“It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed”: the story of Alexander Lee

In 2014 Alexander Lee was attacked in the street by activists of the Restrukt National Socialist movement. He suffered a number of blows to his neck and back. Four years later, Sasha is sharing how he started walking again and what it is like to live after an attack.

"It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed": the story of Alexander Lee

In the summer of 2014 Sasha was returning from work when a group of young people ran up to him near the Sokol metro station. They were activists of the far-right movement Occupy-Narcophilia created by the famous nationalist Maxim Martsinkevich, also known as Tesak. Sasha Lee was not the only victim of Occupy and in 2019 all the perpetrators and the ideological leader of the group are either in jail, serving time in colonies or convicted. Five years after the attack, Sasha came to Moscow from South Korea with his girlfriend Olesya – we met them and talked with Sasha about his life after the attack.

– Let’s try to recall it. Tell me about the attack – what did you do, what did you feel in the moment?

– It was incomprehensible, quick. It was still early, around nine in the evening. I was standing at the bus stop close to the metro station Sokol, waiting for the tram. A woman next to me called out – she told me to turn around, I looked behind me and saw short-haired young guys running with extendable batons in hand. One of them swung and I realized that they were running to hit.

– Did you already know what an extendable baton looked like? Wow.

– Well, I’m a guy. In addition, I have run into skinheads twice before. In this case I did not immediately realize who these people were – until the cries of “Stop!”, “I will kill you!”, “I will stab you!” began. They called me names: “black-ass”, “narrow-eyed”, there was a lot of cursing. I was surprised that there was a girl among them (Elizaveta Simonova, moniker “Lutaya” – author’s note), I was very surprised by it. She was filming.
They caught up to me, grabbed me by the shoulder, and turned me around. At first there were a few blows, and then they started spraying my whole head from three pepper-sprays: my eyes, ears, mouth, and nose – everything was full of pepper spray. And once they disoriented me, the beating began. At first I fell, then I got up, then I got to my feet – I wanted to look what was going on behind me. I turned around and the last thing I saw was a guy swinging an extendable baton, hitting me, and that’s it, I am collapsing. I remained conscious, but from that moment I did not feel anything.

"It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed": the story of Alexander Lee

– What were you thinking at that moment?

– I guess I could not think of anything. The first blows were not especially painful, and when they hit my back, everything turned off completely. My nerve endings were damaged and the sensitivity was gone.

Once they immobilized me, they began searching me. Someone was sitting on top of my back and holding me down: they pulled all the money out of my bag and shoved the wallet itself back in my jeans. Unlocked my phone and started looking through my contacts, then began asking, “Where are the drugs, where is the money?” I was very surprised. I answered, “What drugs? What money?” The first two times it was Makarov (Andrey Makarov, sentenced to six years in prison in 2016 – author’s note) asking; they got nervous when I did not reply, they then took me by the hair and hit my head.

Then they discussed something between themselves, gathered, turned around and ran towards the metro. Lisa was the last to run. It was daytime, a lot of people. But nobody approached us during the beating.

– Did someone help you when they ran away?

– Yes, a few guys came up and said “Let us help you”. I asked them not to touch me and give me some water: I was terribly thirsty. The two of them raised me by the arms, put me on the curb – I immediately fell from it. At that moment I did not understand that I had been paralyzed. Just that nothing worked and I could not understand why. The same guys called an ambulance and the police. Two or three minutes later another man in civilian clothes came up and introduced himself as a police officer. Then an ambulance arrived, the police arrived, there were a lot of people.
I only realized that I had been paralyzed in the hospital, after a while. It was a shock. I could not believe that was it. Later I talked to my doctor – he gave me a 90% probability that I would never get up again. I thought that was the end: my life has stopped, ended.

There was nobody next to me. I was all alone. Then a friend found me. It was him who began to do something: his neighbors, who had their own law agency, first helped me themselves and then found the Civic Assistance Committee. Of course, some hope appeared – but that was only a month or a month and a half later. Before that, everything was like a horrible nightmare. It was very difficult, I refused to eat – the depression was too strong.

"It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed": the story of Alexander Lee

– What did you feel afterwards, how did you endure the surgeries? How much money was spent on all of this, and how did donations help you?

– I was discharged in October – almost five months later – then I flew home to Tashkent. There I tried to recover on my own; I flew to a clinic in Kaliningrad. The medicine in Uzbekistan is not very good. I was encouraged, of course, I took mountains of pills – but there was no result. Hip arthrosis began to develop as a side effect of hormonal drugs. A fracture of the head, and of the shinbone was found only in 2016, and that was the limit: I could not get up, I could not sleep, and I could not eat. Any movement caused so much pain that I took painkillers in batches.

In September 2016, I had the first surgery in Tashkent: hip joint endoprosthetics. In November, my father took me to rehabilitation; he lives in South Korea. I spent three months sitting at home waiting for insurance, but that was worth it: my insurance costs $100 a month and covers 90% of the treatment costs, even the implant itself. When the second surgery was performed, the procedure itself cost 18 million won, but with the insurance I only paid a million and 800 thousand, around $1700.

Both surgeries went well: there was immediate relief afterwards. I am not sure how much we spent on everything: for some time we counted the money, up to $20000, but after that we lost count. The Civic Assistance Committee raised more than five thousand dollars for my treatment. That was notable help – almost a quarter of all expenses.

To be honest, I did not expect people to donate. It was as if I started believing in people once again. Some people spoke with me personally: one woman from Israel would call me, send me money to Tashkent, and ask how I was doing, what happened, how I was feeling. Another woman would write to me, some bloggers and journalists too.

