'A matter of life or death': Family fights to stop Sweden deporting grandmother

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
'A matter of life or death': Family fights to stop Sweden deporting grandmother
Ekaterina Rassomakhina with her daughter Elena Rassomakhina, son-in-law Alexander Konnov and granddaughter Elena Konnova. Photo: Private

A family is fighting to prevent Sweden deporting their 82-year-old grandmother, in a case which highlights the difficulties foreigners have bringing aging parents to live with them.


Ekaterina Rassomakhina, 82, lives in Slobodka, about 170 kilometres south of Moscow, but has been visiting her daughter and son-in-law’s family in Lund, southern Sweden, on a 90-day Schengen visa almost every winter for over a decade.

Her age and health issues mean she does not have as much energy for friends as she once did, making her connection with her family even more important. Her family are Belgian-Russian citizens and previously lived in Brussels, where she also used to come and visit them.

“Because she lives in a small village far away, the winters can be really difficult for her to go through by herself,” explains her granddaughter, Elena Konnova. Her mother – Ekaterina’s daughter – Elena Rassomakhina fills in some of the gaps when The Local speaks to the pair.

Ekaterina was in Sweden on an extended visitor’s visa when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, leaving her unable to go back, just a month before her visa was due to expire.

“My parents went to the migration office to ask for help about what we could do to make sure she was legally staying in Sweden. One of the things they suggested was to apply for asylum,” says Konnova.

The suggestion to apply for protection didn’t seem far-fetched to the family, due to the war and the turbulent political situation in Russia. Konnova describes how the family has spoken out against the invasion on multiple occasions, including Ekaterina herself taking part in an anti-war protest in Sweden and collecting money for necessities in Ukraine. 

Her son-in-law – Konnova’s father – is a professor at Lund University. Konnova says they are also worried about repercussions after he rejected a funding opportunity from Russian authorities and, in a letter responding to the project, cited the war as his reason for refusing.

The Migration Agency, however, didn’t accept the letter as evidence, arguing that such documents could easily be forged, and in October it rejected the asylum application. 


One of its arguments is that there’s nothing to show that Russian authorities are aware of the family’s anti-war stance, so Ekaterina does not risk persecution if she returns to Russia.

“You are born and raised in Russia and have your linguistic and cultural background there. The situation in Russia is not such that an overall assessment of it and your personal circumstances make it appear inappropriate to deport you there,” reads the decision, seen by The Local.

But that assessment doesn’t fully comprehend the reality of life in Russia, argues the family.

“There’s generally speaking a hostile kind of environment in Russia right now. You see all these kinds of situations where someone puts a sticker on a lamppost and then they get in trouble for it, or some people denounce their neighbours because they listen to the wrong news too loudly,” says Konnova.

“Everyone is aware that her only family is living abroad, and now she has spent a lot of time abroad too, which is probably not perceived very well. Psychologically, that’s a lot of pressure on her. She also lives in a military town. It shouldn’t be any different from any other town, but it kind of brings the atmosphere of war much closer to home for her.”


Regardless of asylum, there’s also the question of the 82-year-old’s health. She suffers from heart disease, diabetes and glaucoma, and has previously had a heart attack. 

A spokesperson for the Migration Agency pointed The Local towards a paragraph on their website, which reads: “In exceptional cases, a person may be granted a residence permit even though he or she is not in need of protection or does not meet the requirements for a residence permit on some other grounds. It requires exceptionally distressing circumstances. When the Migration Agency makes a decision, an overall assessment is made of the person’s state of health, adaptation to Sweden and the situation in the country of origin.”

The words “exceptionally distressing circumstances” are emphasised in bold, and the decision to reject her application to stay in Sweden argues that Ekaterina’s health issues are not of such a nature that Russian healthcare services are unable to provide the help and treatment she needs. 

Her family, however, feels that not only would she be at political risk if she did go back, but she is physically unable to do so, not being able to cope with the long journey on her own.

