On March 29, Oleg Belousov was the first person in St. Petersburg to be convicted on charges of disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army. Judge Eva Gunter sentenced him to five and a half years in a medium-security penal colony.
Formally, Belousov was charged for comments he made on the community social media page “St. Petersburg Diggers.” The case was launched after Belousov was denounced to the authorities by Sergei Chmyhun, another person involved in the community page. The court handed down a guilty verdict despite the fact that Belousov has a third-class disability and a disabled son as a dependent.
Bumaga wrote to Oleg. We have published his slightly abridged reply below. Oleg writes about his health problems, his love for his son, and his gratitude to the people who supported him.
Thank you so much for informing readers and following my case as it unfolded. As many people as possible should find out about this regime’s mendaciousness, about phrases taken out of context, and the trumped-up case. Before my arrest, I still had some doubts about whether I had been mistaken about something, whether I was wrong. But after seeing all the dirt and lies, my doubts were dispelled!
For health reasons. I received ointment for dermatitis of the eyelids: my sister looked for one [kind?], and a young woman from the support group (unfortunately, I don’t know her name) looked for the other one. The medical worker muttered [my] last name and asked, “Who sent it?” I replied that I was a political prisoner and anyone could have sent it, not only relatives. I get letters from all over Russia, and not only from Russia.
Would that I [had received the ointment] right away, but I had to suffer for three months—you won’t get medical help in here. My sister also sent two bottles of [eye]drops, but to get them, you have to go through a whole quest. To begin with, you get an appointment with a doctor, then the doctor has to make a note in your medical record and file an application to be allowed to send it, and then there’s the sending and receiving…
Due to numbness in my right arm and left leg, I do exercises for the cervical spine and the joints. It’s all based on the body’s internal forces, there is no osteopath in her.
Everything is alright, I can’t be broken. I’m more worried about my son. There were a lot of things that I hadn’t done for him yet, that I didn’t teach him to do. He is a disabled child: he suffers from a residual organic lesion of the central nervous system. He certainly lacks my help. He has problems with work too: it’s no so easy for him to find a job. My sister, my niece, and her husband also have health problems. So I’m more worried about them. But me, I’ll get stronger, I’ll toughen up. I’m not afraid of challenges. They won’t shut my mouth, I have a right to my own opinion.
Since I’ve been behind bars, I’ve seen my son only at the court hearings. He worries, of course. When I was arrested, he hugged me and said, “How am I going to live without you?” I will never leave him, of course, and when I get out, I will help him as long as I live.
I now see how many good, honest, decent people there are in Russia who are not afraid to express their opinions. I feel their support, and it gives me strength.
As for the verdict, it was expected, so I took it calmly. How else [could the case have ended]? You can’t expect anything else from liars. It would be smarter for them not to instigate such cases, not to disgrace themselves before the whole world, but they think with a different part of their bodies.
About the provocateur/informer. I had thought earlier that he was a fool, a narrow-minded man. After his denunciation — well, the bastard turned out to be a repeat of 1937. But for every scoundrel, there are thousands of people in Russia who are responsive and ready to help. So what can I say about my feelings for this [person]? It’s like stepping in shit. It’s better not to meet such “people.”
Thanks so much to everyone who writes letters, sends food parcels, and worries about me, my son, and my loved ones! Don’t be afraid to speak the truth, to voice your stance publicly! What kind of freedom is it if you are forced to remain silent? All my cellmates and all the prison employees see and understand the whole situation and what is happening.
Nothing’s gone to change me. I have been an honest, decent person, and I will come out one too! Be kind! May the skies above your head be peaceful!
The ridiculous Meduza strikes again, now deliberately misnaming the (nonexistent) “Network” (and, by the by, passing off the FSB’s torture-“collaborated” fairytales as facts) after just as deliberately, three years ago, torpedoing the broad-based solidarity movement that had finally sprung up in support of the defendants in the so-called Network Case.*
There is unprecedented public outrage at the verdict and the prison sentences requested by the prosecutor. Hundreds of open letters and appeals—from musicians, poets, cinematographers, book publishers, artists, teachers, and municipal councilors—are published. For the first time in Russia, the practice of torture by the special services is openly and massively condemned. The verdict is called an attempt to intimidate the Russian people. The public demands a review of the Network Case and an investigation of the claims of torture. People stand in a huge queue on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square to take turns doing solo pickets.
