The Olivier Index

The New Year’s spread on the tables of Petersburgers will be more modest this year than it was in 2021. They won’t have to skimp on ordinary goods yet, but delicacies such as caviar or red fish, as well as premium alcohol, will cost considerably more. Scammers and poachers who offer goods that aren’t readily available on the cheap may try to take advantage of this.

According to the Central Bank, annual inflation, as of November, was 11.98%. During the month, consumer prices increased by 0.37%; fruit and vegetables were among the items that rose most noticeably. Given that they are among the main ingredients in traditional dishes, we should expect that New Year’s Eve purchases will cost more.

Racing against inflation

As Svetlana Kazantseva, associate professor in the Basic Department of Trade Policy at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told DP, the annual growth rate of food prices in Petersburg was about 10%, according to research data.

“Prices for dairy and meat products are growing more slowly, which is explained by cheaper animal feed. Taking into account the inflationary component and the desire to save money, we can assume that the amount of the average bill [for New Year’s supper], if it does increase, will be an order of magnitude smaller than the rate of annual inflation, that is, about 5–7%,” the expert notes.

Marina Petrova, CEO of Petrova Five Consulting, is partial to other estimates, according to which the New Year’s meal will cost an average of four thousand rubles, which exceeds last year’s level by 12%. The simplest traditional dishes are taken into account: Olivier salad, herring under a fur coat, jellied meat, chicken with potatoes, sausage slices, champagne, and vodka. If the menu is expanded to include roast pork, fish aspic, red caviar, red fish, cheese, and cognac, then the cost will double. But it should be borne in mind that the percentage of consumers who themselves cook the food for their holiday meal has been decreasing every year. Many people have long preferred to buy readymade dishes at the store or order them delivered to their homes. However, this year they are likely to purchase more budget-conscious options. The desire to save money will primarily impact delicacies, seafood, salmon fish, beef, and caviar. The annual growth rate in prices for fish delicacies and caviar is already higher than the inflation rate.

“Traditional New Year’s menu for residents of Petersburg [clockwise, from far left]: Olivier salad, herring under a fur coat, roast chicken, caviar sandwiches, hard alcohol, sliced cheese, sausage and fish, juices, champagne, mineral water, candy, cake, tangerines.”

Beware of fakes!

According to market participants, a decrease in the total volume of red caviar is expected due to a lower salmon catch in the Far East. It will be bring a higher price than in previous years, however. During the pre-New Year sales period, it is possible that we will see an increase in prices of 35–40% compared to last year. On average, pink salmon has risen in price by 25%, chum salmon, by 5%, sockeye salmon, by 15%, and trout, by 10%. According to the Fishing Union, this year the percentage of Pacific salmon red caviar on the Russian market is close to 100%. Prices for grainy caviar from Far Eastern salmon caught in 2022 increased by an average of 10–15%. However, last year’s caviar is also on the market at a more affordable price. According to Nikita Ostrovsky, a purchasing manager at Lakifish LLC, imported red caviar appears only sporadically on the Russian and Petersburg markets.

“We can talk about insignificant amounts imported from neighboring countries, such as Armenia and, to a lesser extent, Kyrgyzstan (red trout caviar is imported from there). This category of goods is in a lower price and quality segment by comparison with trout caviar, for example, from Karelia,” he says. Another factor are the Russian government’s measures to restrict the import of red caviar to stimulate domestic production.

Ostrovsky also warns that, since caviar is considered a mandatory part of New Year’s feasts, it is likely that buyers will look hard for cheaper offers — for example, at illegal points of sale, where it is offered at a price 50% lower than the average market price.

“This can be imitation caviar, which is sold disguised as the real thing. Caviar diluted with sunflower oil. Or obtained by poaching, without the necessary paperwork. In pursuit of profit, people are willing to purchase such products,” he points out.

In fact, imitation caviar is sold legally in many stores.

Participants of the delivery market expect an increase in orders of readymade meals for the New Year’s meal, despite everything. Many of them note that they usually experience an increase in customer activity on December 21.

“We don’t take orders all day, only until 8 p.m., and then we deliver them to customers’ homes. This time round, we expect the number of orders to double compared to normal days. We regularly observes this pattern on holidays. The average bill for orders in Petersburg should grow this year. In any case, last year it grew by about 25–30%,” Vera Pradchenko, CEO of VIP Fish [a service that prepares and delivers Japanese food], told our correspondent.

[From top to bottom of tree]
Cost of Olivier salad: 408 rubles (2021) vs. 455 rubles (2022); cost of herring under a fur coat: 269 rubles (2021) vs. 292 rubles (2022); cost of a no-frills New Year’s meal: 5909 rubles (2021) vs. 6737 rubles (2022); cost of a more expensive New Year’s meal: 8391 rubles (2021) vs. 10,909 rubles (2022). 40% increase in the per bottle price of imported alcohol in the more expensive meal. 20% increase in the price of premium cheese in the more expensive meal. 2.4% increase in the price of domestic salmon caviar in Russia as of October. Consumer price index for groceries in Petersburg in November: 2021 – 111.3%, 2022 – 108.9%; consumer price index for alcoholic beverages in Petersburg in November: 2021 – 102.8%, 2022 – 106.3%; increase in the price of red caviar in Moscow and Petersburg since the beginning of 2022: Moscow – 13.3%, Petersburg – 13.66%

We won’t be left without champagne

Alcoholic beverages are an equally important part of the New Year’s feast. This year, the patterns of purchases in terms of category is almost identical to previous years. Sparkling wines and vodka are still the primary drinks. But there have been changes within the categories. They have been caused primarily by the aftermath of the departure of global brands, explains Dmitry Isachenkov, director of development at Ladoga. “It is safe to say that Russian vodka will be on 90% of Russian New Year’s tables — here consumers prefer domestic products with festive designs,” he says.

After the brands that made up about 50% of the champagne market in Russia left the country, producers less dependent on the political conjuncture began filling the vacant niches. For example, Ladoga signed contracts with three new suppliers and imported 80 thousand bottles in 2022 by year’s end, which is four times more than by the end of last year. So, Russian consumers can easily find real champagne wines in Russia if they wish.

It is worth noting that the share of imports of wines from Champagne [sic] did not exceed 2.8% of the total volume of sparkling wine imports. The choice of the mass consumer will be distributed one way or another among the major Russian producers: Kuban-Vino, Derbent-Vino, Novy Svet, and Inkerman. Affordable imported sparkling wines — Italian proseccos, Spanish cavas, French cremants, and Austrian sekts — will invariably remain popular.

Isachenkov notes that the structure of purchases in the whiskey category has changed significantly — it is this category that has undergone the most powerful changes after the refusal of major brands to do business in Russia. Most consumers were ready to look for a replacement within the category, including among domestic manufacturers. Thus, sales of entirely Russian-made Fowler’s brand whiskey had by year’s end increased four and a half times compared to 2021. Other consumers have shifted to other categories and are choosing rum, tinctures, brandy or vodka. Sales of still wines increased in proportion to the other categories. At the same time, the product range of both importers and Russian wineries has been growing.

“We should not talk about the growth of the average bill, but about the increase in the cost of each item in the bill. For many, this is a long-awaited holiday after the emotional turmoil experienced during the year, and the consumer selects special drinks for celebrations above the usual cost,” the expert argues.

