An Unexpected Twist in the Case of Anti-War Activist Vsevolod Korolev

Vsevolod Korolev in the dock at Vyborg District Court in Petersburg. Photo by Valentin Nikitchenko

An unexpected twist in the Vsevolod Korolev case

On January 12, Peterburg’s Vyborg District Court held a hearing on the merits of the criminal case against Petersburg documentary filmmaker Vsevolod Korolev. At today’s hearing, the complainant and prosecution witness Mikhail Baranov was cross-examined. It was Baranov who had requested that law enforcement agencies file criminal charges against Korolev.

Baranov unexpectedly changed his initial testimony, telling the court that he considered the posts by the accused “an expression of free speech,” and that he himself had “liked” Korolev’s posts to give them more publicity. The prosecution witness also said that the police had come to his home, and that he had been questioned at the police department about that very same “like.” It was only after this interaction that Baranov had filed the complaint, asking the authorities to determine whether Korolev’s posts constituted “disseminating fake news about the army.”

However, the interrogation record in the case file paints a different picture: according to it, Baranov had gone to the police himself. Korolev’s posts had, allegedly, angered him. Today, at the trial, Baranov said that he could not remember what his emotions were at the time, and that his opinion could have changed.

Source: Politzek-Info (Telegram), 12 January 2023. Photo by Valentin Nikitchenko. Translated by Hecksinductionhour


29 July 2022

Vsevolod Korolev, a St. Petersburg poet and documentary filmmaker remanded in custody on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, is a political prisoner. Until his arrest, Vsevolod Korolev supported people subjected to repression for anti-war statements: he made a documentary about those prosecuted and he called the war a war

Source: Political Prisoners. Memorial


The human rights project, ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ considers Vsevolod Korolev a political prisoner in line with international standards. He is being prosecuted for posts on social networks. Korolev’s criminal prosecution violates his constitutional right to freedom of expression. His prosecution is intended to silence voices in Russia that oppose the war against Ukraine and to intimidate civil society. 

We demand the immediate release of Vsevolod Korolev and the termination of all criminal prosecutions under the unconstitutional Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Who is Vsevolod Korolev and what are the charges against him?

Vsevolod Korolev, 34, is from St. Petersburg and in recent years he has been active in the city’s volunteer movement and engaged in civic activism. Korolev has worked as a volunteer with the Perspectives Charitable Foundation and the St. Petersburg Observers movement (which organizes independent election observation).

After the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Korolev became very active in the anti-war movement. On his social media pages he wrote about the crimes of the Russian military, attended the trials of those arrested on charges related to the war, collected donations of food and other necessities for those held on remand, and made documentary films about what was happening. For example, he made films about the prosecutions for ‘anti-war’ activities of the artist Sasha Skochilenko and the journalist Maria Ponomarenko.

On 11 July 2022, a criminal case was opened against Vsevolod Korolev on suspicion of disseminating information known to be false about the use of the Russian armed forces. The next day his apartment was searched and he was detained.

Korolev is accused of making posts in March and April 2022 on the VK social media site about the crimes of the Russian military in Bucha and Borodyanka near Kiev and about the shelling of Donetsk. Korolev subsequently confirmed he had made posts about the war in Ukraine, but maintained they contained no lies.

Korolev understood the risks of speaking out freely. ‘I refuse to not say the truth about things,’ he wrote on his social networks.

On 13 July, a St. Petersburg court remanded Korolev in custody, even though he has had his thyroid removed and needs regular medical examinations.

Korolev faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Why do we consider Vsevolod Korolev a political prisoner?

Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code criminalising dissemination of information known to be false about the actions of the Russian army contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations and fundamental principles of law.

In particular, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ Restrictions on the exercise of these rights ‘shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ Such norms are also contained in Article 29 of the Russian Constitution. The restrictions on freedom of expression introduced by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code serve none of these purposes and are a form of censorship. This is all the more so given that, in the course of an armed conflict, it is not always possible to establish the accuracy of statements made by the parties to the conflict, and the Russian authorities hold simply that official reports by the Russian Ministry of Defence should be considered reliable.

Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code was specifically created as an instrument for the prosecution of critics of the Russian authorities and criminalises any statements about the use of the Russian armed forces abroad. This has already been confirmed in practice. Under this article, people are more often prosecuted not even for statements of fact but for expressing their opinions and personal attitudes. At the same time, the prosecuting authorities ascribe to many of those prosecuted, like Vsevolod Korolev, the subjective motive of ‘political hatred,’ which significantly increases the potential penalty.

A more detailed description of this case and the position of the Human Rights Project can be found on our Telegram channel.

A full list of political prisoners in Russia can be found on our temporary website.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

How can you help?

You can send letters to the following address:

In Russian: 196655, г. Санкт-Петербург, г. Колпино, ул. Колпинская, д. 9, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН России по СПб и ЛО, Королёву Всеволоду Анатольевичу 1987 г. р. 

In English: Vsevolod Anatolievich Korolev (dob 1987), Remand Prison No. 1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region, 9 Kolpinskaya Street, Kolpino, St. Petersburg, 196655, Russia.

Electronic mail can be sent via FederalPenitentiaryService-Letter and Zonatelekom.

You can donate to support all political prisoners via the PayPal (helppoliticalprisoners@gmail.com) or YooMoney accounts of the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners.


