Mardikor

“Every Day We Go Out on the Road”: A Documentary About the Lives of Female Mardikors Has Been Made in Tajikistan
Fergana
July 2, 2020

Tajik journalists have made the documentary film Mardikor [“Day Laborer” or “Handywoman,” as the filmmakers themselves have translated the term], which details the plight of female day laborers in the city of Bokhtar, 100 kilometres from Dushanbe. The picture was created as part of MediaCAMP (Central Asia Media Program), implemented by Internews with financial support from USAID, writes Asia-Plus.

Pop-up mardikor markets exist in all the cities and major towns of Tajikistan. But whereas earlier only men offered their services there, women’s markets have also recently appeared. Women who are divorced or left without the support of husbands who have gone to work abroad are willing to undertake any hard work for the sake of two or three dollars a day.

“The short film Mardikor tells the story of these women, most of whom are the abandoned wives of migrant workers. Their husbands do not return from the Russian Federation for years on end and do not send money to support their families. The majority of unemployed women at this labor market do not even have a school-leaving certificate. More than half are mothers with many children,” says the film’s director Mahpora Kiromova.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Film poster (below) courtesy of Mahpora Kiromova’s Facebook page. Translated by the Russian Reader

mardikor

tellme_sister

nazh-1Elena Nazhmetdinova. Photo from her Instagram page

“Tell Me, Sister”: A Tajik Woman on the Web Urges Young Woman to Speak Out About Harassment
Zarnigor Dadabayeva
Asia Plus
June 30, 2020

When she launched her first blog on Instagram, 23-year-old Elena Nazhmetdinova could not have imagined that it would garner more than 1,500 subscribers in a single day. On the blog, Nazhmetdinova tells the stories of women who have been sexually harassed. She has already posted thirty-six such stories.

“There Are No Such Problems in Tajikistan!”
This is not the first time that Nazhmetdinova has spoken about sexual harassment. She started writing about it a long time ago, when she first started blogging on Facebook.

“But there was no response from the people who were reading me. I think this was due to the fact that Facebook is mainly used by the adult generation. While most of the people on Instagram are young people, who are not unfamiliar with the topic of sexual harassment on the streets. It was there that I decided to find my own voice, and it wasn’t a miscalculation: more than 70% of my audience now is young women,” the blogger says.

nazh-2Elena Nazhmetdinova. Photo from her Instagram page

Recently, according to Nazhmetdinova, young men who could not ignore this painful topic for young women had also started to swell the ranks of her readership.

“But they did not come [to the blog] to support us. On the contrary, they came to insult, humiliate, and hate on us and thus, supposedly, persuade us that there was no sexual harassment in our country. They would say, ‘There are no such problems in Tajikistan!” Nazhmetdinova says, quoting her male readers.

That was why, the young woman explains, she came up with the idea of launching a separate project on Instagram called Tell Me, Sister. This was so that others who have suffered from such humiliation can tell their painful stories along with her. Nazhmetdinova received exactly thirty-six stories within a day.

nazh-3“I’m really scared to go out in the evening, or in revealing clothing.” A story of sexual harassment on the Instagram page tellme_sister

Tellme_sister
“Without knowing it, I was inspired to create this project by male readers whose comments often started with the words ‘Sister, don’t dress like that . . .’, Sister, don’t look up [at men] . . .’, ‘Sister, it’s your own fault . . .’,” Nazhmetdinova explains.

nazh-4Elena Nazhmetdinova. Photo from her Instagram page

“So, I decided to write a post in this vein, and surprisingly it was the most read and the most commented-on post, in the end. It was then that I decided to dub the project Tell Me, Sister,” Nazhmetdinova explains.

As soon as Nazhmetdinova launched the project, she began receiving stories from women and girls that ended the same way: “I haven’t told this to anyone yet.” According to the blogger, her subscribers realized that they could trust her.

nazh-5“As I ran away, I heard [him] shouting in my direction that I was a ‘prostitute,’ ‘not a Muslim,’ and basically a ‘chalab’ [slut].” A story of sexual harassment on the Instagram page tellme_sister

“The main goal of the project is to give women an opportunity to speak out, to give them a virtual shelter where they will be supported and understood. Naturally, I understand that this will not vanquish sexual harassment on the streets. However, I hope that eventually we will be heard, and it will stop being considered a normal thing,” Nazhmetdinova says.

Over the past six days, the number of subscribers to tellme_sister has grown to 2,180, which Nazhmetdinova is sure only points to the problem’s urgency in Tajik society.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Hangers for the Health Ministry

chelyab“#Hangers for the Health Ministry,” “Give us a choice,” “Without state-funded abortions there will be backroom abortions,” “The Health Ministry violates human rights,” “Banning abortions is no solution”: a protest installation set up by feminists outside of Hospital No. 1 in Chelyabinsk. Photo by Anastasia Zelentsova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“Go Find a Place That Will Give You an Abortion When You Have a Cough like That”: The Challenges Women Face During the Pandemic
Alla Konstantinova
Mediazona
June 4, 2020

Since early April, most hospitals in Russia have been focused on battling the coronavirus pandemic, and the Russian Health Ministry has recommended postponing routine surgeries. Under this pretext some medical facilities have begun refusing to perform abortions and other gynecological operations. Consequently, unemployed women have been forced to take out loans for abortions at private clinics or give birth to children they may not be able to feed.

