Opportunism and Quietism Are the Watchwords

There is the strange assumption that Russians would be hotly and much more numerously discussing the war on social media and in public were it not for censorship, surveillance, and the draconian new laws on “discrediting” the Russian armed forces, etc. But this assumption, when it is made by outsiders, is based on the belief that the Russian public’s engagement with important political matters and social issues was palpably greater before the war.

It wasn’t that much greater, in fact, as evidenced, among other things, by the fact that what political ferment there was on Russophone social media in recent times often as not had to do with hot-button events in “the west,” such as George Floyd/Black Lives Matter and Trump’s failed coup. And even then these discussions revealed a broad ignorance (and hatred) of politics in non-authoritarian countries and the extreme rightwing sympathies of the Russian “liberal” intelligentsia.

It is not repression and “fascism” that are the real or the only obstacles to democratic, anti-authoritarian grassroots political movements in Russia, but quietism (to use the polite term) and opportunism, which will ultimately nullify all attempts, I’m afraid, to create meaningful anti-war movements, “united fronts,” and so forth at home and abroad.

In that sense, there’s almost no reason for outsiders to get excited by any of the various “projects,” “movements,” zingy new websites, etc., that the opposition in exile, aided by much braver but usually anonymous comrades at home, have been throwing up rapidly and carelessly since February. Most of them will have vanished just as quickly (quietly, without a trace) by year’s end, if not sooner.

Much less should outsiders pay too much mind to the attempts by the newly minted diaspora to get their pretty mugs and their sentiments broadcast to the world via such respectable outlets as the New Yorker and the New York Times, thus making themselves the heroes and heroines of the story instead of Ukrainians. They just cashing in their more considerable reserves of media, cultural and intellectual capital to right their momentarily capsized boats and advance their own fortunes, not pausing for a second to think how this naked opportunism looks to their former Ukrainian “sisters” and “brothers,” who for various reasons have much less of this capital. ||| TRR


Absolutely Horizontal

Olga lived in Mariupol for many years. Until February 24, she worked as a courier, while her husband worked at the Azovstal steel works, and their two children studied at school. Since early March 2022, due to the so-called special operation, Mariupol has been under siege, and fighting has been going on in the city. In the middle of the month, when humanitarian corridors opened up, the family was able to get to Donetsk, and from there they took a bus to Petersburg. Their bus tickets were bought by volunteers — ordinary people who are not connected with government agencies. They also met the Mariupol residents in Petersburg and housed them in their apartment for the night, and then took them to Ivangorod, where Olga and her relatives crossed the Estonian border. The family is now in Finland.

There are many similar stories. In Petersburg, hundreds of residents help transit refugees every day. There are so many people willing to help that all requests — from putting up a family of five people and two dogs to transporting a nursing mother with a baby to Ivangorod — are claimed by volunteers in a matter of minutes. Over the border, in the Estonian city of Narva, Ukrainians are also welcomed by volunteers. This is the story of how ordinary citizens sat and watched the news, feeling powerless, but then found an opportunity to help others and themselves.

How Volunteering Heals Witness Trauma
Alexander from Petersburg is an artist. If it weren’t for [the war], he would now be engaged in art making. “I won’t be getting around to art anytime soon, but there will be food for it,” he says.

In April, Alexander and other volunteers launched a platform on the internet where they coordinate requests for assistance in crossing the border with Estonia and (less often) Finland. For security reasons and at the request of the volunteers, we are not publishing a link to this resource. Currently, there are more people willing to help than requests for help: people span up the requests in minutes.

Here is an example of a typical request: “A family is coming from Mariupol: a grandmother, grandfather, their daughter, grandson (12 years old), and a pregnant cat. You need to meet them at the train station, feed them, provide overnight accommodation, chip the cat and put the family on the bus to Tallinn the next morning.”

“Society has been traumatized. People were watching the news and tortured by a feeling of impotence, so we created a platform where we try to cure this powerlessness. I have the feeling that any problem can be solved en masse. People are competing for the opportunity to help,” says Alexander, “and so [the campaign] has turned out absolutely horizontal. People find the requests on their own and fulfill them  on their own. In the past, I worked on the problems in my neighborhood, and back then it was several activists dragging the whole movement like locomotives, but now the wave rolls on by itself.”

We thought we were going to disappear inside Russia, the refugees tell local volunteers. People travel mostly in groups. Most of them are women, children, and the elderly. There are fewer men. “Many people are traveling with their pets,” says Alexander. In addition to Mariupol and the surrounding area, they come from the Kharkiv region, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They are going to European countries, but some seek to  return to Ukraine as quickly as possible because they have relatives there, they can speak their native language, and they don’t have to deal with the “refugee” label.

It is not only Petersburgers who have been helping them to make the journey to the Russian-Estonian border. There are also hundreds of volunteers in Moscow. The Petersburgers are now establishing contacts in Rostov, Krasnodar, and Belgorod, the [southern] Russian cities through which the refugees travel most often.

“The other day I came to my senses, looked up from the screen, and realized that nothing was hurting inside me. I haven’t watched the news for more than a week and I don’t know what is happening in the political space. I have a specific task, it is very simple and clean. Unlike everything else, I have no doubt that it’s a good thing,” says Alexander. “Everyone wants to do good, and helping refugees certainly satisfies this need.”

How Natalia Got from Mariupol to Vilnius via Petersburg
Natalia got from Ukraine to Lithuania thanks to the internet platform where Alexander volunteers.

Previously, she worked as a cook in the Shchiriy Kum retail chain. She has two daughters: one is a high school student, the other, a university student. On the morning of February 24, Natalia went to work as usual. “I heard that there had been an explosion somewhere. But in Mariupol this is so routine that no one paid it any mind. (Echoes of the fighting have been audible in Mariupol since 2014, and most residents were used to the sounds of distant explosions and shooting — The Village.) When I arrived at work, I realized that things were serious. I finished up by three o’clock, and they let us go home. I didn’t go to work anymore after that.”

Natalia and her family remained in Mariupol until March 23. There was no “serious fighting” in her neighborhood, so she and her daughters stayed in their apartment, not in a basement or a bomb shelter. “But our things were packed to leave at any moment,” she says. The electricity in the city had been turned off, and the water was also turned off, so the family went to a spring to get water. Then the gas was turned off, so they had to cook on a bonfire.

When the fighting got close, Natalia, her girls, and her eldest daughter’s boyfriend went to the outskirts of city, where “there were buses from the [Donetsk People’s Republic].” They went on one of these buses to her parents who live near Mariupol and stayed there for three weeks. Then all four of them traveled to Taganrog [a Russian city approximately 120 km east of Mariupol]. At the local temporary accommodation point, they were offered a choice: they could go either to Khabarovsk or to Perm. Natalia didn’t want to go to Khabarovsk or Perm. She needed to get to Lithuania, where a friend of hers lives. That was when a Mariupol acquaintance put her in touch with the Petersburg volunteers.