But a week later, the wave of indignation is shot down. Meduza publishes a controversial article, “Four Went In, Only Two Returned,” in which a certain Alexei Poltavets confesses to a double murder that he committed, allegedly, with defendants in the Network Case. There had long been rumors about the so-called Ryazan Case—the murders of Artyom Dorofeyev and Ekaterina Levchenko in the woods near Ryazan—within the activist community, but the story had never surfaced, because there was no evidence. There is no evidence now, either: the Network’s involvement in the murder is not corroborated by anything other than the claims made by Poltavets. Poltavets himself is in Kiev, and no formal murder charges are made against the Network. But it is enough to discredit the solidarity campaign. Now, in the eyes of society, those who take the side of the Network Case defendants are defending murderers. Public outrage fades, and the verdict remains the same
Yuli Boyarshinov, convicted in the Petersburg portion of the so-called Network Case, has been released, our correspondent reports. His parents, wife, and friends were on hand to meet Boyarshinov.
Boyarshinov was released from Penal Colony No. 7 in Segezha, Republic of Karelia, early in the morning of April 21, although his relatives and friends had expected him to be released in the afternoon.
Boyarshinov said that the wardens gave him a ticket for the train to Petersburg, which departs at ten a.m., and released him right on time for that train. “Customer-oriented service,” Boyarshinov said by way of explaining the rush to release him from the penal colony.
The FSB launched a criminal case against the so-called Network “terrorist community” in October 2017. Eleven individuals from Penza, St. Petersburg, and Moscow, most of them anarchists and antifascists, were detained and then remanded in custody. According to FSB investigators, the young people had established a networked community with the aim of committing terrorist attacks and overthrowing the government.
Boyarshinov and Viktor Filinkov were arrested and eventually tried in Petersburg. Filinkov was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, while Boyarshinov was sentenced to five and a half years in a penal colony. Later, however, his sentence was reduced by three months.
Most of the accused claimed that the evidence was fabricated by the FSB, and repeatedly stated that they had given confessions under torture. The Russian Investigative Committee, however, failed to find any illegalities in the actions of the FSB officers involved the case.
Yuli “Yulian” Boyarshinov, one of the Petersburg defendants in the Network Case, has been released from prison, after having spent over five years in custody. Bumaga was there to capture Boyarshinov’s first moments on the outside, where he was reunited with his wife and his parents.
Boyarshinov was detained in January 2018 and had been in custody from then until his release earlier today. In June 2020, he was sentenced to five and a half years in a penal colony on charges of “involvement in a terrorist community,” but an appeals court later reduced his sentence by three months. The sentence took into account the time Boyarshinov had already spent in jail.
The Network Case is also known as the Penza Case, since most of the defendants were detained in Penza. However, the FSB claim that the “terrorist community” operated cells not only in Penza, but also in Petersburg, Moscow, Omsk, and Belarus. Leftist activists, antifascists, anarchists, and airsoft players were detained as part of the Network Case.
Before his arrest, Boyarshinov had been employed as an industrial climber and was involved in charity work. He recounted that he had been tortured in the pretrial detention center.
Boyarshinov pleaded guilty to the charges, claiming that the Network’s participants had come together for the purpose of self-defense training. And yet Boyarshinov did not make a deal with prosecutors and refused to testify against the other defendants.
Boyarshinov is the second person involved in the Network Case to be released. The first was Igor Shishkin, who was detained at the same time as Boyarshinov. Shishkin was released in July 2021, after which he spoke to the press about having been tortured.
After two decades spent in Russian politics, after all that I have seen and experienced, I was sure that nothing can surprise me any more. I must admit that I was wrong.
I’ve been surprised by how far my trial, in its secrecy and contempt for legal norms, has surpassed even the “trials” of Soviet dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s. And that’s not even to mention the harsh sentence requested by the prosecution or the talk of “enemies of the state”. In this respect, we’ve gone beyond the 1970s – all the way back to the 1930s.
As a historian, for me this is an occasion for reflection.
At one point during my testimony, the presiding judge reminded me that one of the extenuating circumstances [in my case] was “remorse for what [the accused] has done”. And although there is little that’s funny about my current situation, I couldn’t help but smile: A criminal, of course, must repent of his deeds. I’m in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. For facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators.
Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it. I am proud that [assassinated opposition politician] Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me. I support every word that I have spoken and every word of which I have been accused by this court. I blame myself for only one thing: that over the years of my political activity I have not managed to convince enough of my compatriots and enough politicians in the democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and for the world. Today this is obvious to everyone, but at a terrible price – the price of war.