Translated by Rights in Russia

Source: “‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’: St. Petersburg poet and documentary filmmaker Vsevolod Korolev is a political prisoner,” Rights in Russia, 10 October 2022. As I have pointed out in previous posts on Russian anti-war protesters and political prisoners, Russian remand prisons and penal colonies only accept letters written in Russian, and the federal penitentiary service’s FSIN-Pismo service and Zonatelekom are only accessible to residents of the Russian Federation. It’s also almost a certainty that YooMoney, another Russia-based service, will not accept money from non-Russian bank cards. ||| TRR

12/16/11: The Truth About What Happened in Zhanaozen

Eleven years ago, on December 16, 2011, the bloodiest page in the history of independent Kazakhstan was written. A months-long strike by oil workers in Zhanaozen ended when police shot the unarmed strikers in the city’s central square. For another three days, the police and the army terrorized the local population.

In this documentary film, Just Journalism has reconstructed the chronology of those tragic days. Oil workers who survived the massacres, relatives of the victims, local residents, eyewitnesses, and people who were directly involved in the events in Zhanaozen in December 2011 talk about the fear and hatred that have settled on this city in western Kazakhstan since then.

The film features unique footage and eyewitness testimony.

00:00 – 12/16/11

01:29 – Chapter I. “STRIKE UNTIL YOU’RE BLUE IN THE FACE”

26:18 – Chapter II. “WE THOUGHT THEY WERE SHOOTING BLANKS”

46:05 – Chapter III. “THEY LET HIM GO BECAUSE THEY KNEW HE WAS GOING TO DIE”

01:23:23 – Chapter IV. “HE WENT OVER TO THE PEOPLE’S SIDE”

01:34:22 – EPILOGUE

01:56:14 – End Titles and Credits

Just Journalism is a nonprofit project by the journalists Lukpan Akhmedyarov and Raul Uporov. They strive to answer not only the questions who, what, where, and when, but above all the questions, Why is this happening? What does it mean?

Just Journalism is a nonprofit project. There are no advertisements, promotions, or product placements in our videos, which you can watch for free. If you want to support us you can do so by donating money over the phone on +7 775 570 59 20 or to Kaspi Gold card number 4400 4301 0175 8271.

In Kazakh and Russian. Translation from the Russian and English subtitles by Thomas H. Campbell

Fascism with a Human Face

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a session of the Valdai Discussion Club, acknowledged a decline in the real incomes of our compatriots.

He noted that the issue was being resolved in cooperation with the trade unions, RIA Novosti reports.

This dialogue continues. We see that people’s nominal incomes are growing, but real incomes have become slightly lower. Bearing in mind the state of the Russian economy, we can solve these problems and should do so in accordance with the existing plans of the Russian government.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation

The head of state also said that it was necessary to fight for wage increases. At the same time, he addressed his appeal to both Russians and “ordinary citizens” of the United States and Europe.

Since the start of the special operation by Russian troops in Ukraine, people have experienced a loss of income and savings. Putin also noted earlier that many Russians were at risk of layoffs.

Source: Andrei Gorelikov, “Putin urged both Russians and citizens of western countries to fight for higher salaries,” Rabota.ru, 28 October 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


“There are more than 485 air fresheners in operation: they were installed in the air ducts of the climate control system. They spread the fragrance around the car every ten minutes. The fragrance is called ‘Moscow Metro,'” explain the metro’s press service , stressing that all the aromas were safe, hypoallergenic, and complied with regulations.

In 2019, during a vote on the project’s implementation, ninety percent of passengers surveyed said they would prefer an air-freshened carriage to a regular one. Muscovites especially wanted the smell of cherry blossoms in the subway.

Source: “Air fresheneres installed on the Filyovskaya metro line,” Russkii pioner, 3 November 2022. Photo courtesy of Russkii pioner. Translated by the Russian Reader


What attracts people [to the shot bar Fedya, the Wildfowl!]? The irony and the simplicity, but at the same time the pleasant crowd. Here you can meet people who, the day before, dined on sets [sic] of scallops and dill sauce at designer restaurants, but they are glad to eat belyash and kvass at Fedya’s. Every other table orders kebabs (from 325 rubles) and drinks tinctures and macerations. Security guards monitor everything: if you swear loudly, they will politely ask you to leave.

Source: “From brilliant shot bars to giant food halls: 12 Petersburg openings in 2022 — Vitya Bar, Noise Cabaret, Moskovsky Market, and the inclusive Outside Entrance,” The Village, 5 December 2022. Photo courtesy of The Village. Translated by the Russian Reader


The “Fedya, the wildfowl!” scene from the beloved Soviet comic crime caper The Diamond Arm (1969), starring Andrei Mironov and Yuri Nikulin

Question 5

Four and half years ago, I had to renew my Russian permanent residence permit. The procedure had changed considerably since the last time I’d applied for the permit. Among the changes were two written exams that applicants were now required to pass — a Russian language exam and a Russian civics exam. I decided to study for them by doing practice exams that I found online. One of the civics question was “Question 5,” screenshotted above. It’s a multiple choice question. The examinee must decide whether the “RF” (the Russian Federation) is a) a totalitarian state, b) an authoritarian state, c) a hybrid state, or d) a democratic state. To be honest, I no longer remember whether this particular question came up in the actual exam, which I passed with flying colors. But I thought that you, my readers, might find it productive to ponder this question while reading the following three items, ripped straight from this week’s headlines in the Russian media. At the end of this post, you’ll see what the “right” answer was (in 2018, at least) and the answer I tried to give when taking the online practice quiz. ||| TRR


The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation has identified 17 priority topics for state financial support of film production in 2023.

The procedure and conditions for selection competitions in 2023 will be announced at the end of December 2022.

