Yegor Balazeikin is sixteen years old. In late February, he was detained in Kirovsk, a town in the Leningrad Region: according to police investigators, he wanted to set fire to a military enlistment office, and now he stands accused of “attempted terrorism.” Later, a second criminal case was launched against the schoolboy, also for allegedly attempting to torch a military enlistment office, this time in Petersburg. Our correspondent found out how a teenager who had supported the war in Ukraine a year ago changed his views one hundred eighty degrees and how this has impacted his entire family.
After Yegor was detained, he admitted that he had in fact tossed homemade Molotov cocktails at a military enlistment office, but none of them had started a fire or caused other serious damage. Now the teenager is at risk of going to prison and spending as many years there as the time he has already spent on earth. His family are convinced that the security forces want to ruin the boy’s life. His parents and his lawyer have been forbidden from sharing information about the case with third parties.
Yegor turned sixteen last August. He loves the humanities, especially history and social studies. After finishing school, he wanted to enroll in the law school or economics faculty at [St. Petersburg State U]niversity. His parents had transferred him to School No. 166, one of the leading liberal arts prep schools in St. Petersburg.
“Yegor has always done very well at school. He passed the OGE (the basic state exam taken by pupils after they complete the ninth grade) with flying colors. It was decided to apply to several Petersburg schools at once, and School No. 166 was among them. His parents spent a long time talking it over. They were prepared for the fact that Yegor would have a long commute, since they lived in a single-family dwelling in Otradnoye [forty kilometers east of Petersburg]. Consequently, Yegor’s knowledge so impressed the headmaster at the 166th (who is a historian, by the way) that Yegor was unconditionally accepted into the tenth grade,” says Natalia Krylova, a friend of Yegor’s mother. (Her name has been changed to protect her identity.)
Natalia is close to Yegor’s family. She has know the boy since he was four. She is aware of the details of his life and had tutored him in English. According to her, Yegor’s father, Daniel, was quite supportive of his passion for Russian history.
“He was especially interested in military history and studied all the wars. When Yegor was still a little boy, he got interested in the history of weaponry at his father’s suggestion. I remember his getting books about tanks for New Year’s. He’s just such a dogged young fellow — if he starts doing something, he goes all the way. He knew all the places connected with the Great Patriotic War, he went several times to historical sites near Petersburg, and he often visited military museums,” says Natalia.
Yegor’s interest in military history was also encouraged by his uncle Dmitry, Daniel’s older brother. Dmitry [was] a professional military man with combat experience. He had always been an authority for Yegor when it came to complex historical matters.
When Yegor had just started school, he began having health problems. His mother, Tatiana Balazeikina, took him to the doctors, and they discovered that the boy had a serious disease — autoimmune hepatitis.
“To put it simply, his immune system attacks the liver cells for some reason. Maybe there is some kind of pathogen or virus hidden there, and so the immune system went crazy and began attacking its own tissues in an attempt to get this virus. It is a serious problem, especially if the liver is involved,” says Natalia.
The disease proved to be hereditary: Yegor’s mother also has an autoimmune disease, only it affects a different organ in her body.
“His parents spent so much time with Yegor at all kinds of hospitals trying to understand what was happening to their child that there was practically nothing left in his life except medical tests. He was even classified as a disabled person, a status that was later rescinded,” Natalia recalls. “When he was ten, they had to do something to prevent him from seeing himself as disabled. That’s why they signed him up for kyokushin, a style of Japanese karate.”
Yegor lucked out with his coaches and grew quite fond of this difficult, harsh style of karate. He took part in competitions, often winning, and the Balazeikin home was chockablock with martial arts trophies and medals. After emerging victorious at regional championships, Yegor often judged children’s competitions himself.
But Yegor had to give up his promising sporting career due to his transfer to the new school and having to study for the state exams. His disease eventually went into persistent remission, but he still has to visit a hematologist every three months, have a comprehensive physical once a year, and constantly take life-saving medications.
When Yegor transferred to the new school, his load seriously increased: his classes were harder, and every day he had to spend several hours traveling to the prep school and back. His parents eventually rented him a room directly opposite the school. The family had no extra money for this. Tatiana, who worked as an English teacher, had to go into business as freelance tutor, although there were few lessons to be had, mostly with the children of friends and acquaintances. The family’s main source of income are the wages that Daniel earns as an electrician.