In April 29-year-old Tatyana Shapovalova, from the village of Solomenny, which is part of Petrozavodsk but is physically separated from the city, found out that she was eight weeks’ pregnant. Shapovalova already has four children, but only the youngest lives with her and her common-law spouse. Her parental rights have been restricted, so one child is being raised by Shapovalova’s sister, and the other two by foster parents.

“Our living conditions are very bad,” Shapovalova says, explaining the decision.

She and her husband decided to end the pregnancy: the village obstetrician-gynecologist sent Shapovalova off for tests, an ultrasound, and a consultation with a psychologist. The trips to the psychologist and doctors and waiting for the test results took a month.

“It took a week for the blood panels to arrive, and a week for everything else,” she says.

The fact that she would have to pass a Covid-19 test before the surgery was something Shapovalova learned from the village gynecologist one week before her appointment at the perinatal center in Petrozavodsk—ending a pregnancy as covered by compulsory health insurance is currently done only at this facility. One building at the Gutkin Municipal Maternity Hospital has been turned into a coronavirus observation ward, while the other has been converted into a coronavirus treatment facility. Tatyana caught a cold and had a strong cough, but she had the Covid-19 test smear.

“Six days later, I got a negative result for the coronavirus. The next day, I traveled to Petrozavodsk to the perinatal center,” Shapovalova continues. “I was already at twelve weeks. But in the reception area they heard my cough and went to consult with the head physician. I sat there for about forty minutes. Then the nurse came out and said, ‘You’re denied hospitalization.’ I said, ‘I have a negative test result for the coronavirus.’ And she replied, ‘Go find a place that will give you an abortion when you have a cough like that.’”

Petrozavodsk residents have at times had to wait even longer—sometimes two weeks—for the results of Covid-19 tests, says Irina Koroleva, the director of Women’s Clinic No. 1.

“For example, on June 1 we received the test results only for May 14. All of the labs in the city have had problems with the reactive agents for the swabs. If check-up results are not provided in time, the perinatal center has the right to refuse a woman service. It is the same with childbirth: if a woman is in labor, she’s sent to the maternity hospital, which has been converted into a coronavirus observation ward. Or the baby will be delivered in a single-bed ward in the perinatal center’s emergency room.”

The head doctor of the perinatal center, Yevgeny Tuchin, explained that Shapovalova had been denied treatment on the basis of a Health Ministry order.

“An artificial termination of pregnancy is not performed when acute infectious diseases and acute inflammatory processes are present in any location, including a woman’s reproductive organs,” he wrote in response to a query from Mediazona. “The abortion is performed after the patient recovers from these illnesses.”

Shapovalova insists that they did not even examine her at the perinatal center, and the only person with whom she spoke was the nurse, who merely heard her cough.

In Russia, an abortion is performed at a woman’s request only within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy; abortions are provided to rape victims “according to social indicators” for up to twenty-two weeks. Because of the delays with tests and the unexpected refusal at the perinatal center, Shapovalova missed this deadline.

Now Shapovalova, who is currently unemployed, lives in an unfinished wooden house, and was already restricted in her parental rights, has to give birth to a fifth child.

[In early April, the Health Ministry recommended that the heads of Russian hospitals “consider postponing” routine surgeries, citing as a reason for the decision the complicated epidemiological conditions in the country. At the same time, the ministry recommended not reducing routine treatment for patients with renal, cardiovascular, or endocrine diseases, or cancer. The Ministry of Health did not mention gynecological diseases or abortions, thereby creating additional problems for Russian women.]

Not Only Karelia
Shapovalova did not demand a written refusal of an abortion from the doctors. Medical lawyer Anna Kryukova says that now it will not be easy to prove the illegality of the doctors’ actions.

“A written refusal is provided after a written inquiry,” says Kryukova. “She didn’t insist on it, and the powers that be took advantage of it.”

In April, a female employee at the No to Violence Center (nasiliu.net) telephoned forty-four Moscow hospitals: only three of them agreed to schedule her for an abortion as paid for by compulsory health insurance. The Moscow Department of Public Health told us that, during the pandemic, many hospitals had classified elective abortions as routine or non-urgent surgeries. Later, the Department of Public Health reported that hospitals that had not been repurposed for treating Covid-19 are performing abortions, as before.

In an interview with Mediazona, Karina Denisova, a spokesperson for Hospital No. 1 in Chelyabinsk, called a social media announcement that they would no longer be performing abortions in their outpatient clinic a “misprint.” After protests by Chelyabinsk feminists, who set up an installation featuring clothes hangers next to the hospital entrance (in Soviet times, some women performed abortions on themselves using hooks made out of hangers) the hospital admitted that the published information had been “incorrect.”

Like Shapovalova, a resident of Kovrov in the Vladimir Region will also have to give birth. Obstetrician-gynecologist Alexander Rusin says that the woman was also denied an abortion.

“At Kovrov Central Municipal Hospital,” Rusin says. “They said, ‘It’s the coronavirus: we are closed for routine surgeries.’ What did the woman do? Nothing, as far as I know. Well, deadline was nearing, she was at eleven weeks. She left. Of course, I consider [the hospital’s actions] illegal, a violation of the law.”

“I Eat Macaroni to Save Money”
Irina Drozdova of Vsevolozhsk was supposed to have her tubes tied on April 13. Twenty-five-year-old Irina decided on the operation after an exceedingly difficult childbirth.

“The anesthesia for the C-section and the post-natal stress triggered cardiomyopathy,” she says. “Now I take pills that are incompatible with pregnancy, and I’ll be taking them for the rest of my life. Plus, they put me on a defibrillator, and it is just one of the indications for sterilization under compulsory health insurance.”

