Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page
The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
September 2, 2021
Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.
On January 31, 2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.
“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.
She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St. Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.
“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.
According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.
According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.
When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.
At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”
There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.
When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.
In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”
Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.
Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.
Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.
In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.
On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”
Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.
“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”
At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.
Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”
Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.
25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.
26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.
27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.
28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.
29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.
30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.
31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD
1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.
2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.
3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.
5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.
10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!
You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:
Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994
You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.
All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader