August 09, 2023

Message in the Guestbook: Arina's Story


Message in the Guestbook: Arina's Story
Arina's drawing of herself and her best friend, Alina. The author

In the southern city of Daugavpils, Latvia, the Mark Rothko Art Center stands just a few steps away from the city's eighteenth-century fortress. The museum is a staple for anyone visiting Daugavpils, including Arina G.

Arina G., whose full name has been withheld, is a Russian emigré. Russian Life found her story — and cry for help — in the pages of Mark Rothko Art Center's guestbook.

Arina wrote that, days before arriving in Daugavpils, she was denied a residency permit in Lithuania because she is a Russian citizen. She wrote, "I feel very sad, because I'm trying to escape Russia. I cannot live there any longer, even though it is my home and I love St. Petersburg so much."

Arina's message in the guestbook
Arina's message in the guestbook.

Arina G. is against the war in Ukraine: "I feel terrible for people that [are] still there, or those who left their homes (I even have a friend from Ukraine, he is very cool)." However, she followed this with: "But. Big but: it's unfair for you to keep me in this prison, especially when I don't want to [support the war]."

Arina is not alone.

As a fifth wave of Russian emigration continues, many countries, including Lithuania and Latvia, have denied visas, restricted access, and even banned entry of Russian citizens. Russians who settled abroad long before the war fear losing their residencies and being sent back, especially those who are students.

Those who have managed to stay legally in countries with economic or political ties to Russia risk being extradited. Twenty-year-old political journalist Alexey Voloshinov had to leave Armenia for exactly that reason. Amnesty International Germany has reported that Russian activists and journalists who were able to get Schengen visas automatically become illegal immigrants after 90 days. To any dissenters, even the non-famous like Arina G., a return home could mean a jail sentence. 

Arina G. ends her message: "I don't have a lot of friends, but I wanted to share my sadness with someone. I'm sorry that I was born in Russia." The following page includes a sketch made by Arina of her and her best friend with the inscription: "I wish you were here with me. I love you and miss you."

The guestbook is just a few feet from one of Mark Rothko Art Center's latest exhibits: How Did I Get to the Bomb Shelter? The collaboration between the museum and Ukrainian artists shows works done by Ukrainian artists during Russia's War on Ukraine.

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