Getting ready for the operation, Irina underwent dozens of tests, but it was suddenly canceled.

“They refused because of the situation with the coronavirus, but I had spent three months doing the paperwork, consulting with a cardiologist, and undergoing an ultrasound—everything was ready. In order to reschedule, I have to go through another complete workup,” Irina says.

In April, dozens of maternity hospitals across Russia were repurposed to treat the coronavirus, and the Health Ministry recommended that facilities that did not close should do consultations with pregnant women online.

Twenty-nine-year-old Muscovite Anastasia Kirsh, who gave birth to a daughter in May, connected via WhatsApp with her gynecologist in the women’s clinic at the Yeramishantsev Maternity Hospital.

“If I needed to find out test results, get a referral to the infant feeding center, renew a prescription, or had an urgent question, it was possible to resolve that online, which was very convenient. Other services—gynecological exams, measurements, ultrasounds—were performed in the clinic as usual.”

Coda Story has told the tale of a Moscow woman who had to take out a loan for an abortion, because her husband had lost his job when the quarantine started, and the family had no means of support left. At Moscow Hospital No. 40, she was denied a free abortion under compulsory health insurance.

“You should not even count on a surgical abortion under compulsory health insurance. Routine surgeries, except in emergency cases, are currently not being performed,” a doctor told the woman. “Your case is not an emergency: there is no reason to hospitalize you. […] If you want to fight for your rights, you will miss all the deadlines.”

Unemployed single mother Anna Kazakova, from the Moscow suburb of Yegoryevsk, where the maternity hospital had been turned over to battling the pandemic, was faced with a choice: schedule an abortion under compulsory health insurance in Kolomna, fifty kilometers from home, and make numerous trips back and forth, first for tests and then for the operation, or pay to terminate the pregnancy at a private Moscow clinic, which would take a single day.

“They were sending everyone off to give birth fifty kilometers away at the Kolomna perinatal center,” she explains. “But what was I supposed to do with my four-year-old daughter? Drag her back and forth with me? They would start ‘losing’ the tests and making lots of referrals to psychologists, as is usually the case. There is all this hubbub in Russia about supporting families and mothers. But in fact, you have nothing coming to you. And an existing child doesn’t count either. If I tell them I won’t be able to support a second one in such conditions, I won’t get anything but condemnation,” says Anna.

After borrowing 15,000 rubles from a friend, Anna had a medical abortion at a private clinic in Moscow. Now she thinks about how to repay the debt.

“I eat macaroni to save money on food,” she says. “I applied for social security, but they said that I was not eligible for any benefits.”

“They Were Turned Down—and They Left, Sadly Wiping Away Tears”
Medical lawyer Anna Kryukova believes that “no one has directly prohibited” abortions in Russia, but that all the instances of refusal are the consequence of fear and ignorance on the part both of doctors and patients.

“The battle against Covid-19 has been farmed out by the federal government to the regions, but they all still look to Moscow,” Kryukova argues. “Doctors are used to saluting at every turn—god forbid they do something wrong, or they will be dismissed from their posts. This is due to fear: it is easier to follow orders now than to get whacked upside the head for these violations later. The outreach work has also been done very poorly: people are already so frightened of the virus, and nobody is explaining anything to them.”

Many patients need surgical help now, but they are afraid to go to the doctor because of the coronavirus, says Ph.D. in medicine and obstetrician-gynecologist Kamil Bakhtiyarov. He works in a private clinic in Moscow where paid medical and surgical abortions are performed.

“Women are so frightened that they come in for termination of pregnancy practically wearing spacesuits,” he says. “They’re terrified, deeply terrified. The first question they ask is, ‘Are you working with Covid patients?’ For patients who need surgical treatment the problem of hospitalization comes up: in the first place, many clinics have been repurposed to threat Covid cases, and secondly, people themselves are very much afraid. A person doesn’t want to go to an ordinary hospital because there it’s six people to a room.”

Despite the pandemic, patients should insist on their right to medical care, argues Kryukova.

“People should still seek medical care and exercise their rights. The problem is that the victims [mentioned in this article] apparently did not do that,” she says. “Unfortunately, the patient community does not know its rights very well. These women were simply turned down verbally—and they left, sadly wiping away tears. Nobody chases after patients nowadays: for something to change, the person who needs the medical treatment has to take the first step.”

Translated by Mary Rees

Dreaming

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
June 20, 2020

(just dreaming a little)

I look at how everyone is tired after twenty years of putin’s rule—tired of cursing, tired of fighting, tired of resisting, tired even of taking toll of the damage.

the alleged referendum is a three-ring circus, but (speaking for myself) my lack of surprise and faith in the success of resistance are such that I listlessly repost things and make sarcastic jokes, but don’t think seriously at all about acts of resistance.

but i believe in acts of feminist resistance: they work, albeit slowly, albeit surgically. no, there is no law against domestic violence, but individual rapists have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs, new codes of ethics are being written, and so on. all of you are watching this happen. i see how women’s self-esteem has been growing, i see that what was the norm for my parents’ generation is no longer the norm for my generation. women have become more active, they are increasingly choosing not to be silent when they encounter injustice.

