Indigenous Activists Fleeing Russia Still Face Harassment from Moscow

By Tom Porter

Less than half an hour’s drive from the Bowdoin College campus lives Pavel Sulyandziga and his family.

The 61-year old Indigenous activist arrived in the US seven years ago seeking political asylum after fleeing Russia, where he faced growing threats from the government.

Even in exile, though, Sulyandziga and his family, who live in Yarmouth, Maine, still find themselves under pressure from the Kremlin.

Pavel Sulyandziga
Pavel Sulyandziga
Image: Batani Foundation
Sulyandziga was featured in a recent article by Professor of Government Laura Henry published in The Conversation and picked by the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, and many other news outlets across the country.

Henry, a specialist in contemporary Russian politics, examines the plight of Indigenous activists like Sulyandziga, a member of the Udege people of Russia’s far eastern region, whose asylum case is still pending (“part of a large backlog of asylum cases before immigration judges.”)

“Indigenous peoples living in Russia have long fought for recognition of their rights as native peoples and to protect their traditional territory, which is often located in areas that are used for natural resource extraction, such as mining,” writes Henry.

In recent years, she points out, many of them have fled into exile due to growing government repression. “Sometimes, they are being charged with working on behalf of foreign governments, or they are facing false accusations of corruption.”

Exiled activists like Sulyandziga still often find themselves vulnerable to harassment from the Russian authorities, who are taking steps from afar to try and silence them, says Henry. This type of harassment, she explains, is called transnational repression.