Different things matter

On average, the prices of the ingredients for Olivier salad have increased by 10% in Petersburg. Potatoes and onions have fallen in price, while he price of carrots has not changed. Green peas and mayonnaise have risen the most, by 20% and 17%, respectively. Herring under a fur coat has risen in price by 7%, primarily due to the main ingredient, herring (which has gone up by 20%), while beets have fallen in price by 32% and potatoes by 25%. However, the so-called Olivier index should be treated with caution.

The various indexes are more of a marketing tool to draw attention to the researcher’s brand. There is the lipstick index (launched by Estee Lauder), which is a litmus test showing how women react to changes in the economy. The American manufacturer argues that, when incomes fall, sales of expensive clothes and shoes decline, while sales of luxury cosmetics, on the contrary, grow. There is Deutsche Bank’s cheap date index (based on the costs of taxi rides, lunches at restaurants, and hotel rooms [sic]). There is the latte index (based on the price of a cup at Starbucks, now Stars Coffee in the Russian Federation) and the Big Mac index (based on the price of a hamburger at McDonald’s, now Tasty, Period). The iPod index has become an atavism.

In Russia, the Telegram channel Sugar. Portion. Collect maintains a cup of tea index by charting weekly changes in the average retail price3s of the ingredients in the Russian Federation. Other researchers use the statistics issued by Rosstat as their benchmark when calculating the cost of preparing borscht, Olivier, or herring under a fur coat.

“Any index is an indicator of rising or falling prices. You can use it to calculate how the cost of goods changes from year to year,” says Daria Zhigalina, a business automation services systems analyst at Kontur.Market. “It is important to understand that all indices are real economic indicators, albeit served up in a humorous package. Every year we see how official agencies publish data on the basket of consumer goods. Everyone has been accustomed to this indicator for a long time and knows that it can be used to assess the quality of life in the country and the purchasing power of the populace.”

According to the expert, by assessing the fluctuations in the cost of ingredients, we can analyze the economic situation separately in each region and in Russia as a whole.


For retailers, the New Year’s Eve period is a time when they can increase their revenue. Judging by the foot traffic in stores, the current situation will most likely not affect retail chains negatively since their turnover is growing. At the same time, the structure of sales will be redistributed towards traditional and inexpensive goods. In my opinion, retail has already begun to change the structure of its offerings, reducing the number of goods above the average price. In this regard, premium retail chains may be in a less advantageous position.

—Irina Kapustina, Director, Graduate School of Service and Trade, St. Petersburg Polytechnic University

Caviar has not been imported [to Russia] since 2014, after government restrictions on the import of certain types of food were enacted. Prior to this, Russia imported frozen red caviar from the USA and Canada. Here it was processed and sold in salted form. The salmon catch this year amounted to 300 thousand tons, and 13–14 thousand tons of caviar were produced. Last year, the catch was over 500 thousand tons, while more than 20 thousand tons of caviar were produced. Compared to last year, the shortfall is 30%. Despite the fact that the supply of caviar is much lower than last year, the price has not increased. If there were a further rise in prices, people would simply stop buying it. It is possible that before the New Year some sellers will raise prices, but they will bring them back down after the holiday.

— Alexander Fomin, Vice–President of the Fishing Association

The growth in the price of goods that have always been considered delicacies — caviar and salted salmon— is indicative. They have doubled in price over the year, and the same dynamic is typical for most other frills. This year, salmon will be largely replaced by trout, which is cheaper, and eggplant caviar will be preferred. Real incomes fell in Petersburg by 2.7%, according to official statistics. By my calculations, for a business person, the celebration of the New Year will be about one and half times more expensive than a year ago. The selection has become somewhat smaller, but if you want them, you can find all the goods you need. We should especially not envy pensioners living on their own. The subsistence minimum doesn’t take factor in the cost of such events.

—Anatoly Golov, Co-Chairman of the Consumers Union of Russia

Russians have no reason to skimp on their New Year’s meal. On the contrary, consumer spending on the New Year’s meal may increase due to both inflation and the fact that some Russians will not be able to celebrate the New Year outside the Russian Federation and will spend money at home. Recently, statistics were published that about 15% of the population have experienced an increase in income, while 20% have experienced a decrease. Consequently, some consumers will still increase spending for the New Year and their average spending will grow at a level slightly higher than inflation.

—Artyom Tuzov, Executive Director of the Capital Markets Department at IVA Partners Investment Company

Source: Darya Zaitseva, Darya Dmitrieva & Yevgeny Petrov, “Petersburgers won’t be serving caviar and red fish on their New Year’s tables,” Delovoi Peterburg, 23 December 2022. Infographics, above, courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg. Translated by the Russian Reader


The morning begins with me looking at the light on the computer monitor. If it is on, it means there is still electricity. When I see that the light is on, I immediately get up and go put on the kettle to refill the thermoses. We got hold of the simplest gas stove, and you can of course heat water on it. But first of all, there is not an endless supply of gas and we skimp on it. Secondly, I am afraid of these stoves: over the past month they have exploded four times in our district alone. I walked past the residential buildings where these stoves exploded and saw the broken windows and cracks in the walls. It’s a little scary, let’s just say.

After I put the kettle on, I get on the Telegram channels. I have to find out whether there were [missile and drone] attacks at night, and if so, whether they hit infrastructure. Now this is the most terrible thing, because if it suddenly turns out they hit infrastructure, it means that soon there will be no heating and water. So then I start rushing between washing and drying my hair, charging the power banks and flashlights, getting the laundry going, and cooking food. You never know when the lights will go out and that’s why you do everything quickly, all at once. You feel like a trained circus animal.

When I’m going somewhere, I always put a few flashlights in my backpack. It’s strange to imagine that not so long ago a flashlight was not a mandatory item. Now it is a “must have” (my phone suggests writing “must heh” — heh!), like a medical mask during the time of covid. It’s even more important! When I go outside and travel somewhere, I never know if there will be light where I’m going. Most often there is no light — or cellphone connection for that matter. I hate this feeling of being in a vacuum: there is no mobile internet, no telephone connection, no light, and no matter what happens to you, you won’t even be able to call an ambulance. You’re living “in the moment,” damn it. Where there is no light, the elevators don’t work. I usually walk slowly up to the sixteenth floor by an isolated dark staircase. Somewhere on the eighth floor there is usually an old, peeling stool on which I can sit in the dark and take a break. I usually don’t need such a rest, but sometimes I turn off the flashlight and sit on this stool in the dark and listen to the wind blowing in the stairwell.

Last week I got stuck in the elevator: while I was going up, the lights turned off and the elevator stopped and went dead. There was a chair inside and a box containing water and medicines. I sat down, but quickly froze. Immediately, before the phone connection disappeared, I had telephoned my husband and asked him to call the help hotline so that they would get me out of there. Otherwise, it was possible to get stuck there and sit for four to seven hours. My husband got through to the hotline in half an hour — he was the twentieth in the queue. Half of the city sits in frozen elevators every day. They pulled me out of there.