Direct flights from western Europe to Russia have been halted due to the war, so the main route to Russia right now is connecting flights via Turkey, a journey that would take up to two days, says Konnova. And they don’t have anyone who would be able to travel with her. In addition to the family's criticism of the invasion, Ekaterina's daughter Elena has a medical degree, which they worry could put her at risk of being drafted for the war. And there’s also a concern they wouldn’t be able to leave Russia and return to Sweden again.


Even if Ekaterina were to return to Russia, the family worries that her health issues now mean that she is no longer able to live on her own in Slobodka without assistance.

“She needs daily support. She can’t cook well for herself. She can’t see well. When my mum walks with her, she tells her ‘be careful, there’s a step here’ and guides her,” says Konnova.


The Migration Agency argues that the family has – before the war and pandemic – only visited Ekaterina once or twice a year, and that she has been able to manage on her own with the help of friends and neighbours. But Konnova says that although that was possible in the past, her health has deteriorated to the point where she needs help with basic tasks on a daily basis.

“It would be a bit too much to ask a neighbour to help cook every day and clean, and other types of daily help that she now requires, that my mum and my dad are providing for her.”

The last part is an experience shared by many other of The Local’s readers. There are few obvious routes for non-EU foreigners to bring aging parents to Sweden – an issue for which Swedish law would need to be changed on a political level rather than in a Migration Agency decision. In 2019 the Migration Agency rejected an application for family reunification, due to them not being able to prove they were financially supporting Ekaterina.


Ekaterina Rassomakhina in Slobodka, Tula Oblast, where she has lived since the 1980s. She was born in Kirov Oblast, some 900 kilometres north-east of Moscow. The picture was taken in 2019. Photo: Private

Sanctions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine adds another layer, which means helping Ekaterina move into a care home in Russia is not an option. Her pension isn’t enough to cover the costs, and although the family would be able to pay for it in theory, in practice they aren’t able to send money due to transactions being halted as long as the war is ongoing.

To buy themselves time, the family also applied for an extension to Ekaterina’s visitor’s permit, at least for the duration of the war, to allow them time to try to figure out a solution and perhaps make the return journey easier on her health and enable them to accompany her.

But that application was also denied, because of her asylum request.

“It is clear that your intention is to settle in Sweden and that it’s not a visit,” reads the decision.

The family is now trying to convince Swedish authorities to halt the decision and let Ekaterina stay. They’re appealing to the Migration Court, but have failed to get the court to agree to a hearing in person, so it will make a decision based on the documents alone.

The Migration Agency spokesperson told The Local that as the case has not yet been ruled on by the court, it has yet to gain legal force, which means that the practical issues of deportation are currently on the table. “Generally, it is only after a decision has become legally binding that we initiate a conversation about how to return to one’s home country,” said the spokesperson.


The family claims that the Migration Agency’s decision also contains several errors, including naming Ekaterina’s current place of living as the town she was born and grew up in, when she only settled there in the 1980s. In one section it also wrongly orders her to return to her “home country of Ghana”, although the agency dismissed this to The Local as an "obvious typo" that it has informed the court about.

“She gave a four-hour interview where she explained where she was born and that she now lived in Slobodka. Her passport even states where she was born, but it shows how quickly they made the decision, maybe not paying attention to all the details of the case,” says Konnova.

She and her mother say it would break their hearts if political instability and red tape were to prevent them from creating a safe old age for their grandmother and mother, especially considering her difficult upbringing. She had a problem with her spine and was hospitalised at a young age, forced to live apart from her parents and siblings for many years as a child.

“It’s awful that we’re now in a more privileged position and can’t provide for her,” says Konnova.

“We have been fully financing and taking care of her, and we would be willing to continue doing that so that she wouldn’t be dependent on the Swedish free healthcare. It’s really just about her safety, we’re not trying to play the system. It’s just a matter of life or death, I would say.”



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