In their last statements to the court, defendants usually ask for an acquittal. For a person who has not committed any crimes, acquittal would be the only fair verdict. But I do not ask this court for anything. I know the verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car in the rear view mirror. Such is the price for speaking up in Russia today.
But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will evaporate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when it will be officially recognised that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who fostered and unleashed this war will be recognised as criminals, rather than those who tried to stop it.
This day will come as spring comes after even the coldest winter. And then our society will open its eyes and be horrified by what terrible crimes were committed on its behalf. Through this realisation, through this reflection, the long, difficult but vital path toward Russia’s recovery and restoration begins, its return to the community of civilised countries.
Even today, even in the darkness surrounding us, even sitting in this cage, I love my country and believe in our people. I believe that we can walk this path.
A Russian court sentenced opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison on charges of treason and “fake news” Monday, capping a high-profile trial of one of the country’s most defiant anti-war voices.
Moscow City Court found Kara-Murza, 41, guilty of treason, “false information about the Russian army,” and affiliation with an “undesirable organization,” Interfax reported.
“Russia will be free, tell everyone,” Kara-Murza said after the verdict, according to the independent news site Avtozak.info.
Russia has witnessed a widespread wartime crackdown on dissent, but the severity of Kara-Murza’s sentence marks a new record as the Kremlin seeks to muzzle any criticism of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The Western-educated politician was detained in April 2022 on charges of “spreading false information about the Russian army” in an address to U.S. state legislators a month earlier.
Kara-Murza was later accused of being affiliated with an “undesirable organization” for participating in a conference in support of political prisoners. His treason charges came in October over anti-war comments made at three public events abroad.
Prosecutors had requested a prison sentence of 25 years — the maximum possible jail term — for Kara-Murza.
“My self-esteem even went up [on the prosecutors’ request]. I realized I was doing everything right,” Kara-Murza’s lawyer Maria Eismont recounted her client as saying.
“Twenty-five years is the highest score I could get for what I did, what I believe in as a citizen, as a patriot, as a politician,” Eismont quoted him as saying, adding that he greeted the verdict “with a smile.”
His trial was held behind closed doors.
Monday’s hearing was attended by several Kara-Murza supporters and foreign diplomats including a U.S. embassy official named David Bernstein, according to the Mediazona news site.
The Kremlin declined to comment on Kara-Murza’s prison sentence, which his supporters and Western governments slammed as politically motivated.
U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy called Russia’s criminal prosecution of Kremlin critics “a symbol of weakness, not strength,” while Canadian Ambassador Alison LeClaire said Kara-Murza’s sentence marked a “dark turn” in Russia’s post-Soviet history.
The British Ambassador in Moscow Deborah Bronnert denounced the court ruling and called for the “immediate” release of Kara-Murza, a dual British-Russian citizen.
“The British government expresses solidarity with Vladimir Kara-Murza and his family,” Bronnert told journalists from the steps of the courthouse.
A Russian citizen by birth, Kara-Murza received British citizenship after moving to the United Kingdom with his mother when he was 15.
Russia’s Ambassador in London Andrei Kelin was summoned by the U.K. Foreign Office, which condemned Kara-Murza’s sentence as a violation of his right to a fair trial under international law.
The European Union denounced Kara-Murza’s sentence as “outrageously harsh” and called on Russia to provide access to health care for the ailing Kremlin critic.
The opposition activist suffers from a nerve condition called polyneuropathy which his lawyers say was due to poisoning attempts in 2015 and 2017.
The condition has worsened in prison, and he was too unwell to attend some of his hearings, his lawyers said.
Kara-Murza says he was poisoned twice because of his political activities, but he continued to spend long periods of time in Russia.
Kara-Murza has said he stands by all of his political statements, including those opposing the Ukraine offensive.
“I subscribe to every word that I have said, that I am incriminated for today,” Kara-Murza said in his final address to court last week, highlighting his fight against the Ukraine offensive and President Vladimir Putin.
“Not only do I not repent for any of it — I am proud of it,” he said.
Germany condemned the “shocking level repression” in Russia on Monday, and Latvia announced it had banned 10 Russian nationals from traveling to the Baltic country in retaliation to the court ruling.
The Central District Military Court at Yekaterinburg, in Russia, yesterday (10 April) handed down 19-year prison sentences to Roman Nasryev and Aleksei Nuriev, for firebombing an administrative office building where a military registration office is based.
Roman and Aleksei will have to spend the first four years in prison, and the rest in a maximum-security penal colony.
This is the most severe sentence handed down so far for anti-war arson.
