15 hours in the trunk of a truck: The Israeli who escaped from Putin speaks

Jan Andreev knew he had to act, and fast. Every day of his stay in Armenia has increased the risk that Vladimir Putin’s long arm will catch him and he will be extradited to Russia, a scenario whose end is known in advance: a show trial. Next stage: at best a lengthy prison sentence, and at worst – death under the infamous conditions of the Russian penal system.

“I realized that every extra second in Armenia endangers my life,” says this week Andreev, an Israeli who was previously mayor of Russia until he was marked as the regime’s enemy. Since then, like many who have dared to stand up against the Russian president, he has been persecuted by his people. “The Armenian government is an ally of Putin, who is willing to turn worlds upside down to extradite me. I realized I could not trust the Israeli Foreign Ministry officials who promised to smuggle me in a diplomatic vehicle but got cold feet and disappeared, so I decided to take my fate into my own hands.”

Andreev was arrested on November 25 after Russia’s law enforcement agencies declared him wanted, a status that also binds the Armenian authorities under the agreements between the two countries. He was detained for five months before being sent to house arrest in the city of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Two weeks ago, on Tuesday, June 7, he left the building with a small backpack that he was forbidden to leave and was swallowed up in the trunk of a large truck. He paid the driver $ 10,000 in advance for a ride to the nearest border station.

Photo: From the Russian media

During the passport control in Armenia, Andreev was asked to undergo a police questioning. “I thought it was just an investigation, but they claimed I had an arrest warrant against me. I said it was a mistake, but they did not want to hear anything. I was thrown in jail “

“The driver smiled at me when I got inside, but immediately shouted at me to get in quickly so they wouldn’t see me,” Andreev says. “I paid him properly to smuggle me out and save my life, but inside I was afraid he would sell me and turn me over to the Armenian police. It was to get into the unknown.”

For 15 hours, Andrew hid in the back of the truck. He did not lack water – the luggage carried by the driver was bottles of bottles of mineral water, arranged on surfaces – but there was no food, no air either, and occasionally he felt on the verge of collapse. The thought of his daughters and wife waiting in Israel, he says, strengthened him and helped him in moments of crisis.

The trip was full of stops. Andreev feared that the policemen at the checkpoints and crossings would discover him and he would be sent to eight years in prison – the usual punishment in Armenia for escaping from house arrest – in addition to the open account with the Russians.

“The driver drove very slowly, perhaps so as not to arouse suspicion. Hiding for 15 hours between piles of water bottles was a nightmare, hell,” says Andreev. “There was a moment when I heard knocks and blows on the roof of the truck and the trunk, I thought in another moment the cops would come in and stop me. “For the fears that I might get caught and that’s it, my life will end. It was the longest trip of my life.”

Then came Putin

Andreev, 57, married and the father of two daughters, was for eight years the mayor of Totoev in Russia’s Yaroslavl Oblast. He served in the Soviet Army, graduated in trade and economics, studied for a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering, and over the years was appointed chief engineer in a rubber products factory that employed more than 1,000 workers. In those years he also served as a lecturer in economics and mathematics, and then made a sharp transition to politics and was elected a Member of Parliament. In 2004 he won the race for mayor of Toteib. “I was a very popular mayor,” he says. “I was accessible to everyone. It was important for me to take care of the quality of life of the citizens. Everything was fine until Putin’s campaign reached the district.”

Photo: Private

“During the months of detention I was on the verge of death several times. I suffered from breathing difficulties and health pains, in my back and legs. Doctors have recommended that I be released under house arrest on the grounds that I might otherwise die. “

In 2008, shortly after Andreev was re-elected, Russia held presidential elections. The representative of Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, was Dmitry Medvedev; As the election approached, Putin asked Mandrive to “support him,” that is, to appeal to citizens in his city and province and ask them to vote for Medvedev. Andreev for his part vehemently refused – and found himself on the list of enemies of the most powerful man in the country (in this context it is worth noting that Putin was President of Russia before Medvedev and was forced to vacate due to Russian law restrictions on tenure; when Medvedev was elected president He relinquished the chair – and supported Putin’s return to the presidency. Against this background, officials in Russia and the West saw Medvedev as a “puppet president”.

