On Yandex Maps, almost all the roofs of houses in Russko-Vysotskoye, a settlement near St. Petersburg, are gray, but one sports the colors of the Russian flag. This is Iren, a shopping center owned by local businessman Dmitry Skurikhin. He had the tricolor painted on the roof ten years ago. But this year he ordered a nine by two meter yellow banner from a friendly printing house and on May 7 installed it on the blue section of the roof.
“I defiantly sided with Ukraine. And everything is fine — the villagers say hello to me, no one tells me to buzz off. I regard this as unequivocal support,” says Skurikhin.
He has turned the front of his store into a political statement and, despite numerous fines, he has no plans to stay silent or leave the country. Dmitry Skurikhin told The Village why he doesn’t worry when people scrawl the word “traitor” on the walls of his store, how he drives a vehicle with a “No war!” sticker (while his former best friend drives a car marked with a Z), and what tricks the activist has for communicating with rural policemen.
How the protest store works
Dmitry Skurikhin is forty-seven years old. He was born in Russko-Vysotskoye and graduated from school there. He studied electrical engineering at the Voenmekh (Military Mechanical Institute) in Petersburg, and is an officer in the reserves. He went into business in 1996. In 2009, he went into politics when he was elected to a five-year term as a municipal councillor in Russko-Vysotskoye.
Dmitry has five daughters. The eldest recently married, while the youngest are still in school. “Four years ago, there was this incident. I came to the school and saw a portrait of Putin on a stand in a classroom. I demanded that the teacher take down this poster. They took it down!”
The businessman has two stores in total. The first is in the neighboring village of Yagelevo, and it has no political murals. The second one is in his native settlement. This is the Iren shopping center, named after the river in the Perm Region, where Dmitry’s parents came from. On Iren’s ground floor are Wildberries, Ozon and SDEK delivery points, a flower shop, a shoe repair shop, and a small gym; on the second floor, there is a tailor’s, a manicurist’s, a hairdresser’s, and a game room. Behind the facade of the building inscribed with the slogan “Peace to Ukraine! Freedom for Russia!” is a 256 square meter banquet hall. “Weddings, wakes, and rural discos-cum-fistfights are held there,” says Dmitry. According to him, there have been an especially large number of wakes recently.
How the war has impacted Russko-Vysotskoye
“Words are my weapons. I am trying to convince my fellow villagers that freedom, democracy, human rights, local self-government, and separation of powers are the road to prosperity,” the businessman says.
“We basically have nothing to say about Dmitry Skurikhin’s activism. It is, rather, reflected only in his posts on the internet, not in the life of the settlement,” the moderators of the Russko-Vysotskoye group on the VKontakte social network wrote in reply to a query from The Village.
The first mention of the settlement dates back to the sixteenth century, but there are no historical buildings left except for the ruins of the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The population of Russko-Vysotskoye is about five thousand. Many worked at a poultry plant, the main local employer (in terms of volume, it was among the top five agricultural enterprises in the Leningrad Region). But in the second month of the “special operation,” the factory management announced its closure, citing plans to build housing on the site. Then Leningrad Region Governor Drozdenko reversed the closure, and in June, after two months of downtime, the poultry plant is scheduled to resume production.
“Our store survives due to the fact that we sell on credit. We’ve got debtors up to our eyeballs. These are people who are three days away from retirement, but have no money. They come to buy bread and potatoes. We sell them in irregular batches. For example, there are people in the village who cannot buy a dozen eggs and buy four eggs instead. This is telling,” Skurikhin replies when asked about the war’s impact on Russko-Vysotskoye’s economy.
How the activist is fined for posters
The inscription “Peace to Ukraine! Freedom for Russia!” appeared on Skurikhin’s store in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea. This was followed by many (about two hundred) political posters. Skurikhin orders them from the same company that made him the yellow stripe for the roof, whose name he won’t disclose. “You can say that I am a small-town activist who voices his stance on any occasion. Some event happens — for example, [Russian opposition politician Boris] Nemtsov was killed [on 27 February 2015 in Moscow] — and I put up a poster.” The businessman fastens the posters with screws at a height of six meters on the same wall as the inscriptions.
