Timur Saifulmulyukov: “When You Start Doing Something, There Is No Fear Anymore”

On September 24, the day Putin announced a military mobilization, Timur Saifulmulyukov walked into traffic on Tomsk’s main street, maneuvering between the streams of moving cars and waving an anti-war poster. A couple of minutes later he was detained. The police confiscated the poster and drew up an arrest report, charging him with violating traffic rules and discrediting the Russian army. He talked about what prompted him to take the action, his attitude to the mobilization, and how he sees his future in Russia in an interview with Siber.Realii.

Timur Saifulmulyukov is thirty-five years old, married, with one child, and works as a fire safety and video surveillance systems installer. He had not been involved in protests before September 24.

Timur Saifulmulyukov, shouting “No war!” in downtown Tomsk on 24 September 2022

– What were you doing February 24 and how did you feel when you learned that war had broken out?

– On February 24, I didn’t know that the war had started. I overlooked it. I found out only the next day. There was nothing devious about it. I had followed the news before the war, and I saw that Russia was amassing troops. Other countries asked what was going on, and our officials dismissed their concerns. It’s always like this in Russia: you file any complaint and it gets dismissed everywhere. And just as Russia spat on the rights of its own citizens, so it spat on the rights of the citizens of Ukraine.

It wasn’t a depression that afflicted me, but a kind of apathy. A feeling of hopelessness. You feel incapable of doing anything, you don’t feel what your role is in all of this. I knew about those who disagreed with the Putin regime, I knew that criminal cases were being launched against them and that they were being imprisoned. It was an ambivalent, you know, feeling. On the one hand, you think that nothing can be done, and on the other, that something has to be done.

– And that’s why you decided to go protest using the slogans “No war!” and “Give our children a free and peaceful life”?

– I had never been involved in political protests before. But I now realized that something had to be done to support people who were more proactive than me and the people around me. I made myself a poster and chose an anti-war slogan to attract attention, but at the same time there were as few reasons [for the police] to find fault as possible. Of course I want a peaceful life to children and people in general.

– And what did you do next?

– I went to Novosobornaya Square, but I saw that the police weren’t even letting the people (who had came out to protest against the mobilization — SR) just stand there. The point of the protest was to voice our stance, but we couldn’t even stand there for two minutes. There was no effect, but there was punishment. I started looking for protesters — I thought that journalists would definitely be photographing and filming some of them. The police stopped me immediately and checked my documents. I decided that I would definitely not do anything in such circumstances. I thought about what to do and shook a little: I felt completely vulnerable.

I thought that I had to take a little break, to gather my wits about me. I walked around and looked at what was happening. It was clear that some people had already been detained. I thought it was time for me to go home, but also that I had to do something, ultimately. To overcome my fear, I went to a store to buy water and chocolates — in case I was detained. And cigarettes: I don’t smoke myself, but I thought they would come in handy in a paddy wagon or a jail cell. And then the idea occurred to me to block traffic. I wrote to my wife that I’d made up my mind and off I went.

– So your wife supported your action?

– No, she’s afraid. It’s psychologically difficult for her. We used to talk about personal responsibility for what was happening in our country. And we came to different positions: that I felt responsible, and she, maybe, felt a little responsible, but thought that nothing could be done. That she had no levers of influence, and didn’t want to risk her life. I don’t want to either, but I’ve read and watched so much about people who do things, and then are railroaded for the rest of their lives. Pressure is put on them, but they still go out and protest.

– And how do the people around you generally feel about the war?

– I think they mostly passively support it. It’s not that they hated anyone very much or believed the propaganda. But it is convenient for them to adopt the position taken by the “strongman”: it seems to them that our state now has a strong position. And whoever is stronger is right. If it occurred to them that this was abnormal, they would have to explain these contradictions to themselves. And they don’t want to take risks. If [protesters] hadn’t been at obvious risk now, more people would have come out. Many people think this way: that the effect [of protests] is zilch, but the risks are numerous.

– What were the minutes before you were detained, during which you walked in traffic, like? How did others react?

– I didn’t see any negative reactions. People were looking at me, and some of them tried to film or take pictures of me on their phone. But I was trying not to get hit by a car and attract as much attention to myself as possible.

Timur Saifulmulyukov, standing in front of a wall painted with a “No war!” slogan. Courtesy of RFE/RL

– How did the police treat you?