When I’m returning home in the evening, I make a wish: please let there be light at home. I ride in a minibus and nothing is visible through its windows since neither the streetlights nor the traffic lights are working. I have developed a “sense” of a way that I cannot see, but I know and understand where I’m going and when I need to get out. After walking up and down all these stairs and unlit streets, I really want to find the light on at home for at least half an hour. If, when approaching our building, I see that there is no light, I slow down. There’s nowhere else for me to hurry — it’s dark and pointless everywhere. Life in general has become quite hectic. Although I have hated hurrying and scurrying my whole life, now I have to hurry and scurry.

Sometimes I manage to find a store where the lights haven’t been turned off yet. It’s like going into a church: it’s light and warm there and your mood improves a little just because you’re in a store and it’s bright inside. The prices have been shooting up monstrously and I wander the aisles for a long time figuring out what I can buy to fit my modest daily budget. But basically, since the light began to leave us, I have got used to eating rusks and croutons in different flavors. I’d never bought them before — they’re not my kind of food — but now they are quite handy. First, they are relatively cheap, and second, they come in different flavors. It’s the illusion of variety. Third, they don’t need to be cooked.

I went to see my mom yesterday. We discussed all these common everyday problems of ours. And then Mom decided to make a joke and asked:

“What are you all doing for the New Year?”

Neither she nor I laughed.

Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 15 December 2022. Professor Abashin is quoting a letter he received from a Ukrainian friend or colleague, but he does not identify her by name or mention where exactly she lives. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Siege

[Blue sign] “Citizens! During artillery attacks this side of the street is the most dangerous.” [Small plaque below blue sign]: “This sign has been preserved in memory of the heroism and courage of Leningrad residents during the 900-day siege of the city.” Photo courtesy of Pavel Karavashkin/Fontanka.ru

Alexander Beglov said that Siege survivors “fully support” the fighting in Ukraine

🪖 At the Petersburg municipal government’s final session this year, the celebration of the breakthrough of the Siege [of Leningrad] was discussed. The governor of the city stated: “Veterans and Siege survivors approach the current difficult situation with understanding. They express their full support to our soldiers. Siege survivors from Donetsk have traveled here. In their life there was heroic Leningrad, and today there is the heroic Donbas. All these years they have preserved the memory of their hometown and the Siege.”

Beglov stressed that not a single Siege survivor should freeze during the festive events.

🪖 Elena Tikhomirova, the 88-year-old board chair of the organization Residents of Besieged Leningrad, was invited to the session. She thanked the governor, invited him to tea, and asked him to tackle unpatriotic advertising.

“The only thing I want to say is that you need to pay attention to advertising,” Tikhomirova said. “I ask the heads of districts to pay attention to advertising. We once raised the issue that there should be as little advertising in English as possible. But now the special military operation is underway. We need to be more patriotic, as they say. So that everyone in our city approaches this issue more patriotically.”

🪖 In an interview with a Yevgeny Prigozhin-owned publication, in 2021, Tikhomirova stressed that the most important thing that the Russian authorities had managed to achieve was many years of “peacetime.” “This year is the seventy-sixth anniversary of [victory in the Second World War]. And there has not been a single war since then. [Young people] were gifted life,” she said. She did not mention “peacetime” this year.

Source: Rotunda (Telegram), 27 December 2022. Translated by TRR

Coloring in Solidarity with Viktor Filinkov

“An anti-prison coloring book for Jenya and Viktor and everyone”

Not so long ago I wrote that coloring brightens up my minutes and hours of waiting for Viktor at the penal colony. So Yana Teplitskaya has designed an entire coloring book in support of Viktor and me!!

The coloring book can be downloaded at the link below and printed out on a printer, and you can make a donation for it.

If you have a coloring maniac in your life, the book can be your New Year’s gift to them.

And if you’ve never colored, then maybe New Year’s is the time to check it out?

Here is the coloring book. It’s awesome, right?

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1i5jPe9VdQIPhRn9rRrtdS3rv-oY3vmHz/view

Download, print, and color the pages — and send us the results.

Donations for my trips to see Viktor in Orenburg should be sent to my Sberbank or Raiffeisen account via phone number 89217772541.

You can also make donations in euros [and dollars] via PayPal to abc-msk@riseup.net, [writing “Filinkov” at the “What’s this payment for?” prompt.]

Thanks.

You can and should share this post if you like.

Source: Jenya Kulakova, Facebook, 30 December 2022. Ms. Kulakova is the public defender of Viktor Filinkov, a young Kazakhstani national convicted as part of the notorious Network Case, in which the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) tortured and framed a dozen anti-fascists in Penza and Petersburg for, allegedly, “creating a terrorist community.” I’ve published extensively on the case and its aftermath over the last five years. The wardens at the penal colony in Orenburg where Mr. Filinkov is currently serving his sentence have seemingly singled him out since his arrival there, endlessly finding him “guilty” of various (mythical) infractions and isolating him from the general population on these pretexts. With the help of Ms. Kulakova and his defense attorney, Vitaly Cherkasov, Mr. Filinkov has mounted a series of successful legal challenges against this flagrant abuse of his civil and legal rights. You can help pay for Ms. Kulakova’s frequent trips to Orenburg by donating to the PayPal account indicated, above. It is managed by the Moscow chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross and is totally reliable. I just made a donation myself and I screenshotted, below, the critical step in that process if you need help. Thank you! ||| Thomas Campbell, The Russian Reader

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Book reading and experience sharing program at Russian House

On December 29 Russian House in Kathmandu conducted a book reading and experience sharing program in collaboration with Half Tone Design Private Limited.

The event featured an interactive group discussion program with a brief introduction of the Russian library, books, authors, quotes, and poem recitation. There were over 40 people: authors, students, poets, and professors. The main purpose of the program is to build reading habits and share experiences. In the program, many of the audience suggested their favorite books, which are as follows:

1. How to win friends and influence people — Dale Carnegie, and Bhagwat Gita by Mr. Indra Prasad Adhikari.

2. Ramcharitra Manas. By Mr. Rudra Dulal.

3. Jeevan Yatra by Mr. Bhola Shrestha.

4. Muna Madan, Aamai and Paheli by Mrs. Goma Banjade.

5. Mother – Maxim Gorky by Ms. Mira Pokherel.

6. Guna Ratna Mala by Mr. Narayan Thapa.

Source: Russian House in Kathmandu, Facebook, 29 December 2022


Ukrainian officials said that over 120 Russian missiles had been launched at the country’s cities. Explosions were heard in the capital Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odessa and Zhytomyr. The mayor of Kyiv said that three people had been taken to hospital, and that 16 missiles were destroyed in flight by the city’s air defences. On the southern front Ukrainian officials urged residents of Kherson, which they liberated just six weeks ago, to evacuate their city as Russian forces escalated mortar and artillery attacks.

Source: The Economist, “The World in Brief” email newsletter, 29 December 2022


Mikhail [Lobanov] telephoned. He says that he has been charged under Article 19.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code.*

Mikhail managed to convey that during the search he was beaten in the face and chest. There was blood on the floor of the apartment.

* “Disobeying the lawful order of a police officer, a serviceman, an officer of the Federal Security Service, an officer of state security bodies, an officer of bodies exercising federal state control (oversight) in the field of migration, or an officer of a body or institution of the penal enforcement system, or an officer of the Russian Federal National Guard,” as amended on 19 December 2022.