Vladimir_Putin_with_Lyudmila_Putin-1

and so i am thinking: what if we suddenly stopped tolerating a “home boxer” and tyrant as president?

we know that putin is an abuser. we know he beat his wife, that he tortured her. even lyudmila putina’s memoir, chockablock with self-accusation and meekness, makes it clear that he treated his loved ones terribly. his wife published a memoir, which was quickly withdrawn from sale. but it’s all on the internet.

just dreaming a little: what if we stopped putting up with this scoundrel? (yes, we are used to putting up with him, but what if it’s reversible?)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

Free Yulia Tsvetkova!

https://www.freetsvet.net

SPREAD THE WORD. MAKE POSTS, SHARE, PUBLICIZE Yulia’s case. Yulia and her mother believe that publicity about their case will help them. Please share this information far and wide, especially with media outlets. When making posts on social media, use hashtags:

#заЮлю
#ямыЮлияЦветкова
#свободуюлецветковой
#свободуцветковой

Pornography Charges Target Feminist Artist

Yulia Tsvetkova is a 27-year-old artist from the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur (far Eastern Russia). Yulia has been formally charged with illegally producing and distributing pornographic materials on the Internet (Paragraph “b”, Part 3 of Article 242 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, punishable by up to six years of prison). These charges stem from her role as administrator of a feminist body-positive online community through social media. The page is called “The Vagina Monologues,” and features abstract depictions of female sexual organs and educational drawings women’s bodies. Pornography charges also stem from a series of body-positive drawings she made as part of a series entitled “A Woman is not a Doll.” Until recently, she was also the director of the Merak activist youth theater, which produced 9 plays under her direction.

Yulia was arrested on November 20, 2019 after which searches were carried out at home and at work. She was under house arrest from November 23, 2019 until March 16, 2020. She and her mother have been questioned over 30 times. While under house arrest, Yulia was denied access to necessary medical care. She and her mother have experienced months of harassment and death threats.

It is worth noting that the criminal investigation against Yulia was not the result of any complaints from youth or parents in her local community. Rather, she was targeted by St. Petersburg-based homophobic activist Timur Bulatov, who has a past criminal record and in his own words is engaged in a “moral jihad” against LGBT people and their allies by making complaints about them to law enforcement agencies. Bulatov has continued to harass Yulia and her mother, publish their home address, and call on his supporters to kill them.

According the Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners, “art materials in Tsvetkova’s case cannot be recognized as pornographic. From our point of view and based on expertise of various experts who have examined the works, these materials are no more pornography than images of the genitals in the school anatomy textbook.” International human rights organizations have called for her release, and many individuals around the world are demonstrating on her behalf.

Yulia’s case will be tried in early July 2020. There is an urgent need for publicity of her case. All charges against Yulia Tsvetkova should be dropped and her case dismissed immediately.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up and Nicole Garneau for this fantastic video and act of solidarity. You can read more about Yulia Tsvetkova on this ebsite. \\ TRR

tsvetkova-drawingYulia Tsvetkova, “A Family Is Where There’s Love” (courtesy of artist and RFE/RL)

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: Nadezhda Belova’s Journey from Grassroots Activism to “Exonerating Terrorism”

nb-1Nadezhda Belova. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: A New “Terrorism Exoneration” Case
Svetlana Prokopieva
Radio Svoboda
June 2, 2020

Two years after the bombing in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, law enforcement agencies continue to launch criminal cases against people who comment on the case on social media, claiming they have violated the law against “exonerating terrorism.” The story of Nadezhda Belova is more proof that the bombing carried out by 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky, resulting only in his own death, has been turned into a tool for persecuting undesirable activists.

Nadezhda Belova is 36 years old. She was born and lived her whole life in Novaya Usman, the largest village in Russia, near Voronezh. She had never been involved in politics or protest movements. She first came to the attention of the authorities in 2019, when she organized and brought to a victorious conclusion two protest actions defending the interests of her fellow villagers. In 2020, a criminal case was opened against her for “exonerating terrorism.”

“You’re in Big Trouble”
Criminal Code Article 205.2 came into Nadezhda Belova’s life on March 31—”probably at around nine in the morning, under the guise of a search for coronavirus-infected Asians,” Belova says.

“First my husband opened the door. They told him they were doing a search. Naturally, they weren’t wearing masks. First, they asked who lived there. (We rent a flat in Voronezh.) My husband told them that no one lived there but us, the two of us and our son. I came out and asked them why they weren’t wearing masks. When they saw me, they said, ‘Nadezhda Belova, you’re coming with us for questioning.'”

Nadezhda, her 15-year-old son, and her husband were taken to the police station and questioned. On the advice of a lawyer friend, she invoked Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution, which gives people the right not to incriminate themselves].

“I expected to be punished for all my campaigns in Usman,” Belova says, but investigators showed her a comment she had posted on the VK community page Lentach under one of the very first reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. Nadezhda had forgotten all about it.​

“This circus lasted for an hour and a half,” she says of the first interrogation. “‘You’re in big trouble,’ they said. Of course, they threatened me—with five years in prison, and with sending my son to an orphanage if I didn’t confess. I asked them what I should confess to and told them I didn’t know what they were talking about. ‘Here,’ they asked, ‘did you write this comment in 2018?’ ‘Can you hear yourselves?’ I asked them, ‘A comment in 2018!’ The investigator says, ‘If I had written this, I would have remembered.’ I wouldn’t have remembered the comment even if they had tortured me, although the investigator said, ‘If we want you to confess to the Kennedy assassination, we have ways of making you talk.'”

Leaving her family at the police station, the investigators took Nadezhda with them to search the rented flat in Voronezh and her home in Novaya Usman. They confiscated all the gadgets they found, including four phones, a laptop, two hard drives, and a flash drive. They released Nadezhda only late in the evening, dumping her in the middle of the city without a phone and without a single kopeck.

“I walked three kilometers at night, bawling my eyes out and hungry,” she says.