Roman and Aleksei received this long term of imprisonment because their actions were defined as a “terrorist act” (Article 205.2 of the criminal code of the Russian Federation) and “undergoing training for the purpose of undertaking terrorist activity” (Article 205.3). The latter Article carries a minimum term of 15 years.
The arson attack that Roman and Aleksei carried out – in reaction to the mlitary mobilisation, and to express their opposition to the invasion of Ukraine – was no more than symbolic. A female security guard was able to put out the fire, with a blanket and a few litres of water. There was damage to a window and some linoleum.
In court Roman Nasryev said:
I decided to carry out this action, because I did not agree with the [military] mobilisation, the “Special Military Operation” and the war as a whole. I simply wanted to show, by my actions, that in our city there is opposition to mobilisation and the “Special Military Operation”. I wanted in this way to make clear my opposition; I wanted my voice to be heard.
Solidarity Zone believes that this type of anti-war arson is not terrorism. That definition is politically motivated, and directly linked to the fact that the Russian government has unleashed a war of aggression against Ukraine.
□ Translated from Solidarity Zone’s Telegram feed. The original asks people to send letters and parcels to Roman and Aleksei in prison. If you are not a Russian speaker and you want to send them a message, there is no point in sending it directly. You can send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org and I hope to be able to pass them.
The case of Pavel Korshunov, accused of “terrorism” over anti-war arson, sent to trial
Pavel Korshunov was detained in the city of Togliatti, Samara Region, as if he were a particularly dangerous criminal — a large number of Interior Ministry special forces soldiers were involved in his capture. But, according to investigators, all that Pavel did was set try and set fire to the Togliatti city administration building the day after the mobilization was announced. In a video posted online by the security forces, Korshunov states that he wanted to impede the mobilization.
Before his arrest, Pavel worked at a boathouse. Citing sources in the security forces, the media also write that Korshunov had previously taken part in protests.
Pavel has been charged with “committing a terrorist act” (per Article 205.2.b of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and “vandalism” (per Article 214.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). He faces from twelve to twenty years in prison if convicted.
On April 7, his case was submitted to the Central District Military Court in Samara. It will be tried by a three-judge panel chaired by Igor Belkin. There is not yet any information about exact trial dates on the court’s website.
✊ Help a teacher from Krasnodar accused of terrorism!
On the night of October 6, persons unknown set fire to the military enlistment office in the city of Goryachy Klyuch, Krasnodar Territory. The next day, the security forces detained two suspects — Bogdan Abdurakhmanov, a 27-year-old native of Minsk, and Boris Goncharenko, a 34-year-old man from Krasnodar.
Abdurakhmanov and Goncharenko were initially charged with “attempted destruction of property” (per Article 30.3 and Article 167.3 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and thus faced no more than three years and nine months of imprisonment if convicted. The FSB intervened in the case, however, and the charge was changed to “committing a terrorist act” (per Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). Bogdan and Boris now face from twelve to twenty years in prison.
Goncharenko graduated from Kuban State University. After graduating, he taught history, social studies, and philosophy at various educational institutions. At one time he worked as a manager for the Garant and Konsultant Plus legal information portals.
Boris does not support Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and after the outbreak of the full-scale war, he was very worried about the fate of the conscripts, including his former and current students.
Goncharenko does not consider himself guilty of “committing a terrorist act.”
Solidarity Zone has found a lawyer to defend Boris Goncharenko and made a down payment on their fee so that they may begin working. On March 29, we announced a campaign to raise the 250 thousand rubles necessary to pay the lawyer’s fees in full during the investigation phase of the case. To date, less than one fifth of the amount of money needed has been raised.
We urge you to support our fundraiser with donations and reposts!
You are not violating any Russian laws by participating in the fundraiser. We have not been deemed “foreign agents” or an “extremist” or “terrorist” organization by the authorities, and raising money to pay a lawyer’s fees is not prohibited in Russia yet. ☺️
Today, April 10, my son Ilya turns 27. This is the sixth birthday he has celebrated behind bars. But every year I wait, believe, and hope that he be released from captivity and be near us. I naively believe in justice and truth. A miracle must happen sometime and Goodness will triumph!
My son, the best in the world, I lovingly congratulate you on your birthday! You are a part of me, and from the bottom of my heart I want to wish you incredibly beautiful days and nights, the most wonderful emotions, and fulfillment of ambitious plans! You deserve everything wonderful; may sincere Faith, pure and devoted Love, and optimistic Hope always remain with you! I wish my son the brightest road today. After all, you are all I have. My mother’s heart very often worries about you. It hurts for every trial you go through. It hurts for everything! Know, son, that you are everything to me. You are my only man, for whom I am not sorry to give my life. You’re my rock.