Source: Mikhail Lobanov, Facebook, 29 December 2022. Translated by TRR


The home of Mikhail Lobanov was searched today. Mikhail’s [legal] status and the article of the criminal code [which he is being charged with or suspected of violating] are not yet known.

Mikhail was taken to the Ramenka police department.

During the search, the investigator mentioned the name Ponomarev (probably referring to Ilya Ponomarev), with whom Lobanov is not acquainted and is not connected in any way. All electronic devices were removed from the home.

The security forces quickly sawed down the door and talked with Lobanov in the apartment for more than three hours. They did not allow him to contact a lawyer, demanded that he sign some papers, and behaved heavy-handedly, Mikhail’s wife Alexandra Zapolskaya reports.

Source: Mikhail Lobanov, Facebook, 29 December 2022. Translated by TRR

Empire

“Empire”

Today, on Razyezhaya, I came across a simply perfect illustration of what we’re living through.

Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 25 December 2022. Razyezhaya is a street in central Petersburg that I know like the back of my hand since I lived nearby for many years. ||| TRR


These comments by Mira Tai were published by Doxa, the Russian online student magazine that has become a prominent voice against the war.

Hello! It’s Mira.

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has compelled many people, who live in Russia but are not ethnic Russians [russkie], to think about how we actually became the “small peoples of Russia” [a widely used term for the non-Russian nationalities that make up about one fifth of Russia’s population]. We saw many parallels between the way that the “Russian world” is trying to swallow up independent Ukraine, and the way that the ethnic republics “voluntarily became part of Russia” previously.

We have seen how the state, in which openly-declared nationalists hold leading posts in government bodies, justifies the massacre of citizens of a neighbouring country as “denazification”. We have seen how the propaganda machine is speaking openly about the renaissance of a gigantic centralised empire, in which there is no identity except Russian, and no other language than Russian.

These months have made all of us pose a mass of difficult questions, to ourselves and to each other. And no matter how hard the Russian propaganda machine tries to ridicule or denigrate this process, it will not be stopped and not be turned back – because we have changed. The surge of anger among non-Russian people has gone too far. The genie will not be put back in the bottle.

And the further it goes, the more astonishing it becomes that the majority of prominent Russian liberals and representatives of the “anti-Putin resistance”, continue to ignore what is happening. A great example is the new educational project, “Renaissance” [“Vozrozhdenie”], which opened today [23 December] and which has been loudly advertised on Ekaterina Schulmann’s Youtube channel over the last few months.

For the project, nine men and Ekaterina Schulmann invite people to take courses on the theory of democracy, capitalism and protest, the history of Christianity, and so on. They promise that in future this knowledge will facilitate the working-out of “a strategy for the Russian state, rebuilt and reborn as the inheritor of Russian, European and world culture”. Judging by the visual images chosen – golden-haired young women in Monomakh caps [the crown symbol of the pre-1917 Russian autocracy], gold leaf and portraits of monarchs – the school’s founders are especially inspired by the aesthetics of the Russian empire.

In a video in the section “About Us”, the word “civilisation” appears together with a picture of a young, rouged Ekaterina the Second [usually Catherine the Great in English-language history books] – the empress who first seized Crimea and began the process of genocide against the Crimean Tatars. That same Ekaterina, whose army slaughtered the population of whole towns in the name of the country’s “growth”.

And so in the tenth month of the full-scale Russian attack on Ukraine, we continue to witness how Russian liberals ignore any consideration of decolonisation. They do not even pose questions about the ideas and interests of those who have not been, and do not want to be, “inheritors of Russian culture”. They have not been troubled by doubts about the abstract liberal ideals of “democracy, freedom and peace”; they have no hesitation in proposing “Europe” as the source of progress, as opposed to the east. One of the courses offered by “Renaissance” is titled, in the best traditions of orientalism: “The East: a delicate matter”. …

People who can today link the word “civilisation” with portraits of Ekaterina the Second and festive, gold-trimmed panoramas of Moscow and St Petersburg, and who can promise the “renaissance of Russia”, must be blind and deaf to the suffering, and the hatred, of the Chechen people, who were subjected to genocide by the nearly-democratic Moscow of the 1990s. Blind and deaf to the hatred, and suffering, of the Ukrainian people, subjected to genocide by the authoritarian Moscow of 2022. Blind and deaf to the hatred, and suffering, of everyone whose first language definitely should not have to be Russian. And this lack of feeling is monstrous.

□ These comments appeared in Doxa’s Anti-War Digest on 23 December. I have translated them, because I think they offer useful starting-points for discussion about “decolonisation” of Russia that has begun not only among anti-war Russians, but also among those elsewhere who take the side of Ukrainian resistance. With Mira Tai, we witness “how Russian liberals ignore any consideration of decolonisation” – and, I would add, some self-proclaimed socialists do the same. One such is the writer and publicist Boris Kagarlitsky, who is to teach courses for “Renaissance,” and appears in its introduction video. He expressed opposition to this year’s invasion, but only after years of support for Russia’s imperial adventure in Ukraine since 2014 (for which he was criticised on this blog and elsewhere). SP.

□ To read more about Doxa in English, see an interview with Doxa activists just published by the Ukrainian socialist journal Spil’ne (Commons), and these speeches from the dock by Doxa editors Armen Aramyan, Volodya Metelkin, and Natasha Tyshkevich. They were tried on criminal charges last year, after publishing a video that discussed whether teachers should discourage students from attending demonstrations to support Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner. (Doxa’s new website is in Russian.)

□ You can also read in English about anti-war activism in Russia on the Feminist Anti-War Resistance Facebook page. The Russian Reader is an essential source, as is OpenDemocracyPosle reflects the view of Russian socialist activists.

Source: “Russia. Renaissance is not going to happen,” People and Nature, 28 December 2022. Thanks to Simon Pirani for his kind permission to reprint this here.

In Izhevsk

A [billboard] advertising the delivery of “Cargo 200” has gone up in Izhevsk.

It’s a timely service with good prospects.

Source: Andrei Pivovarov, Facebook, 28 December 2022. Earlier this years, Mr. Pivovarov, a well-known Russian opposition politician, was sentenced to four years in prison for “leading an undesirable organization,” i.e., Open Russia.


Prominent opposition politician Ilya Yashin has been transferred to a detention facility some 1,000 kilometers from Moscow even though his sentence must still be approved by an upper court, his lawyer said Tuesday.

A Moscow court sentenced Yashin, 39, to [eight and a half years in a penal colony] earlier in December after he was charged with spreading “false” information about the Russian military for comments he made during a YouTube stream about the civilian massacre carried out by the Russian army in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha this spring.

The Moscow city councilor’s whereabouts were unknown when the city’s prison monitoring commission reported on Monday that Yashin had been moved to “a different region.”

Lawyer Maria Eismont said that Yashin was transferred to a pre-trial detention facility in the city of Izhevsk, the capital of the republic of Udmurtia, some 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow.

Yashin’s prison sentence has not yet taken effect, as an upper court must still reject his appeal and confirm his sentence, which means he must remain in pre-trial detention rather than being sent to a penal colony.

Eismont ironically called Yashin’s transfer an “early New Year’s gift” from the authorities, noting that his mother had been scheduled to visit him in Moscow later this week.