“We publish a list of topics before the start of competitions for financing production, hoping that filmmakers will take into account the priorities of state support for film production when developing projects. The Ministry of Culture continues to support such important topics for society as the protection of family values, patriotic education, preservation of the traditions of Russia’s regions, the success of domestic science, and popularization of the professions of engineer and teacher. Given modern realities, we consider it necessary to focus as well on countering attempts to falsify history and modern manifestations of the ideology of Nazism, to talk about the heroism and dedication of Russian soldiers during the special operation and the work of front-line brigades and volunteers,” said Olga Lyubimova, Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation.

Some priority topics have been established pursuant to the Decrees of the President of the Russian Federation: “On the Approval of the Foundations of State Policy for the Preservation and Strengthening of Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values,” dated 09.11.2022, No. 809; “On the Announcement of the Decade of Childhood in the Russian Federation,” dated 29.05.2017, No. 240; “On the Announcement of the Decade of Science and Technology in the Russian Federation,” dated 25.04.2022, No. 231; and “On Holding the Year of the Teacher and Mentor in the Russian Federation,” dated 27.06.2022, No. 401.

The list of priority topics includes:

1. Russia’s culture. The preservation, creation and dissemination of traditional values.

2. The decade of childhood. Families and children, their protection and support.

3. Russian science: innovations, technologies, priorities.

4. Historical cinema. History lessons, memory lessons. Countering attempts to falsify history. Russia’s peacekeeping mission of Russia. Russia’s historical victories. The eightieth anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet soldier’s mission of liberation Generational conflict, generational continuity.

5. Russia as a modern, stable and secure state that provides opportunities for growth and self-realization.

6. The heroes among us. Stories of modern Russia’s outstanding individuals. Popularizing the teaching profession. School and college as important stages in social adaptation and personal orientation. The role of teachers and mentors in shaping the individual.

7. Motivating young people to master manual trades and engineering jobs. Improving the social status of the manual worker and the engineer, of research and innovation.

8. Film chronicle. The current state, culture and traditions of Russia’s regions. Development of the Far East and the Arctic. The life of small towns and villages, life in the provinces. Little Russia as a historical region of Russia.

9. Adaptations of works of Russian classical literature, including with the use of animation.

10. Films about outstanding figures in history, culture, science and sports. Popularizing the medical profession. Films about sporting achievements and victories.

11. Countering modern manifestations of the ideology of Nazism and fascism. Popularizing heroism and the dedication of Russian soldiers during the special military operation.

12. Popularizing service in the Russian Armed Forces of Russia. Society’s unanimous support of the army (front-line brigades and volunteers). Strengthening the status of the military profession as based on historical events and recent history.

13. The spiritual, moral and patriotic education of Russian citizens. Countering extremism. Images and models of behavior and creative motivation for modern youth. Spiritual leaders. The volunteer movement in Russia and the CIS countries as an international popularization of volunteerism.

14. The neocolonial policy of the Anglo-Saxon world. The degradation of Europe. The formation of a multipolar world.

15. Society without borders: the self-realization of people with disabilities. Volunteering in Russia. Active longevity.

16. Films about teenagers. Formation of values in life and guidelines while growing up. Disorientation in public space, information overload, forming one’s own way of thinking.

17. Modern society. Moral and ethical choice. Civic engagement. Social unity.

Source: “The Ministry of Culture of Russia has identified priority topics for state support of film production in 2023,” Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, 30 November 2022. Thanks to Radio Svoboda for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader


At a secondary school in the Leningrad Region, the Agalatovo Education Center, students were quizzed about racism, Russophobia and the emotions provoked by songs about the Motherland. A photo of the questionnaire, entitled “Patriot and Citizen,” was sent to Rotunda by the parents of one of the schoolchildren. Here are some of statements the children had to evaluate by answering “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.”

🇷🇺 Those who criticize what is happening in the country cannot be considered real patriots.
🇷🇺 I owe a lot to my country.
🇷🇺 Sometimes I get very excited when I hear songs about my Motherland.
🇷🇺 We are a strong military power, and that is why we should be respected.
🇷🇺 If I go abroad, I will try not to be seen as Russian.
🇷🇺 I am ready to defend my Motherland in case of serious danger.
🇷🇺 Most of the crimes in our city (village) are committed by outsiders and immigrants.

🇷🇺 Our athletes are often judged unfairly at international competitions, because no one likes Russians.
🇷🇺 If we take into account all the pros and cons, the storage of foreign nuclear waste in Russia brings more financial benefits than it does environmental harm.
🇷🇺 There are nations and peoples who do not deserve to be treated well.
🇷🇺 Vandalism is one of the forms of youth protest.
🇷🇺 It is unfair to put people with dark skin in charge of white people.
🇷🇺 There can be only one true religion.

🤦 The school confirmed to Rotunda that they had conducted such a survey. They agreed to communicate with us only by mail. In a written response signed by the vice principal, they claimed that the questionnaire was needed “as background for a faculty meeting.” The school did not answer questions about how correctly or adequately the questionnaire was worded. Rotunda was unable to contact the school’s principal, Svetlana Sergiyenko. She is a supporter of the United Russia party and has run for election several times on the party’s ticket.

📌 The questionnaire itself seems to have been found by the educators on the internet. In 2014, Belarusian media reported that a similar survey (only with Belarus instead of Russia) was conducted in schools in Minsk.

Source: “Schoolchildren in Leningrad region surveyed on whether they’re ashamed to be Russian,” Rotunda (Telegram), 28 November 2022. Thanks to Leda Garina for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


There is a belief that the Russian elite under President Vladimir Putin has only ever been interested in money. Yet Putin’s militant, anti-liberal, anti-Western, isolationist, paternalistic, and harshly authoritarian regime has always had an ideology.

