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  • I Can’t Imagine, Or Why My Relatives Cannot Become President


    Since February 24, 2022, I have been harboring hatred inside me. Normally, I don’t wish harm on anyone, but from this date onward I began to wish all the worst on one person — President Putin. It literally ate away at me, burning holes inside and twisting my internal organs. I wanted to breathe fire and brimstone; I wanted to destroy something. I guess I wasn’t the only one in such a state of mind.

    Once I left Russia and cried my first tears, I started to think of how to deal with this hatred. I remembered what my mother kept saying about the customary Nenets’ attitude towards others: if someone is very annoying and provokes dark desires, try to imagine they are your relative, and treat them like a family member. Well, I tried to imagine Putin as my brother or second cousin. What kind of story could this be? While contemplating, I realized that writing a text might help me see that story clearly. Basically, writing and the entire artistic process for me is an experiment in shifting the gaze or even decolonizing the consciousness, which I understand as the ability to follow new paths and explore familiar narratives from a different perspective.

    At first, I had vague suspicions that my endeavor was too dubious, but I was already absorbed by reflections on how the imagination can refract reality and literally build new worlds. What is also curious is how this idea was met by those with whom I shared it: they expected it to be an example, which would end with the punishment of evil. Yes, I would like that. But for me, artistic research happens when it’s difficult to predict the end, so the question provoked curiosity in me. But I didn’t want to deceive or disappoint anyone, so I warned the editor, and then surrendered to the unknown and started writing.


    Well, I kept ruminating over my hatred for Putin and my desire for him to experience a painful death. I was thinking of my mother’s words, and about the fact that for such peacefulness and willingness to resolve pressing issues non-violently, the Nenets are considered weaklings who cannot stand up for themselves. But if you look closely, what does it mean? It means that in a world ruled by hierarchies, power and brutal force, people / populations who behave differently and practice non violence, they are perceived as fools who cannot defend their independence, therefore they themselves can be blamed for their extermination. And in order to be respected, you need to become as bloodthirsty as those who attack you, and only then will you earn the right to self-determination, language, territory, and life. I suspect there is some nasty trick here. And the problem is not that someone gets involved in these relationships, but that someone attacks, tries to take over by force and considers it normal.

    But isn’t it possible to live our truth and have rights simply because we are who we are? And what if we do not assume the survival of the fittest, and the world is ruled by power and brutal force as a life basis? If we imagine that it is not necessary to dominate in order to survive, what would the world be like then? And how would the management, regulation, and interaction of societies perform?

    Perhaps then we would need the following statements:

    The most delicate is the one who survives in this world.

    Empathy and mutual attunement are above all necessary.

    Share power — share responsibility.

    Everyone is important and has a right to be.

    Norms and traditions are not what they seem.

    The world could be different.

    The world should be more flexible.

    But it feels that what is left for us is just…:

    to watch closely, to wait,

    to think and to act,

    to stay safe, to preserve our mind and health,

    to keep kindness and gentleness in one’s heart

    to be in touch with ourselves, and with others,

    not to repeat, not to become the same,

    not to reproduce, not to imitate.

    To find one’s voice, to grow a soft wool of solidarity,

    to cling sideways to each other and bask,

    to dream, to gear imagination,

    to nurture alternative ways to exist in the world,

    to become bigger, more numerous, more important

    so that the methods of brutal force lose their relevance and stay in the past.

    But not to get stuck on one thing,

    listen to the new, look to the old,

    to ask questions,

    to let life happen

    to be alive.


    Does having power imply not belonging to oneself?

    I believe that power in itself is not always something bad, it simply exists as a phenomenon. But at what point does it discredit itself? When does it become worth something to be avoided? Power is a great responsibility, a burden, and when you are carrying it, it is important to remain sensitive to others, to yourself, to have references beyond its paradigm. But how is this possible?

    I talked with a friend about Putin. She proposed to try to think about what it’s like to have such incredible resources at one’s disposal. The only goal of the one who possesses power is to keep it. This is hard work, and this experience is so inaccessible to us (and equally to many people living in this country) that it is even hard to envision. Imagine that you have absolutely everything, and your whole life is governed by the only desire — to preserve what you have. These are completely different tasks and a different dimension of one’s whole being. What would you do then, what fears would you have?

    I tried to imagine then, but I still can’t. And even more I cannot understand: what is it all for? Why, if no one is eternal, if natural resources are limited, and if everything is going to change one way or another? How can you be happy if you do harm to others? How long can it last? I refuse to explain this, and I am terrified of the emptiness that lies behind it. However, what do I understand? I can’t even imagine…


    I’ve been thinking a lot about Putin recently. I imagined his career if he were my uncle the reindeer herder, imagined our conversation if he were my twin sister. I had a dream where we discussed art and watched the sunset. Perhaps he could be a different person… but I realized that he could not be my relative. It must be a very different country, or I should have been born as someone else in a completely different place in Russia. Otherwise, it is too unrealistic, fabulous, dreamy, almost surreal. And I don’t know how much time must pass, how many generations of those in power must change, how the country should be transformed so that some Nenets woman could claim to rule it, so that my relatives could become president.

    Unfortunately, as the days went by, I started to lose the ability and desire to dive into dreams about a new relative. The power regime is a rusted machine, an outdated phantom of the past. What is it fighting and why?


    Today I will have my last dream about the president. We will meet in a glass castle on the shores of the bloody sea. In the most hidden secret room, he will be trying to make the phrase SPECIAL OPERATION out of a set of cubes with the letters W, A, R on them — unsuccessfully. At some point, he will break into tears out of impatience, hatred, and loneliness and will keep on crying so long and so hard that he will begin to melt, and then disappear right before my eyes.

    Images are generated by a neural network with the prompt “Putin Reindeer Herder”