“Putin knew I had a big influence in the district where about 2 million people live. I told him I was not going to support his list or recommend that residents vote for his representative,” Andreev said. “It was clear that he would not forgive me and that I would pay for it, but I was willing to face the consequences. By the way, to this day most of the people in the area do not vote for Putin’s party.

Shortly after Andreev refused to support United Russia, he found himself accused of abusing his authority, abusing funds and harming entrepreneurial-economic activity. The court acquitted him of all counts and he returned to his post when the free media in Russia – then still was – talked about the charges against him being fabricated for political reasons.

But Putin did not give up. In December 2011, while Andreev was on vacation in Israel, he learned that an indictment had been filed against him alleging illegal exploitation of his status, including an attempt to obtain bribes in the amount of 5 million rubles from an enterprise seeking to establish a commercial center in the city. Russia’s law enforcement authorities have not contented themselves with an indictment this time around, and in early 2012 Andreev’s name was transferred to Interpol as part of a list of wanted Russian nationals outside the country’s borders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: ALEXEY NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin | Photo: ALEXEY NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images

In the 2008 Russian elections he asked Vladimir Putin Mandrive to support a representative of his party. Andrew refused, and found himself facing an indictment. He wins and the free media in Russia reported that the charges were fabricated

Even before this entanglement, Andreev realized that it was better for his family to keep his distance from Russia, and his wife and daughters immigrated to Israel. When Interpol issued an international arrest warrant against him, he relinquished his mayoralty and home, and remained in the country. “I realized that if I returned to Russia, I had no chance of winning a fair trial,” he says. “Putin wanted to take revenge on me and put me in jail. Not only did I refuse to support him, but I was also eligible.”

In prison I reached the brink of death

In Israel, Andreev began working in a mattress factory in Kfar Saba. At first, the state refused to grant him Israeli citizenship as an international arrest warrant, but things changed in 2018, when Interpol ruled that the case against him in Russia was the result of political persecution. When the organization realized that he was an opponent of a regime and not a fugitive criminal (“I contacted the organization’s representatives and proved to them that all the cases against me are tailor-made, that there is no evidence that everything is false”), the arrest warrant against him was revoked and he received Israeli citizenship.

With the blue passport and no fear of Interpol, Andreev set out on trips around the world from time to time. “I flew to Cuba, I was in cities in Europe, and I never had any problems at the border crossings or at the airports,” he says. But the authorities in Russia were waiting for him in the corner with a great deal of patience.

About seven months ago, Andreev flew on a trip to Armenia. Minutes after landing at Yerevan Airport, when he arrived at the passport control, he was asked to go through a police interrogation. “I thought it was just a check, that there might be a problem with the passport or some technical matter, but they claimed that I was facing a detention order and that Russia had asked me to turn her over to her,” says Andreev. “I explained to them that it was a mistake. I showed them that they had revoked the international detention order, but they did not want to hear anything and threw me into the main detention center in the city.”

In the detention center to which Andreev was sent, there are suspects in drug offenses, murder, robbery and rape. “The first few minutes there were for me a market that would go with me for life. Prisoners looked at me from all directions, examined me, waited to see how I would respond to their provocations to determine my status.”

What can you tell us about the conditions there?
“Subhuman. Not even worthy of animals.”

How was the interaction with the prisoners conducted?
“I was constantly provoked, attacked. I realized that if I did not respond they would mark me as weak, so I returned to them. I showed that I was not afraid of them and they kept their distance from me. There were Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, Iranian prisoners.”

How did you get along with them?
“The Iranians cursed the State of Israel and threatened me, but I offered them not to mess with me. On trips to the prison yard there was friction, urgency, some beatings. There were situations where I did not sleep at all at night because I was afraid they would hit me. It was a jungle.”

Jan Andreev (Photo: Private)

Photo: Private

Andrew’s wife and daughters immigrated to Israel before him. The state refused to grant him citizenship as someone who stood against an arrest warrant, but In 2018, Interpol ruled that the case against him was a political persecution, And he received Israeli citizenship

The prosecution in Armenia filed an extradition request against Andreev in Russia, and he in turn hired local lawyers to represent him at the hearings. The court presented official documents from Interpol that supported Andreev’s version, but the judges said “they did not refer to the documents at all. They knew I was right, but they must align with the authorities, so they decided to extradite me based on Russia’s request without reason. They were locked in advance. “The decision, mainly because of Russia’s good relations with Armenia. They are doing everything Putin wants.”