– I was lucky that I was detained by a traffic police patrol. That’s why I didn’t sit in a paddy wagon for several hours like the other detainees. They didn’t put my hands behind my back. They put me in a car and took me to the police department. As we were driving, they were honking at everyone [to get out of the way], so I took advantage of this and showed my poster through the window. When we arrived, they confiscated my phone and started writing me up. They charged me with traffic violations, and I thought they would let me go. But then they took me to the fifth floor and made me give a statement. One person interrogated me, but two others were constantly in the room. None of them introduced themselves. When I asked for their names, they said we’d meet again and I’d find out then. They never did introduce themselves. And they constantly interrupted me.

– What they did ask you about?

– Did I make the poster myself? What time did I leave the house? Did I know about the Vesna Movement and the [local Tomsk opposition] Telegram channel Velvet Street? I had recently changed my [internal] passport, so I was also asked why I had a new passport. They asked me if I knew where the troops were, and what my attitude to the war was. I replied that this was my personal opinion, and I would not say it out loud. It’s clear what they wanted, but I tried not to talk about it.

Then I was taken to another office and given a charge sheet, this time for “discrediting.” I looked at it, but I overlooked one paragraph, which I noticed later. In this paragraph, written by a third person, it stated that I had violated Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”) and that I agreed with the charge.

– Were you scared?

– When I stepped into traffic holding the poster, it was no longer scary. When you start doing something, there is no fear anymore — there is a confidence, a willingness to do whatever it takes. It’s like they’re torturing you and torturing you, and then it doesn’t matter anymore what they do.

– You have no desire to leave Russia?

– I don’t want to go anywhere. My wife and I have already discussed this. War or no war, we’re not going anywhere.

– And if you get a [mobilization] summons?

– I’m not going to the war. I don’t want to be involved in this massacre, I don’t see the point in it. And it doesn’t matter to me if I just pushed papers instead of being directly involved in combat. Nor do I think that the majority supports the mobilization. It’s just that people don’t want to go to jail. They think that maybe it will pass. Or they hope for the best. Or a friend or a brother has been killed [in combat], so they think, What, am I going to try and dodge the draft? I’ll go get killed too.

– Wars end sooner or later. What do you think will happen then between Ukraine and Russia?

– I think that the relationship will be very difficult, because relations between countries are based on some kind of background, and the background is terrible. Something like 150 years will have to pass for a semblance of tolerance to emerge. Such things don’t fade away just like that.

– And how do you see your own future?

– I think that after holding the referendums and annexing [the occupied Ukrainian territories], they will introduce martial law. Otherwise, why all this fuss? Ukraine will not retreat and will win back its territories. And a complete mess will ensue. But I am relatively prepared for it.

Source: “‘When you start doing something, there is no fear anymore’: stepping into traffic in the name of peace,” Sibir.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 4 October 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader.

This is my 3,000th dispatch on this beat, as filed on this website, which I launched fifteen years ago, in October 2007, and its shorter-lived sister blog, Chtodelat News, which was my main venue for broadcasting news and views from the other Russias and other Russians between 2008 and 2013.

Timur Saifulmulyukov’s story, above, is a perfect example of the kind of stories about Russia and Russians that definitely weren’t getting told anywhere else in English fifteen years ago. They are told only marginally better nowadays, despite everything (mostly bad, but occasionally good) that has happened in and around Russia since then.

In one measurable way, this project has been a success. As of today, I’ve had a combined total of 1,115,195 views since October 2007, including over 180,000 this year alone so far! Would that I had a penny or two for each of those views.

If you find these stories valuable, you can support my work by sharing them on social media with friends and colleagues. You can also donate money via PayPal or Ko-Fi to help me pay overhead costs (such as internet fees, hosting charges, and online magazine subscriptions) and somehow compensate me and my guest translators for our considerable work.

This labor of love takes as much time as my paying jobs, which have become less dependable recently. I would rather continue filing dispatches on the Russian Reader as frequently as I have in the past fifteen years, but for that to happen I need much more serious financial support than I’ve enjoyed in the past. If you have solid tips about where I could seek such support, I would appreciate hearing them as well. ||| Thomas Campbell, publisher, editor, writer, researcher, and lead translator of the Russian Reader since October 23, 2007

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