Source: “Jailed Kremlin Critic Yashin Transferred to Prison Outside [sic] Moscow,” Moscow Times, 28 December 2022

The Yandex Xmas Blues

A Yandex Eats courier schlepping the service’s instantly recognizable backpack

The trade union Courier called for Yandex food delivery workers to strike from December 20 to December 25.

The workers claim that their situation has deteriorated considerably since Yandex took over Delivery Club and subsequently monopolized the industry. The union said that couriers are constantly discriminated against through a rigid system of fines and a lack of legal guarantees.

Supporters of the strike demand a return to the practice of drawing up regular employment contracts between management and couriers instead of independent contractor and self-employment contracts. They also insist on reinstating the order fee in the amount of 110 rubles, revising the system of fines, and reducing the delivery range for foot couriers to three kilometers.

In addition, they have demanded the release of the head of the trade union, Kirill Ukraintsev, who was arrested in April for violating the law on protest rallies.

The first stage of the strike is planned for Moscow and St. Petersburg; in the capital, about 600 couriers may not go to work. The trade union has called for Yandex Taxi drivers to join the action, as well as blocking the cash desks of restaurants.

Citing the Yandex Eats press service, Kommersant writes that the company is unaware of any dissatisfaction with working conditions. At the same time, the press service emphasizes that the average salary of couriers increased by 30% over the past year.

Late last year, Yandex couriers protested in Kemerovo. In April 2022, dissatisfaction among delivery workers was caused by a 20% reduction in wages, prompting talk of a possible strike. Denying the problems voiced, Yandex has constantly reported about bonuses for its couriers, including life and health insurance and improved working conditions.

Source: Andrei Gorelikov, “Yandex couriers go on strike — so far, for five days in Moscow and Petersburg,” Rabota.ru, 21 December 2022. Photo courtesy of Rabota.ru via iStock. Translated by TRR


During the company’s weekly open video call (these events are dubbed “hurals”) on the morning of Friday, December 23, a Yandex executive informed staffers that its security service had tracked down an employee who had been in contact with editors at The Village for an article about how censorship works at Yandex News. The employee would be fired, he said. Thus, it had taken the company a mere seventeen hours to trace one of our sources. Yandex does not make public comments.

Yesterday, The Village published a major investigation by journalist Andrei Serafimov detailing how, after the start of the war, a group of developers at Yandex made it their mission prove the existence of censorship at Yandex News, the service that, for over a decade, has provided millions of Russians with their “picture of the day.” The service handpicked the “top stories” from the media that would be shown on Yandex’s main page.

Journalists had previously surmised that only news from handpicked, government-approved media outlets made it on the Yandex main page: even the former head of Yandex News had said that there was a “whitelist” of such outlets. Our investigation has shown, for the first time, what these whitelists (both Moscow and national) look like. In conversation with former and current Yandex employees who have been researching the way Yandex News is coded, we found out which news outlets have a chance to be featured in the “picture of the day,” as well as how the “trusted” algorithm works. Presumably, it marks “pre-approved” media that are never “penalized for headlines.” These fifteen outlets contribute the vast majority of the top national news stories featured on Yandex News.

In addition, our sources told us what happened inside the company after the start of the war, after the publication of an investigation by Meduza in the spring, and what the first “hural” looked like in early December after Alexei Kudrin was appointed head of the “Russian” Yandex.

We recommend that you read the full investigation and share it on social media, as well as purchase a subscription —this is the only way we can publish more such stories. The Village receives no grants and does not collaborate with any national government.

Source: “Yandex fired employee who revealed how censorship is practiced at Yandex.News because he had been talking to The Village,” The Village, 23 December 2022. Translated by TRR

The Extremist Community: Nine More Years in a Penal Colony for Left Resistance Founder Darya Polyudova

Darya Polyudova, holding a placard that reads, “Ukraine, we’re with you.” Photo courtesy of The Insider

The founder of the Left Resistance movement, Darya Polyudova, has been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony on charges of “creating an extremist community.” Polyudova was already serving time on another charge, and had three years left to go in her sentence.

The Second Western District Military Court has handed down the new sentence to the activist. It agreed with the prosecution’s arguments that the Left Resistance, as created by Polyudova, was an “extremist community.” And yet, at the moment there is no such organization listed in the Russian Justice Ministry’s registry of “extremist organizations.”

In addition to “creating an extremist community” (Article 282.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), the court found the activist guilty on two counts of “condoning terrorism” (Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) over posts published on the movement’s social media page.

The sentence took into account Polyudova’s previous sentence of six years, which she received in 2021, writes Mediazona.

Polyudova was the first person in Russia charged under the criminal code article outlawing “calls for separatism” (Article 280.1). This accusation was brought against her in 2014 for trying to hold a “March for the Federalization of the Kuban” in Krasnodar.

One charge after another

Polyudova began her career as a political activist in Novorossiysk, where she organized Strategy 31 protests. Due to constant arrests and dismissals from work, Polyudova was forced to move to Krasnodar, and later to Moscow.

She went on pickets in support of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar political prisoners, and the defendants in the Moscow Case and the Network Case, against the construction of a landfill in Shiyes, and against plans to build a church on a city square in Yekaterinburg.

In 2017, Polyudova was released from a work-release penal colony where she spent two years on charges of calling for separatism, and founded the Left Resistance. The description of the movement on its VK page stated that it “stands against the oppressor capitalists and for all the oppressed and the power of the working people.” The movement’s members attended protest pickets and distributed leaflets.

In January 2020, Polyudova was arrested again on charges of calling for separatism — this time for a solo picket where the activist stood holding a placard that read, “Kuriles, stop feeding Moscow! Long live the Far Eastern Republic!”

She was also charged with publicly condoning terrorism over a repost of a message about the Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev.

The calling for separatism charge against Polyudova was eventually dropped due to the liberalization of Article 280.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. However, in September 2020, the activist, who by that time had been in remand prison for more than six months, was charged with a new offense.

The FSB regarded her statements about Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire at the FSB headquarters on the Lubyanka in December 2019, as grounds for charging Polyudova with “condoning terrorism.” Later, this charge was reduced to a charge of calling for separatism.

In May 2021, Polyudova was sentenced to six years in a penal colony on charges of publicly condoning terrorism and calling for extremism.

Polyudova was presented with new charges of “creating an extremist community” in December 2021, while she was in remand prison awaiting an appeal against the previous sentence.

Source: “Activist Darya Polyudova sentenced to nine years — this is her third prison sentence,” BBC News Russian Service, 23 December 2022. Translated by TRR


Left Resistance founder Darya Polyudova has been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony, while Left Resistance activist Kirill Kotov has been sentenced to three years probation, the Telegram channel Free Kirill Zhukov reports.

Polyudova’s sentence incorporates the previous verdict against her and will run from January 2020, when the young woman was remanded to a pretrial detention center in a previous criminal case, her lawyer Leonid Solovyov told OVD Info.

The prosecution had requested just this sentence for Polyudova, but had asked that Kotov be sentenced to three years in a penal colony.

Polyudova was accused of “creating an extremist community” (per Article 282.1.1 of the Criminal Code), while Kotov was accused of involvement in an “extremist community.” Polyudova was also charged on two counts of public calls for terrorism or “condoning terrorism” (per Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code).