Ilya’s payphones have been turned off, and at the moment there is no connection with him. Today the weather is as warm and sunny as it was in 1996 [on the day he was born]. May the sun’s rays give hope, faith, kindness, and most importantly freedom to Ilya and to all political prisoners!
A criminal case against Zhlobitskaya was launched in December. She was released on her own recognizance after being charged with “publicly condoning terrorism,” per Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code. The charge was triggered by posts she had made in November and December 2019 on VKontakte. Among them are reposts of poems from the website stihi.ru, as well as two reposts from the group page of the People’s Self-Defense with information about the bomb blast at the FSB.
According to the prosecution’s expert witnesses, Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s actions in the posts in question were deemed “correct, worthy of support and imitation,” and he himself was characterized as a “good guy.”
17-year-old student Mikhail Zhlobitsky detonated a homemade bomb in the lobby of the FSB’s Arkhangelsk directorate on [October 31,] 2018, killing himself and injuring three security forces officers. A few minutes before the blast, a warning about the attack from Zhlobitsky appeared in the chat of the Telegram channel “A Rebel’s Speech.” The message said that his act, in particular, was motivated by the fact that the FSB had been fabricating criminal cases.
I haven’t written here for a long time generally and about Vitya in particular. We haven’t seen each other for almost two months. That’s an awfully long time, and I miss him terribly. Soon I will fly back to Orenburg and tell you how Vitya is doing, but after meeting with him.
In the meantime, I’ll tell you about the money, my favorite topic, because there is a constant need for it and it is constantly running out.
Vitya is now “painting the town red” on his own money. Recently, I got hold of 100 thousand rubles from his bank account, which Vitya had earned before he was sent down and which were blocked because he is a “terrorist.” I couldn’t get my hands on the other 70 thousand. They are frozen until Vitya is removed from the registry of “terrorists.”
Those 100 thousand rubles have really come in handy. I am now using them to pay for trips and lawyer’s fees. In 2023, we have already spent 190 thousand rubles on tickets and lawyer’s fees over eight trips. (Luckily, the tickets in January were also quite cheap.) And to this we have to add lodging costs in Orenburg and monthly transfers to Vitya’s account for shopping in the penal colony’s commissary and penalties “for refusing to work” (we are now appealing the latter in court), as well as all sorts of unforeseen expenses, such as notary services, medicines, etc.
So very soon Vitya’s 100 thousand rubles will be done. In 2023, 60 thousand rubles have trickled onto the bank card we use to solicit donations for Vitya, and even then only because 50 thousand rubles were suddenly donated in February. In other months, total donations have ranged between three and 15 thousand. We still have a small reserve left, but it’s really small. It will last us for another month or two at most.
The good news is that we seemingly might be able to get back some of this money, but it will take a long time. In January, the court made the first decision to compensate our expenses in one of the cases we won. This is not compensation for moral injury, but only reimbursement of the lawyer’s travel expenses (50 thousand). The penal colony filed an appeal of course, and the date for that hearing has not even been set yet. And the district court judge has been postponing all our other claims for compensation, waiting for the appeal court’s decision on the first case. Then, if the ruling remains in force, we will wait for this money to be returned: it seems this will take up to three months, So it’s still a long time before we’ll see those initial 50 thousand again, so for the time being we definitely need donations. We have also finally started filing claims for compensation for moral injury, but there have been no hearings on these claims yet.
All the year and a half that Vitya has been in Orenburg, we have spent a lot of money fighting on his behalf, but we have been winning half of our cases in the courts, and ultimately this leads to an improvement in Vitya’s conditions (which are still harsh, however). Lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov has been working selflessly on all of Vitya’s cases since the first days of his arrest, traveling several times a month between St. Petersburg and Orenburg.
To get to the point: if you are able to donate money, please do. If you have no way to donate money, then maybe you know someone who does and you can share this post with them. Or just repost it. Or maybe you can advise us about where or to whom we can apply for financial support. All such help on your part is incredibly valuable.
In keeping with established tradition, if someone from the FSIN and their ilk are reading this, DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH — WE’RE NOT GIVING UP.
