Navalny’s daughter and Michael McFaul remember his defiance

April 25, 2024, 1:34 a.m.

“He was constantly getting arrested and he was constantly traveling, because he wanted to make the world a better place,” Dasha Navalnaya ’24 said, at an event commemorating her father, Russian opposition leader and political prisoner Alexei Navalny. Russian authorities reported that Navalny had died in prison on Feb. 16.

Navalnaya, Michael McFaul ’86, M.A. ’86 — director of the Freeman Spogli Institute, political science professor and the former U.S. ambassador to Russia — and documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher spoke at Dinkelspiel Auditorium Tuesday night. McFaul moderated the discussion, which followed a screening of Roher’s Oscar-winning 2022 documentary “Navalny.”

A requirement for the first-year Civic, Liberal, and Global Education program (COLLEGE), the screening and conversation moved many audience members to tears. It came only two months after Navalny, a formidable opponent of Vladimir Putin’s regime, died while serving a three-decade sentence in Russia’s “Polar Wolf” Arctic penal colony.

Over his political career, Navalny mobilized mass protests against Putin, ran for public office and exposed corruption in Russia through YouTube and other social media platforms, where he commanded millions of followers. FSB operatives attempted to assassinate Navalny in 2020, and Russian authorities arrested him in 2021.

Navalnaya, a senior at Stanford, said that she, her family and Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation would carry on his legacy.

“It’s devastating losing your father,” she said. “But for us, it was a kick where we’re doing something right. We’re very powerful in this moment.”

Since Navalny’s death, his widow, Yulia Navalnaya has embraced her role as a leader in the Russian opposition movement.

“My mom is doing as well as she can be doing,” Navalnaya said. “Traveling and meeting with representatives from different governments is helping our movement and us see that people are remembering there is opposition in Russia.”

But Navalnaya also emphasized the potential to make a difference at Stanford: “Being here, and people coming to see the movie, it’s important.”

In February, U.S. President Joe Biden traveled to San Francisco to meet with Yulia and Dasha, expressing his condolences and support for Navalny’s vision.

McFaul, a friend of the Navalny family, asked Navalnaya about the timing of her father’s killing. “I saw you right after your father was killed,” he said. “Let me rephrase that — after Putin killed your father. Tell us why you think [they killed him] now?”

Navalnaya assumed the timing was tied to the presidential elections. “Even from prison, he was talking about the horrific atrocities happening in Ukraine.”

“They thought the only way they [could] get rid of his voice [was] by killing him,” Navalnaya said.

McFaul recalled speaking to Navalny when he came to Stanford with his daughter for admitted students weekend. “He was incredibly passionate about his family,” McFaul said. “It was the most important thing to him, even more important than his ideals.” Navalny asked that he ensure Navalnaya could do whatever she pleased with her college experience, McFaul said.

According to McFaul, Navalny would be proud of her decision to carry on the movement. “He would be so proud. That was your choice.”

Navalnaya also remembered his love for his family.

“As much as he was a hard worker and a dedicated person, he was just as dedicated to his family,” she said. “Growing up with an example like that, I just wish I could live up to being a person like he was when I have my own family.”

Audience member Mateo Diaz-Magaloni ’27 told The Daily that he was “deeply moved” by the screening. “It felt so raw, genuine, and inspiring,” he said. “The love Navalny felt for his family radiated throughout the film. It keeps me hopeful that especially in a time like now, with love and hope we can fight dehumanization and oppression.”

Roher’s documentary chronicles Navalny’s confrontations with Putin, including the Kremlin’s attempt to assassinate Navalny with a nerve agent in 2020. “I won the documentary lottery,” Roher said. “This is truly an example of right time, right place filmmaking.”

While Roher was in Europe pursuing another story that “led only to dead ends,” Bulgarian journalist Christo Grozev drew him into documenting Navalny’s story. Chasing an investigative lead into the assassination attempt, Roher and Grozev met covertly with Navalny in Germany.

“My job was not to pitch him on politics, but to pitch him on cinema,” Roher said. “We started shooting, and truly the rest is history.”

The investigation led Navalny’s team directly to the FSB agents who carried out the assassination attempt. In a jaw-dropping scene, Navalny tricks Konstantin Kudryavstev — one of the operatives involved in the poisoning — into speaking over the phone. Posing as a nonexistent aide to Russian authorities, Navalny asks Kudryavstev why “the Navalny operation” failed.

“I have been wondering myself,” Kudryavstev confessed. “If he had been in the air longer, and they did not land in such an abrupt way, possibly, things would not have gone the way they did.” Navalny published a recording of the conversation that immediately went viral online.

The documentary ends with Navalny’s return to Russia and immediate arrest in 2021. Roher said that while he had no plans to produce a follow-up, he would “drop everything” if Yulia Navalnaya expressed interest in a second film.

In one interview at the end of the film, Roher asks Navalny to share his message for the Russian people in the event of his death.

“I’ve got something very obvious to tell you,” Navalny said, looking directly into the camera. “You’re not allowed to give up. If they decided to kill me, then it means we are incredibly strong.”

George Porteous ’27 is the Vol. 265 President and Provost beat reporter and a news staff writer. He is from New York, NY, loves acting, and plans to study History and Creative Writing. Find him on X @georgedporteous. Contact George at gporteous ‘at’

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