Staying in the detention center took its toll on Andreev, who needed medical treatment several times. “Several times I was on the verge of death. Doctors who examined me recommended to the court that I be released under house arrest on the grounds that I might otherwise die. I suffered from breathing difficulties and health pains, in my back and legs.”

Backed by medical opinions, Andreev’s lawyers applied to the court for his release under house arrest. The judges visited the detention center, were under the impression that his health was deteriorating and decided to accede to the request until a date was set for his extradition to Russia. But Andrew did not intend to wait.

I shrunk myself so the cops wouldn’t see me

For about two and a half months, Andreev was under house arrest and planned his escape from Armenia. He said he was in contact with Foreign Ministry officials, who promised to help him get him out of Armenia.

“The Israeli government and its leaders, who came to help when Naama Issachar had to be released from prison in Russia, abandoned me. They threw me to the dogs,” says Andreev. “My daughters and I applied for help to the foreign minister, the prime minister, the president and the ministers, but they ignored me. They did not even answer me. A crime that the Russian president is pursuing, and they did not help me in any way. I’m disappointed with all the treatment. What, just because I’m Russian I’m type B? They knew I was being politically persecuted and did not lift a finger. “

To plan the escape, Andreev contacted criminals he knew at the detention center, people who know everyone and what it takes to get a person out of the country. The Israeli did not really know if he could trust them, but he had no choice. “These criminals connected me to contacts in Yerevan, and they took care of all the escape arrangements. I paid them $ 10,000 and I had to trust them to keep their word to run me away and not take my money and run away. It was not a simple escape, I had to plan everything myself and pray there would be no mishaps. “.

Jan Andreev (Photo: Private)

Photo: Private

“The escape in the truck was a complex and frightening operation, But now I’m in a safe place. “Putin probably knows I ran away, maybe he’s looking for me too, but I’m very careful and know how to take care of myself.”

Despite concerns from the realtors and the driver, after about ten hours of driving, the water truck arrived at the border crossing. “We just stood there for five hours,” says Andrew. “I’m under atomic pressure, moving minute by minute, and the truck doesn’t move. I heard cries of cops, creaks of doors, people shouting at each other. Suddenly the trunk door opened and some cops looked inside at the surfaces of the water bottles. I shrunk myself like that. “That they would not have a chance to see me. After a minute or two they slammed the door, went to ask the driver some questions and allowed him to drive. In about five minutes we were already in the neighboring country.”

About two hours later, the truck stopped in one of the alleys of a major capital city (the names of the city and state are kept in the system to avoid the risk involved in the affair). The driver opened the trunk door and Andrew was set free, tired and dirty, but happy. The driver did not even have time to say goodbye to him when with the rest of his strength he ran towards the main street. “The first thing I wanted to do was find a hotel, shower and eat. I was completely exhausted, but I finally realized that Putin would not fulfill his dream of throwing me in a Russian prison. You could make a film about my affair, it was a complex operation and at times scary, but I had to “Take the risk. The main thing is not to give Putin the pleasure of doing a show trial for me.”

All of this would have been spared you if you had collaborated with him in 2008.
“I’m not sorry for the moment I decided to go against him, I’m totally okay with that. Putin is a corrupt person and the people around him only care about themselves, the citizens of Russia do not interest them at all. I would repeat what I did today.”

For people who get involved with the Russian president, strange things sometimes happen, sometimes years after the fact. Doesn’t that worry you?
“It’s clear to me that he wants revenge on me in every way, but for now he is not going.

Are you not afraid that elements in Russia will also reach the country where you are currently or send people following you?
“I’m in a safe place. Putin probably knows I ran away, maybe he’s going to look for me too, but I’m very careful and know how to take care of myself. Now I’m getting used to freedom again without fear and apprehension, “.

No response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been received so far. The response will be published if and when it is received

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The article is Hebrew

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