The next day, Belova filed complaints with the prosecutor’s office, the Interior Ministry, and the Investigative Committee. (They, of course, would respond to the complaints by claiming that everything that had happened to her was “legal.”) At first, Belova was named as a witness in the “exonerating terrorism” case, but in May she was named a suspect.

“On May 13, they came up to me on the street, shoved a piece of paper in my face, and said, ‘If you don’t show up now, police will arrest you and bring you there,'” Belova says. “I told them I was going to hire a lawyer, that I wouldn’t come without a lawyer. But things turned out badly with the lawyer, too.”

Nadezhda had bad luck with her lawyer. The person she hired on a friend’s recommendation “turned out to be either a pro-Putinist from the get-go, or he changed his stripes along the way,” she says.

He tried to persuade Nadezhda to “tell the truth” and had no objections when the investigator decided to arrest his suspect right in the middle of questioning.

“You wouldn’t confess. Now you’re going to sit in jail, think things over, and see what lies in store for you,” Nadezhda recalls him saying. She spent twenty-four hours in a temporary detention facility.

“They were not locking me up just to teach me a lesson. They put me in a cold, smoky kennel crawling with bedbugs. There were streaks of blood on the walls: apparently, the people before had been crushing the bedbugs. I was given tea and a piece of dry bread in a metal bowl and a mug, like a dog. I called an ambulance. They just give me a shot of painkiller, that was it. I hung in there till morning. In the morning, they put an actress in my cell who immediately started chewing me out. Her performance lasted fifteen minutes. ‘What’s your name? What you in for? If you’re in here, there must be a reason. Clear the dishes. Act normal. I’m going to smoke, you mind?’ I told her I did, because I was a non-smoker. ‘I’ll do as I like.’ She stood next to the bed and lit up a cigarette. I turned toward the wall and thought, ‘If only she doesn’t strangle me.’ But I knew she was an actress, so she stopped talking, too. She had played her role. Then a policeman came in: ‘Hands behind your back. Against the wall.’ They took me to another room and did a complete body search. They told me to strip naked, and patted down all my things. I was told to take off my underpants and squat five times: the idea was that I had drugs stuffed in there,” Belova recounts.

“It’s going to be like this from now on. You’re suspected of committing a really terrible crime,” she was told.

When she left the detention center, the investigator met her, promising to send her back to her cell if she didn’t immediately sign a confession stating when, where, in whose presence, and on what brand of telephone she had posted the comment.

“I said, ‘You do understand that this is really a lie? It’s nonsense.’ Well, then the three of us—the lawyer, the investigator, and I—wrote an essay entitled ‘What I Wrote on October 31,'” Belova recounts. “‘You do understand that you could go to prison for forcing a confession and lying?’ But the investigator said, ‘In 1937, we would have tortured you for an hour, and you’d have confessed right away. We wouldn’t have had to drive you here and there, we wouldn’t have wasted time: we would have needed only an hour.’ They all laughed.”

__________________

[Prokopieva:] They have blood ties with 1937 . . .

[Belova:] I’ll say even more—they’re waiting for the go-ahead. Once they get permission, I don’t think they’ll even need to be persuaded. They’re too lazy to drive me here and there and waste time. They want to turn torture me quickly and get on with their lives. I said to them, “If you were ordered to shoot at children right now, you would shoot without flinching.” 

You later retracted the confession?

Yes, of course! On May 13, I was put in the lockup. On the 14th, I confessed to everything. On the 15th, I got a new lawyer and completely recanted my testimony. I wanted them to write that I had been coerced with the threat of prison, but the investigator categorically refused to do it. “Do you think I’m going to denounce myself?” he asked.

nb-2Screenshot of the social media post, dated October 31, 2018, under which Belova posted the comment that prompted the criminal case against her. The post reads, “There has been an explosion at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk. One person has been killed. The cause of the blast is under investigation.” Courtesy of RFE/RL

Belova was unable to recall the comment for which she was being prosecuted. But she did find the post on the social media community page and reread it. She called the slain man a “martyr” and wrote that he would “go to heaven.” Nadezhda now suggests that when she wrote it, she thought that an FSB employee was the victim since, at the time, there was no information about the identity and fate of the terrorist. Her comment also included the word “pushback.”

“Yeah, and there was also the phrase ‘Putin’s devils,'” Belova recalls.

Although her comment has been deleted, the responses to it are still there, including this one: “Nadezhda, they’re already coming to get you. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

“Many times I’d seen comments to many people on VK like ‘They’re coming to get you’ and ‘You’ve been reported to the FSB,’ but I’d always thought they were jokes. I’d been threatened many times in my life, after the campaigns for the parking lot and the jitneys, and people had filed ‘rioting’ complaints against me when I still lived in Usman. So I would have only laughed at such comments. I didn’t really believe people were jailed for the things they said. I didn’t realize that crackdowns like that were happening in Russia,” Belova says.

“There Was No Time to Choose Who to Be the Hero”
Belova has now been charged with violating Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code and released on her own recognizance. Her new lawyer, in whom she has confidence, is being paid by OVD Info.

The answer to the question of why it took the security forces almost two years to charge her with a “really terrible crime” is incredibly simple. In 2018, Nadezhda Belova was still of no interest to the regime’s watchdogs.

“I was born in Usman and had lived there all my life. My mother worked as a commercial freight forwarder, and my father was a mechanical engineer. I graduated from high school with a silver medal. I was a goody two-shoes, even a little bit of an outcast, you could say. I spent summers in the countryside reading books—Natasha Rostova, Chekhov, and Bunin,” Nadezhda says about herself.

nb-3Nadezhda Belova’s native village. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

She graduated from the Voronezh Technological Academy in 2005, giving birth to a child in her fifth year there.

