It was August 2020, and Yulia Navalnaya, the spouse of Russia’s most well-known opposition chief, was striding by the battered, gloomy hallways of a provincial Russian hospital, searching for the room the place her husband lay in a coma.

Aleksei A. Navalny had collapsed after being given what German medical investigators would later declare was a near-fatal dose of the nerve agent Novichok, and his spouse, blocked by menacing policemen from transferring across the hospital, turned to a cellphone digital camera held by considered one of his aides.

“We demand the quick launch of Aleksei, as a result of proper now on this hospital there are extra police and authorities brokers than medical doctors,” she mentioned calmly in a riveting second later included in an Oscar-winning documentary, “Navalny.”

There was one other such second on Monday, when underneath much more tragic circumstances, Ms. Navalnaya faced a camera three days after the Russian authorities introduced that her husband had died in a brutal Arctic maximum-security penal colony. His widow blamed President Vladimir V. Putin for the demise and introduced that she was taking over her husband’s trigger, calling on Russians to hitch her.

“In killing Aleksei, Putin killed half of me, half of my coronary heart and half of my soul,” Ms. Navalnaya mentioned in a brief, prerecorded speech posted on social media. “However I’ve one other half left — and it’s telling me I’ve no proper to surrender.”

For greater than 20 years, Ms. Navalnaya has shunned any open political position for herself, saying that her objective in life was to assist her husband and to guard their two youngsters. “I see my activity is that nothing modifications in our household: The kids have been youngsters, and the house is a house,” she mentioned in a uncommon interview in 2021 with the Russian version of Harper’s Bazaar.

That modified on Monday.

Ms. Navalnaya faces a definite problem in attempting to rally a disheartened opposition motion from overseas, with a whole lot of 1000’s of its adherents pushed into exile by an more and more repressive Kremlin that has responded to any criticism of its invasion of Ukraine two years in the past with harsh jail sentences. Her husband’s political motion and his basis, which exposed corruption in high places, have been declared extremist organizations in 2021 and barred from working in Russia.

Whereas not dismissing the difficulties, pals and associates consider that Ms. Navalnaya, 47, has a shot at succeeding by what they name her mixture of intelligence, poise, steely dedication, resilience, pragmatism and star energy.

She can also be — unusually — a distinguished feminine determine in a rustic the place well-known girls in politics are a rarity, regardless of their many accomplishments in different fields. Except for the broad ethical authority she has attained by her husband’s demise, analysts mentioned, she could profit from a generational hole in Russia, the place youthful, post-Soviet Russians are extra accepting of gender equality.

As quickly as Ms. Navalnaya made her declaration on Monday, the Russian state propaganda machine cranked into motion, attempting to painting her as a instrument of Western intelligence companies and somebody who frequented resorts and celeb events.

Ms. Navalnaya was born in Moscow right into a middle-class household — her mom labored for a authorities ministry whereas her father was employed in a analysis institute. Her mother and father divorced early, and her father died when she was 18. She acquired a level in worldwide relations, then labored in a financial institution briefly earlier than assembly Aleksei in 1998 and marrying him in 2000. Each have been Russian Orthodox Christians.

A daughter, Daria, now a pupil in California, was born in 2001 and a son, Zakhar, in 2008. He attends college in Germany, the place Ms. Navalnaya lives.

Even when not brazenly political, Ms. Navalnaya all the time appeared at her husband’s aspect. She was with him at demonstrations and through his many court docket circumstances and jail sentences. She was with him once more throughout his 2013 marketing campaign for mayor of Moscow, and in 2017, when an attack with a green, chemical dye almost blinded him in a single eye.

In 2020, when Mr. Navalny was poisoned, she publicly demanded of Mr. Putin that her husband be evacuated by air ambulance to Germany, and thru his 18 days in a coma, she stayed at his aspect, speaking to him and taking part in favourite songs like “Good Day” by Duran Duran. “Yulia, you saved me,” he wrote on social media after he regained consciousness.

Ms. Navalnaya herself endured a poisoning try in Kaliningrad a few months earlier that was certainly meant for him, pals mentioned, however she didn’t dwell on it.

Though she had many events to cry, Ms. Navalnaya mentioned in an interview with a well-liked YouTube channel in 2021 that she all the time wrestled to keep up her composure in public, not least to keep away from giving Russian authorities officers the satisfaction. “It shouldn’t get us down, she mentioned. “They need it to get us down.”

Associates and associates described her as Mr. Navalny’s protector, his sounding board, the shoulder he cried on and his closest adviser.

“The politician Aleksei Navalny was all the time actually two individuals: Yulia and Aleksei,” mentioned Yevgenia Albats, a distinguished Russian journalist now at Harvard College. Tall, engaging and with their robust connection clearly evident in public, “they all the time appeared like a Hollywood couple,” mentioned Mikhail Zygar, a Russian journalist and historian.

Mr. Navalny was well-known for his public spats with politicians, journalists and others, and his spouse has been recognized to sharply rebuke those that attacked him. However total, she comes with a lot much less political baggage and thus has a greater likelihood of getting the infamously fractious Russian opposition to work collectively, Mr. Zygar mentioned.

Ms. Navalnaya has been in comparison with different girls who’ve picked up political battle flags from slain or imprisoned husbands. They embody Corazon Aquino, whose husband was gunned down as he stepped off the aircraft from exile within the Philippines in 1983; she went on to defeat the entrenched, despotic President Ferdinand Marcos. There may be additionally Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who led the opposition within the 2020 presidential election in Russia’s neighbor Belarus after her husband was imprisoned. She herself was pressured into exile.

In the end, analysts advised {that a} “regular individual” with ethical authority may succeed the place an expert politician couldn’t.

“She desires to perform the duty that Alexei has tragically left incomplete: make Russia a free, democratic, peaceable and affluent nation,” mentioned Sergei Guriev, a household good friend and a distinguished Russian economist who’s the provost on the Paris Institute of Political Research. “She can also be going to point out to Putin that eradicating Aleksei won’t destroy his trigger.”

Milana Mazaeva and Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.


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