This ideology is not systematized, but it does exist, and snippets of it can be found throughout Putin’s speeches, articles, and interviews. Now the war in Ukraine has necessitated a more articulated ideology, however.

The initiative to systematize and codify Putinism has led to a presidential decree listing Russia’s “traditional spiritual and moral values,” as well as the development of a new ideological curriculum for colleges.

It is no longer enough to indoctrinate children in kindergartens and schools. It is now time to unify the worldviews of college students, and, by extension, those of their professors, whose ranks will inevitably be purged. A similar course taught during the Soviet era was known as “Scientific Communism.”

The name for this new curriculum is “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood,” though it might as well be called “Scientific Putinism.” It is composed of four units: “History” – historical policy as the imposition of a mythologized official version of history, which is one of the instruments for manipulating the mass consciousness of Russians; “Cultural Codes” or the “traditional spiritual and moral values,” around which Putin has ordered federal and regional governments to unify; “Russia and the World” — a justification of isolationism, anti-Westernism, and jingoism; and “Vision for the Future,” which sets out what the state hopes to achieve beyond victory in Ukraine and the destruction of the “fifth column.”

The curriculum justifies the cult of the eternal leader and doubles down on the idea that Russia is fighting the forces of evil in Ukraine in an effort to “de-satanize” the country. However, at the same time, Scientific Putinism lacks key components such as development goals or a vision for Russia’s future, focusing as it does almost exclusively on the past.

During Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency, there were teams working on a future-oriented ideology and making road maps based on the idea that Russia would fast-track the modernization of the state and society. Putin’s ideology, however, is one that fundamentally opposes modernization.

Putin has successfully convinced a significant portion of the population that Russia must regain its status as a great power, and that Russia is under attack by both the liberal West and traitors at home. As the regime has grown more authoritarian, its ideology has also become more archaic, its propaganda more obtrusive, and any hopes of modernization have dwindled. 

An ideology that consists of historical, cultural, and religious myths, bogus traditions, and resentment seeks to legitimize an authoritarian regime and delegitimize those who oppose it.

Such an ideology makes it possible to label nonconformists as enemies, and to divide people into “us” and “them.” The division into “us” and “them” doesn’t just provide a marker for self-identification, it also serves to convince the public that there is a certain majority from which they should not stray.

In the past, the only requirement for being part of the “us” was passive, silent, conformist support. Today, however, this is not enough: Russians must surrender their very bodies to be cannon fodder in the supreme leader’s holy war against the “satanic” forces of the West. This is no longer authoritarianism; it is totalitarianism.

Imperialism and colonialism are key components of Putinism and key factors in the war. There is nothing new about this ideology; it comes almost verbatim from Stalinism and from earlier Eurasian and Slavophile narratives.

The war is being passed off as striving to restore historical fairness, as defensive and preventive, and as liberation. According to Putin, the land of the empire must be “returned and reinforced.”

In just a few years, the regime has evolved from a cult of the victory of 1945 to a cult of war itself, and Putin has managed to persuade a large segment of Russian society that the “special military operation” of 2022 is a natural continuation of World War II. In essence, it is an existential war between Russian and Western civilizations.

Putin has started to refer to Russia as an entire civilization. The state is not just sacred and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice; it is also a separate and superior civilization with a “thousand-year history” and its own special path.

Within this history, cultural codes are being passed down from generation to generation as part of the country’s political DNA. This state-civilization has its own pantheon of heroes unchanged from the Soviet era: Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Joseph Stalin, and Yuri Gagarin.

This state-civilization has always been under attack by enviers and foes, making its state of permanent conflict critical, and not simply limited to the battlefield. The state must win in all aspects — in culture and in sports, in the construction of Olympic facilities, and in the war against Ukraine and the West.  

To defend the sovereignty of this state-civilization, the Kremlin is counting on the security services, or siloviki, who have been given additional funding and are reinforced by spin doctors and so-called “journalists” in the Kremlin’s service.

The Culture Ministry, the communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Orthodox Church are becoming de facto siloviki themselves, enjoying as they do the right to block or ban media, restrict the sales of books by authors who oppose the war, and decide who can perform on theater stages.

The ideology has become corporeal, bolstered by political and military acts, such as the annexation of Crimea and the “special military operation.” In short, the special ideological operation is ongoing, and it seems to be faring rather better than the military one. 

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace.

Source: Andrei Kolesnikov, “Scientific Putinism: Shaping Official Ideology in Russia,” Moscow Times, 27 November 2022. Thanks to Mark Teeter for the heads-up.


Back in the summer of 2018 I tried to answer Question 5 truthfully, replying that the Russian Federation was an “authoritarian state.” But the right answer, then, was “democratic state,” as it turned out. Again, I don’t remember now whether this question on the actual civics exam that I took, but there were several other “ideological” questions like it, which I would have answered “incorrectly,” thus jeopardizing my chances to get a residence permit, if I hadn’t been schooled in advance by the practice quizzes I’d found online. ||| TRR

I’ll Show You the Life of the Mind

An image from Boris Akunin’s One Eight Eight One, as staged by Valery Fokin at the Alexandrinsky Theater in Petersburg.
Image courtesy of alexandrinsky.ru via Delovoi Peterburg

Every Wednesday we tell you about an article that has proved the most interesting to one of our staffers.

Yulia Holtobina, manager of the Subscribers’ News project, has shared an article with us today.

Does modern society need cultural goods? In my opinion, they are simply necessary for people to grow spiritually and achieve inner harmony. Culture is the environment in which the life of the individual and the life of society take place. Culture makes a person a personality.