“The vbolunteers bought us tickets to Petersburg. We got to Rostov, where we boarded a train. In Petersburg, we were met by Ivan, who took us home to eat. We washed up and changed clothes, and he took us to get on a minibus to Ivangorod,” Natalia says. The Mariupol residents crossed the Russian-Estonian border on April 23. “At the Russian border, they asked [my daughter’s boyfriend] where he was going and why.” The Petersburg volunteers had put Natalia in touch with Narva volunteers, and so the family immediately boarded a free bus to Riga.

Natalia is currently in Vilnius. She has no plans to leave — she no longer has the strength to travel with suitcases. “We’ve rented a room. We’re going to look for jobs,” she says.

How to Help via Twitter
“It all started with the fact that I felt helpless and useless. I really wanted to do something,” says Katya from Petersburg.

You can find out about helping refugees who are traveling to Europe via Petersburg on various websites. The one on which the artist Alexander volunteers is the largest. There are others. For example, Katya saw such a request on Twitter. In mid-April, a friend of hers asked whether anyone could welcome a family (a mother, son and daughter) and an 18-year-old girl who was traveling with them for a couple of days. Katya responded. The family was put up by her friend, while Katya took in the girl. “She met the family she came with two weeks before [the war]. They went for a walk once with the boy, and he decided to take her with him. Her mother refused to leave, and so now the girl is all alone, without relatives here,” says Katya.

Katya met the girl at the Moscow Railway Station and they traveled the rest of the way to her house. The question arose: how to talk to a person who has country has been invaded by your own country? “Either we were a match, or the girl herself is this way, but it was easy to communicate with her, like with a sister,” says Katya. They sat down to drink tea, and the girl recounted in a calm voice how one day a tank drove up to the nine-story building in Mariupol where she was hiding in a bomb shelter, raised its turret, and began shooting into the distance. “I was bored, and I started counting. It fired seventy shots,” the girl said.

Before the girl left, Katya and her guest hugged tightly. The Mariupol family eventually stayed in Sweden, while the girl ended up in Germany. “I was constantly thinking about what is it like to live when your city is gone, when it has been wiped off the face of the earth,” says Katya.

What Ivangorod, the Transit Point for Refugees Going to Estonia, Looks Like
It takes two hours to drive from Petersburg to Ivangorod. At the outskirts of the city, you need to show the frontier guards a passport or a special pass for entering the border zone. Refugees are allowed through with an internal Ukrainian passport. A kilometer from the checkpoint, on a pole right next to the highway, storks have built a large nest.

Ivangorod is home to around nine thousand people. Its main attraction is a medieval fortress. In the six years that have passed since The Village‘s correspondents last visited the city, it has become prettier. The local public spaces have been beautified under the federal government’s Comfortable Environment program.

Estonia can be seen from the bank of the Narva River. To get to the European Union, you need to walk 162 meters across the Friendship Bridge. At the entrance there is a hut where insurance used to be sold, but now it is abandoned, its windows broken. People walk down the slope carrying bags and plastic sacks stuffed with things. The local children ride scooters. Closer to the shore, the children turn right onto the embankment, which the local authorities attempted to beautify in the 2010s with funding from the EU. The people carrying bags go to the left.

There are several dozen people at the border checkpoint. A heart-rending meow resounds from the middle of the queue. A woman removes a black jacket from a pet carrier: a hairless Sphynx cat stares at her indignantly.

“Maybe I should let him out on the grass?”

The people in the queue say there is no need, that they will get through quickly. But it seems that this forecast is too optimistic.

“Are they all Ukrainians?” a man with a reflector asks loudly. The people in front of him shrug their shoulders. “Are they Maidanovites? Refugees? Are they fleeing from the nationalists?”

Someone argues that the frontier guards should organize two queues — “for people and for refugees” — to make the border crossing go more quickly.

Under the bar at the border restaurant Vityaz hangs a homemade “Peace! Labor! May!” banner and an image of a dove. On the way to the Ivangorod fortress there is a memorial stone dedicated to “the militiamen, volunteers, and civilians who perished and suffered in the crucible of the war in the Donbas.” The Village‘s correspondents did not encounter a single letter Z — the symbol of the “special operation” — in Ivangorod. Nor they did encounter a single pacifist message either.

How Narva Helps Transit Refugees
At the border checkpoint, people are met by numerous volunteers from various associations, including the Friends of Mariupol. “These are all private initiatives,” says Narva volunteer Marina Koreshkova.

“We have been seeing exhausted people,” says Marina. “Many are in rough psychological condition, and they really want to talk. We listen to them for an hour, two, three — we empathize with them and share important information. People say that while they were traveling through Russia, they saw the Z, heard unpleasant messages addressed to Ukrainians, and were forced to put up with it and remain silent just to get to Europe. But I often see examples of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe people are just afraid to say the wrong thing.”

Six years ago, Marina and her children moved to Narva from Petersburg, because she understood that the situation in Russia was getting worse. In Russia, she was a lawyer, working for ten years in a government committee on social policy, then as an arbitration manager. She started her life from scratch in Narva, and is now studying new professions. She is a member of Art Republic Krenholmia and Narva Meediaklubi, nonprofits engaged in civil society development and social and creative projects.

On April 10, Marina received a call from the manager of the Vaba Lava Theater Center, who said that they had decided to temporarily convert a hostel for actors into an overnight accommodation for refugees. Soon, the Narva Art Residence also let transit refugees into its hostel for artists. Then the Ingria House, located near the train station, equipped a room to accommodate Ukrainians. And on May 1, a Narva businessman temporarily vacated his office, located near the border, for daytime stays.

“For the first week, Sergei [Tsvetkov, another volunteer] and I tried to do everything ourselves. We quickly realized that at this pace we would burn out or get sick. Now about sixty local volunteers are involved, and people have come from Tallinn to help. The number of people helping out has been growing every day. Local residents collect the refugees’ laundry for washing, and bring them food and medicine.”

Almost none of the refugees remain in Narva. “The proximity to the border generates a new sense of uncertainty for them,” Marina argues. In addition, the region’s refugee registration office, which enables Ukrainians to gain a foothold in Estonia, has been closed. The nearest one still in operation is in Tartu [a distance of 180 km from Narva by car].

Narva is also “the most Russian city in NATO.” Only four percent of the city’s population is ethnic Estonian, and thirty-six percent of residents are Russian passport holder. “I don’t have time to read social media, but until April 10, I constantly observed negative comments [from Narva residents] about the refugees, although I have not seen any outward aggression in the city,” says Marina.

She believes that a welcoming station where refugees could get basic information and relax inside in the warmth should be equipped at the border. “It was quite cold in late April. People were freezing on the border outside in the wind, then thawing out for an hour and not taking off their outerwear.”

