“It’s not true that everything has been decided for us.” Mundep from Efremov is nominated to the Moscow City Duma

Olga Podolskaya, a municipal deputy from the city of Efremov, Tula Region, is going to take part in the elections to the Moscow City Duma. together with other “foreign agents” who intend to run for elections in all 45 districts of Moscow. Among those planning to take part in the elections, there are people with experience as municipal deputies. In 2019, it was possible to elect independent deputies to local government bodies not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also in small cities. Olga Podolskaya won the elections against four United Russia members in Efremov, with a population of about 37 thousand people.

The deputy is known for her help to Alexei Moskalev, who was imprisoned for two years because his teenage daughter Masha drew an anti-war drawing. Soon after this, Olga Podolskaya was recognized as a “foreign agent.” Olga Podolskaya told Radio Liberty about her decision to run for the Moscow City Duma.

– Why would you take part in the elections to the Moscow City Duma if a foreign agent and a politician with anti-war views have little chance of winning these elections?

– I continue to fulfill my duties as a deputy of the Assembly of Deputies of the municipal formation of the city of Efremov. My term of office ends in September this year. And I plan to run not only for the Moscow City Duma, but also for our Assembly. We are going to the Moscow City Duma elections because we don’t really like what’s happening in Russia. We will take every chance to give people choice and hope. It is very important for those who remained in Russia to feel that they can influence something. It is not true that everything is decided for us. Even if there are no fair elections in Russia, people should know that their vote also decides something, and their opinion is important. If we accept the lack of choice, even in such an unfair and difficult time, then nothing will change in Russia. We must at least express our attitude to what the Russian government is doing. I was recognized as a foreign agent only because I criticized the authorities. Despite the fact that my professional duties were to identify the mistakes of officials in order to improve the lives of my constituents.

Olga Podolskaya

– How do your voters feel about the fact that you are a foreign agent?

– Some people generally do not understand who foreign agents are and do not say anything on this topic. Just in case, they stopped commenting on my posts, but continue to read my pages. Others said that this was some kind of mistake, saying that the children of our officials study in the USA, and Podolskaya was recognized as a foreign agent. Voters know very well how my family lives – about the same as they do. They see and understand how much effort I have put into fulfilling the duties of the municipal deputy over all these years.

Children of officials study in the USA, and Podolskaya was recognized as a foreign agent

– How did you decide to become a municipal deputy?

I was worried about Efremov’s environmental problems, the failed garbage reform, and the violation of labor rights that I myself encountered. I decided that I would begin to change the situation in my hometown on my own, because otherwise nothing would ever change. They told me that a deputy in Russia is a dummy who stupidly raises his hand, and I can’t do anything alone. But I studied the documents regulating the work of a deputy and realized that if I am elected, then I will be able, no matter what, to help people.

I walked around my polling station, talking to people about the problems of our city. Many of them knew me from my activism in defense of the environment of our city. As a mother of many children, I took a very active part in the work of the parent committee. I used to work at Vodokanal. Its management did not comply with labor laws regarding overtime and holiday payments. And I won three courts against this municipal enterprise. By the beginning of the election campaign for the Assembly of Deputies, I was unemployed.

– And how did a self-nominated candidate and an unemployed woman win the elections against United Russia?

My opponents were directors of various organizations. I lived the same life as my voters, walked the same roads, stood in line at the same clinics. I told people: “I don’t promise anything, they promise you a lot without me, but I will do everything I can.” I explained to people who the deputies are and how they should actually work. We discussed the problems of our city right on the street: bad air due to the work of the Zernoprodukt plant, increasing garbage heaps, rising housing and communal services tariffs. I immediately made a list of things that I would need to do when I won the election. And I defined my main task. The authorities in Russia live in their own world, and the people in his own way, not at all so beautiful. They see the beautiful world only on TV. Those in power most often do not notice them. So I decided to become a connecting thread between people and the Russian government.

Olga Podolskaya

Olga Podolskaya

-You didn’t join any parties?

I interacted with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the party of Nikolai Platoshkin, and Yabloko. But I wanted to be independent, so that no one would influence me. In addition, observing what is happening in different parties, I formed my opinion that parties as such have outlived their usefulness.

Parties as such have become obsolete

– What were your political views at the time of participation in the elections of deputies of the Assembly?

I never voted for Putin. A KGB man cannot rule the country. He is initially trained to look for enemies. This is exactly what Putin is doing now. Instead of concluding alliances, he looks for enemies even among his own people.

I never voted for Putin. A man from the KGB cannot rule the country

– How were you, the only independent deputy in Efremov, able to fulfill your duties for five years?

