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Keeping Russian dissidents safe in Lithuania

Keeping Russian dissidents safe in Lithuania
Keeping Russian dissidents safe in Lithuania 05:46

As Russian dissidents flee their homeland to continue the fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin, many have sheltered in neighboring Lithuania and its capital city, Vilnius. Now, as the small Baltic nation works to take in these political exiles, a recent attack underscores the difficulty of keeping them safe.

According to Mantas Adomenas, Lithuania's deputy foreign minister from 2020 until last August, Lithuania's policy — and proud tradition — has been to provide refuge for those fleeing persecution. 

"We spend considerable effort in making sure that dissidents are safe here and safer than they would be, in fact, in many other countries," Adomenas told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. 

But this past Tuesday, Leonid Volkov, the longtime chief of staff of the late Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, was assaulted with a hammer outside his Vilnius home. While the assailant is still unknown, Lithuania did not rule out the Kremlin being behind the attack. 

In response, Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania's president, offered a public message to Putin: "Nobody is afraid of you here." 

Since Putin's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, about 2,500 Russians have been given humanitarian visas to Lithuania. Adomenas told 60 Minutes his country maintains careful checks on the dissident community.

"We know what Russian secret services do to dissidents and to the opponents of the regime abroad," Adomenas said. "So, it is a very sort of arduous task to keep them safe here."

One prominent Russian who has relocated to Vilnius is activist Anastasia Shevchenko. In 2019, Shevchenko was the first Russian charged under a new law banning "undesirable organizations"— including the pro-democracy group where she fought for justice.

While Shevchenko was under house arrest, she was unable to care for her severely disabled daughter, who lived at a Russian government care facility. Her daughter later died, and a Paramount+ documentary followed Shevchenko's journey to scatter her ashes in the Black Sea. Two years after her daughter's death, Russia convicted and sentenced Shevchenko to probation.  

When Putin invaded Ukraine, Shevchenko and her two surviving children fled to Vilnius. After she crossed the border, Russia placed her on a wanted list; now if Shevchenko returns to her homeland, she faces immediate imprisonment.   

For now, Shevchenko said her two children are happy in Lithuania and do not wish to return to Russia. But while she is now able to speak freely about her criticism of Putin in her new country, Shevchenko said she still does not feel completely protected.   

"You never feel safe, you know, if you are a Russian activist," she said. "When I say I live in Lithuania, people ask me, 'Come on. Are you actually safe there?' I don't think I am."

The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and edited by Scott Rosann. 

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