There is not even a toilet on the Russian side of the border, however.

Source: “‘An absolutely horizontal business’: How residents of Petersburg and Narva are helping Ukrainian refugees going to Europe,” The Village, 5 May 2022. Image (below) courtesy of The Village. Thanks to JG for the story and the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

______________

Umm Khaled hardly leaves the tent where she lives in northwest Syria, and she says she doesn’t pay attention to the news. But she knows one reason why it is getting harder and harder to feed herself and her children: Ukraine.

“Prices have been going up, and this has been happening to us since the war in Ukraine started,” said the 40-year-old, who has lived in a tent camp for displaced people in the last rebel-held enclave in Syria for the past six years since fleeing a government offensive.

Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the increase since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24. The impact is worsening the already dangerous situation of millions of Syrians driven from their homes by their country’s now 11-year-old civil war.

The rebel enclave in Syria’s northwest province of Idlib is packed with some 4 million people, most of whom fled there from elsewhere in the country. Most rely on international aid to survive, for everything from food and shelter to medical care and education.

Because of rising prices, some aid agencies are scaling back their food assistance. The biggest provider, the U.N. World Food Program, began this week to cut the size of the monthly rations it gives to 1.35 million people in the territory.

The Ukraine crisis has also created a whole new group of refugees. European nations and the U.S. have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced within Ukraine’s borders.

Aid agencies are hoping to draw some of the world’s attention back to Syria in a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians that begins Monday in Brussels, hosted by the U.N. and the European Union. The funding also goes toward aid to the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Last year, the EU, the United States and other nations pledged $6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that fell well short of the $10 billion that the U.N. had sought — and the impact was felt on the ground. In Idlib, 10 of its 50 medical centers lost funding in 2022, forcing them to dramatically cut back services, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.

Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed several hundred families around the country and found 87% were skipping meals to meet other living costs.

“While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to demand world attention, donors and governments meeting in Brussels must not forget about their commitment to Syria,” NRC’s Mideast Regional Director Carsten Hansen said in a report Thursday.

The U.N.’s children’s agency UNICEF said more than 6.5 million children in Syria are in need of assistance calling it the highest recorded since the conflict began. It said that since 2011, over 13,000 children have been confirmed killed or injured.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is dwindling fast, saying it has received less than half of its funding requirements for this year. “We urgently need nearly $20 million for the cross-border operations” in Syria, the agency said in a statement.

Umm Khaled is among those who rely on food aid. With her aid rations reduced, she has gone deeper in debt to feed her family.

Her husband and eldest son were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in their home city of Aleppo in 2016. Soon after, she escaped with her three surviving children to the rebel enclave in Idlib province. Ever since, they have lived in a tent camp with other displaced people on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border.

Her family lives on two meals a day — a small breakfast and a main meal late in the afternoon that serves as lunch and dinner. Her only income is from picking olives for a few weeks a year, making 20 Turkish liras ($1.35) a day.

“We used to get enough rice, bulgur, lentils and others. Now they keep reducing them,” she said by telephone from the camp. She spoke on condition her full name is not made public, fearing repercussions. She lives with her two daughters, ages six and 16, and 12-year-old son, who suffered head and arm injuries in the strike that killed his brother and father.

The price of essential food items in northwest Syria has already increased by between 22% and 67% since the start of the Ukraine conflict, according to the aid group Mercy Corps. There have also been shortages in sunflower oil, sugar and flour.

Mercy Corps provides cash assistance to displaced Syrians to buy food and other needs and it says it has no plans to reduce the amount.

“Even before the war in Ukraine, bread was already becoming increasingly unaffordable,” said Mercy Corps Syria Country Director, Kieren Barnes. The vast majority of wheat brought into northwest Syria is of Ukrainian origin, and the territory doesn’t produce enough wheat for its own needs.

“The world is witnessing a year of catastrophic hunger with a huge gap between the resources and the needs of the millions of people around the world,” said WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.

In many of its operations around the world, WFP is reducing the size of the rations it provides, she said. Starting this month in northwest Syria, the provisions will go down to 1,177 calories a day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of commodities, including wheat flour, rice, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur wheat, sugar and oil.

Rising prices have increased the cost of WFP’s food assistance by 51% since 2019 and that cost will likely go even higher as the impact of the Ukraine crisis is felt, Etefa said.

Earlier in the year, before the Ukraine conflict began, a 29% jump in costs prompted the Czech aid agency People in Need to switch from providing food packages to giving food vouchers. The vouchers, worth $60, buy less food than the group’s target level, but it had to take the step to “maximize its coverage of food assistance to the most vulnerable,” a spokesperson told The Associated Press.

As the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is on the verge of becoming yet another forgotten crisis,” Assistant U.N. Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.

In northwest Syria, “a staggering 4.1 million people” need humanitarian aid, Msuya said — not just food, but also medicines, blankets, school supplies and shelter. She said almost a million people in the territory, mainly women and children, live in tents, “half of which are beyond their normal lifespan.”

Many fear that the situation could only get worse in July, because Russia may force international aid for the northwest to be delivered through parts of Syria under the control of its ally, President Bashar Assad.

Currently, aid enters the Idlib enclave directly from Turkey via a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The U.N. mandate allowing deliveries through Bab al-Hawa ends on July 9, and Russia has hinted it will veto a Security Council resolution renewing the mandate.

A Russian veto would effectively hand Assad control over the flow of aid to the opposition enclave and the U.S. and EU had warned earlier they will stop funding in that case.

The result will be a severe humanitarian crisis, likely triggering a new flood of Syrian migrants into Turkey and Europe, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs warned in a report.

Umm Khaled said she has no choice but to endure her deteriorating living conditions.

“They keep reducing our food basket,” she said. “May God protect us if they cut it completely.”

Source: Bassem Mroue, “Syrians in desperate need of aid hit hard by Ukraine fallout,” AP News, 8 May 2022. Thanks to Harald Etzbach for the story.

Brainwashing vs. Reverse Language Localization

“Brainwashing” California-style, from my morning post

“Brainwashing”, “an old Soviet tradition,” and the absence of inconveniences: why are Russian speakers in no hurry to get vaccinated against the coronavirus?

The share of native foreign-language speakers among the unvaccinated residents of Finland continues to grow. The Yle newsroom found Russian speakers who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, and found out their reasons

Jevgeni Bogdanov • Yle • 19 January 2022

With the advent of omicron, the Finnish authorities expressed particular concern for the republic’s foreign-born residents: there are many infections among them and a noticeable number of people who have refused vaccination.

Special attention paid to native foreign-language speakers

The vaccination rate continues to grow in Finland, including among residents whose native language is not the official Finnish, Swedish, or Sami. According to estimates by THL (Department of Health and Social Development), this indicator does not differ much among Russian speakers than from other native foreign-language speakers.