In our difficult time, people increasingly want to distract themselves, to get away from fatigue and the problems that have piled up. Theaters, cinemas, and museums are the cultural spaces where they can relax, feel joy, find positive energy and inspiration, and return to a stable life.

Delovoi Peterburg thus writes that the preferences of Petersburgers have not changed. People still enjoy going to theaters, museums, exhibitions, and St. Petersburg’s other cultural spaces.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg email newsletter, 16 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Theatergoers south of Moscow were held “hostage” and shot at by actors playing Ukrainian soldiers during an immersive play that glorifies Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, local media reported Tuesday.

Opening scenes from the production titled “Polite People” showed actors dressed in Ukrainian military uniforms violently capturing audience members and shooting them with what appeared to be prop assault rifles. 

One female captive can be heard screaming “it hurts” and “let go” as the actors drag her onstage.

“Polite People” is a euphemism for the Russian soldiers without insignia who occupied Crimea before Moscow annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

“The creators wanted to immerse the audience into the atmosphere of what Donbas residents had experienced for eight years,” the Kaluga region’s Nika TV broadcaster said, using the term for eastern Ukraine’s separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Actor Vilen Babichev, who portrays one of the Ukrainian troops, told Nika TV the play aims to show Russian audiences “the nature of the enemy that invaded our territories eight and a half years ago.”

President Vladimir Putin has justified Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine with unbacked claims that Kyiv is committing “genocide” against Russian-speaking residents of the Donbas.

“Polite People” is funded through a 10.1-million ruble ($165,000) Russian presidential grant.

Its author, Luhansk-based musician and film studio director Roman Razum, said the project aims to “create positive content to counteract negative content that carries an immoral ideology and counters the Russian cultural code.”

“We show that these aren’t just Ukrainian [soldiers], but fighters fully trained by NATO and supplied with weapons for many years,” Razum told Nika TV.

The play premiered in Kaluga on Monday following dates in occupied Luhansk and four Russian cities in late October and early November. It is expected to go on tour across a handful of other Russian cities until late November.

Source: “Russian Audiences Held ‘Hostage’ By Mock Ukrainian Soldiers in Pro-War Play,” Moscow Times, 9 November 2022


Is there room left in life for celebrating and if so, for what kind of celebrating? DP found out how the preferences of consumers of culture have changed this year.

The Social and Artistic Theater (SHT) told DP that its new season had got off to a good start. “I would say that audiences are going to the theater more, but the decision to go is made at the last moment. Our productions of Anne Frank, The Émigrés, and Cynics are now quite popular. Our classic production is still WITHOUT [An idiot], based on F.M. Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot,” SHT director Alina Korol said.

No scarier than covid

The Bolshoi Puppet Theater (BTK) said that its audiences did not have any particular new preferences. There are traditionally sold-out performances at the theater, and less popular ones, but they have not noticed any new trends.

“After the start of the SMO, there was a drop-off in attendance that lasted a couple of months, maybe one and a half. If anything has changed post mobilization, it has been insignificant. But when a new wave of covid started in mid-September, many people began to get sick and the flow decreased,” the BTK’s sales department emphasized.

“People want to return to a stable life for at least a few hours, so they go to the theater. We almost always have full houses, and preferences have not changed,” commented Tatiana Troyanskaya, a public relations specialist at the Studio Theater. Among the favorites at the Studio are productions by the theater’s artistic director Grigory Kozlov (The Elder Son, Tartuffe, The Days of the Turbins, Quiet Flows the Don, as well as comedies (Our Avlabar; Dreams of Love, or the Marriage of Balzaminov), and productions for children.

Vladimir Kantor, the editor-in-chief of the magazine Petersburg Theatergoer and the head of the literary department at Saturday Theater, did not notice any new trends in the theater.

“I am familiar with the repertoire of other theaters, but I haven’t noticed any serious changes in audiences. Autumn and winter are the times when people traditionally go to the theater. I cannot mention any changes in the repertoire that can be described as trends. There were enough productions about war before the start of the SMO, as well as dystopias. I can’t name any productions about the new emigration at all,” he commented.

DP also sent requests for comment to several state theaters, including the Young People’s Theater (TYUZ) and the Alexandrinsky Theater, but did not receive responses. Meanwhile, the Alexandrinsky has removed Boris Akunin‘s name from the announcement of the premiere of One Eight Eight One. Akunin wrote the play specifically for the Alexandrinsky, but his name disappeared from playbills at the behest of the Ministry of Culture. Back in August, the audience received an email with a reminder about the upcoming premiere of One Eight Eight One — as “staged by Valery Fokin, with music by Vyacheslav Butusov, to the text by Boris Akunin.” A similar situation occurred in Moscow, at the Russian Youth Academic Theater (RAMT), where there are four productions of plays penned by the writer.

Akunin himself is aware of what has happened and does not condemn the theaters. “I sympathize with the heads of theaters… If a person has decided that the cause you serve is more important than damage to your reputation — this is a difficult choice from which you yourself suffer, but not your team and not your audience,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.

According to the writer, he has not demanded that uncredited productions be removed from the repertoire. On the contrary, they can go on until they are finally banned and even with no compensation to him. As Akunin noted, the Alexandrinsky Theater cannot pay him royalties due to sanctions.

Among private institutions, Beyond the Black River Theater and the City Theater declined to comment. On October 20, a performance of 1984 was canceled at the City Theater — as noted on its social media accounts, “for reasons beyond the theater’s control.” On October 31, the same production was presented to the audience in a new way: in a video format and featuring an encounter with the director and the actors. The theater’s management clarified that “this is probably the last time it would be possible to see 1984.” The theater also said goodbye to the anti-war production A Red Flower, based on the stories of Vsevolod Garshin.

