Vladimir Osechkin says he was walking toward his dining room table, plates of spaghetti for his children in his hands, when he spotted the red laser dancing across the wall.
He knew what was coming.
Slamming off the lights, he says he and his wife pulled their children to the ground, hurrying out of sight and into a different area of the apartment. Minutes later, Osechkin says, a would-be assassin fired, mistaking hastily arrived police officers for the Russian dissident.
For the next 30 minutes, Osechkin told CNN, his wife and children lay on the floor. His wife, nearest their children, shielded them from more bullets during the September 12 attack.
“The last 10 years I do a lot of things to protect the human rights and other people. But in this moment, I understood that my mission to help other people created a very high risk to my family,” Osechkin told CNN from France, where he’s lived since 2015 after he fled Russia and claimed asylum. He now has full-time police protection.
He’s become the champion of a growing number of high-level Russian officials defecting to the West, emboldened and disgruntled by the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. He says ex-generals and intelligence agents are among their number.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown his determination to hunt the Kremlin’s perceived enemies overseas. Osechkin has been arrested in absentia in Russia and is currently on the Russian authorities “wanted list.” France has provided him sanctuary, but security is far harder to come by.
Osechkin’s work as an investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist — which means he has made it his business to know the secrets of the Russian state — helps to a degree. Twice, he tells CNN, tip-offs have beaten the killers to his door.
“Vladimir, be careful,” a source in the Chechen diaspora texted him in February. “There has already been an offer for an advance payment to eliminate you.”
Osechkin’s response is chillingly calm. “Good evening. Wow. And how much is offered for my gray head?”
Osechkin now lives under constant armed guard, provided by the French authorities, his address and routine are secret.