Renowned mathematician Alexey Sossinsky, whose parents fled Russia a century ago to escape the Bolsheviks, experienced a similar situation when President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Sossinsky, who was raised in France and the United States, had moved to Russia in 1957 and established a successful academic career. However, at the age of 85, he was forced to flee once again when Putin initiated the war. Sossinsky left with only two suitcases in the middle of the night, just like his father had fled by ship to Istanbul in 1919. From Istanbul, he traveled to France, where his daughter resides. Despite living in exile, Sossinsky continues to teach classes to Russian students via Zoom and plans to spend the rest of his life in exile.
Sossinsky’s family history reflects the tumultuous and repressive nature of Russia’s past. His mother, Ariadna Chernova, was the daughter of Viktor Chernov, a socialist revolutionary who briefly served as president of Russia’s Constituent Assembly before it was disbanded by the Bolsheviks. In 1923, she fled Russia with her mother and sisters and eventually met and married Bronislav Sossinsky, a fellow exile who had fought against the Bolsheviks in Russia’s Civil War. Alexey was born in France in 1937 and later moved to New York with his family. In the mid-1950s, they visited Russia, where Alexey was shocked by the poor living conditions. However, he decided to stay in Moscow in 1957 to study mathematics, believing it to be the center of the mathematical world.
By the early 1970s, Sossinsky had become an associate professor at Moscow State University and gained international recognition for his work in knot theory, a branch of geometry. However, his career took a downturn when he and a friend wrote a letter defending Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a dissident writer who had been expelled from the Soviet Union. The letter was intercepted by the KGB, and Sossinsky’s friend lost his job. Sossinsky, unable to sign an application form for classes in Marxism-Leninism, resigned from the department and worked as an editor for a science journal for 13 years before returning to academia.
Even after leaving Russia, Sossinsky continues to speak out against Putin’s regime. He believes that the West has underestimated Putin’s intelligence, adaptability to sanctions, and ability to manipulate the population through state media. Sossinsky expresses his horror that ordinary people support such a regime and praises Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for his overall performance. Despite his pessimism about the war in Ukraine, Sossinsky hopes to die in France, his birth country. However, he still contemplates a brief return to Russia to visit friends and his country cottage, although his daughter worries about the potential consequences.
In conclusion, Alexey Sossinsky’s life has come full circle, with his parents fleeing Russia a century ago and him experiencing a similar situation due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. His story reflects the history of upheaval and repression in Russia. Despite living in exile, Sossinsky remains active in his field and continues to voice his concerns about Putin’s regime. He hopes for a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine but remains doubtful. Nevertheless, he contemplates a return to Russia, even if only for a short visit, to reconnect with his past.
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