Perennial classics

Petersburg museums did not respond to DP‘s questions about the changing preferences of its visitors. Official requests were sent to the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, and the Erarta Museum of Modern Art. The bookstores Subscription Editions and At the Top of the Voice and the bookstore chain Bookworm also declined to comment on the situation.

Alexander Prokopovich, editor–in-chief at the publishing house Astrel SPb, says that readers’ preferences had begun to change even before early February, during the pandemic, but the trends have persisted. According to him, classics and so-called longreads [longridy] — that is, literature that is demand at all times — have remained relevant, while speculative texts and fashionable literature [sic] have been losing ground.

“Readers reared their heads, rather, by remaining true to their interests in new titles; perhaps for obvious reasons, interest in new titles from the translated literature segment has increased. I have not encountered any restrictions. Writing is a strategic activity: it can take years to create a book, so it is not worth waiting for a sudden change in the subject matter of the fiction we publish. It is another matter that the events [of this year] are so emotionally charged that many authors have simply stopped writing. It is not our publishing housing that is in demand, but the books which we publish. Nothing has changed here: demand for them is determined by the quality of the texts. This has been the case in the past, and it will be the case in the future,” Prokopovich said.

Some authors claim that their works have disappeared from bookstores — for example, collections of poems by the poet Vera Polozkova. She left Russia in March. Over her fifteen-year career, Polozkova has written five books, published in a total of 280 thousand copies. On her social media accounts, the poet noted, “It would be strange to expect them [the authorities] not to touch the books after everything I’ve said and done.” She believes that she will be able to publish abroad either through crowdfunding or self-publishing [samizdat].

On the other side of the cultural barricades is RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. A month ago, the TV channel presented a collection of front-line poems, Poetry of the Russian Summer, but a few weeks later it transpired that Russian publishers were not willing to publish a book with the letter Z on the cover. Simonyan, on her Telegram channel, called it “a verdict on us all.”

Cinema depends on the weather

Cinemas were reluctant to comment on the situation. Aurora and Rodina did not answer DP’s questions, but Lenfilm did give an assessment of attendance factors. The cinema center’s management said that Lenfilm is difficult to compare with mass multiplex cinemas. “We show festival films, auteur cinema, and retrospectives. Therefore, aside from a general decrease in the number of viewers, the situation has not affected us so much, since our repertoire has stayed the same, and our audience has remained our audience. We are more dependent on the weather. After big news days, the attendance drops at first, but then it more or less levels off,” the studio commented.

Lenfilm also noted that its cinema center has been showing many Russian films. This year’s Lenfilm Film Club events have already featured screenings of Vladimir Kott’s Disobedient, Tatiana Kolganova’s Delayed Happiness Syndrome, and Ruslan Bratov’s Express.

Source: Alina Kizyakova, “Petersburgers looking for stability in theaters and books,” Delovoi Peterburg, 15 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

I Want My HBO (House of the Dragon)

This newsletter from the Russian streaming service Amediateka showed up in my inbox a few minutes ago.

Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon. Premieres August 22

See “House of the Dragon” on Amediateka. We don’t want you to miss the biggest and most interesting premieres (“House of the Dragon,” the prequel to the great and mighty “Game of Thrones” is coming soon!), so we’re reminding you that we have a very useful newsletter. From which, however, you can unsubscribe. What you can definitely keep are the subscription promo codes*: a treasury of international TV series is now closer!

What is Amediateka? What does it have to do with HBO?

Russian streamer Amediateka has struck an exclusive deal that allows it to offer all series from WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, in addition to library content from the US studio.

The agreement, which is effective immediately, hands Amediateka shows including the reboot of cult TV series Gossip Girl, Steven Soderbergh’s film No Sudden Move, sci-fi series Raised By Wolves, Israeli war drama Valley Of Tears and teenage drama Genera+ion. 

HBO Max hit The Flight Attendant is also available, along with Sex And The City sequel And Just Like That…, with shows accessible on the streamer in Russia and the CIS.

Animal Kingdom11.22.63 and Person Of Interest are among library series available, along with documentaries including 15 Minutes Of ShamePersona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests and docuseries Generation Hustle and the upcoming One Perfect Shot.

Tatyana Kalita, CEO of Amediateka parent Amedia TV, said the deal would provide “resonant and highly sought-after” shows to its audiences, adding that the streamer had enjoyed “stunning success” with the recent special episode Friends: The Reunion, which Amediateka exclusively released in Russia and CIS in May.

(Source: Richard Middleton, “Amediateka gets HBO Max shows exclusively in Russia and CIS,” Digital TV Europe, 3 August 2021)

But didn’t HBO’s parent company WarnerMedia stop doing business in Russia this spring to protest Russia’s brutal unprovoked invasion of Ukraine?

Major media companies continue to join the exodus from Russia, with Discovery and WarnerMedia making announcements on Wednesday about halting all programming in the country.

WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, previously paused the release of “The Batman” in Russia, citing the “humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.”

As of Wednesday the company is now “pausing all new business in Russia,” CEO Jason Kilar said in an internal memo. “This includes ceasing broadcast of our channels, halting all new content licensing with Russian entities, and pausing our planned theatrical and games releases.”

WarnerMedia had been broadcasting CNN and Cartoon Network in the country. CNN said on Tuesday that the network is not shutting down its Moscow bureau, “but we have ceased reporting from there until we have assessed the impact of this new law.” The law makes it a crime to disseminate what Russian authorities consider to be “fake” information about the invasion of Ukraine.

