WASHINGTON: Russian dissident historian Tamara Eidelman was on vacation in Greece when Moscow’s tanks rolled into Ukraine in February 2022 and she realized that she would not be going back to her home country.

With her single suitcase, Eidelman, 65, flew to Portugal, where her daughter had been living, and began a new life in exile.
“I am operating under the assumption that I will not return. I am building my life in Portugal,” Eidelman, who has over 1.6 million followers on her history channel on YouTube, told AFP. “I want to come back… but if I sit every day thinking ‘When will it finally happen?’ I will go mad.”
Eidelman, who was declared a “foreign agent” by the government in Moscow, is part of a group of exiled anti-war Russian public intellectuals and cultural figures who are rebuilding their careers abroad.
While they cater to a large diaspora — more than 800,000 Russians are estimated to have left the country in just the past two years — unlike the previous waves of emigration from Russia’s calamities, they are able to continue speaking to those who stayed via social media, despite growing government restrictions.
“I think it’s one of the advantages of today’s emigration, if there can be any advantages, that our ties with our homeland have not been ruptured so drastically,” Eidelman, who wore a pin in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on her black blouse, said before a lecture in a community center outside Washington.
“Today there is an opportunity to exchange ideas. And, despite all the bans, inside Russia you can still access what is being done by those who emigrated. It is extremely valuable, it must be used and cherished.”

Tamara Eidelman, who was declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, is part of a group of exiled anti-war Russian public intellectuals and cultural figures who are rebuilding their careers abroad. (AFP)

While exiles are unlikely to have a significant impact on political life inside Russia, “they can be the keepers of ideas, the centers of expertise and civic education,” according to Alexander Morozov, a political analyst and lecturer at Charles University in Prague.
When political change occurs, “Those who have retained trust and their symbolic capital can play a role in Russia’s renewal,” he wrote in a recent paper.

During her first few months in Portugal, Eidelman, who worked as a history teacher at a prestigious Moscow school for more than 30 years before becoming an editor, blogger and public speaker, kept herself busy looking for a place to live, reassembling her YouTube team and signing up for Portuguese lessons.
But she would catch herself thinking she was there on a brief visit and that she needed to buy a bottle of Port wine to bring back to Moscow to her mother and friends. Then it hit her.
“I felt a tremendous weight pressing on me when things had settled down a little and I realized that I am going to be in this wonderful, beautiful country for a long time,” she said. “Of course, (President Vladimir Putin’s) regime will collapse, but I don’t know if I will be around to see it.”
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Eidelman’s YouTube channel has ballooned from some 500,000 followers to 1.63 million and a team of 30 people, with lectures on Russian, Ukrainian and world history — as well as a special presentation on Putin’s assault on democracy, which she delivered in a T-shirt that read “No Putin No War.”
“I want to express my unconditional support for Ukraine in this war and I believe that all its territories, including Crimea, must be returned to it,” Eidelman told AFP, referring to the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.
During her lecture in an auditorium of several hundred Russian speakers titled “The Judgment of History,” Eidelman examined the painful questions of countries’ and societies’ culpability and responsibility for crimes from ancient Greece to Nazi Germany — with the clear undertone of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Prosecuting those who committed direct crimes against Ukraine will not be enough, Eidelman suggested in her interview with AFP.
“I believe that there cannot be collective responsibility, that a whole people cannot be guilty,” she told AFP. “But at the same time, there must be… moral responsibility, responsibility before one’s conscience.”
Alina, a 39-year-old Russia-born quality control manager drove more than eight hours to Washington from the southern US state of Tennessee with her husband and two children to hear Eidelman speak.
To Alina, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “a crime against a neighboring country, but it’s also a crime against my own country because crimes are being committed in the name of people like me, who don’t agree with it.”
In these tragic times, Eidelman’s talk was a breath of fresh air, Alina said.
“When I listen to her lectures, I believe that there is — if not hope, then at least some light ahead for you to follow,” she said. “You get the feeling that you are not alone in all of this, even though physically you live apart from everyone.”


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