In Riga, the second life of Chulpan Khamatova, Russian actress in exile

Chulpan Khamatova vividly remembers that day in February 2022 when Russia attacked Ukraine and her life fell into the unknown. She was on vacation in the Seychelles with her youngest daughter, enjoying a break from performances of The Master and Margarita , the adaptation of the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov (1894-1941) which she was performing in Moscow, and she had booked, for on February 24, a sea excursion to swim with turtles. In the taxi leading to the boat, she had glanced at her cell phone and was filled with fear: Vladimir Putin had just launched the invasion of Ukraine, bombings were targeting kyiv and several major cities…

The 45-year-old Russian actress, adored and multi-awarded star in both theater and cinema, was stunned. “My hands started shaking, ” she says. I thought of my friends in Ukraine, of my daughters in Moscow, of my country which flouted all the rules, of Putin, monstrous, who had just committed the irreparable. What a nightmare ! »

How could she have been so blind, she thought, to think that this dreaded war would not take place? She remembered discussions in the previous weeks with her writer, actor and filmmaker friends. There were those who said: “Putin is crazy, he is capable of the worst, nothing will stop him.” » And those, like her, who thought: “No, because it would be suicidal, he would isolate Russia and lose all credit. » He had done it. As her daughter and tourists flocked to dive in the Seychelles lagoon, she clung to her cell phone, her mind thousands of miles away. “I couldn’t think. My head felt like a turbine. What would happen to all of us? Putin had just destroyed the future and I was convinced that my life was shattered. »

On the boat, no one suspected that the frail, blonde woman, visibly desperate, was one of the most famous Russian actresses, known in particular for her role in Good Bye Lenin! (2003), by Wolfgang Becker. She didn’t raise her head, focused on her screen. Quickly, agree to sign open letters and petitions against the war, including that of his friend the journalist Dmitri Mouratov, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Quickly, contact colleagues and friends to encourage them to react. Quickly, change your plane tickets.

She had one week of vacation left, she would not spend it in Moscow, but would go to Latvia, where she has a refuge, a very simple house, built in the middle of the woods. “I sometimes went there on vacation, but it was mostly a plan B, in case things went wrong in Russia. » He also had to buy Moscow-Riga tickets for his two other daughters, aged 19 and 20. “The urgency was to regroup. For the rest, I’ll let you know later. » So two days later, with a suitcase containing sandals, swimsuits and pareos, Chulpan Khamatova landed in Riga at -18°C.

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