“The child was dying from fatigue, from the huge workload, but his studies were important to him. After arriving home, it would happen that he would fall asleep in the hallway with his coat and shoes still on. Can you imagine how tired he was? Yegor would stay the night at this [rented] room [in the city] when he realized that he could not make it home after school. He would spend all weekends at home. The media has written that his mother left her son to live alone, but this is a lie. He did very well at the new school. Although it was difficult, he got excellent marks. He was looking at several fields to go into. For a long time he dreamed of becoming a diplomat and started studying English in depth, but then he settled on studying history, law, and economics,” says Natalia.
According to Yegor’s new classmates, he is a very kind and intelligent boy. He unfailingly attended all outings, electives, and lectures, and not only always took a clear stance on historical issues, but also knew how to argue his point well.
“Yegor is not terribly talkative, and he didn’t hang out a lot with many people, but he always gave the impression of being a decent, good person. It is a pity that he is in such circumstances now,” a female classmate told our correspondent.
His teachers and the parents of his classmates spoke well of Yegor.
“My son spoke very positively of Yegor. He is a very good boy. It would be a pity to ruin the young fellow’s life,” says one of the parents.
According to Yegor’s relatives, the family had always respected his right to his own opinion and position, and always gave him the opportunity to choose. With the support of his parents, he had grown up to be an individual interested in the history of his country.
When the war in Ukraine began, life in the Balazeikin family changed a great deal. At first there were no disagreements between the parents and the teenager: they all fully supported Vladimir Putin’s decisions.
“I found it strange, but we never quarreled about it, because we are adults who can share their own opinions in the spirit of friendship and grant the other person the right to be different. At first, Yegor was like everyone in his family, like his mom, his dad, his grandmother and, especially, his father’s brother, his uncle, a professional military man. But Uncle Dima was killed almost at the outset of the special military operation. And after his uncle was killed, Yegor’s position began to change,” recalls Natalia Krylova.
It was early April. Dmitry Balazeikin, Yegor’s uncle, volunteered to go to Ukraine as part of an army reserve unit (BARS). He was no longer of military service age, but had a lot of experience. He had served in hot spots, and his relatives called him a “real officer.”
“He didn’t say anything to anyone — he just went off to the front. And he was almost immediately killed near Izyum, where there were terrible battles and heavy losses last March and April,” says Natalia. “He died with dignity, as Tanya told me: he was a platoon commander and was defending his soldiers. But it happened that it was at the beginning of the special military operation, when everything was still unorganized, and he was a volunteer, so his funeral was quite difficult to arrange, including financially. His body had to be claimed and all the paperwork done. Tanya took care of this, since Dima’s mother was completely unable to do it. Besides, she was in Kazakhstan. Dima’s two ex-wives, who have children to care for, couldn’t handle it either.”
It so happened that it was Yegor’s parents who took on most of the chores associated with Dmitry’s funeral, and Yegor watched the whole difficult process unfold.
“It was the first funeral in the family for him. Some time before, his paternal grandfather had died from covid. But Yegor was not involved in any funeral-related events at that time: the covid restrictions were still in effect, and only his father flew to the funeral. The funeral of his uncle, who had been killed, was bound to leave a mark on him,” says Natalia.
“At first, the intensity of his emotions was off the scale. It seems to me that he felt quite conflicted. His uncle had been killed, but you go on the internet and there’s hoople. It’s the same thing on TV. At school, Yegor’s class was studying the First World War, it seems. If it had been me, I really wouldn’t have been able to handle it. It’s a lot of stress at sixteen. I remember when Tanya and I were talking about what was happening in our families, she spoke in great detail about how Yegor was having a rough time processing events, that he was against people getting killed on either side. I thought the right thing to do would be to advise her to take Yegor to a therapist, because it’s a little odd that a child of his age is not interested in girls and friends, but is all tense like a coiled spring. You see, he steered almost all conversations to a single topic, to how Russia was doing wrong. I think everything overlapped so terribly, both this war and his inner emotions,” Natalia says, sighing.
On the evening of February 28, Yegor’s mother received a call from the police informing her of her son’s arrest. According to Russian National Guard officers, it was Yegor who had thrown the Molotov cocktail at the military enlistment office in Kirovsk. The bottle “had broken, but nothing had caught on fire.”
“That day, I received a message from Tanya. It opened with the words, ‘Our family is dead.’ Later, she told me that Yegor had taken his arrest calmly. Perhaps he had anticipated it. He hadn’t tried to break free or run from the police. So far, he has been behaving absolutely calmly, as far as I know. It’s quite strange. I can’t understand it. Apparently, he had thought through all the options, including this one. A person who has decided to carry out a protest like that must be mentally prepared for such an outcome,” Natalia says.
