HUMANS OF ISP: The People in our Community

Alsu Kurmasheva: A Voice for Education, Journalism, and Community

Please meet Alsu Kurmasheva, an incredibly inspiring HUMAN of ISP. Alsu has been an ISP parent for four years, with her daughters Bibi in Grade 9 and Miriam in Grade 6. Not only is Alsu a published author and passionate educator, but she’s also a distinguished editor and journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for over twenty years!

Alsu is the editor of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service and manager of its new regional, Russian-language micro-site. Alsu focuses her reporting on issues within the Volga Tatar, Bashkir, and Crimean Tatar communities, with a special emphasis on ethnic and religious minority rights.

Alsu’s commitment to journalistic integrity and advocacy for marginalized communities is truly inspiring, and we are excited to share her story with the ISP community.  

Hello Alsu, it’s a pleasure to speak with you today. We’re looking forward to learning more about your projects with RFE/RL, as well as your many accomplishments and interests.  Let’s start with the book you have recently published. Can you tell us more about it?

Yes, the book was published in Prague in September 2022 and is called “Saying No to War: 40 Stories of Russians who oppose the Russian Invasion of Ukraine” and is a collection of interviews we collected during the first six months of the war. In the book, we highlight diverse stories from people across the country, representing a range of ages, life circumstances, and professions. 

We start and end the book with powerful stories of teachers who fought against the propaganda, upholding their integrity and profession as educators which is, and has always been, to stand up for the truth and care for their students.  

Along with journalism, I have always been passionate about education, and in many ways, these passions are connected.  I see education playing a big role in journalism… journalism enlightens people’s lives in much the same way education does, and in many ways, both are about community building, which is another passion of mine.

What inspired you to create this book? 

When the war began in Ukraine, the world watched in horror as cities and villages were bombed, and millions of people were forced to flee, leaving their homes behind. The whole world stood up for the Ukrainian people. There was so much mystery and misconception around what was happening inside the borders of Russia. There was a belief that everyone who lived in Russia supported that senseless war. In our book, we told the stories of people who opposed it and faced very severe circumstances. The teachers who told their students the truth were fired and banned from teaching, others were fined and even sentenced to prison.

The book shows how precious and fragile freedom of expression is – something we might forget and take for granted in the country where we live now. And actually, the early inspiration for the book came in part from ISP.

I remember those months very clearly.  My Middle School daughter was bringing new ideas, facts, and arguments home every day from what she learned in social studies.  Meanwhile, my younger daughter was still in Elementary School, and I remember going into her classroom and seeing the walls covered with questions. 

The students weren’t making assumptions or placing blame, they were asking questions and looking for answers together. The teachers were creating space for this discovery and guiding them toward finding the right information – toward finding justice.

I remember feeling so grateful for how this delicate and unfolding situation was handled at ISP, especially considering our diverse community and the number of Russian and Ukrainian families here.  It was a beautiful reflection of the kind of open-minded awareness and critical thinking skills teaching can bring to our children.

Outside the walls of ISP, I don’t know if people were asking the same questions and staying curious about what was actually happening. I felt determined to bring these stories to light.

Why did you choose to make this book as a printed, hard copy, as opposed to a collection of digital interviews? And what was that process like?

We completed the book in three months!  We worked night and day to make it happen – time was of the essence. We live in a digital media world where everything is going so fast. Soon enough, something else will happen, another catastrophe or natural disaster or war, that is even worse, and then the world will forget what happened before. 

We need to pause and learn from what is happening at this moment in history, with this war in Ukraine, and the human rights violations that are happening. I wanted a record of this moment in history.  There is so much that can be learned and remembered from these stories. 

Can you tell me more about the inspiration that drives your work at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  What else are you working on?

All my projects work toward building community or fostering cross-generational connection and understanding.  I’m working on a podcast right now, tentatively called “Our Grandmothers Survived.”  We will name it something different when it’s released,  but it’s all about the power of connecting with our roots – safeguarding our culture, our language, and sharing the stories and wisdom that come from remembering our ancestry and the people who shaped us.  My grandmother was an incredibly important role model for me, and I learned so much from her throughout my childhood and adulthood.  

I am also part of a Tatar women’s organization in Europe that focuses on this same preservation of culture and heritage. There are only about 100 Tatar families in the Czech Republic, so when I discovered there was a Women’s organization in Europe for Tatar women, I immediately joined. The association is all about bringing people together who share this heritage and protecting our culture, language, and traditions.

Alsu with Tatar friend and ISP mom, Elvira Gilmutdinova

At RFE/RL I also manage a Tatar language learning project called Eyde!Online which educates the audience on Tatar language, traditions and culture in a fun way using multimedia. This year we are celebrating our 5th anniversary! It’s popular on TikTok ( and Instagram (

Finally, “Saying No to War” is yet another project dedicated to community building and inspiring a deeper understanding of people’s identities.

You mentioned that there is so much information out there. How would you advise people to navigate all that?

In our very digital world, people are tired of media and journalism, but the key is focus. I’m always telling people to learn to focus, learn to know what you need to know, and learn to limit yourself from unnecessary information. Always choose trusted sources and read and watch only them.

 And for our children – they need to keep asking questions and expressing their truth.  I attended the Middle School Speech and Debate event earlier in the year, and it was fantastic. If students learn and practice this critical thinking and debating at school and at home, it means in adult life, they will learn how to see through false arguments and flashy presentations.

The world needs real information, real content, and people who can engage in constructive conversations and debates. In the end, it’s about having real stories that touch people’s hearts, minds, and souls.