Anastasia Shevchenko never got the chance to say goodbye to her daughter, 17-year-old Alina, who suffered from encephalitis and was sick at a hospital in Moscow.
That’s because Shevchenko was under house arrest. Security guards monitored her every move. She was not allowed contact with anyone. No one was allowed to visit her.
“I would say that my children were arrested with me,” she said.
Shevchenko’s ordeal is captured in a new documentary called “Anastasia,” which follows her journey to scatter her daughter Alina’s ashes in the Black Sea. The film has been shortlisted for an Oscar in the documentary short film category.
Shevchenko’s activism started at a young age. She protested against everything from cutting down trees to lack of good public transport.
The assassination of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in 2015 marked a turning point for her. She said it made her realize that “it’s impossible to stay at home” and that she needed to speak up “to say [killing Kremlin critics] is a crime and we will not forget it and we will not forgive it.”
In 2019, Shevchenko was being investigated for her activism and membership in a group called Open Russia, which was deemed “undesirable” and a "threat to state security" by the state.
The organization was started by Russian businessman and activist, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was living in exile in London, with the goal of promoting democracy in Russia.
The crackdown against Open Russia and its members led to its closure in 2021.
Shevchenko was put under house arrest, where she remained for two years.
“Two years, that’s a very long period of time,” she said, “so I was doing everything. I read a lot of books, I wrote my own book, it was kind of a diary, I learned dancing, moon walking, cooking, planting vegetables and flowers.”
She was worried about her 7-year-old son, Misha, who “had seen it all,” Shevchenko said.
Like, the police coming to their apartment, searching through their personal belongings, his mother going from one court hearing to another.
Still, through it all, the most painful part for Shevchenko was losing her daughter Alina, who is disabled, and not being able to hold her before she died.
In a clip from a Russian courtroom, aired by the BBC in 2019, Shevchenko blamed the prosecutor.
“You could have let me see my daughter and hug her. If I’d made it to the hospital a day earlier, I’d have been able to do that,” she said.
“I felt like … I’m betraying my own child because I cannot hold her hand, you know?” she said.
The documentary “Anastasia," made by MTV Documentary Films, takes an intimate look inside Shevchenko’s life as she tries to move on from her time under house arrest.
As she sets out on a train journey to scatter the ashes of her daughter in the Black Sea, she is accompanied by her children Misha and Vlada, as well as her mother, Tamara. (Shevchenko had separated from her husband before the trial).
“This trip was one of the first things that they did together as a family and it was the first time that Anastasia traveled at all outside of her city after being under house arrest for two years,” filmmaker Sarah McCarthy said.
Shooting the documentary in Russia brought many challenges, McCarthy added. Her Russian crew could get arrested at any moment. Sometimes, it seemed like they were being monitored.
“We had lawyers stationed all the way along the train journey,” McCarthy explained, “and we knew exactly what the protocol was if they were stopped and if they were detained.”
They shot the film using a small commercial camera.
The documentary begins with Shevchenko admitting that what she’s about to tell the world could put her in prison, but she said it is important to tell this story to show that people in Russia have been resisting Putin’s regime, sometimes, at the cost of their lives and the lives of their children.
Shevchenko fled Russia after her house arrest ended and now lives in Lithuania with her children and her mother. She helps political activists and their families who are inside Russia. She also works with other Russian activists living outside the country.
The war in Ukraine has made her even more committed to speaking out against Russia’s leader.
“While crazy Putin is in power, we cannot feel safe. So, I’m still trying and doing my best to stop him somehow,” she said.
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