Dear all, I hope you know about Alexey Navalny — the bravest person in modern russia who was fighting the regime with such unbelievable courage and optimism, despite all the assassination attempts (see the Oscar winning documentary about it!), that we sincerely believed he was immortal. As a friend of mine said: “Even when we lost hope ourselves, deep inside we were still hoping that Navalny had a reason for keeping up his hope”. 


However Alexey was not alone — his amazing family devotedly supported him in his fight for justice, despite its danger.

In particular, Oleg Navalny was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail, for being Alexey’s brother, at the very end of 2014. 


In 2015 I just started my PhD studies in Germany. At the same time, Oleg’s lawyer posted on social media that Oleg would appreciate letters from anyone in his solitary confinement. So, one rainy evening in Essen I wrote a letter to Oleg, dreaming that I would morally support him in his imprisonment.


Little did I know of what would happen next. Oleg answered as he had promised, and we became pen-friends. But I can’t even put into words how cheerful, warm, funny and caring a person he turned out to be! To be honest, it was him who supported me during 3.5 years of my PhD studies, rather than the other way around… Although I did send Oleg a bunch of entertaining math problems and introduced him to my friends, in addition to describing all my trips to math conferences, so I hope that the joy was mutual! Of course, the biggest delight was our video call after he got out of jail.


Shortly before my PhD defense I received two postcards from Oleg, with almost identical texts. Both postcards said:


“Dear Mura!

All you need to succeed as a mathematician* is this: …

Abrazos, Oleg”.


The first one said: “1) a little bit of luck”.

The second one said: “2) a lot of hard work”.


The back sides of the postcards were these witty jail-paintings made by Oleg:

1) a little bit of luck

2) a lot of hard work

Dear Navalny family, thank you so much.

* this is not an announcement of a universal recipe for success in academic careers — please don’t take it too seriously!