People asked questions, I answered. There was no aggression, no desire for revenge.

– This is probably not the end? What are the doctors saying?

– For now they told me I do not need anything else: I need to rest. Now I will fly back to Korea, where there is a gym, rehabilitation. It is a major task, three to four hours per day. But I am doing well: when Korean doctors looked at my MRI results, they were amazed that I was able to walk with such an injury – as was I. It hurts, but it is better than lying.

"It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed": the story of Alexander Lee

– What has changed for you in these four and a half years?

– I do not know, I just want to live the rest of my life peacefully. I do not have any grudge so as to hate someone – I know those were just brainless kids. I thought a lot about it being my own fault or the result of coincidence. But I still cannot understand what it was for. I asked myself this question so many times, but I did not see my fault in it either then or now. At first there was anger, a desire to do something similar to them, but I calmed down quickly. You cannot turn back what happened – those minutes, seconds. And once I got back on my feet, my mood improved: I had been lying all the time; I thought it would be that way forever.

I was shocked by those guys in the court: sitting in a cage, they were chatting, feeling relaxed…This is crazy for me. It all probably comes from the family, but how can that be – it is a big question for me.

– Did all of this somehow change your perception of the world? I see that you are afraid of many things – taking trains, for one. Why? Tell me about that.

– Well, firstly, it is difficult – my legs hurt. But there is some fear too. It feels very strongly in Russia: I used to perceive Moscow differently before, I used to be more confident. Nowadays I would not go anywhere at night, but in the past I used to. I did not want to return here at all, but I cannot avoid it – Olesya has relatives here, I also have business to attend – courts, after all. And in Korea there is no such thing, it is totally quiet there.

– What is it like to live in a country where you are a target of hatred just because you look different?

– I have arrived here and there is a feeling that people are looking at me sideways, not in a kind way. But I am not a truculent person; I have always found a common language with everyone. Even though I am still a migrant here, and I have heard many different stories. The majority of Uzbekistan’s population has traveled here for work at least once, and everyone faced this hatred one way or another: humiliation, insults, name-calling. I was born and raised in Uzbekistan, where, although it is a multiethnic country, the people are very friendly and kind, there is not such a sentiment where some dislike Russians and others dislike others.

– Have you heard other stories? About Djumahon Karimov, Sulaymon Saidov?

– Yes, I have read the story of Sulaymon, who was shot in the eye, everything turned out so violently. I sympathize with him a lot – I would help him if I had the chance.

– Do you still have unspoken questions to your attackers?

– No.

– So it is a finished task for you?

– I have only one wish – for them to be locked forever, isolated from normal people. So they do not ruin anyone else’s life.

"It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed": the story of Alexander Lee

– Tell me something about yourself. Where are you from, what kind of family? How did your family end up in Uzbekistan – you are Korean by ethnicity, right?

– My parents were born in Uzbekistan, and my grandmother resettled from the Far East.

It was a forced resettlement of Korean refugees, and Stalin supervised the deportations. People were sent to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – to swamps, to infertile soils. The soldiers simply took them there, and the refugees began to survive.

I was born in the town of Urgench. My father is a communications operator, my mother is an accountant. The town is small, there are a lot of Koreans, but we all spoke Russian. I finished school, started studying to be an economist at a university in Tashkent, but I did not finish my studies, because even in the state-sponsored department they used to ask for bribes a lot. At first I moved back to my parents, then I got married, then we had a child – and in 2007 I decided to travel to Moscow for work.

– How did you move to Moscow, what did you do here?

– I had brothers here: I arrived, they greeted me and I came to live with them. The city is big, Red Square is beautiful. I have long wanted to move, I was very glad. I started work on the third day after my arrival as a waiter in a Japanese restaurant, on 1905 avenue.

But migrant life is generally very difficult; the most difficult part is finding money. Due to crises and new laws, it became more and more difficult. Usually everyone works wherever they can. And I think it has a very strong effect on the person, when he does something that he does not like.

"It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed": the story of Alexander Lee

– What are you doing now, where do you live?

– I live in South Korea, the city of Sinchang – Olesya works there, so I had to move there too. All cities in Korea are small: ours has a population of 20 thousand, it is very peaceful there. The people always smile for some reason, they are always cheerful. I got so used to seeing positive people during these two years, now I came here and I do not understand how I used to live in Moscow. It is very beautiful there, especially in autumn and winter. There are a lot of mountains in Korea, even in the city itself, greenery.

I wanted to work, but for now they do not hire me anywhere. There are few simple jobs for common people, and physical labor is not an option because of my health. I am thinking of buying a car – working with it, but so far there is no money. Everywhere is difficult without money.

I am learning the language for now – I have enrolled for free courses at the center of foreigner assistance. I have slowly learned the alphabet, began to understand, read and write.

– Tell us about Olesya: how did you two meet and where?

– Facebook! I kept reading and reading and reading her comments and decided to write to her. We got to know each other, spent 5 months talking in the comments without even writing messages to each other. Later we began to message, exchanged phone numbers, started to call each other, and now we live together.

– What do you think you will do next?

– I do not know, it is difficult to answer. We probably need to buy accommodation – we really want a house. But for now we cannot decide where. Olesya wants to live in the Krasnodar region in a quiet place. She thinks you cannot live in Korea: it is true that it is very difficult there, even dying is very expensive – a funeral costs 20 thousand dollars. But I cannot decide for now. I like it more there than in Russia.

"It was only in the hospital that I realized I was paralyzed": the story of Alexander Lee

Text and pictures: Elena Srapyan

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