Former Muscovite Diana Makieva, who a decade ago rose to fame while starring on MTV in Russia, never dreamed of the day she would have to flee her homeland to save her own life.
But Makieva was active in the democratic movements opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin, including as a nationally recognizable celebrity at the large 2011 Bolotnoy Square protests in Moscow.
She also took an active stance in opposing the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
“Before, I was a celebrity,” she tells Kyiv Post. “But I never supported Putin and was always affiliated with liberal Russian forces – which made pursuing my career very hard.”
As Putin’s regime became increasingly authoritarian, Makieva became an obvious target for government-run media which she says, “portrayed me as a monster.”
“They mocked me endlessly and sought to make people think that I was stupid, ridiculous, and unreasonable, to drive the population away from me.”
Makieva acknowledges: “I could have had made a deal and agreed to work for the Kremlin press, but I would never consider that.”
“In the end, I was forced out of my profession and moved to Ukraine – where I successfully worked as a journalist.”
After Makieva emigrated to Kyiv in 2017, she found work as a journalist in Censor.Net, TV.UA, and a variety of other news sources.
She was forced to return to Moscow, at the end of November 2021, to care for her parents and was there when the invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.
“I will never forget that morning. I woke up and saw on Instagram a friend's post that war had started in Ukraine. Then I got a text message from my ex-boyfriend in Kyiv. He was cursing Russia and writing that Kyiv was being bombed.
“My body was pierced with incredible anger. I went into the kitchen, made coffee, and sat staring at the ceiling for an hour, not believing what was happening, burning with rage! Yes. I wasn't expecting this at all. I had always known that Putin was horrible – but not such an atrocious beast.
“That day I realized that the world I had been in would never be the same again.”
Unable to return to Kyiv, due to the outbreak of the war, she actively expressed her opposition to the invasion of Ukraine and to the Putin regime, online, in widely circulated videos, articles, and social media posts.
Events took a darker turn within months, when Makieva began to be targeted by what she believes was the FSB, Russia’s state security service.
“A dead, decapitated, bloody chicken was once thrown under my door,” she says. “Putting the dead chicken on a Ukrainian flag and sticking a portrait of Putin on my front door, they sent me death threats via my social networks, and they left me voicemails saying I would be put in jail.”
After she wrote an article raising questions about Putin’s sexual preferences, a photo of a gravestone bearing her face was taped on her door and Ukrainian flags were left below it.
The harassment and constant pressure became too much to bear for Makieva. Fearing for her own life, she began to search for an escape.
Detained in the U.S.
Though still under the watchful eye of the Russian authorities, Makieva decided to make it to the U.S. before things took a turn for the worst.
Makieva has an immigration hearing pending so would not go into detail, but she was arrested for having allegedly illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
She found herself detained in an immigration center where she says she was given just a blanket and made to share a room with 20 people.
From there she was transferred on Oct. 20, 2022, to a jail in Arizona where she spent more than a month before getting out.
“[That was] a real prison,” she says. “The cell [was] three by four meters. We [were] held in two by two. In the first ten days you were allowed out of the cell once a day – to make a call on a payphone for half an hour.
“The toilet was right in the cell without any partition. The showers were not very clean, and prison staff – not always women – walked by. They gave me prison clothes; they even took off my underpants and gave me prison shorts. Women's hygiene items such as pads can only be taken when you are released from the cell. And there were days when they wouldn't let us out for two days. So, you had to sit in the cell without them!”
She adds: “It is worth noting that the prison staff were very positive and polite and once a week we were examined by doctors. A psychologist visited too.”
Makieva wasn’t the only Russian there – she met one family fleeing a criminal case in Russia after they attended a rally against the war, and another man “whose skull was broken when the police beat him during an anti-Putin rally.”
Eventually, Makieva was released when an aunt, living in the U.S., was able to pay her bond. After being released, she was taken to the Red Cross which gave her second-hand clothing and dropped her off at the airport.
From there, she purchased a ticket to New York where she has a relative.
Even though she’s no longer in jail, Makieva knows that life will never be the same and she will likely never return to Russia.
“Just for the things that I wrote on social media against the war I could face 15 years in prison if I ever returned to Russia,” she says.
She has also lost many friends. “I don't communicate with any of my Russian friends who have become supporters of the war. I am sorry that I considered such lowlifes to have ever been my ‘friends’.
“Many of these people were apolitical before the war, but after they were like dogs-off-their- chains. Not understanding anything about politics, they tried to explain to me why this evil war was necessary. It was ridiculous. Sadly, even much of my family support the war.
“However, I do wish to make clear that not all Russians support the war: There are many who support Ukraine.”
Asked if she has any regrets about the events of the last year, Makieva is defiant. “I left because I wanted to live! And I don't regret at all that I oppose Putin and support Ukraine. The Putin Regime must fall – and it will.
“I am not a scofflaw - I just wanted to not die for my political beliefs.”
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