At the same time, the proportion of native foreign-language speakers among the unvaccinated has increased.

“In October, people who speak foreign languages [as native languages] accounted for 21% of all unvaccinated people in Finland. In mid-December, this figure rose by a couple of percent points,” said Natalia Skogberg, research director of THL’s group on COVID-19 among people of foreign origin.

Skogberg notes that the reasons for refusing to be vaccinated can be very different: doubts about the safety of the vaccines, confidence in one’s own health and the lack of risk from the virus, distrust of public officials, difficulties with the Finnish language, and the inability to distinguish misinformation from reliable information. She argues that the opportunity to get answers in one’s native language is a “big plus.”

“The authorities have published a lot of information in different languages. Information and recommendations have varied depending on the stage of the epidemic and, for example, the level of vaccination,” Skogberg assured us.

A Finnish health service video about coronavirus vaccines with Russian voiceover

THL’s travel recommendations in Russian have been viewed 16,000 times during the pandemic. More than 4,000 people have viewed its Russian-language page about the coronavirus, and a video about the vaccines with a Russian voiceover has garnered almost 1,700 views. THL noted that they have been trying to convey information through Russophone organizations and targeted advertising on social networks.

Russophone anti-vaxxers have their say

Kymsoten koronarokotuspistellä istuvia henkilöitä Kauppakeskus Hansassa Kouvolassa.
A vaccination center at a shopping mall in Kouvola. Photo: Antro Valo / Yle

The topic of vaccination is raised not only in THL bulletins. Heated debates for and against vaccinations take place on forums and online communities for Finland’s Russian-speaking residents. A Yle News journalist sent dozens of messages to those who opposed vaccination on the internet, asking them to substantiate their position for this article. Many of them turned us down. One person explained that they had rejected our request because our questions about vaccinations were “quite provocative.” Another person said they did not want to be involved in “brainwashing.” A third person called the work of the authorities and the media during the pandemic “one hundred percent misinformation” and “a crime against [human] rights and humanity.” One of our interlocutors was hospitalized with the coronavirus during our correspondence.

However, there were also those who were willing and able to express their opinions.

Tatyana (her surname has been withheld at her request), who is a Finnish citizen and lives in Kuopio, said that she did not want to be vaccinated “for personal reasons.”

“I’m not going to get vaccinated either in Finland or in any other country. […] I believe that before they are vaccinated, people with certain health problems or with a history of heart surgery should at least be given a complete physical” said the woman, who works in the cleaning industry.

According to her, this decision has already begun to affect her work, as her boss had threatened to cut her hours. In other areas of life, she did not feel any problems, since she had “no need of pubs and discos.” The woman also noted that she did not need information about vaccination in Russian, as she speaks Finnish.

Vladimir, an information and communications technology specialist living in Porvoo, has also refused to be vaccinated. (He also requested that his last name be withheld.)

“The vaccine is new and the side effects in the long term are unknown, as well as the number of vaccinations that will need to be done,” the young man said when asked to substantiate his position.

He also pointed out that even with three vaccinations, one can get sick with COVID-19, and a vaccinated person can infect people with whom they come in contact.

“I think it is more important to be able to do a test and be sure that you don’t have the virus, that you don’t have the asymptomatic form and won’t infect anyone. I consider [good] hygiene and a medical mask sufficient precautions,” Vladimir argued.

He also pointed out that being unvaccinated did not cause “critical inconveniences” to life in Finland. Among recent difficulties, the ICT specialist recalled that he was not able to eat at a particular restaurant due to the QR-code mandate. The man found a way out: he went instead to a nearby fast food outlet, where he was not asked for a code.

Vladimir argued that dividing people into “the vaccinated with their privileges” and the unvaccinated did not encourage them to sign up for vaccination in any way. He admitted that his position would change only if his employer “obliged” him. The man noted that some of his friends had been vaccinated for this reason.

“News about the coronavirus has turned into background noise, I don’t follow it in detail,” said Vladimir, adding, however, that he had read official recommendations and Yle’s news reports.

THL responds and even agrees

Yle asked THL chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on the stance of our unvaccinated protagonists. She even agreed with some of their points.

Thus, one of THL’s main COVID-19 spokespeople said that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021. At the same time, she noted that the technology itself had been researched for about twenty years, and today hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines had already been produced.

“Detailed safety monitoring is carried out, so even rare side effects are known. And there has been constant reporting,” Nohynek assured us.

According to her, some restrictions were made for safety reasons. People under the age of forty are better off not getting adenovirus vector vaccines (AstraZeneca, for example), and the Moderna mRNA vaccine is not recommended for men under the age of thirty.

Nohynek also acknowledged the truth of the claim that even with three doses of the COVID-19 drug [sic], one can get sick.

“This is true, but the vaccinations are primarily aimed at preventing severe forms of the coronavirus. […] None of us can know how badly they will suffer from the disease when faced with omicron,” THL’s chief medical officer argued.

Nohynek said that having a medical examination before getting a vaccination was an “old Soviet tradition” that is not considered necessary in Finland. However, she noted that it was important to be aware of allergies. Perhaps it was not worth getting an mRNA vaccine if one had them.

THL’s chief medical officer commented on a specific problem that, judging by the discussion on the internet, Russians face. If a person has already been vaccinated with Sputnik V, can they be vaccinated in Finland?

“It is effective and safe to use different vaccines. Of course, when a large number of doses is involved, more local symptoms may occur, such as short-term fever, muscle pain, and fatigue.”

Nohynek concluded by saying that the protection provided by the vaccine is considerable even for healthy young people.

Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the heads-up. The lead image, courtesy of Montage Health, was not part of the original article. Translated by the Russian Reader



Yle’s Finnish translation of its original Russian-language article is a brilliant example of what I would call “reverse” language localization. Here is a telling passage:

THL:n ylilääkäri Nohynek: rokotteet ovat turvallisia ja niiden tärkein tehtävä on suojata vakavilta tautimuodoilta
Novosti Yle pyysi THL:n ylilääkäri Hanna Nohynekiä kommentoimaan Tatjanan ja Vladimirin väitteitä.
Nohynek kertoo, että mRNA-rokotteita ei ole ollut laajassa käytössä ennen vuotta 2021, mutta itse tekniikkaa on kuitenkin tutkittu jo parikymmentä vuotta. Tähän päivään mennessä mRNA-rokotteita on annettu satoja miljoonia annoksia.

This is my English translation of this excerpt:

THL chief medical officer Nohynek: the vaccines are safe and their main function is to protect against severe forms of the disease
Novosti Yle asked THL’s chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on Tatyana and Vladimir’s claims.
Nohynek explains that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021, but the technology itself has been studied for some twenty years. To date, hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines have been administered.

