A human rights activist and vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin says he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life after he noticed a red dot from an assassin’s gun traveling across the wall of his home in a luxury seaside French resort town.
Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of Gulagu.net — an organization that exposed purported evidence of widespread torture and rape in Russian prisons last year — told independent journalist Yulia Latynina that his brush with death took place last week in the city of Biarritz.
Osechkin, 41, who has lived in a self-imposed exile in France since 2015 with his wife and children, was placed on Russia’s wanted list in Nov. 2021 in connection with an unspecified crime, Newsweek reported.
Most recently, Osechkin has been documenting Russia’s alleged efforts led by the infamous paramilitary organization Wagner group to recruit inmates to fight in Ukraine.
Speaking to Latynina via videoconference on Tuesday, Osechkin revealed that he had been warned that his life was in danger by Christo Grozev, with the Netherlands-based investigative journalism group Bellingcat.
According to Osechkin, Grozev told him that a person with close ties to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and organized crime had left for Biarritz.
Osechkin said his security team convinced him to leave his house for two days as a precaution, but the activist and his family returned home at his insistence after a weekend trip to the mountains.
Then one evening, Osechkin recounted, his wife and children had just returned home from the theater and were about to have dinner when he said he spotted something out of the corner of his eye.
“I remember: I’m carrying plates to my kids in the living room, and in my peripheral vision, on one of the terraces, I see a red dot moving through the terrace railing along the wall towards me,” he told Latynina in Russian.
Osehckin said he and his family, who have received special training and have gone through drills preparing them for a possible attack, immediately killed the lights, lowered the blinds and dropped to the floor.
“My wife and kids spent about an hour in one of the more secure rooms.” he added.
Law enforcement officials were called to the scene, and Osechkin said that his neighbors testified to hearing gunshots.
“I wasn’t hit, but there were shots — the scope was moving towards me,” Osechkin stated.
The outspoken prisoners’ rights advocate attributed his survival to the hitman’s “mistakes,” to his own rapid response, and also to a higher power.
“I’m not a religious person… but I believe in the goodness and the light,” he said. “Everything happened by the grace of God, beginning with Christo Grozev’s (tip).”
Osechkin declined to say whether the would-be hitman was taken into custody, citing the ongoing investigation, but stressed that he’s got no “complaints or questions.”
Osechkin made international headlines in Oct. 2021, when he leaked what he claimed to be video recordings showing inmates being beaten and sodomized with blunt objects inside a prison in Saratov, Russia.
In the wake of the scandal, several senior prison officials were fired and the head of the prison service in Saratov resigned.