I had to go through a lot. When I was elected to the State Duma in 2021, a car followed me around the city all the time. I opened my posters myself because people in our small town were intimidated. The only banner in my support, which I barely managed to place in an inconvenient place, was stolen. My car, the only one among many cars in the parking lot, was torn apart by dogs. Our small store was constantly checked by supervisory authorities due to denunciations. Despite this, I succeeded in a lot. Overcoming the resistance of my colleagues, I filmed the meetings of the parliamentarians and published it on my social networks. I came to see the ministers, asked questions that worried citizens, and recorded on video what these ministers answered to me. I went outside to picket, demanding that I, a deputy, be allowed to see the governor, as required by law. I was convicted of an unauthorized rally and forced to pay a fine. But I got to the governor and achieved my goal. A gas analyzer was installed in our city. And I helped resettle the street where people were forced to live in dilapidated buildings. I was receiving citizens, and soon people began to line up to see me. In the city newspaper I constantly wrote a column about the problems of the city. The management of the newspaper was put under pressure, and they stopped publishing me.

We discussed all the problems with residents, drew up petitions, held meetings and demanded answers and actions from officials. We negotiated with the managers of the plant that spoils the air in Efremov. They were ready to buy new treatment equipment, but it was impossible to find equipment suitable for this plant in Russia. We contacted the Polytechnic Institute in Tula, looking for the development of new treatment facilities created for such plants. Voters still write to me that the air in Efremov is terrible, people have allergies of unknown origin. I am filing complaints about bad air to the authorities of the Tula region. They come and check its quality, but at the moment in Russia there are no components with which it was possible to carry out measurements that could show the real measure of air pollution. And a lot of “little things” were done, such as moving the stop to a place convenient for residents and organizing major repairs. We held a meeting of citizens and officials regarding communal meters. Residents received receipts where citizens’ debts for utilities were distributed to them. I have more than 300 appeals to various authorities and on various issues. I know almost all the ministers of the Tula region. We were in touch with many of them on various issues. In general, I kept my promise and did everything I could. And I continue to work remotely. I am denied permission to attend the meeting online, but I receive documents and write requests to the authorities based on requests from residents.

– Does your family support you?

They want to hide me somewhere from the dangers associated with my work. But overall they are on my side.

– You are known in Russia thanks to your help to Alexey and Masha Moskaleva. Did any of the residents of Efremov support you at this moment?

Most of the townspeople only whispered among themselves about this topic. They stopped me on the street and said thank you for supporting Alexey. The majority of townspeople did not publicly express their opinion that an innocent person could go to prison for his opinion. They almost didn’t come to Alexei’s trial. Concerned people from Moscow and St. Petersburg came to the meetings.

– How are Masha Moskaleva doing now?

I know what’s happening to her. Masha she’s smart, and I believe that everything will be fine for her, even though it’s not very easy for her now.

– Are you not disappointed in your voters after the start of the war against Ukraine?

The first time I experienced a shock was when I learned that a war had begun against Ukraine. Shock and life paused. On the same day we wrote an appeal from municipal deputies against the war. The biggest shock for me was the reaction of people. I thought that citizens would finally come out and say that we don’t need any war. But they didn’t. My fellow citizens at that moment were more concerned about some kind of price increase than about the deaths of Ukrainians. I can’t understand how we could let this happen. I went to my grandfather’s grave; he fought during the Great Patriotic War. I asked him for forgiveness for the fact that we could not save the world.

– But you didn’t abandon your constituents after that and continue to help them?

People are fooled by propaganda and overburdened. I still try to talk to them. Yet the majority of them see the cause of their problems in gays, the USA, NATO, oligarchs, and believe in conspiracy theories.

And by any means they will not recognize what we have been doing in Ukraine for two years now. People don’t have enough self-respect to publicly voice their disagreement. Yes, they can protest against unfairly charged utility bills. But they sincerely believe that responsibility for all their troubles lies with local officials. Now, if the country’s leadership knew about all the problems, including environmental ones, they would correct the situation in a moment Many people in Russia think so.

I want to be with my people, no matter how dark they may be due to the fear and helplessness to which they have been taught for a long time

– You yourself are the same resident of Efremov, you studied with supporters of the war in the same school, worked in the same organizations. Why do you have completely different views?

I respect myself and don’t want to be pushed around by the authorities. I have always understood that the government needs people to pay taxes and live comfortably. I want my children and the children of my neighbors to do well, so that people can receive a decent salary, so that they can read the literature they want and receive an education without any “talk about important things.” I want them to be able to safely go out into the streets to protest. Come to the administration and tell the officials: “You don’t suit me, because you don’t solve my problems.” In order for citizens to have hope for such a future, I am going to the elections to the Efremov Assembly of Deputies and to the Moscow City Duma.

– What helps you not to give up now?

Residents often told me, thank you for giving the city hope with your work. When I was sad and hurt while working as a municipal deputy, those for whom I worked came up to me and supported me. I can’t leave them and now I’m alone with the Russian authorities. I extend my hand to them and invite them to come with me, to take at least small steps. I give them the right to be wrong because this is how I show them my respect. I’m trying to teach them to respect themselves. I feel that my place is in Russia. And I would return to Russia, but I understand that they will put me there. Still, I want to be with my people, no matter how dark they may be due to the fear and helplessness to which they have been taught for a long time. Maybe I am an incorrigible idealist, but I continue to believe in the wonderful Russia of the future.

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