Here is the “same” passage in the original Russian article:

THL отвечает и даже соглашается
Редакция Yle попросила главного врача Ведомства здравоохранения и социального развития Ханну Нохинек прокомментировать позицию наших невакцинированных героев. С некоторыми пунктами она даже согласилась.
Так, один из главных спикеров THL по вопросу COVID-19 сообщила, что вакцины, произведенные с использованием технологии мРНК, не были в широком использовании до 2021 года. При этом она отметила, что сама технология изучалась около 20 лет, а на сегодня сделаны уже сотни миллионов доз мРНК-вакцин.

This is my English translation, as above:

THL responds and even agrees

Yle asked THL chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on the stance of our unvaccinated protagonists. She even agreed with some of their points.

Thus, one of THL’s main COVID-19 spokespeople said that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021. At the same time, she noted that the technology itself had been researched for about twenty years, and today hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines had already been produced.

Lights Out for the Territory

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 22, 2021

Lukashenko is obliged to take in the people whom he let into Belarus with a one-way ticket. He is obliged to give them a roof over their heads, find them jobs, and provide them with medical care and social protections. Otherwise, he must admit his irresponsibility and resign. But we all understand that neither the one nor the other will happen. Belarusians, regardless of their political stance, will share responsibility for the criminal actions of the illegitimate authorities. What lies in store for Belarus is a new stage of the humanitarian catastrophe, which will affect everyone, no matter what they think about the migrants.

*

                                For Alexander Skidan

in the autumn park
hungry eyes
leftovers
on
a newspaper
among us
animals breathing
growling in a cage
a rib cage continuous
vagrants german shepherds
among us
say it say it
I am
among
you

September 14, 2009

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Watch What You Say. And What You Don’t Say (The Case of Hamid Igamberdyev)

Although I am certain that the Memorial Human Rights Center knows what Hamid Igamberdyev looks like, there is no photograph in his “case file” on their website. Igamberdyev might be one of the men captured in the photo, originally published in Kommersant, that I posted along with my translation of OVD Info‘s report on the original verdict in the case, in February 2019. ||| TRR

Man convicted in Moscow Hizb ut-Tahrir case receives additional sentence for talking to fellow inmates in jail
Memorial Human Rights Center
October 4, 2021

On September 28, 2021, a panel of judges with the 2nd Western District Military Court issued a verdict in the case of the 36-year-old stateless person Hamid Igamberdyev, finding him guilty of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).

Igamberdyev was detained in Moscow in December 2016. In February 2019, he was found guilty under Article 205.5.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of involvement in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization banned in Russia, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. In 2020, a new criminal investigation was opened into Igamberdyev on suspicion of “condoning terrorism,” based on an interpretation of his conversations with cellmates in Moscow Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 (Butyrka) in 2017.

The court sentenced Igamberdyev to three years in prison. Taking into account his earlier sentence, he will serve a total of seventeen and a half years in a high-security penal colony.

On the day the verdict was announced, the defendant delivered a twenty-minute closing statement, the written text of which the court entered into the case file.

Below are some key points of this speech, revealing important elements of the practice of fabricating charges (so-called hyping) against people previously convicted under the Criminal Code’s anti-extremist provisions.

Memorial Human Rights Center has published reports on the previous hearings in the trial (part 1, part 2).

In his closing statement, Igamberdyev noted that the testimony of witnesses during the investigation and in court was confused and contradictory concerning both the events themselves and the circumstances of how their testimony was taken during the preliminary investigation.

Thus, witness L., contrary to the interrogation record, testified in court that he had spoken only about life and everyday matters with the defendant. Religion was not discussed, since “we have different faiths.” He had not read through the entire interrogation record, signing it on the advice of a lawyer, and could not remember how he had testified. Igamberdyev also noted that L.’s testimony during the preliminary investigation was not corroborated by video footage, recorded around the clock in the pre-trial detention center.

Witness K. also gave testimony in court that seriously differed from the official interrogation record. In particular, he spoke only about a single nighttime conversation with the defendant in which the topic of Hizb ut-Tahrir was discussed, but there is no evidence of such a conversation either in the case file or the video footage. Regarding his testimony during the preliminary investigation, K. made contradictory claims in court, saying a) that he had written his statement himself, b) that he had dictated it, and c) that he does not remember under what circumstances he gave the statement.

Witness B. stated in court that he had not given any evidence at all during the preliminary investigation, and that he had neither read nor signed the statement allegedly written by him personally. Despite his own negative attitude towards Hizb ut-Tahrir, B. testified that the defendant had never condoned terrorism in conversations with him.

Igamberdiyev argued that finding him guilty on the basis of such contradictory and confused eyewitness testimony violated the principle of presumption of innocence.

Igamberdyev also noted that the name “Hizb ut-Tahrir Al-Islami” is mentioned in the interrogation records, while the shorter wording “Hizb ut-Tahrir” is used in the organization’s printed materials and by the defendant himself. Igamberdyev argued that, despite what was written in the interrogation records, the witnesses could not have heard him use the first, longer, name, which appears only in official state documents.

Regarding the expert testimony, the defendant noted that the invited experts had admitted that there had been no attempts to recruit or call for terrorism in his statements, but there had been “condoning of terrorism,” consisting in his alleged denial of the terrorist nature of Hizb ut-Tahrir, of which he still considers himself a member. Igamberdiyev drew the court’s attention to his statements in the submitted video footage, such as “there is no terrorism in our actions,” and “my attitude towards terrorist organizations is negative.” In his opinion, the expert witnesses had incorrectly and subjectively assessed his words of support for the methods of the organization, which is banned in Russia.

Igamberdyev said that he “never condoned terrorism,” and in his conversations with cellmates he had only tried to explain his position while answering their questions.

He also noted the inconsistency of the state prosecutor’s claim of “recidivism,” since at the time when he allegedly committed the actions for which he was charged he was in jail as a suspect in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case.

Concluding his speech, Igamberdiyev asked the court to find him not guilty of publicly condoning terrorism.

After the verdict was read, the presiding judge asked a question.

“Defendant, do you understand the verdict?”

“I still didn’t understand why I was convicted,” Igamberdyev replied.

“You were convicted of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” the presiding judge explained.

As long as charges of involvement in certain manifestations of terrorism (or extremism) are based not on specific evidence, as established in court, but on declaratory judgments, conclusions or statements not based on reliable and clear sources of information, such verbal exchanges will be an inevitability in the Russian legal space.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Persecution of Valentina Chupik

Human rights activist Valentina Chupik. Photo courtesy of DW

Human rights activist Valentina Chupik has left Russia
After ECHR decision prohibits Chupik’s deportation to Uzbekistan, the human rights defender was released from a special detention center and allowed to fly to Yerevan
Deutsche Welle
October 2, 2021

The Russian authorities have released human rights activist Valentina Chupik from a special detention center at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. After the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) forbade the Russian authorities from deporting her to Uzbekistan, she was allowed to fly to Armenia, the human rights defender’s assistant Alexander Kim told reporters on Saturday, October 2.