“After that, as it happens, nobody hired me because I had a child and later nobody hired me because I had no experience,” Belova says.

An economics and information specialist by education, Belova worked at the post office, then as a clerk “punching out invoices.” She had a failed marriage, which she describes as “useless and unnecessary.” Finally, five years ago, she met Sergei, with whom she has started a real family and a family business. Sergei was teaching robotics and programming to children, their son had gradually begun helping out, and Nadezhda handled advertising and moderating group pages on social media. This year, to be closer to work, they moved to Voronezh.

“By the way, we had wanted to register as self-employed, but the coronavirus and the arrest have blindsided us,” Belova says.

Even before moving to Voronezh, Nadezhda had been in the public eye as a grassroots activist. She was motivated not by power, money or popularity, but by the sense that her “shoulders were pressed to the mat.”

“They have started taking away the last things we have. As it is, they haven’t been doing anything [for us], just skinning our hides,” she says by way of explaining the reasons for her activism. “That’s how I look at it. I took it as an occupation, a war, an attack by fascists. There was no time to choose who to be the hero, so I decided, ‘Who would do it if not me?'”

Belova was annoyed by the decision of the local authorities to let a parking lot next to the ospital be redeveloped as a store. She wrote posts on local community social media pages, invited journalists to Novaya Usman, and appeared on television herself. The protest campaign was successful: the construction site was moved, and a new “huge paved parking lot, four times larger” was built in place of the old one.

nb-4The parking lot that Nadezhda Belova and other people in Novaya Usman stopped from being redeveloped as a store. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Six months later, in June, Novaya Usman faced a more serious problem: the governor of Voronezh Region, Alexander Gusev, announced that the area’s public transport routes would be optimized. Jitneys from Usman would be forbidden from entering Voronezh. People would have to transfer to Voronezh municipal transport routes on the outskirts of the city.

“We realized it would be a disaster for us,” Belova says. “I told people we shouldn’t wait for them to cut us off. We just needed to make ourselves heard: we’d make a video and circulate a petition, letting them see we were opposed. Naturally, people said yes, that nothing good could come of [the governor’s plans]. I wrote a post on a community page, asking people to meet at the shopping center to collect signatures on a petition. All that was written there was that we opposed the cancellation of suburban transport routes and banning jitneys from entering the city. That was it! No posters, no rallies against Putin.”

Belova again wrote social media posts, made media appearances, and met personally with various officials. She and her fellow campaigners successfully defended the right of rural public transport to make stops in Voronezh. Her fellow villagers thanked Belova in the comments to reports on the campaign’s progress: “Such a fragile young woman has been dealing with three big, experienced men trying to defend the rights of all the inhabitants of New Usman! And she’s not afraid to tell the whole truth to their faces! Thank you, Nadezhda! You’re a smart cookie!”

“Everyone supported me at that moment. When I wrote on the community page that someone was denouncing me to the authorities, they told me not to fear, that they would defend me, that I was doing a great job, that I should run to become village head, that they supported me,” Nadezhda recalls. “A year goes by, and people have forgotten. Not only did they not support me, but some of them suggested I should think hard about what I’d said. Back then they told me I should run for head of the village, but now they’re telling me to think about what I’ve done. People have forgotten.”

__________________

2019 was much quieter in terms of public politics, unlike 2017–18, when there was Navaly’s presidential campaign and then the elections. Where were you during this time?

I have never voted for Putin. I realized back in 1999 that our country was coming to a gradual end. I was only 16 years old—my brother, who is four years older, said, “That’s it, this country is over. The monster has come!” His phrase summed it up for me. Then there was the Nord-Ost siege, the Beslan school siege, and the annexation of Crimea. I already looked at our country with sadness and pain. When would the people wake up? I asked myself. I realized it would never happen! Where was I? We have no elections in Usman. There are some local clowns who either shuffle papers around or aid and abet corrpution. Usman is the total pits in this regard. We have no politics: there is no opposition in Usman, just bottomless corruption, theft and nepotism.

So you weren’t involved in politics or activism of any kind?

Absolutely not! By the way, I once went to meet with officials about the jitneys. One of Gusev’s people asked me, “You probably want something for yourself, right? To be a village head or a council member? What do you want? Money? power?” I told him, “No matter how poor I am, I will never join your party or knuckle under.” No, I live a dignified life, and I won’t be ashamed to look my grandchildren in the eyes in the future. I’m not a vegetable. That matters most of all. In fact, that’s what I have been punished for.

You haven’t missed Usman after moving to Voronezh?

I loved that village and am still happy when something happens there. I don’t regret speaking out, I don’t regret being arrested, because I am a human being. I always wondered who I was. For example, I could say that I was a mother, that I was a daughter. I realized in 2019 that I was a human being and a citizen. I’m not a punching bag, I’m not a pushover—I’m a citizen. I can say this with absolute certainty, and it gives me strength and confidence. Even if I were alone, I would be a citizen. That is the highest calling I could have.

nb-5Nadezhda Belova on the limits of Novaya Usman. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You’re not resentful that your home village has turned its back on you at a difficult moment?

