Yulia Navalnaya: the exiled widow of Alexei Navalny

Yulia Navalnaya
Russia has issued an arrest warrant for Yulia Navalnaya - LUKAS BARTH/AFP

Yulia Navalnaya, 47, is the exiled widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Siberian prison on Feb 16. For years she sought to avoid the limelight, but after vowing to continue her husband’s work and declaring Vladimir Putin “my enemy”, a Moscow court on Tuesday ordered that she be arrested in absentia on extremism charges.

For many Russian dissidents, she represents the best hope for the future. Others however wonder what she can achieve while living abroad – beyond the Kremlin’s reach, but cut-off from her supporters.

How did Yulia Navalnaya and Alexei Navalny meet?

The Navalnys met on holiday in Turkey in 1998 when Alexei was a young real estate lawyer from a military family in the Moscow region who was just becoming involved in opposition politics. Both were 22 (Yulia is six weeks older than Alexei).

Alexei is said to have been struck by her looks after spotting her through the window of a tour bus. After they got to know each other, he would become enamoured by her intellect and political understanding.

“He immediately felt that I would be his wife,” Yulia said in an interview in the Russian edition of Harper’s Bazaar.

What was Yulia Navalnaya’s job?

After giving up her job in banking to raise the couple’s first child Daria, she acted as Alexei’s press secretary and gatekeeper, editing his articles and speeches. In public, however, she always insisted that she saw her main role as a homemaker. “My main task is to make sure that, in spite of everything, nothing in our family changes,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “So that the children can remain children, and the house a home.”

After Putin’s attempt to murder Alexei with nerve agent in August 2020, Yulia was thrust into the spotlight. With Alexei recovering inside a hospital in Omsk, Yulia gave briefings to the world’s press outside. She also issued demands to Putin that he give permission for Alexei to be transported to Germany for further treatment.

What is Yulia Navalnaya doing now?

Yulia left Russia in 2021 and has been forced to move around in recent years due to her family’s exile. It is understood that she currently lives in Germany.

After the death of Alexei, Yulia vowed to continue his work to fight for a “free Russia”.

On July 1, she was announced as the chairwoman of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). She used the occasion to say that her main ambition was to continue Alexei’s work and that collaborating with the HRF “can help me and the entire team achieve this” .

On July 9, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Yulia on extremism charges five months after the death of her husband.

When was Yulia Navalnaya last seen?

On June 16, Yulia attended her daughter Daria’s graduation from Stanford University in California, sharing photos of the celebration on social media.

“I am very proud and congratulations! The smartest, most beautiful, and most importantly, the best friend in the world. Our girl,” she said of the event.

Yulia also appeared at a concert in Berlin held in memory of Alexei on June 4, which would have been his 48th birthday.

Addressing the crowd, she said: “Love is stronger than separation. Love is stronger than fear. And love is stronger than death.

“Happy birthday, beloved. One day, and I believe that very soon, you will receive the gift that you wanted so much. Free, happy, beautiful Russia.”

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