chooses for himself.

Everyone chooses for himself
A word for loving and a word for praying
A rapier for dueling, a sword for doing battle
Everyone chooses for himself.

Everyone chooses for themselves.
Shield and armor. Walking stick and patches.
A measure of final reckoning.
Everyone chooses for themselves.

Everyone chooses for themselves.
I choose too, as far as I am able.
I have no gripes with anyone.
Everyone chooses for themselves.

P.S. I am still in Pretrial Detention Center No. 4 Medved, where you can write to me via the FSIN-Pismo service:

Yashin Ilya Valeryevich (born 1983)
63 ul. Vilyuiskaya, SIZO-4 Medved
Moscow 127081 Russian Federation

Source: Ilya Yashin (Facebook), 6 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. People living outside Russia will find it difficult, if not impossible, to use the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s FSIN-Pismo service. But you can send letters — translated into Russian (if you don’t know a competent translator, you can use a free online translation service such as Google Translate) — to Ilya Yashin and other Russian political prisoners via the free, volunteer-run service RosUznik. You can also ask me ( for assistance and advice in sending such letters.

Here is a translation of the letter that I just sent to Mr. Yashin via RosUznik:

Dear Ilya,

My wife and I remembered now that we attended a public event that you were at in St. Petersburg many years ago. We don’t remember what it was about, but after you made a fiery speech, you led all of us onto the roadway of Nevsky, where we stood for a few minutes, blocking traffic. Then we just as peacefully and amicably left the roadway. The most amazing thing is that there was not a single policeman there! You still inspire us, and I hope that sometime in the near future we will be able to meet again peacefully on Nevsky. Thinking about this meeting in the past and new meetings in the future, today I translated the Levitansky poem that you quoted recently on FB and published it on my website, where I have already told my readers about you many times. Strength to you and all the best!

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