My Father the Superhero

dasha and alexey at dasha's high school graduation ceremony 2019
My Father the SuperheroCourtesy Dasha Navalnaya

One of the earliest times I remember realizing the significance of my dad’s political work was when the police first raided our apartment in Moscow in 2011. I was 10 years old. I distinctly recall getting a text message from my mom, Yulia, while waiting for the bus at school. She said, “Don’t freak out. There are police officers in our house. Come home as soon as you can and try to hide your electronics.” In Russia, the police officers who conduct politically motivated raids hunt primarily for phones and laptops, even those belonging to children. This is done to complicate and slow down the person’s political work; in reality, these raids really more closely resemble robberies.

As I stepped into our hallway, I was “welcomed” by two masked policemen guarding the door. It looked like a hurricane had swept through our home. There were books and papers all over the floor. The furniture had been moved or flipped over. DVDs were scattered across the living room. People were running around. There was even a search dog sniffing through our belongings.

The confusion, fear, anxiety, and helplessness I felt were overwhelming. My dad was talking with his attorneys, while my mom and brother, Zakhar, who was then three, sat on the couch. The best plan my panicked 10-year-old brain could devise was to shove my laptop under my school uniform. Then, I quietly sat and read by my mom’s side. The entire time, my dad was calm and collected, joking with us about school or our favorite TV shows to make me and my brother feel safe and comfortable. That’s what he did.

dasha, yulia, zakhar, and alexey in the moscow 850th anniversary park, 2013
Dasha Navalnaya, Yulia Navalnaya, Zakhar Navalny, and Alexey Navalny in Moscow’s 850th Anniversary Park, 2013Courtesy Dasha Navalnaya

I always considered my dad a superhero: big and strong, intelligent and charismatic, hardworking and resilient. He had an unbreakable moral compass and little patience for injustice. My father was a man of courage. He was fearless because he understood the importance of his fight—for democracy, transparency, and truth. He was an attorney who hated corruption and devoted his life to combating it in Russia. He sued state-owned companies for embezzlement, organized investigations to uncover misconduct, and even ran in various elections—and protested fraudulent results—because corruption in Russia is what has supported the current regime, and a change of power is necessary to defeat it.

On February 16, I woke up to the news I had long feared most: that my dad, my superhero, had died in prison. My family and I—along with so many others—are still processing this devastating loss.

Because of his work, my father was constantly being arrested and threatened. During his presidential campaign in Moscow in 2017, someone threw green antiseptic dye in his face. Even though he was rushed to the hospital, he still showed up for his weekly Thursday YouTube live broadcast, on which he would report what was going on politically within Russia, despite almost losing his sight. Before that, in 2013, he ran for mayor of Moscow.

Looking back, I see how he started to change the political landscape in Russia. My father firmly believed in the power of collective action. One of his most famous chants at rallies was “We are the power here.” My dad wasn’t allowed to promote his campaign on billboards or TV, so together with a small group of volunteers, he traveled to public squares in Moscow and spoke to local residents. He made me realize that politics is not about boring old men on TV but drive, energy, and a sincere desire to improve people’s lives.

Despite all the work, travel, and arrests, my dad always had time for me and my brother. He attended our first day of school, was there for our family dinners, and always made time to help us with our homework. I remember once, when we went to Austria during a school break, my dad sat us both down and announced that each of us had to pick a painting by the Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel in an exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum and give a tour-guide-like detailed explanation about it during our visit.

zakhar and dasha, kunsthistorisches museum, vienna 2018
Zakhar and Dasha at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2018Courtesy Dasha Navalnaya

A couple of days before my high school graduation in 2019, my dad got arrested at a rally. I was devastated. Thankfully, he was released a day before the ceremony—and then got arrested again almost immediately after. He fought to build a better country, thought about global problems, and was ready to sacrifice everything for Russia, but taking his kids to the movies was no less of an important task. For him, work and family weren’t mutually exclusive.

In 2020, my dad was poisoned with the military nerve agent Novichok. After recuperating in Germany, he returned to Russia in 2021, despite knowing he would be targeted for accusing the Kremlin of organizing the attack. He flew back on January 17 and got arrested at passport control. In 2023, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for extremism.

dasha and alexey on the moscow subway train, 2019
Dasha and Alexey on the Moscow Metro, 2019Courtesy Dasha Navalnaya

After that, the only way I could communicate with my dad was through letters. Every one felt like a breath of fresh air. He would ask me about my university courses and friends and for my input on things like AI and pickleball. He also sent me book recommendations and asked for mine. My dad felt strongly about answering as many of the letters he received as possible, and to this day, people on social media post responses they received from him.

My dad loved his country—so much that he gave his life for it. And until the day he was killed, he lived and stood by his convictions. He believed that truth and knowledge are power, that you can achieve anything by working hard, and that giving up is never an option.

Now, I can so clearly see all these traits in myself, my family, and the millions of people in Russia and around the world whose lives my father touched. My dad was just one person, but he planted a seed of hope in all of us.

You Might Also Like