Vladimir Osechkin says he was walking toward his dining room table, plates of spaghetti in his hands for his kids, when he saw red lasers dancing across the wall.
He knew what was coming.
Turning off the lights, he says he and his wife dragged their children to the ground, quickly disappeared from sight and went to a different area of the apartment. Minutes later, Osechkin says, a potential assassin was shot, mistaken for a Russian dissident by hastily arrived police officers.
Osechkin told CNN that for the next 30 minutes his wife and children lay on the floor. His wife, closest to his children, shielded him from more bullets during the September 12 attacks.
“Over the past 10 years I have done a lot to protect human rights and other people. But at this moment, I understood that my mission to help other people has put my family at a great risk,” Osechkin told CNN from France, where he has lived since 2015 after fleeing Russia and claiming asylum. He now has full-time police protection.
He has become a champion of a growing number of high-level Russian officials heading west, fueled by and disenchanted with the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. He says former generals and intelligence agents are among their number.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown his determination to hunt down perceived enemies of the Kremlin abroad. Osechkin has been arrested in absentia in Russia and is currently on the “wanted list” of the Russian authorities. France has given him asylum, but it is very difficult to get protection.
Osechkin’s work as an investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist—which means he has made it his business to uncover Russian state secrets—helps, to an extent. Twice, he tells CNN, the tip-off has had killers knocking on his door.
“Vladimir, be careful,” a source in the Chechen diaspora wrote to him in February. “You’ve already been offered an upfront payment to eliminate.”
Osechkin’s response is extremely cool. “Good evening. Wow. And how much is offered for my gray head?”
Osechkin now lives under constant armed guard, provided by the French authorities, his address and routine are secret.
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