Discovery, which has 15 channels in the country, said Wednesday that the channels are going dark as well. “Discovery has decided to suspend the broadcast of all its channels and services in Russia,” the company said.

Discovery and WarnerMedia are preparing to merge this spring.

The statements are part of a much broader corporate shunning of Russia that has escalated in the two weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

(Source: Brian Stelter, “WarnerMedia and Discovery join the stampede of businesses leaving Russia,” CNN Business, 9 March 2022)

Amediateka is currently offering a 12-month subscription to its streaming service at the bargain basement price of 2,499 rubles — or 41 dollars and some change. That’s for an entire year. In the US, WarnerMedia is currently offering a yearly, prepaid subscription to HBO Max for $69.99 with ads or $104.99 with no ads. ||| TRR

Masyanya: Saint Mariuburg

“Compassion and empathy—the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes—are the most vital human emotions. This cartoon is addressed to those who, through some monstrous error, support Russia’s war on Ukraine.”

Source: Masyanya, “Episode 162: Saint Mariuburg,” YouTube. Over three million people have watched this episode since it was posted several days ago. Press CC for English subtitles.


Masyanya creator Oleg Kuvaev, montaged with a still from the latest episode of his hit cartoon, which imagines what an unprovoked Chinese invasion of Russia would look like in Masyanya’s hometown of Saint Petersburg.

From an interview with Oleg Kuvaev about the latest episode of Masyanya (“Episode 162: Saint Mariuburg”):

“I would argue that Russian society was deliberately depoliticized during the early two thousands. I played along with this process to a certain extent. […] I was categorically against [putting] politics in the series. Masyanya didn’t touch on any controversial topics whatsoever, and I didn’t get involved in anything, but only enjoyed my own jokes. But now is not the time for humor: comedians in Russia have found themselves in a situation where they do not have the tools to do their job. The main tool of humorists—exaggeration—no longer works, because the absurdity is now so off the scales that no humorist can go further.”

Source: Sergei Averkov, Facebook, 12 July 2022. Thanks to Vladimir Volokhonsky for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Minions: The Rise of the GRU

This piece of fan mail—disguised as an intemperate reaction to my previous post—just came in. I think it’s actually a camouflaged plug for the latest installment in the Despicable Me series, which, I’m happy to say, is playing at my neighborhood movie theater. ||| TRR


The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, formerly the Main Intelligence Directorate, and still commonly known by its previous abbreviation GRU, is the foreign military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. GRU controls the military intelligence service and maintains its own special forces units.

Unlike Russia’s other security and intelligence agencies—such as the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Federal Protective Service (FSO), whose heads report directly to the president of Russia—the director of the GRU is subordinate to the Russian military command, reporting to the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff.

The directorate is reputedly Russia’s largest foreign-intelligence agency, and is distinguished among its counterparts for its willingness to execute riskier “complicated, high stakes operations”. According to unverified statements by Stanislav Lunev, a defector from the GRU, in 1997 the agency deployed six times as many agents in foreign countries as the SVR, and commanded some 25,000 Spetsnaz troops.

Source: Wikipedia


Set in 1976 California, the film is an origin story depicting how Gru (Steve Carell) became allied with the diminutive yellow creatures (all voiced hilariously by Pierre Coffin, provided, one hopes, with plenty of throat lozenges) and embarked on his career path to villainy. Only 11 years old (11 ¾, to be precise), Gru sees his chance when given the opportunity to apply to become a member of the evil supergroup the Vicious 6 after they violently oust their leader, the elderly Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin, giving the impression that he’s having a lot of fun).

Source: Hollywood Reporter

May the Good Lord Take a Liking to You and Blow You Up Real Soon

This is “social democracy,” Russian fascist style, as exemplified by A Just Russia — For Truth party leader Sergei Mironov, as translated by a mindless unpaid robot:

The leader of the Fair Russia — For Truth party, Sergei Mironov, proposed to take away the property of Russians who decided to emigrate from Russia.

He noted that this can be done within the framework of the presidential decree of March 1, 2022 “On additional temporary economic measures to ensure the financial stability of the Russian Federation.” According to it, Russian citizens who “have left or live in unfriendly countries cannot dispose of their real estate on the territory of Russia.”

At the same time, Mironov proposed not to be limited only to “unfriendly” states and to apply a measure in the event of a person leaving for any country.

The essence of their act does not change from this. I think it makes sense to extend the restrictions to all travelers, regardless of where exactly they have pricked up their skis.

The head of the party added that he considers the current flight of “our homegrown rich people” abroad to be a cleansing of society. In his opinion, only “obvious traitors” or “owners of criminally obtained fortunes” can leave Russia.

“Although one easily combines with the other. So I see only a positive aspect in the fact that these gentlemen are ridding us of their presence. The air will be cleaner,” he concluded.

Russian “social democrat” Sergei Mironov. Photo courtesy of the Moskva Agency and the Moscow Times

Here are the “social democratic” fascist robot’s remarks in the original Russian:

Лидер партии «Справедливая Россия — За правду» Сергей Миронов предложил отбирать собственность россиян, решивших эмигрировать из России.

Он отметил, что это можно делать в рамках указа президента от 1 марта 2022 года «О дополнительных временных мерах экономического характера по обеспечению финансовой стабильности РФ». Согласно нему, российские граждане, которые «уехали или живут в недружественных странах, не могут распоряжаться своей недвижимостью на территории России».

При этом Миронов предложил не ограничиваться только «недружественными» государствами и применять меру в случае отъезда человека в любую страну.

