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The impact of Aleksei Navalny's death has been affirming for Russians who want change

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been one week since the funeral of Alexei Navalny. The Russian opposition leader died in unexplained circumstances in a remote Arctic prison colony. But while the Kremlin ignores his legacy, many Russians are embracing it. From Moscow, NPR's Charles Maynes reports.

(APPLAUSE)

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: The crowds at last Friday's funeral were so large and the police presence so heavy...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: ...That most never made it near the burial grounds where Alexei Navalny was laid to rest, which is why, in the weeks since, thousands of Russians have continued to flock to this cemetery in the south of Moscow to pay their respects, among them Georgi and Alina - no last names out of concern for safety - who I found sharing an embrace as they looked at Navalny's grave and debated where things go from here.

GEORGI: The future is so black for our country now. I cannot say that we will see democracy in our country near maybe two generations. (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Switching to Russian, Georgi admits he always expects the worst because the worst never disappoints. His wife, Alina - she sees it differently.

ALINA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "There is hope because we're here," Alina tells me, pointing at a line that's snaked out from the cemetery gates about a half mile down the road.

ALINA: (Through interpreter) These people could have done anything with their day, but they chose to spend it here.

MAYNES: And here is what they saw - a mountain of flowers and tributes to Navalny that had grown beyond shoulder height, a people's memorial not planned by anyone and most certainly not sanctioned by a state that continues to insist Navalny is politically irrelevant, a criminal and an extremist.

SOFIA: What's happening right now - it's an extremely sad and heartbreaking situation that we got.

MAYNES: For Sofia, a 21-year-old, university student, the outpouring of support for Navalny has been nothing short of cathartic.

SOFIA: At the same time, I was smiling because I saw this is the feeling of, you're not alone.

MAYNES: For two years, Sofia says, she avoided criticism of the government or the invasion of Ukraine. But she wants the world to know there are plenty of Russians like her.

SOFIA: Finally being able to speak out because I think you understand that it's impossible to give such an interview to local journalists because it might get you in jail pretty quickly.

MAYNES: Fear of state repression remains real.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in Russian).

MAYNES: During last week's funeral, police stood down as crowds chanted, no to the war and, we're not afraid. Yet masked men were filming the protesters, leaving open the possibility that the authorities could choose a different day to crack down. Georgy, our pessimist, says if so, most Russians would approve.

GEORGI: I think that about 80% of our people is still Soviet people, if you if you know what I mean.

MAYNES: And yet once again, Elena stepped in, his wife, his remedy.

ALINA: (Speaking in Russian).

MAYNES: "It's terrifying to acknowledge what happened," she says. She'd hoped Navalny and other political prisoners would eventually be freed.

ALINA: (Through interpreter) But it didn't happen. And now we need to think about how to go on with our lives in a way that's worthwhile.

MAYNES: Just then, guards shut the cemetery gates. It was 5 o'clock, closing time. Hundreds of people were still in line, Sofia the student among them.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting in Russian).

SOFIA: People are still coming. They're screaming, let us in. They want at least seconds near this memorial.

MAYNES: And then a final act of defiance from Russians, who say Navalny represented an alternate path for the country. The line moved forward, and one after another, they tossed their flowers over the cemetery wall. Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.