Send your donations to help pay the lawyer’s fees and Vitya’s daily expenses to:
Source: Jenya Kulakova (Facebook), 20 March 2023. Ms. Kulakova, who is a friend of mine and one of my favorite people on this planet, 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 have posted 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. 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. The PayPal account that Ms. Kulakova lists, above, is managed by the Moscow chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross and is completely reliable. I have made donations to it on several occasions in the past. Thank you! ||| Thomas H. Campbell, The Russian Reader
Ms. Kulakova and Mr. Filinkov met earlier today (25 March 2023), and Ms. Kulakova posted this snapshot from their meeting:
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
Ruslan Zinin is a real Russian hero, but you won’t find many Russians talking about his heroism or his current plight for the simple reason that they’ve convinced themselves that there is nothing more to be said or done about their country’s dreadful criminal invasion of Ukraine. It is now up to Ukrainians and the “collective West” to stop Putin, whatever the cost. The vast majority of Russians have better things to do, apparently. In the last few days alone, I’ve seen smart Russian friends of mine, people I definitely consider to be among the country’s best and brightest and even (in other circumstances) the most courageous, writing angrily about alleged government bank bailouts in the US and the supposed tendency of US “taxpayers” to vote for conservative politicians, or how they can’t talk about the things that matter to them on social media due to the war (about which they emphatically don’t want to write because enough has been said about it already), or wondering aloud why it took so long for “them” (i.e., the “international community”) to issue an arrest warrant for Putin.||| TRR
Ruslan Zinin transferred to solitary confinement
Ruslan Zinin’s mother Marina Zinina has reported that on March 21 [her son] was transferred to a solitary confinement cell without explanation.
“They came and took him away, saying, ‘Let’s go to another place.’ They put him in the basement in a solitary confinement cell. […] The conditions are terrible. It’s damp and cold and reeks of sewage, and rats are running around, and there’s nothing in the cell at all, except for a cot. There’s nowhere to store food, nowhere to get water, there’s no kettle, there’s nothing.”
Marina Zinina also said that Ruslan has not received any letters for two weeks, despite the fact that FSIN-Pismo [the Russian penitentiary system’s electronic correspondence service] has been sending people notifications that their letters had been vetted by the censor and handed over to Ruslan.
Solitary confinement is one of two forms of punishment for violating the rules in a pretrial detention center. (The second is a reprimand.) The warden of the pretrial detention center or his deputy can impose these penalties. But before imposing a penalty, the prisoner is given the opportunity to write an explanation about their alleged violation, and they must be notified of the penalty in writing.
Zinin was not charged with violating the rules of the pretrial detention center, and was not informed of any such decisions on the part of the warden.
We consider Zinin’s transfer to solitary confinement to be an escalation of pressure on the prisoner, an attempt to silence him and get him to consent to unfounded accusations of “terrorism.”
A logging truck driver from Ust-Ilimsk (Irkutsk Region), Zinin fired several shots from a sawn-off shotgun at the local military commissar in the midst of the mobilization announced in September of last year. He was incited to do this by the draft notice that had arrived for his brother. The military commissar survived the attack.
In early March, Zinin was charged with committing a “terrorist act” (per Article 205.2.b of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).
Despite the fact that letters are not being handed on to Ruslan at the moment, they remain an important support tool. A large flow of letters shows the wardens at the pretrial detention center that a lot of people are concerned about Ruslan’s plight. An even greater flow of letters and complaints in connection with their non-receipt has repeatedly been shown to be capable of breaking through the information blockade that the authorities impose on political prisoners.
Address for letters and parcels to Ruslan:
Zinin Ruslan Alexandrovich (born 1997)
63 ul. Barrikad, SIZO-1
Irkutsk 664019 Russian Federation
You can send letters electronically from anywhere in the world via the FSIN-Pismo service (subject to payment with a Russian-issued bank card) or the free, volunteer-run resource RosUznik (which allows you to remain anonymous).
❗️ If in the last two weeks FSIN-Pismo has sent you a notification of delivery, write to the service’s support team that your letter was not passed on to Ruslan. (You can say that you found about this in the media.)
Solidarity Zone has been providing comprehensive assistance to Ruslan Zinin and his family.
Source: Solidarity Zone (Facebook), 22 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. People living outside Russia will find it difficult, if not impossible, to use the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s FSIN-Pismo service. It is also probably impossible or nearly impossible to send parcels to Russian detention facilities from abroad. But you can send letters — translated into Russian (if you don’t know a competent translator, you can use a free online translation service such as Google Translate) — to Ruslan Zinin (and many other Russian political prisoners) via RosUznik, as mentioned above. You can also ask me (email@example.com) for assistance and advice in sending letters.