According to the FSB, Polyudova created the Left Resistance to “plan and commit crimes, […] namely, public vindication of terrorism and public calls for extremist activity.” Investigators argued that the “extremist community” engaged in holding pickets and making posts on social media.

In addition to Kotov, four other activists have been charged with involvement in the extremist community: Sergei Kirsanov, Alyona Krylova, Igor Kuznetsov, and Andrei Romanov.

On 18 November 2021, the FSB searched two addresses as part of the case against the Left Resistance, including the house where Kotov used to live. The criminal charges against the movement were made public on 3 December 2021. Tomsk opposition activist and RusNews journalist Igor Kuznetsov was already in remand prison in connection with the case of the Telegram channel Chto-Delat! Andrei Romanov and Alyona Krylova were not in Russia, while Sergei Kirsanov and Kirill Kotov were released on their own recognizance. By this time, Polyudova had already been sentenced to six years in a penal colony in a previous case.

Polyudova was charged under the article criminalizing calls for terrorism over posts made in 2019 on the Left Resistance’s social media page, including a post entitled “Execute the traitor Putler for treason!” Forensic experts detected “calls for the violent seizure of power” and “use of violence against the security forces” in these posts. Another criminal count was based on posts made on anniversary of the annexation of Crimea and pickets in support of defendants charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.

[…]

Polyudova founded the Left Resistance movement in 2017. Its activists said that the new left-wing organization’s purpose was to replace the “opportunistic Communist Party” and “defend genuine communist ideas.”

In May 2021, the court sentenced Polyudova to six years in a penal colony. She was found guilty on two counts: “condoning terrorism” (per Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code) in connection with a repost on VK, and “calling for extremist activity” (per Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code) for statements about the actions of the shooter outside the FSB headquarters building on the Lubyanka.

In 2014–2015, Polyudova was accused of calling for extremism and separatism. She was then sentenced to two years in a work-release (i.e., minimum security) penal colony.

Source: “Left Resistance founder Darya Polyudova sentenced to nine years in a penal colony,” OVD Info, 23 December 2022. Translated by TRR

Honor the Holidays by Helping the White Helmets

Make an end of year donation to support the White Helmets’ work saving lives and serving communities in Syria: whitehelmets.org

As 2022 ends, I want to pass on my deep gratitude for your support for the White Helmets and the communities we serve. It is as important today as it has ever been. It pains me to see the images coming out of Ukraine – of fleeing civilians, bombed-out ambulances, and paramedics running towards burning buildings. These horrors are so familiar to us Syrians and I firmly believe that the failure of accountability for atrocities in Syria paved the way for Putin’s crimes in Ukraine.

As first responders, we are primary witnesses to violations of international humanitarian law. This year our volunteers saved more than 300 people from under the rubble of attacks, including over 100 children. Since 2015, the White Helmets have responded to 5,700 Russian attacks that killed more than 4,000 people. That Russia has not been held accountable gives dictators anywhere in the world the impression that they can act with impunity.

We will not stop demanding justice and this year we formally launched our own Justice and Accountability Program, which organises evidence of every attack we respond to into a war crimes archive. We are now supporting international investigations, including the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN’s Commission of Inquiry, and we are still documenting new atrocities every day.

Last month we rushed in to save lives after the regime and Russia launched a series of attacks on camps for internally displaced people. Our volunteer Hassan Bakir, himself displaced, lost his baby son Azzam in the ambush. More than half of the 4.5 million people in northwest Syria live in vulnerable tent camps and on top of responding to bombing and removing unexploded ordnances, our White Helmets volunteers do all we can to make their lives easier.

With another freezing winter well underway we are hard at work maintaining access to camps, levelling roads and digging drainage channels. Our women’s health centres are managing a deadly outbreak of cholera, and we haven’t stopped our covid-19 response. The level of humanitarian need in Syria is growing but in January, in the middle of winter, families face the threat of reduced humanitarian aid when the UN Security Council votes on whether to continue the cross-border UN aid operation. The threat of Russia politicising this lifeline is a looming crisis.

Since our formation we have lost 297 volunteers, many of whom killed in “double-tap” attacks that aim to kill the first responders that rush to the scene of initial bombings to rescue civilians. Your donations support their bereaved families, and cover medical expenses for volunteers who are injured. I recently met with families who benefit from this support, and I saw how important it is and the dignity it gives them. Our volunteers have saved 125,000 lives since the beginning of the conflict and we are forever grateful to them for their sacrifices.

My wish for 2023 is that real progress is made on justice and accountability. Despite Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the world has become numb to atrocities waged against Syrians. The solidarity of people like you around the world reminds the volunteers that they are not forgotten and it gives them strength to do their dangerous work. Please continue to stand with The White Helmets and to demand justice and accountability in Syria. We all need this to achieve peace.

Your brother,
Raed al-Saleh
Head of the White Helmets

If you can, please make an end of year contribution to the White Helmets to support their efforts in rescuing civilians, pushing for justice and accountability, and providing essential services to communities. Chip in here: whitehelmets.org

Source: The Syria Campaign, email newsletter, 24 December 2022. Photo courtesy of the White Helmets

Ayhal Ammosov: “Yakutian Punk Against War”

Ayhal Ammosov standing in front of a funeral bureau holding a placard that reads, “The groom has arrived.”  Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Aikhal Ammosov

The Free Yakutia Foundation has published a letter from Ayhal Ammosov, an anti-war activist who disappeared last week. The letter is dated November 22.

Ammosov, who faces criminal charges stemming from his public activism, has not been in touch with friends and family since December 11. They suggest that law enforcement agencies may be involved in his disappearance, Sibir.Realii reports.

In the published letter, the activist writes: “If you are reading this letter, it means that something has happened to me, something really serious. I can’t sit here right now and wonder what could have happened to me in the future, but I think that either I’m missing or I’ve been killed. This was to be expected, because they would not have given me a quiet life, especially in the republic.”

Ammosov goes on to note that he was not going to “stop” in his struggle, and that he has numerous plans.

“They are trying to intimidate us, to shut our mouths. They are trying to break us, but we will not give up, we will endure everything — all these trials, all the persecution, all the tortures and beatings. I believe in myself and in my supporters. I had to do this and I will go all the way to the end,” he writes.

In late August, it was reported that criminal charges had been filed against grassroots activist and leader of the punk band Crispy Newspaper Ayhal Ammosov for publicly discrediting the actions of the Russian army. OVD Info wrote that the charges stemmed from a banner, emblazoned with the slogan “Yakutian punk against war” (in English), which Ammosov attempted to hang on a building in downtown Yakutsk on August 13 — the same day that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin arrived in the city. The musician was also sentenced to fifteen days of administrative arrest for his protest.

On December 13, according to friends of the activist, Ammosov did not appear in the Yakutsk City Court for a hearing in his criminal trial on charges of discrediting the army. In addition, according to the Free Yakutia Foundation, persons unknown had recently been following Ammosov.