“Суть их поступка от этого не меняется. Полагаю, есть смысл распространить ограничения на всех выезжанцев в независимости от того, куда именно они навострили лыжи.”

Руководитель партии добавил, что считает очищением общества нынешнее бегство «наших доморощенных богатеев» за границу. По его мнению, из России могут уехать лишь «очевидные предатели» или «обладатели состояний, полученных криминальным путем».

«Хотя одно легко сочетается с другим. Так что в том, что эти господа избавляют нас от своего присутствия, я вижу только положительной момент. Воздух будет чище», — заключил он.

Source: Moscow Times, 16 June 2022


John Candy and Joe Flaherty have a finer grasp of Russian social revolutionary traditions than Sergei Mironov does. If Mr. Mironov’s (thoroughly counterrevolutionary and reactionary) compatriots weren’t so similar unmindful of their own history, Mr. Mironov might have thought twice before making the transformation from a mild nuisance to an enthusiastic Putinist henchman.

What Johnny Depp Reads (and Recommends You Read)

“Johnny Depp’s choice. You’re probably curious what kinds of books the Hollywood star reads. We’ll tell you in order, taking Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl off the table.”

This is a screenshot of an email I received yesterday from LitRes, Russia’s top ebook distributor and seller. Aside from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (visible here), Johnny Depp’s alleged “choice” of books, available for purchase on LitRes, includes Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel, and Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This is the second time since Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine began that LitRes has celebrated the alleged literary tastes of a violent Hollywood bully. In April, two weeks after Will Smith’s assault on comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars, LitRes treated its customers (including me: I’ve purchased 109 otherwise inaccessible Russian books from them over the last several years, my account profile tells me) to “Will Smith’s choice.”

It occurred to me at the time, sadly, that if it had not been for the war, Russia’s chattering classes, including many of the currently exiled “anti-war” liberals, would have happily spent the week following Smith’s violent outburst discussing, just as, before the war, they had been keen to discuss almost anything in the world (especially if it concerned the United States and “the West”) except the dismal political and social circumstances at home in the Motherland. In the recent past, for example, the Russian chatterati chewed over the January 6 coup attempt and the reaction to George Floyd’s murder with supreme relish and satisfaction, often coming to conclusions, however, that would make an observer like me wonder how “liberal” the “liberal” opposition to Putin really was. For example, an acquaintance of mine from Petersburg, a well-known grassroots human rights activist, was so convinced that the anti-police demonstrations in the US were, essentially, little better than the anti-semitic pogroms her ancestors had endured in the early twentieth century that she “unfriended” me for arguing that they were nothing of the sort.

Similarly, one of Russia’s leading opposition political scientists and sociologists, Greg Yudin, who has now risen to some prominence for his courageous public anti-war statements and actions, wrote a longish comment on Facebook on January 7, 2020, that includes the following hilarious assessment of the previous day’s events in Washington:

Nothing terrible happened in Washington. Basically, the protest was peaceful and calm – people entered the building of their own parliament, took selfies, sat in chairs, and dispersed. Capitol Hill will not collapse because men with dogs and ladies in down jackets strolled around it. The people who, apparently, broke windows, sprayed pepper spray, and called for storming television stations, should be investigated. Otherwise, the congressmen had a little scare and had to stay in session until four in the morning. It’s okay, they’ll live through it.

Michelle Goldberg argued in the New York Times yesterday that Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against Amber Heard and his legal team’s demolition of her character in the courtroom and online is emblematic of “a #MeToo backlash,” and part of “a broader misogynist frenzy at work, one characteristic of the deeply reactionary moment we’re living through.”


In Russia, the “misogynist frenzy” has deepened with every year that the Putin regime has remained in power (even to the point of decriminalizing domestic violence), and would-be opposition “liberals” have been involved in this backlash as well. You’d never know it nowadays (and, seemingly, there is no one who would dare to remember it anymore) but the Riga-based Russian liberal news website Meduza ended up on the wrong side of decency in 2018 when its editor-in-chief was accused of sexual harassment. What this otherwise comprehensive article on the scandal by BuzzFeed doesn’t tell you, for obvious reasons, is that the Ivan Kolpakov resigned from the top post at Meduza only to be quietly reappointed to it a short time later, after the dust had settled. He’s still in that post today, and is now an internationally celebrated champion of press freedom, whose website is hard up for cash.

(Excuse me my bitterness at Meduza, but they can never been forgive for this crime against basic solidarity and sound journalism, which has demonstrably led to more suffering for young men convicted of a crime that they didn’t commit and which, even more insanely, no one committed.)

I haven’t seen any discussion yet of Depp v. Heard on liberal Russian social media, but it is being covered in a predictably misogynist way by Russia’s online tabloids, as a quick Google search for the words “Johnny Depp trial” suggests:

Two of these “top stories” have salacious headlines claiming that “Johnny Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez gets Amber Heard to come clean.”

It’s no wonder, then, that LitRes imagines that its customers will be delighted to show their solidarity with an “unjustly” accused, violently misogynistic bully, who also happens to a big Hollywood star whose movies they have enjoyed for years, thus making him “svoi” (“one of their own”), just like, paradoxically (given the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Russia), Will Smith. Nor is it any wonder that this celebration of anti-wokeness happens right as the big bad West (the anti-Johnny Depp and anti-Will Smith West) attempts to “cancel” Russia for its violent, unprovoked attack on its “weaker” neighbor.

As Dmitry Volchek argued yesterday in this feuilleton on Radio Svoboda, the threat of “cancellation” animates Russia’s “anti-war” liberals and lefty creatives much more than the silly war itself, much less the war’s victims in Ukraine. |||| TRR