The posters hang for an average of two to three hours. Then the local council sends an employee with a ladder and a screwdriver, and the police arrive from the 114th precinct in Annino, fifteen minutes from Russko-Vysotskoye. The posters are taken down. “The police officers in rural areas are smart, intelligent, decent, normal people. Not like in the city. They’re almost all on my side. It’s another matter that they have their orders and their oath,” Skurikhin argues.
Then Dmitry is fined. At first, the fines for “violating landscaping rules” were 300 rubles, but then they went up to three thousand rubles. (“As the secretary of the administrative commission told me, ‘They increased it especially for you, because no one else in the region is being punished under this article.'”) The last fine was issued under the new law on “discrediting the army.”
How they’re trying to prosecute Dmitry for “discrediting the army”
On March 5, the State Duma passed a law according to which people can be fined for “discrediting the army.” On March 6, Skurikhin hung a poster on his shopping center depicting residential buildings bombed in Kharkiv and a Ukrainian girl who had been killed. On Facebook he wrote, “Perhaps this is my last publication. Just in case, goodbye, my friends.”
The farewell was premature — Dmitry was only fined 45 thousand rubles [approx. 750 euros]. (He has challenged the fine in court.) And not so much for the poster itself, as for the story he told about it on Telegram, which follows from the charge sheet for the administrative offense: “68 views were made [of the post]; the channel has 23 subscribers.”
Later, another charge was filed against the activist under the same article in the administrative offenses code (there has been no court hearing yet) for reposting one of the blogger Rustem Adagamov’s posts. Skurikhin says that now he has a “standing invitation” on WhatsApp to come in and face a third set of charges, and shows us his correspondence with the policeman involved. The summons is preceded by the New Year’s greeting car that the law enforcement officer sent to the businessman six months ago.
Earlier, Dmitry says, the local beat cops themselves came to deliver the summonses, but they got tired of it. “Rural police,” he says, “have a lot of cases to deal with, and here they’re being sent to deal with nonsense. They said the hell with it.”
How the activist was called a traitor
While we are talking, a local passes by and asks Dmitry how things are going.
“I’m alive and well and at large,” the activist replies.
Dmitry Skurikhin, as one of the few public anti-war activists who have not left Russia, is regularly visited by journalists. Recently, three foreign media outlets were doing stories about him at once: the BBC, Belsat, and Stern. Reporters like to ask the opinion of passerby about Skurikhin’s “protest wall.” “He’s an idiot,” one of the respondents told Steve Rosenberg of the BBC. Another noted that Dmitry “has the right to express his opinion.”
Skurikhin is grateful to journalists. “If it weren’t for their attention, activists would be” — he rubs an imaginary powder in his palms — “and everything here right down to the lawn would be demolished,” he says.
At the end of March, the activist painted the names of Ukrainian cities that had been attacked on the front of the store. Then he regularly supplemented the red list. When we were there, he painted in two more names: Dnipro and Sloviansk.
But on the night of April 15, three unidentified people scrawled the word “traitor” on the Iren shopping center and deposited a pile of manure outside the entrance.
“They thought they would present me in an unfavorable light to my fellow villagers. It turned out the opposite. A woman passes by: ‘Dima, don’t touch the manure, I’ll take it myself, I need it for the garden.’ Or I go out with a bucket of yellow paint to paint over the graffiti, and an old-timer stops me. ‘Are you going to paint over the [names of the] cities?’ he asks. ‘No, just the word “traitor,”‘ I say. ‘Ah, paint over “traitor,” but don’t touch the cities,'” the activist recounts.
As this article was going to press, the walls of the shopping center were again vandalized. An unknown man on a bicycle wrote the words “traitor,” “freak,” and “moron” next to the names of the cities.
How the businessman interacts with his opponents
“A person can come up to me on the street and yell that I’m an asshole. Be my guest,” the activist says. He has many opponents in the settlement.
As for the Z symbol in Russko-Vysotskoye, according to Skurikhin, there is one on the car of the deputy head of the local administration.
“We were in school together for eleven years. We were very friendly. I wrote to him: ‘Lyosha, what did you put such a thing up for?’ He replied: ‘Dima, you have reached a new low.'”
His friendship with his classmate, according to Skurikhin, was long ago undone by political differences.
“It’s his people who take down my posters,” the activist explains, adding about his former friend, “He’s a good guy, but he’s an UnRus [a member of the ruling United Russia party].”