Source: “Letter by missing Yakut activist published,” Radio Svoboda, 22 December 2022


Musician and artist Ayhal Ammosov, who was known in Yakutsk before the war as the leader of the punk band Crispy Newspaper, began to regularly stage anti-war protests after Ukraine was invaded. For a few months he managed to hide from the police and Center “E” [the Russian Interior Ministry’s “anti-extremism” police] but ultimately his activism ended with a pile of administrative charges of “discrediting” of the Russian army — and one criminal charge for the selfsame “discrediting.” Mediazona recounts here how concert performances gave way, in Ammosov’s life, first to anti-war leaflets and graffiti and a semi-clandestine existence, and then to endless games of “crabs” in jail and the threat of hard time in prison.

Punk rock has always been marked by its anti-war stance, and the Yakutsk punk scene, one of the most distinctive in Russia, was no exception. In early 2018, the band Crispy Newspaper performed at a concert organized by the label Youth of the North. After taking the stage, a young man with a microphone began to do the pogo while two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer churned out aggressively rhythmic music. When the band stopped playing, the young man made a short introductory speech: “Every day is a war, a war with the society that gave birth to us. We are descendants of slaves, sons of the proletariat, children of incomplete families, freaks, outcasts and rebels. And if we are here, then we have something to say, and if I am destined to drop dead today, I would like to say only one thing: if we’re going to die, let’s do it with music!”

The young man was Ayhal Ammosov: the name in his passport is Igor Ivanov, but he plans to make the pseudonym his official name. Four years later, when Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, this thirty-year-old punk, poet, musician and artist would prove to be one of Yakutia’s most consistent anti-war activists.

Before February 24, he almost never engaged in political activism, except for putting up leaflets criticizing the head of Yakutia, Yegor Borisov and his henchmen, but Ammosov himself recalls those protests as not particularly interesting. His friend Mikhail Pogosov (his name has been changed to protect his identity), who has now left Yakutia, recalls that some time before the invasion they wagered whether there would be a war or not. Ammosov was sure that there would be a war — and won two pizzas.

“People wrote: ‘You can come to my place for the night, then leave in the morning.’ So that’s what I did.”

Ammosov recalls that after the war began, he warned a comrade that he was going to protest, and he replied, “If you can combine it with work, do it.” At the time, Ayhal worked as a barista in a coffee shop.

Crispy Newspaper broke up back in January, so that Ammosov could focus on anti-war activism. His most active period was during the first two months of the war. For example, Ammosov was photographed outside a funeral services bureau holding a placard that read, “The groom has arrived.” (This phrase is uttered by the policeman in Alexei Balabanov’s film Cargo 200 as he dumps the corpse of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan into a bed to which his fiancee is handcuffed.)

Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Ayhal Ammosov’s Instagram page

On another occasion, the activist, who then appeared on Instagram only in a mask covering his face, posed with a placard that read, Kun kihite komuskes. Ayyy kihite ahynygas.

“It means, ‘The man of light is compassionate, merciful. The man of the sun is a defender, a helper.’ The Ayyy are the supreme gods, the light for the Sakha people,” Ammosov explains. “I wanted to remind my people who they are. They should not attack and kill other people or attack foreign countries. The strong must protect the weak.”

Ammosov soon learned from friends that the security forces were looking for him. For example, the police paid a visit to a former Crispy Newspaper guitarist at his workplace, the House of Musicians. The guitarist later told a friend that he was taken to the police department and even threatened with death: the police demanded that he give them Ayhal’s address, phone number or other leads. The young man did not tell them anything — the artist says that they were not in close touch. Besides, Ammosov had already switched to a semi-clandestine existence by that time: he often changed cell phones and slept at the homes of friends or the coffee shop. Later, he would only work one-day temp jobs, for example, clearing roofs of snow.

At night, the activist continued going out to put up leaflets and draw graffiti. Back in March, Center “E” became concerned (as follows from Ammosov’s criminal case file) about the local artist’s anti-war activism, which he talked about on his publicly accessible Instagram page.

As his friend Mikhail recalls, at that time Ayhal was interested in everyone who opposed the Russian government — for example, he was interested in a video featuring [Chechen independence leader] Dzhokhar Dudayev. Mikhail himself also went out at night several times with his friend to put up leaflets.

According to Ammosov, at that time he did not trust close relatives and friends: he was afraid that the security forces could find him. He would only briefly inform his mother that everything was fine.

“Many people in Yakutsk knew me, so I had support: if anything happened, I could turn to them. But it was dangerous, of course,” recalls Ammosov. “I didn’t know whether they would turn me in or set me up. People wrote: ‘You can come to my place, spend the night, have breakfast, and then go [in the morning].’ So that’s what I did.”

“Ayhal led a kind of anonymous lifestyle. No one knew where he worked or lived. He would only mention the district [where he was at the time],” confirms Mikhail.

This went on for about two months. In late April, Ammosov was finally detained while leaving a grocery store.

“Yakutian punk against war” — a raft of administrative charges and one criminal case

Ammosov was held at a police department for “almost a week.” According to the musician, he was threatened while he was in a cell. The police tried to force him to record an apology on video, and did not give him water.

His friend Mikhail adds: “The police in Yakutsk are not particularly fussy. I have been beaten when I was drunk and beaten when I was sober. It’s true, however, that I like to talk about the rights of policemen. They hate everyone equally, locals and nonresidents alike.”

For leafleting, graffiti, and posting photos of [anti-war] placards on Instagram, Ammosov was charged several times with administrative offenses — minor disorderly conduct (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.1.1) and “discrediting” the Russian army (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.3.3.1).

A series of court hearings ensued. On April 27, two administrative cases against Ayhal were tried in the Yakutsk City Court, and three more were tried a day later. For example, the court ruled that a graffito written on a wall, Suoh buollun serii, constituted “discrediting” the army. It translates as “Let there be no war”, and is a line from a song.

“They used to sing it in schools, everyone knows it,” Ammosov explains, perplexed.

By late May, the trials were over. The punk was found guilty on all the charges, and he was fined a little more than 90 thousand rubles. The summer passed relatively calmly. Ammosov tried to earn money to pay off the fines, but he was unsuccessful, managing to amass only half of the amount needed.

For a period of time, Ammosov, along with other concerned residents of Yakutia, helped build a house for Anatoly Chomchoyev, a local nuclear physicist who in May was shot with a trauma pistol and stabbed by men driving a vehicle marked “Russian National Guard.” The Interior Ministry, reporting on the arrest of two suspects, claimed that the men, who were intoxicated, had tried to drive through private land fenced off with a barrier. Chomchoyev had refused to let them through and was assaulted. The ministry did not mention the suspects’ place of work in its press release.

In August, the artist had the idea for the protest of which he is most proud. Later, when interrogated by a police investigator, Ammosov said that he had borrowed a bicycle from a friend to ride around Yakutsk when he noticed the Nugget swimming pool, in the very center of town. He took down an advertising banner he found on the street, and on August 12 asked his girlfriend to videotape him writing the slogan Yakutian punk against war on the back of the banner.

On August 13, two days before Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s arrival in Yakutsk, the punk climbed onto the roof of the swimming pool building. A friend filmed the protest, standing on the opposite side of Taloye, the small lake on whose shore stands the swimming pool building. After hanging the banner, the musician raised his arm in a clenched fist salute and descended the outdoor fire escape. None of the photos or video of the protest has been preserved: the security forces were already waiting for Ammosov and his girlfriend at the bottom of the fire escape and immediately confiscated their phones.