“Uzbekistan has issued Valentina Chupik a new passport. She is currently on board a plane that took off a little over an hour ago for Yerevan. [The Russian authorities] couldn’t hold her anymore,” Kim said.

The human rights defender’s further plans are unknown. Her representatives have submitted an asylum request to the Ukrainian authorities for Chupik and her 84-year-old mother Lyubov Kodentsova, but have not yet received a response. Chupik’s seriously ill mother is still in the Moscow region.

Revenge for human rights work
The 48-year-old Chupik fled to Russia from Uzbekistan after the shooting of demonstrators in Andijan in 2005, fearing torture, and she received political asylum in Russia in 2009. The founder of Tong Jahoni (“Morning of the World”), a migrant rights protection center that provides free legal assistance to migrants facing pressure from the security forces and other problems, Chupik was detained by the FSB at Sheremetyevo Airport last week after arriving from Yerevan.

The Russian authorities had stripped Chupik of her status as a political refugee, banned her from entering Russia for a period of thirty years, and begun the process of deporting her to Uzbekistan. The activist believes that she was punished for criticizing corruption in the Russian Interior Ministry and for her human rights work.

On September 30, the ECHR forbade Chupik’s deportation, invoking Rule 39 of the Rules of Court. This rule is applied as an urgent measure in cases where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

From the Lives of the People


George Losev
Facebook
September 14, 2021

I chatted with an 86-year-old woman while I was changing the power outlet on her kitchen stove. She was from a village near Vologda and still pronounced her unstressed o’s as full o’s. She worked for 58 years on construction sites. She started working in ’54 or ’55. She worked for three years as an unskilled laborer, then for eight years as a painter before making the switch to plastering.

“I really liked this work. But then everything fell apart, and anyone could get the job. If you could hold a brush, you could go to work as a painter.”

If I understood her correctly, she said that, in the fifties, sixties and seventies, without a specialized education, it was impossible to get a job anywhere except as a helper.

She said that they had lived quite poorly, that the foreman earned 15 rubles a month. I didn’t understand how this could be and so I expressly asked her again, and she confirmed what she’d said.

In the seventies, the planning got better, and life became easier. But she had still spent her entire life “in poverty.”

“My legs began to give out, and I was forbidden to work. Otherwise I would have kept working. I was already used to this being how things were, that we were working stiffs and this was how we lived.”

Her husband also worked on construction sites, as a finisher. She has a daughter. She lives in her son-in-law’s two-room apartment, renting out one of the rooms. Despite her obvious and visible poverty, the apartment was very clean. She tried to pay me generously, but I didn’t take any money.

We started talking about migrants. She said they were good, hard-working, polite people. They always helped her, carried her groceries. Migrants had saved her life after she had her first or second stroke, which had happened outside. Russians had walked on by, but “Georgians or migrants, basically two non-Russians” had come to her aid, telephoning an ambulance and waiting with her.

“I don’t want to badmouth migrants. I just wonder where our people are, Russians? Have they really all retired? Or don’t they want to work?”

George Losev is a housing authority electrician, veteran grassroots activist and DIY football enthusiast in Petersburg. Thanks to Jeremy Morris for helpful comments on the translation. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Back to the Basics

Today, September 1, is the Day of Knowledge — the first day of school — in Russia and some other post-Soviet countries. As it happens, it was sometime around the Day of Knowledge thirty-one years ago that I began studying Russian. My first Russian teacher was a Hungarian woman named Zsuzsa, at Portland State University. She was only the first of many wonderful guides to the language over the next five or six years (the time it took me to achieve relative fluency), including Nora, Sergei, Zoya, and an amazing Chinese grad student who explained Russian grammar — in Russian (speaking English in class was forbidden at UDub) — better than anyone I’ve ever met; all the lovely, patient and generous lecturers and instructors at the Herzen Institute, who were selflessly dedicated to their profession at a time when working conditions for teachers in Russia couldn’t have been worse; the incomparable Katya Vidre, who introduced me to the work of Alexei Khvostenko and Sergei Dovlatov and so many other things; and countless other Russians, especially the cast of bohemians who helped me with my thesis project, a translation and line-by-line commentary of Joseph Brodsky’s long poem “Predstavlenie.”

Although you might not always guess it from this blog and its prevailingly grim subject matter, learning (and reading) Russian has been immensely liberating. Becoming a Russian reader and speaker has made me a different person, a person capable of seeing the world, however darkly or brightly, through other eyes.

I was reminded of this tremendous gift and the sheer joy of plunging into a new language by the four “Russian pedagogical moments” below. I hope they inspire some of you to learn Russian. At very least, you can read through this post and learn your first twenty-seven words and phrases in the language. ||| TRR

_______________

 

“V or B? Fill in the missing letters.” This is a worksheet made by the RFL teacher extraordinaire Natalia Vvedenskaya for the immigrant children she teaches at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. The words are banan (“banana”), yabloko (“apple”), vaza (“vase”), kolbasa (“sausage”), divan (“couch,” “sofa”), sobaka (“dog”), rebyonok (“child”), and morkovka (“carrot”). This was originally posted on Ms. Vvedenskaya’s Facebook page.

The words and phrases on the second page of the worksheet are velosiped (“bicycle”), avtobus (“bus”), baton (“baguette”), volshebnaya palochka (“magic wand”), gruzovik (“truck, lorry”), banka s vareniem (“jar of jam”), rubashka (“shirt”), and baklazhan (“aubergine, eggplant”).

_______________

Some of Bridget Barbara’s favorite Russian words are arkhiologicheskikh (“archaeological”), zharko (“hot”), delala (“[a female subject] was doing/did”), kavychki (“quotation marks”), prikol’no (“cool”), kuda (“to where”), sovremennyi (“modern,” “contemporary”), ping-pong (“ping-pong”), bifshteks (“beef steak”), and dostoprimechatel’nosti (“sights,” “landmarks”).

_______________

Vadim F. Lurie, “Russia for the Sad.” Posted on the photographer’s Facebook page on August 13, 2021, and reproduced here with his kind permission. The textbook in the photo is open to pages headed with the word grust‘, “sadness.” As Mr. Lurie informs me, “The boy is examining a special book about emotions and discussing it with his mother.”

_______________

Natalia Vvedenskaya playing language bingo with her pupils at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. She writes: “We discussed transport today. Bingo is still the best game for all levels of knowledge of the language and ages. Only it’s very exciting. The screaming is fearsome.”