The official told us in a telephone conversation that he really was in the same class in school as Dmitry Skurikhin, but they were never friends. He did not comment on the activist’s work, saying only, “Our positions are diametrically opposed. You could say that we are ardent opponents.”
The businessman himself pastes a “No war!” sticker on his car.
“The response has been only positive. No, sometimes I see a sour expression on someone’s face. But people who do react [give me a thumbs-up] — attaboy!”
How Skurikhin decided not to shave his beard
“I’m afraid. What then? I can’t stop campaigning,” the activist says in answer to our question whether he is afraid of facing criminal charges for spreading “fake news” about the army, like artist and musician Sasha Skochilenko, “ordinary person” Vika Petrova, Skurikhin’s ally the activist Olga Smirnova, and many others.
He has no plans to leave Russia. But he does not condemn emigrants — on the contrary.
“Good, decent anti-Putin people are leaving. And there is a plus in this. Perhaps the whole world will judge Russia by them. ‘Look, not all Russians are idiots!” But I’ll go on here. If they put me in jail, I’ll sit in jail.”
At the end of the interview, Dmitry asks us to ask him a question about his beard and immediately tells us that on 23 January 2021, he shaved and went to downtown Petersburg for a rally in support of Alexei Navalny. There he was detained and jailed for twenty days. During those three weeks, Skurikhin grew out his beard and made a bet with a cellmate that he would not shave while Putin was in power.
“My cellmate told me, ‘Dima, you’re going to be playing Santa Claus without makeup.’ We’ll see. For some reason it seems to me that I will be shaving my beard off soon.”
Source: “‘A man can come up to me on the street and yell that I’m an asshole’: How a businessman turned his store into a political statement,” The Village, 14 June 2022. Thanks to JG for the story. All images courtesy of The Village, except where noted. Translated by the Russian Reader
“It’s our soldiers, our [Russian] troops, fighting there. Not Martians, but our people. And we are responsible for them. These people exist on taxes, including my taxes. I pay roughly 1,200,000 rubles [$19,500] a year in taxes. Our authorities buy weapons with this money and dispatch our fellow citizens to murder Ukrainian children.”
On the front of his village store, Dmitry Skurikhin paints the names of Ukrainian cities that have been bombarded.
“My heart simply aches when I see what is happening there. I simply cannot stand it. I paint the [name of the] city and I feel better. What if I could do something more? But it’s society that has to do something. I’m campaigning for our society to understand and accept this viewpoint — that we cannot be doing this, that we urgently have to stop it. At first I thought that half [the Russian people] supported the ‘special operation,’ but now it is fewer. It has begun to sink in that this is madness.”
Dmitry Skurikhin has opposed the actions of the Russian authorities since 2014.
“The Putin regime should simply be eliminated. They are occupiers — they have occupied our country, do you understand? And they treat our country like occupiers, meanwhile fooling our people with their propaganda.”
Businessman Dmitry Skurikhin regularly hangs up posters featuring anti-war slogans on his store.
“The police just come up and take them down. I’ve been charged twice with the newfangled crime of ‘discrediting’ [the Russian army]. From their point of view I’m discrediting our Russian army simply by showing my fellow villagers what is happening in Ukraine.”
Fines for discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation can lead to up to five years of imprisonment.
“People see this and it stays in their heads. Now it is just sitting there, but later it will become an itch and then turn into something unbearable. Putinism is a cancerous tumor, a disease of our society. We have to vomit it up somehow. Russia is now on the side of evil, on the side of Putinism. Putinism is an evil, definitely, for unleashing such a hell in Ukraine. Consequently, Ukraine has the motivation — they are fighting for their lives, for their families, for their homes, for their land. What are we doing there? Putin has forced our society to fight against a neighboring society, instead of doing business and exchanging knowledge and services to our mutual benefit. We could live together wonderfully, but now they are our enemies for hundreds of years to come.”
Despite the fines, Dmitry continues his campaign in the village.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my security. But this is more important. It’s important to campaign, to convince people to come over to this point of view. And I won’t spare any expense or effort on it. Well, what could happen? If they imprison me, I’ll go to prison.”
Source: Current Time TV, Instagram, 21 August 2022. Subtitles translated by the Russian Reader