Ammosov was later charged with the criminal offense of repeat “discrediting” of the Russian army (per Article 280.3.1 of the Criminal Code, which states that criminal charges can be filed if a person already has already been charged administratively once in the past year for the same violation.) Ammosov faces up to three years in prison or a fine of 100 to 300 thousand rubles if convicted.

Police investigators examined not only the protest involving the banner at the pool, but Ammosov’s previous anti-war protests as well. The police forensic experts predictably found signs of “discrediting” the army in fairly innocent statements. For example, analyzing the placard featuring the Yakut proverb “the man of the sun is a defender,” the forensic experts concluded that the statement recognizes that “showing pity for Ukrainians suffering onslaught, attack, and encroachment by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and protecting them from the actions of the latter, is true and correct.”

The experts appointed by the investigators also analyzed Ayhal’s gesture at the pool: his right arm raised with his fist clenched. “The Rotfront salute is a call to unite in the fight against fascism, by which the actions of the Russian authorities are meant as the addressee,” they write.

Discussing the phrases “Long live peace” or “No war”, these experts note: “They were often used in Soviet times, but in a different socio-cultural situation.”

Aikhal Ammosov outside the Yakutsk City Court. Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Aikhal Ammosov

However, the forensic experts based their assessment of Ammosov’s slogans and gestures not only on those statements themselves, but also on the report of the musician’s interrogation. On the day of his arrest, Ammosov told an investigator outright that he believed that Russia had invaded Ukraine, that there was not a “special military operation” going on there, but a real war, and that he had wanted to draw people’s attention to this.

A day later, during another interrogation, Ammosov nevertheless noted that the slogan on the banner implied that he was opposed to war in general, not specifically the war in Ukraine. He now admits that he resorted to this trick hoping that he would not be sent to remand prison and would be able to find a lawyer and brainstorm some options for his defense.

A month in jail with “crabs” and men back from Ukraine

Ammosov says that he spent several days in police stations and was transported from one to another. Formally, the activist had been released on his own recognizance, but he was not actually released — the musician was sent to jail for twenty-four hours several times in a row. On August 17, the court jailed him for fifteen days for minor disorderly conduct, followed by two more jail sentences — on September 2, for seven days, and on September 9, for another fifteen days — both times for failing to pay in a timely manner the fines imposed on him (per Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.25) after he was convicted on administrative charges of “discrediting” the army.

Consequently, Ammosov spent over a month under administrative arrest. After being released, Ayhal shared two main impressions that had nothing to do with the disgusting food and the conditions of detention.

First, he was sentenced to his first fifteen days in jail for, allegedly, pasting a “Banned in Sakha” sticker under the picture of a former Crispy Newspaper guitarist on the honor board at the municipal water and sanitation authority, where the musician is now employed. (“Banned in Sakha” is a paraphrase of the title of the song “Banned in D.C.,” by the hardcore punk band Bad Brains.) The police and the court claimed that this was done on August 14, although Ammosov had by that time already been detained for the protest at the swimming pool. The investigator took advantage of this circumstance: while the artist was serving his jail sentence, the investigator petitioned the court to send Ammosov to the pretrial detention center for violating the terms of his release on his own recognizance. The court sided with the activist, who insisted that he could not have pasted the sticker after his arrest. (The court also sided with the girlfriend, with whom, according to the police, Ammosov had pasted the sticker. Although the police asked the Yakutsk City Court to jail her for fifteen days too, the judge only fined her a thousand rubles.)

Second, two men who had been involved in combat in Ukraine were among the anti-war activist’s cellmates. One was an ethnic Russian with the call sign “Temple,” who had served with the Wagner Group. He said that he had been wounded but had not received compensation. The second was an Evenk whose call sign was “Evenk.” He was a veteran of the first Chechen war and a sniper.

“They didn’t say anything bad to me,” Ammosov recalls. “They said, Well, if you’ve done so much for all this, for your beliefs, you’re sitting here in jail, and you haven’t been broken yet, then you rock, man! You just have to understand that Russia is going to win, we’re going to beat the crap out of everyone. This, they said, is a fact. So the fact that you are doing some kind of anti-war shit… there will be wars anyway.”

Ammosov spent his days reading books and playing “crabs” [mandavoshka] — a prison game in which the players roll dice and move figurines around a map. The dice and figurines are fashioned from bread and toothpaste, while the map is drawn on a piece of paper or carved on a table. Care packages were regularly delivered by friends, so Ammosov had instant noodles, fruit and cigarettes, which he would give to his cellmates.

The musician recalls that when he was detained he was wearing shorts, but when he was released, on the morning of September 24, it was snowing, although the snow soon melted. By this time, mobilization for the war with Ukraine had already been announced in Russia.

“I just wanted to speak out, I wanted to do something”

Yakutsk, about which Ammosov had once proudly said that it was a young people’s city with a diverse music scene, seemed deserted to him: “Only old men, young women and ‘Zeders’ are left.” The musician recalls the raids on shopping malls and mentions that his cousin was mobilized.

“I remember that, in the spring, most musicians stopped communicating with me. They were afraid that the FSB and Center ‘E’ guys would try to catch them too. And then, when the mobilization began, they all left for Kazakhstan and from Kazakhstan they began writing fiercely to me and supporting me, as if they had always supported me. I thought, Well, what the fuck,” the Yakut punk says ironically.

Ayhal is no longer involved in anti-war activism. He got a job as an orderly in a care home where he takes care of the elderly and disabled. Only once, according to him, a prosecutor visited him at work to warn him about the inadmissibility of violating the laws on extremism, before taking him to a separate room and advising him “not to get cocky.” Meanwhile, the activist is preparing for his criminal trial, which was supposed to start on November 23 in the Yakutsk City Court, but has been postponed to December 13. He is not planning to plead guilty, but he hopes that he won’t be sent to a penal colony. And he has no regrets.

“I just wanted to speak out, I wanted to do something,” the musician explains. “Well, at the beginning, when the war started, and when I had the court hearings in the spring, people didn’t understand why I was doing it. There was no mobilization back then. But when the mobilization started, everyone was like, ‘Fuck, he was right, we should have done something earlier.'”

Source: Dima Shvets, “Yakutian punk against war: the man behind the placard ‘The groom has arrived’ tried on criminal charges of ‘discrediting’ the army,”Mediazona, 23 November 2022


Dude… this is frickin’ amazing… roaring out of Asia’s northernmost punk scene, Yakutsk (Russia), this phenomenal 70’s/80’s inspired punk band Crispy Newspaper have released a brand new album of solid gold material! You HAVE to check out this band…

Further below check out what the band is like live.

Stay in touch at this link with Youth of North who seem to be a collective/label that releases music from the scene from here.

Source: “Yakutsk Punk Band Crispy Newspaper Release PHENOMENAL Album [Russia],”Unite Asia, 17 October 2020. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for inspiring this entire post by sending me the links to all the articles translated and/or reposted here. This post is dedicated to my little sister K., whose birthday is today. ||| TRR

_________

UPDATE, 9 JANUARY 2022. Various Russian-language media outlets have reported today that Ayhal Ammosov is now safe and sound in Kazakhstan. ||| TRR