In the house where I lived, a neighbor lady has knocked together a playground—there are some benches and chintzy swings. I recently went there to paint pictures on the walls. I paid for the paint with my own money. I breathed this paint and cleaned up dog poo and empty bottles. As a child, I saw puddles of sewage, drunks and drug addicts. Books were my only salvation, as I lived in utter poverty and was hungry all the time. May their children grow up amidst beauty. If at least one child doesn’t become a drug addict or go to prison thanks to this beauty, I will feel that I haven’t lived my life in vain. These are children, these are our children! After all, someone did not provide warmth, kindness and morality to the people who detained me and undressed me. They grew up to be monsters. This is a universal problem. It is sad that children escape into drug addiction, that they blow themselves up. I have tried to change this little world as much as I can. Everything I could do, I have done and will do. I won’t be made into a monster. I won’t retaliate, I won’t hate, and I’m not going to kill myself.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted for allegedly publicly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopievaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: #outdoorwallpaper

darya-wallpaper-2b

[darya apahonchich]

our private life has been invaded by the public, by the state. our borders are not where they used to be.

but you cannot order people not to be poor, you cannot order them to keep their distance if they have nowhere to hide or stand apart.

i have turned my house inside out with wallpaper.

#outdoorwallpaper
a tiny city apartment poem

darya-wallpaper-1a

1.
we
urge you
not to drink
from the common
cup
of poverty

darya-wallpaper-1b

darya-wallpaper-2a

2.
we have wallpaper and you have wallpaper
and the virus flies freely
in dwellings
only you come to us
with fines and billy clubs,
but you don’t invite us to your house

darya-wallpaper-2aa

darya-wallpaper-3a

3.
what if
what if
my body has become
home to the virus
I think
I am caring
for my loved ones,
but in fact
I am destroying them.
what if
what if
my heart has become
home to
the virus of violence?

darya-wallpaper-3b

Darya Apahonchich has been posting the texts and photographs of her outdoor wallpaper poems on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to her for her permission and her assistance in republishing them here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Making Women Visible: Russian Language Classes for Immigrants and Refugees in Petersburg

apa-1
Darya Apahonchich with students during class. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“Making Women Visible”: Why Female Immigrants Stay at Home for Seven Years
Karina Merkurieva
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
March 7, 2020

“My husband and children and I came to Russia from Afghanistan over eight years ago. At first, I had no time to learn the language: I had to help the children and work at home, and then I was unable to find suitable courses. So this is only my second year studying Russian,” says Suraya.

Since she is shy about speaking Russian, she agrees only to a written interview. She has been studying Russian for a second year at courses for female immigrants and refugees in Petersburg. Classes are held at Open Space, a co-working space for social activists, and at two libraries. Groups are divided into several levels according to how well the students speak Russian.

In February, project organizer Darya Apahonchich announced the launch of a new group for beginners. According to her, she saw the need for such courses in 2018, when she worked for a similar project run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“There were classes for children and adults. I taught Russian as a foreign language. The only problem was that only those who had official immigrant or refugee status could attend. In Russia, not everyone obtains this status. Another thing was that the course was limited in time. Not everyone was able to get the necessary minimum of Russian under their belt in this time,” Apahonchich says.

The group she led mostly consisted of women over the age of thirty.

“Young women who come to Russia at an earlier age and go to university have one set of opportunities. As soon as a woman becomes a mother, her set of opportunities decreases dramatically,” Apahonchich adds.

At one of the classes, a new student from Syria decided to join the group. In order for the students to get acquainted, Apahonchich suggested that everyone introduce themselves by telling what country they had come from, how long they had lived in Russia, and how long they had been studying Russian. It transpired that nearly all the women in the class had lived in Russia around seven years, but had only begun to study the language. According to them, they had no opportunity to study Russian before: they had to raise children. Working outside the home was not the custom in their native countries, so their husbands had not allowed them to take language classes.

apa-2A lesson in Darya Apahonchich’s group. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“I was very shocked at the time. These women’s children have basically grown up in Russia: they know Russia on the level of native speakers, and make jokes more easily in Russian than in their native languages. The women have found themselves linguistically and culturally isolated, however. They stayed at home all those years. They didn’t even have a place to learn the language,” says Apahonchich.

When the Red Cross courses were coming to an end, Apahonchich suggested to the women that they should not quit their studies, but continue studying Russian elsewhere. They leapt at the suggestion.

“I realized that those woman would go back to their families, and that would be the end of their introduction to the Russian language. I didn’t want to let that happen,” she recalls.

Other groups and new teachers have subsequently emerged. The project currently encompasses four groups at different levels of proficiency. Classes are taught by eight volunteer teachers. Some of them, like Apahonchich, majored in Russian language pedagogy at university, while others are native Russian speakers with humanities backgrounds and experience teaching history or Spanish, for example.

“I wanted to create a horizontal structure in which each teacher could organize their own groups and take responsibility for the learning process,” says Apahonchich.

As a result, the teachers work autonomously: they find venues for holding classes on their own, and decide with their groups what topics would be interesting to discuss in class.

In her group, for example, Apahonchich focuses not only on teaching the Russian language, but also on the legal aspects of life as an immigrant in Russia. During classes, her students read brochures on how to behave if you are faced with aggression from the police, how to get a job, and how to rent an apartment without falling victim to fraud.

“Our all-female collective discusses issues related to health and doctor visits,” says Apahonchich.

According to Suraya from Afghanistan, this is one of her favorite topics.

“I also like to read texts about Russia and Petersburg, and discuss the weather and family. I really need this vocabulary when I pick up my daughter from kindergarten or go to the clinic. In the clinic, however, I often encounter aggression. The people at reception shout at me if I don’t immediately know what to say,” Suraya explains.

