Eleven months ago Alexey Kharis went to DHS in San Francisco to receive the verdict on his appeal for political asylum. Then he was arrested and thrown into detention. This is his wife Anna’s story. (Part 2 of 2)
I met my Alexey in 2007 when I was in my home city, Vladivostok, for summer break. It was love at first sight. The next year, when I was studying in London, we hung out on Skype every night. We married in 2009 and had five years of complete happiness. Our son was born and then our daughter.
Alexey Kharis and his children
I was taking care of the kids and opened a small grocery shop. Alexey was a co-owner and CEO of a large construction and real estate development company and worked 10–12 hours a day, which I wasn’t happy about, of course.
But I was at peace with it seeing how passionate he was about his business, how proud he was about the achievements and significant projects of his company. And he was always a loving and sensitive husband and caring father. Quite often, he’d spend the night rocking the cradle and then head off for his business early in the morning. And we always were together on weekends. We had quite a happy family life.
And then came dreadful 2014. Before that Alexey didn’t share his business troubles but was always eager to share his success and achievements. At the beginning of 2014, I got to know that some officials from Moscow were persecuting my husband and his business partner as vengeance for exposing an official’s corruption, and that he ordered a criminal investigation against their company. Alexey was sure that there was no wrong-doing on their side and the investigation would come to a conclusion of no fault. But several months of endless interrogations and raids and searches followed. And a troubling expression was more common than a smile on his face. Then in summer, the storm seemed to subside. I proposed to spend some time abroad because he was exhausted (and I had my reasons too). For several weeks we enjoyed a rest, our kids and each other. But then Alexey’s lawyer informed him that he had been indicted for fraud and arrested in absentia. That meant that if he went back to Russia he would go straight to jail. There are no words to describe the terror of this news. Our lawyer said they needed time to understand the situation and we decided to stay in the U.S. for some time.
Going to jail in Russia was out of the question. Once Alexey got there, they would extort any confession from him. And we still hoped that the situation could be resolved.
We both knew about the grand abuse of law and justice in Russia but could not believe that a crime could be simply concocted and someone could be prosecuted for something that never happened at all.
Alexey with his wife, Anna, and family in happier times
We chose California as our temporary residence. Our kids went to a public school, I got a student visa and studied digital marketing and then found a job. Alexey attended evening courses at Stanford, preparing himself for its Graduate School of Business (he’d dreamt of an MBA for a long time) and he also spent time with the kids. Meanwhile, Alexey’s business in Russia was ruined (and my grocery shop too) but we still hoped for a new start. We made new friends here and explored beautiful California around us on weekends. And then it got worse and worse and worse. Russia put Alexey on Interpol’s Red Notice list, and my visa was revoked, and though he was admitted to Stanford, he had to withdraw.
Our last hope was to ask for asylum in the U.S. We had the asylum interview in May 2017, after which the case was referred to the court. Alexey was arrested in San Francisco on August16, 2017, the day he was informed of the decision. Many tears and sleepless nights followed. He was denied bond and has been in detention for 11 months now.
We haven’t told our kids he’s in jail. We said he went on a business trip. He calls every night to tell them that everything is ok.
But we are thinking of telling them the truth but do not know how to do it because they wait for him every day and ask when he will be coming back home. All our savings are gone, but the good thing is that I have my job and we support and cheer up each other and try hard not to think about the possibility of deportation. We know that in Russia he will be forced to plead guilty and the judge will be unjust and dependent on his Moscow bosses’ opinion. And there will be a long and undeserved imprisonment, and we may never see each other again. We know all this, but we try hard not to think of it and to keep hope and faith and to do whatever we can.
During these long, eleven months, I’ve met a lot of open-hearted and compassionate people. Total strangers listened to me and offered to help. And Alexey tells me that in detention he has met a lot of good people too, even among the guards. This gives us hope that even if we can’t find justice in the governments of Russia or the U.S., there is still justice and compassion in people’s hearts.
Editor’s note: Please consider a contribution to Alexey’s GoFundMe campaign: www.gofundme.com/free-alexey