Feb 20, 2024 - World

What to know about Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Alexei Navalny

Close-up image of Yulia Navalnaya

Yulia Navalnaya attends the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 16, the day Alexei Navalny's death was announced. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Yulia Navalnaya has taken center stage, vowing to take up the crusade of her late husband Alexei Navalny in widely and publicly opposing Russia's authoritarian rule.

The big picture: Navalnaya had previously avoided the public eye while Navalny led the fight in exposing political and financial corruption within Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, but she's appeared in the days since her husband's death willing to take up the mantle.

  • Navalny died on Feb. 16 at 47 years old while in Russian state custody.
  • His death shocked the world. He was a fierce voice for Russian democracy and a critic of Putin's authoritarian rule.

Catch up quick: Navalnaya said she was "going to continue the work" of her late husband and "continue to fight for our country," per a video statement Monday, via a translation by the New York Times.

  • Navalny died while being held in Russia's penal system for over 35 months.

Navalny's allies and family have said they suspect high-level Russian authorities were involved in his death.

  • Navalnaya said she believes her husband's body has not been released in order to cover up evidence of a murder ordered by the Kremlin.
  • She last saw him in person in February 2022, according to The Washington Post.

At the Munich Security Conference soon after Navalny's death became public, Navalnaya condemned Putin and his government, saying they're "lying constantly."

  • She urged that they know "they will be punished for what they have done with our country, with my family and with my husband."
  • "They will be brought to justice, and this day will come soon."

Here's a brief background on Navalnaya's public rise:

Early life and family

She is 47, was born in Moscow and holds an economics degree from the Plekhanov University of Economics. She married Navalny in 2000.

  • The couple met while vacationing in Turkey in 1998.
  • They were once members of the progressive, center-left Yabloko Party, which has been viewed as one of Russia's leading opposition parties.
  • The couple had two children — Daria, born in 2001, and Zakhar, born in 2008.

Coming into the spotlight

Navalnaya gained more public attention in 2020 when she spoke out against her husband's poisoning, which Navalny had accused Putin of orchestrating.

  • She also survived a poisoning attempt herself a couple months prior, per the New York Times.
  • She demanded permission from Putin that her husband be transported to a hospital in Germany to undergo treatment.
  • Navalnaya has rejected the label she's received as the "first lady of the Russian opposition," per The Post.

Fighting alongside her husband

Navalnaya had joined her husband in his efforts against Putin's rule, and has been arrested at protests with him.

  • She had said in a rare interview that she thinks "it's much more interesting to be the wife of a politician," while acknowledging that "then again what I do is, to a certain extent, also politics," per Vanity Fair.

In 2023, Navalnaya spoke on her husband's behalf when "Navalny," a film about the opposition leader's life, won the Oscar for best documentary feature.

  • In the acceptance speech, Navalnaya said her husband was in prison "just for telling the truth" and for "defending democracy."
  • "Alexei, I am dreaming of the day when you will be free and our country will be free — stay strong, my love," she said.

After joining X Monday, Navalnaya's account appeared to be briefly suspended early Tuesday morning. Her late husband garnered much global recognition online.

  • The Anti-Corruption Foundation flagged the suspension, tagging X owner Elon Musk and asking him to "explain exactly which rules were violated by" her account.
  • Shortly after, X restored her account. The platform's Safety team said the company's "defense mechanism against manipulation and spam mistakenly flagged" Navalnaya's account "as violating our rules."

Go deeper: Alexei Navalny's widow says she will continue his Russian opposition work

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