Before she was forbidden to talk about the case, Tatiana Balazeikina managed to tell the media that, immediately after her son’s arrest, she was able to have a short conversation with him, during which he said, “If I hadn’t done what I did, I would probably have hanged myself, because I can’t go around with this weight in my heart, seeing how many people are getting killed.” Yegor was first charged with arson, but later charged with attempted terrorism. According to his mother, during the interrogation, “the investigators very clearly pushed” the teenager to say what they wanted to hear. As was reported on the Telegram channel in support of Yegor, FSB officers threatened that he would be raped in the pretrial detention center and sent to a mental hospital, to which Yegor said, “Do with me what you wish, I will not change my position.”
Yegor is currently in custody at Pretrial Detention Center No. 5. His relatives and other people directly involved in the case have been forced to sign an agreement not to disclose any information about it. His mother was able to deliver to him the medicines and textbooks he needed, along with warm clothes, because it is cold at the detention center. According to Natalia, Yegor has been trying to work out in his spare time and has been thinking a lot about what is happening in the country.
“No one takes into account the age of the offender. There are different circumstances, different life experiences, different motives, and different people. Why can’t he be put under house arrest? He’s just a kid! My only hope and all my prayers are that the criminal code article under which has been charged will be changed. Initially, when he was detained, he was under investigation for violating a completely different article. Now [if he is convicted] he will be imprisoned for ten to fifteen years — at the age of sixteen. This is neither education nor social adaptation. It is a very deep trauma, so many years of isolation. Our state does not value human life as much as it does its own peace of mind,” says Natalia, indignantly.
“Despite their differences over the war, Yegor’s dad has supported his son,” she says. “What has happened has very much brought the family together. Such tragedies either break up families, or, on the contrary, people become even closer to each other. In their case, the second has happened. I think Yegor’s father blames himself for what happened, no less than his mother. Tanya said, ‘Did we bring him up wrong? But how? I really did want him to be a good person…’ I can say that he is in fact a good person. After all, bad deeds don’t always make you a bad person. Everyone can make mistakes. It is a life experience for which you bear responsibility.”
His relatives and human rights activists have launched a Telegram channel in support of Yegor on which they report on his condition. According to Natalia, he really wants people to write him letters.
Petersburg lawyer Leonid Krikun, who is known for having defended a number of activists and public figures, is confident that the court will return a guilty verdict and the length of the sentence it hand downs will depend directly on the defendant’s admission or non-admission of guilt in court.
“With a full confession, the extent of punishment may be smaller. If there is no confession, judges give close to the maximum [sentence] within the scope mandated by the criminal code. The current regime is aware of the populace’s discontent with the mobilization and has been doing everything to stop attempts to prevent it from implementing the mobilization. If criminal cases are launched against disapproving social media posts about mobilization, then for direct actions aimed at disrupting the mobilization, the authorities would have people shot if they could,” Krikun argues. ” The authorities punish assaults on ‘sacred thing’ to the fullest extent of the law, which changes at any time at their discretion.”
Without reliable information about an arsonist’s objectives, the investigating authorities are free to launch criminal proceedings in cases of arson under various articles in the Criminal Code, but after receiving testimony from the suspect, the article under which they are charged may be changed..
Krikun notes that the strictest form of pretrial restriction — detention in a remand prison — is mandated for “undesirables,” and [their lawyers and loved ones] are prohibited from disclosing the investigation’s preliminary findings. The general public thus has no information about the civil rights violations committed by police investigators. Meanwhile, the security forces do not even take into consideration who exactly they are dealing with, even when the suspect is a teenage boy, a young woman, or an elderly lady.
“This is how the authorities intimidate detainees in these cases in order to persuade them to make a full confession of guilt and to repent, and to present them to society not as opposition activists, but as lost sheep who have realized that their own behavior was mistaken,” the lawyer argues.
Source: Yelizaveta Dobrovinskaya, “‘Our Family Is Dead’: The Story of Yegor Balazeikin, Suspected of Torching a Military Enlistment Office,” Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 22 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. If you don’t want the Russian Reader to turn into a chatbot, or for it to be switched off altogether, show your support today by liking, commenting, sharing, or donating. I have to see that there are other human beings out there reacting tangibly to my unpaid labor of love, which is now in the middle of its sixteenth year. I have received only $117 in donations so far in 2023. That’s not enough financial support for me for to keep doing this much longer, considering that last year, for example, my overhead costs alone were $1,620 (for internet, hosting, and subscriptions to online independent Russian media), against only $1,403 in reader donations on the year. ||| TRR