Access Code

Liberal Russian journalist Yulia Latynina, a columnist for liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, during the 31 July 2021 broadcast of her weekly show (“Access Code”) on the nominally liberal radio station Echo of Moscow:

I want to tell the Lithuanians that it is really quite simple to combat illegal migrants. You just need to put every illegal violator who has crossed the border, not in prison, for God’s sake, just in some place surrounded by a fence, give him a loaf of bread and two liters of water, and put each additional [violator] there as well. When the number of detainees exceeds ten people per square meter, and the amount of food in the form of bread and water remains the same, then everyone who cannot remember where they came from and what their names are – all these wonderful people will immediately voice the desire to return to their homeland. And new ones will mysteriously stop coming.

Why Small-Town Electrician Vladimir Yegorov Had to Flee Russia

Vladimir Yegorov is still in quarantine and lives in a tent camp for refugees in Lithuania. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Yegorov and Radio Svoboda

“I realized that the country was over”: a “terrorist” electrician from Toropets flees to Lithuania
Radio Svoboda
Elizaveta Mayetnaya
June 28, 2021

Vladimir Yegorov, 54, from Toropets, Tver Region, was an ordinary electrician, but he has now become a political refugee in Lithuania. He fled there because in Russia he was threatened with up to ten years in prison on two criminal charges: “condoning terrorism” and “calling for extremism.” “I outfoxed the FSB: I lived under their nose for four months while they were looking for me everywhere,” Yegorov tells Radio Svoboda. “They can only steal, torture and invent criminal cases. They are no match for real terrorists.”

On June 27, Vladimir Yegorov posted these photos on his Facebook page, writing, “[My] final days in Russia. It’s a pity. It could be such a [great] country. But we are the people, and we fucked it all up. And it’s our fault that Putin exists here. Now all I can do is run. I did what I could.”

Yegorov says that he was not very interested in politics until the war in Ukraine began.

“My mother was seriously ill. She was a doctor, the head of the medical clinic, a respected person in the town. And then came the war, the seizure of foreign territory by Russia, the dead, the prisoners of war: my mother read all about it and could not believe that such a thing was even possible. And before that, holding her heart, almost crying, she told me how our entire healthcare system had been ruined,” Yegorov recalls. “Before the war with Ukraine, I still somehow hoped that all was not lost, but then I finally realized that the country was over.”

Yegorov worked at a sawmill and earned money on the side as an electrician. Then he joined the opposition Yabloko party and moderated (first at the party’s request, then on his own behest) Citizens of Toropets, a social media community page that was popular in the area.

“Of course, we have mass media there, but they only write what suits the authorities, while I, though I’m a simple electrician, was like an independent journalist. I wrote on the community page about our ‘crooks and thieves.’ In our wildest fantasies, we expected that three hundred people would read it, but the page was quite popular: we had more than a thousand subscribers, nearly every resident of the district read it! Sand was being stolen from quarries there by the tons and hauled out in KAMAZ trucks, but the local police and administration covered up the whole thing. After I wrote about this in May 2017, windows were broken in my house. A stone was thrown into the room where my little daughter was sleeping, and a canister of gasoline was found lying nearby.”

Yegorov was not intimidated and sent the evidence of theft at the sand quarry to Moscow. But instead of investigating the theft and the attack on his family, the authorities opened a criminal case against Yegorov himself over an old post on the social network VKontakte. In 2016, Yegorov had bluntly commented on a statement made by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who suggested that a teacher who had complained about a low salary “earn some more” and go into business if he wanted a high income. “We need to understand that all these ‘statements’ in public by these morons with zero popularity ratings, who occupy high-ranking posts, are nothing more than part of a special operation by the KGB to whitewash the main culprit of all the troubles and his closest cronies,” Yegorov wrote. His post was accompanied by a photo of President Vladimir Putin.

Police investigators interpreted the expressions used in the post as “extremist.” One of their forensic linguistic experts deemed it a call for the physical destruction of the Russian leadership, and a witness in court said that he read the post as an appeal to overthrow the government. Consequently, Yegorov was sentenced to two years of probation and forbidden from moderating websites. Memorial recognized him as a political prisoner.

Fearing criminal prosecution, Yegorov fled to Ukraine, where he applied for political asylum. The Ukrainian authorities denied him refugee status and took him to a neutral zone near the border with Russia. Yegorov left for Belarus, but he was detained there and sent back to Russia. He spent several months in jail before getting a suspended sentence.​

“My wife left me and took my daughter with. No one anywhere would hire me because I was immediately put on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of extremists; my bank accounts were blocked, and the house was also impounded. When I would go to the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to check in, they mocked me, telling get a job! But no one anywhere would hire me. I went all over town many times, applying for all the vacancies, even the lousiest ones, which no one at the unemployment office would apply for, but I was turned down everywhere,” he says. “I, a healthy man who can do anything with my own hands, whom the whole town used to ask to fix things, was an outcast. I ate only potatoes and noodles for four years, and lived with boarded-up windows, because I had no money to replace the windows broken by those gangster. I didn’t go anywhere much: it was almost like being in prison, only at home. And the court had ruled that I could no longer moderate the community page, either.”

The patriarchal town of Toropets is, as it were, a dead end. Moscow is 400 kilometers away, and Tver is 350 kilometers away. Yegorov’s house stands almost in the center of the town, and is perfectly visible from the highway, where hundreds of cars pass every day. In March 2019, Yegorov hung a Ukrainian flag over his house, which he had ordered for 167 rubles on AliExpress. He posted a photo of it on social networks along with a list of political demands: “Putin, liberate the occupied territory of Ukraine! Release [Oleg] Sentsov, the [imprisoned Ukrainian] sailors and all prisoners of war! Don’t meddle in the affairs of a neighboring country! Take care of your own people! I am a simple Russian man, I don’t want my country to be like this.”

“The Ukrainian flag didn’t make [the local authorities] happy, of course, but according to the law, I can do what I want on my 2,200 square meters, and you can’t touch me. Basically, I made a nuisance of myself,” says Yegorov. “During that time, I figured out computers and learned how to use a VPN. When it comes to modern technology, those [FSB] field officers are just kids compared to me.”

Nor did the law enforcement agencies leave Yegorov alone: several times his home was searched, and in December 2019 and July 2020 his computer was seized. In December 2020, Yegorov was named the defendant in two new criminal cases: he was charged with “publicly condoning terrorism on the internet” (punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code) and “publicly calling for extremism” (punishable under Article 280.2 of the Criminal Code). This happened after the security forces had again searched his home on December 4.