While the courses are more aimed at teaching Russian, the instructors sometimes also talk to the female immigrants about women’s rights.

“Right now, the easiest way, I think, to get women out of linguistic and cultural isolation is to get them into the world of work. That way they could learn Russian more quickly, adapt socially, and make new friends. At the same time, we have before our very eyes the example of women from Central Asia who come to Russia to work and eventually find themselves separated from their families. That is the other extreme. For the time being, I just want these women to stop being invisible. Currently, the majority of the Russian populace doesn’t even suspect how many female immigrants live in cultural isolation in their country,” says Apahonchich.

According to the UNHCR, about 220,000 refugees and persons with temporary asylum status were registered in Russia in 2019. Most of those people came from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

International Women’s Day in St. Petersburg: Defying the Ban

88325787_2658545944242554_2755934399055790080_oFeminist activists queuing to picket at International Woman’s Day protest on the corner of Malaya Sadovaya and Nevsky in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

AN-FEM
Facebook
March 8, 2020

The Banned Eighth of March, Petersburg

Once upon a time, the danger and risk in men’s lives were considered the basis of their alleged superiority over women. Only those who walked the razor’s edge looked danger and even death in the face and were thus spiritually elevated.

87848158_2658538717576610_6222493887676547072_o“My body is my business.” Picketer at International Women’s Day protest in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

When today, International Women’s Day, the Petersburg authorities have used the pretext of events that did not even take place, including the Shoulder to Lean On Festival, to prohibit women from publicly speaking out about the issues that matter to them in any way, all that remained for them was step onto their own razor’s edge and take to the streets, risking their own safety and freedom, and thus one more time (if someone has not heard the argument) assert that archaic segregation is unacceptable.

87825064_2658538424243306_3785326012800172032_o

Because, under these circumstances, each step is a small victory. Among other things, it is a victory over oneself and one’s own fear. Each step is a reclaimed meter of urban space that should belong to people, but does not belong to them. It is a small step towards freedom, a step toward oneself — through the political, through the raucous intrusion into the chronotope of a spring day somewhere in the middle of an ugly regime. A small step into our common holiday. No one is free until everyone is free.

Photo reportage by AnFem

87905423_2658546174242531_2565779528093794304_o“On March 8, I think about women political prisoners, not spring.” Picketer at International Women’s Day protest in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

Female Activists Hold Flash Mob Dance on the Field of Mars to Protest Violence Against Women; Pickets Held on Nevsky Prospect
Bumaga
March 8, 2020

MBKh Media reports that a feminist protest rally has taken place on the Field of Mars during which female activists played drums and performed chants protesting violence against women.

89773349_2658536790910136_7501581396633190400_o

The rally featured a dance flash mob. The girls [sic] chanted such lines, in particular, as “The patriarchy is a judge / that judges me for being born. / And my punishment is / violence day after day.” As MBKh Media reports, the Petersburg women borrowed the idea from Chilean feminists.

88336060_2658532417577240_2627163952307503104_oFeminist activists performing a flash mob dance and chant on the Field of Mars in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

In addition, a series of pickets took place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya, reports the web publication Sever.Realii. The picketers protested domestic violence and the law against “promotion” of homosexual relations, and in support of female political prisoners. Protest organizers had originally planned a rally [on Lenin Square], but city authorities refused to sanction it.

Thanks to AnFem for the photos and the first text. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg Police Sabotage Pussy Riot Video Shoot

Police Sabotage Pussy Riot Video Shoot at Lenfilm Studio
Mediazona
February 9, 2020

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has told Mediazona that police have sabotaged the filming of a video for the Pussy Riot song “Rage” at Lenfilm Studio in Petersburg.

“There are cops and Center ‘E’ officers at the filming of our video at Lenfilm. First, they came and made us sign an obligation not to promote ‘homosexualism’ and ‘extremism,” and then left to talk with Lenfilm management. Half an hour later, the lights were turned off throughout the building. The shoot was scheduled to run from noon to six in the morning. So, the whole thing’s a bust,” Tolokonnikova said.

riotPolice at Lenfilm in Petersburg. Photo by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Courtesy of Mediazona

The producers tried to rent a generator, but they were not permitted to bring it on the premises of the studio.

“Two days before the shoot, plainclothes officers visited Lenfilm and insisted they cancel the shoot. Surprisingly, Lenfilm refused to heed their request, telling them that we had paid and all the paperwork was in order,” the performance artist added.

Tolokonnikova said that feminist activist Nixel Pixel (aka Nika Vodwood), artist Lölja Nordic, and photographer Aleksandr Sofeev were among the people slated to appear in the video.

“There were supposed to be riot cops [OMON] in the video, but a real patrol showed up instead. The song is about resisting the authorities,” Tolokonnikova told Mediazona.

In an interview with Znak.com, Inessa Yurchenko, who was appointed Lenfilm’s new director general two days ago, called Tolokonnikov’s story a provocation.

“The guys were supposed to have actors in police uniforms, so they cannot pass that off as there being police officers there. There are no police officers on the premises of Lenfilm. It’s not nice to show pictures of actors and provoke the public,” she said.

Yurchenko threatened to call the police.

“I won’t be surprised if there are more provocations on their part—then I will be forced to call the police,” she said.

Yurchenko explained that the blackout in the studio had been caused by an accident on the power grid.

“The head of security will now have to follow regulations while the cause of the accident is established, and so he will have to ask [people] to evacuate Lenfilm because it’s a [secure] facility,” she said.

She added that the activists could return to the film studio when the power was restored.

Translated by the Russian Reader