“I supported Katya Muranova from Medvezhegorsk in Karelia on social networks. She is still very young, she has a sick child on her hands, and she was also convicted, fined and put on the Rosfinmonitoring list, allegedly for condoning terrorism [Ekaterina Muranova of Medvezhegorsk was accused of “condoning terrorism” in 2019. For commenting on a social media post about the suicide bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices by the 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky on November 4, 2018, she was sentenced to pay a fine of 350 thousand rubles. Several dozen people in Russia have also been convicted on the same charge for commenting on the bombing — Radio Svoboda.] I feel very sorry for Katya, who also can’t get a job anywhere because of this stigma. She and I became friends, and I wrote a post about the anarchist Zhlobitsky. According to the FSB, it contains ‘statements condoning terrorist activities and creating a positive image of terrorists,'” says Yegorov.

Ekaterina Muranova, convicted in 2019 of “condoning terrorism.” Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Actually, it was this post that led to the charge of “condoning terrorism” against Yegorov. Law enforcement agencies detected “publicly calling for extremism” in another post, which Yegorov allegedly made on January 1, 2020, in the VK group Toropets Realities, referring to a news item published on Ura.Ru, “District head blown up near Voronezh.” There was a note under the news story: “All of them should be blown up.” The FSB believes that it was Egorov who posted this comment from someone else’s account, accessing the page from a virtual Ukrainian number.

“At first I denied everything, but then, during the search, they showed me some kind of knife. I had never had such a thing in my life, and they said that they could find something worse. Consequently, I dismissed my lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and confessed to everything. In exchange, they promised to leave me on my own recognizance until the trial. I didn’t want to go to prison again,” says Egorov. “I was then actively corresponding on social networks with one person who promised to help me. He also had problems with his wife: it was our common ground. So I decided that I would let [the authorities] think that they had broken me, and I would hide and run away from them. On February 10, I left.”

In the evening, Yegorov lit a stove in his house and left his mobile phone there. Under cover of darkness, he got into the car of his new acquaintance, whom he had never seen before, and left with him for Moscow.

“I helped him with electrical work and did a lot of other things around the house, and then he took me to his dacha,” Yegorov recounts. “All those four months they were looking for me. They hassled my wife’s relatives: they thought that she was hiding me, but no one knew anything. And all that time we were reading everything we could about the border and the best places to cross it. We were on different online chat groups, carefully gathering information. Then we went to Belarus by car. My friend took his family along so the authorities would not suspect anything. We even went to a restaurant, like we were ordinary tourists. And then for seven thousand rubles illegal guides took us to the border. At the lake that divides the border in half, I jumped out of the car and immediately dove into the water. I was wearing swim fins, and had a hermetically sealed bag and sat nav with me. I was supposed to swim 400 meters under water, but I surface at the wrong spot: the water had risen, and there was grass and swamp all round. I ended up swimming 1,200 meters, paddling for a very long time along the Lithuanian shore. Nothing was visible, and I didn’t turn on the flashlight to avoid being detected. I got out on the shore: there was no one in sight. I quickly changed my clothes and went to the road to take a minibus to Vilnius. I came to the road and everywhere there were signs, in Russian, advertising houses for sale. I was afraid that I had come ashore in Russia.”

In Vilnius, Yegorov turned himself in to the police.

“I told them: you’d better me shoot here than hand me over to Russia! They would put me away for ten years for nothing, and then they would me kill me prison. They would hang me like Tesak, and then they say I did it myself,” Yegorov argues.

At first, Yegorov was housed in the transit zone at Vilnius Airport.

“I have never seen a Boeing, I have never flown anywhere on airplanes, only by helicopter when I was in the army. Basically, I haven’t been anywhere: I’ve been to Moscow, to Tver for interrogations, and to Velikiye Luki. I fled unsuccessfully to Ukraine, but they sent me back… So my whole life has been lived in Toropets: I have graves of relatives there that are 300 years old. I didn’t think that I would go on the run in my old age, but I didn’t have much choice, ” says Yegorov.

After several days in the transit zone, Yegorov was transferred to a quarantine camp. He now lives in a tent for twenty-two people.

“The food here is quite tasty: they give us cheese and pears. After my long life of semi-starvation in Toropets, I feel like I’m at a health spa now,” Yegorov says, smiling. “Most of the refugees here are Iraqis, Sri Lankans, and Arabs. The staff treat us well. All of them speak Russian, and I communicate with the other refugees using an online translator: somehow we understand each other. They are all in transit to Europe via Belarus, where it is now a well-established business. This, however, has turned out to be in my favor.”

On June 6, 2021, Agnė Bilotaitė, Lithuania’s interior minister, said that the situation with migrants in her country was getting worse.

“We live next door to an unpredictable terrorist regime,” she said. “After Lukashenko’s threats about unleashing an unprecedented flow of migrants, we are seeing an increase in illegal migrants. Four times a week, flights from Istanbul and Baghdad arrive Minsk, whence the migrants head for Lithuania. At least 600 people fly from these destinations every week. The price of transporting people illegally across the border is as much as 15 thousand euros per person, and 30 thousand euros per family.”

This year, over 400 illegal migrants have arrived in Lithuania from Belarus, which is five times more than during the whole of 2020.

A view of Vladimir Yegorov’s hometown of Toropets. Courtesy of Wikipedia

“The flow of refugees is huge, and they spend a lot of time vetting everyone. I was given [refugee] status five years ago after waiting a month and a half, but the folks who came after me waited for six months,” says Irina Kalmykova. Criminal charges were filed against Kalmykova in Moscow for her repeated participation in solo pickets and protest rallies, and she was fined 150 thousand rubles. Instead of waiting until she was arrested again and faced a second set of criminal charges, she and her son fled to Belarus in January 2016, and from there they went to Lithuania, where she was granted political asylum.

Kalmykova was one of the co-founders of the Russian European Movement, which was organized to bring together Russian political refugees in Lithuania.

“We have a very friendly Russian diaspora here now,” says Kalmykova. “We help each other out because, until recently, we ourselves were in the same situation: no money, no clothes, no documents, nothing at all. The guys have already found an apartment where Vladimir can stay, and they will help him find a job. Lithuania is considered one of the poorest countries in Europe, but, you know, people here are quite responsive and kind, and everyone knows Russian, so it is much easier to adapt here than in some other countries The main thing is that Vladimir already has support, because it is quite important that a person doesn’t feel unwanted in their new home. I have no doubt that Lithuania will grant him political asylum: criminal charges have been filed against him, and he has been persecuted for his political stance.”

Yegorov says that he really hopes that his life will finally get better in Lithuania.

“Maybe when I can work here, my wife and daughter will move here to join me. I would really like that,” he says.

Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. In my “real life” as a professional translator, I would have earned around 170 euros for translating a text of this length. Instead, I have provided translations of this and thousands of other compelling texts for free over the last fourteen years here and at Chtodelat News. So, please consider donating money via PayPal or Ko-Fi to help support this work and encourage me to continue it. You’ll find “Donate” and “Buy me a coffee” buttons in the sidebar on the left of this page. Click on one of them to make a donation. Thanks! ||| TRR