Thanksgiving: Petersburg’s Culture Laundromat

Five years ago, Vanya Lendyashov, Nochlezhka’s engineer, sent a letter to David Papaskiri, the owner of Prachka.com, a chain of laundromats. Vanya wrote to ask how best to organize a mobile laundry point, a kind of laundry on wheels where homeless people could get their clothes clean for free. David responded by offering to set up a full-fledged laundromat with washing machines and dryers, just like the ones in his chain, especially for Nochlezhka. He decided to give us the equipment for free—we only had to find a suitable building. Our volunteers joined the search and soon found a space at Borovaya, 116, not far from Nochlezhka’s shelter.

Thus began the story of our Culture Laundromat, which has been running like clockwork for five years. Over the years, three and half thousand people have used the laundromat, whose washers and dryers have run over twenty-seven thousand cycles. The laundromat has helped our patrons to go to interviews in clean clothes and get a job, to feel like normal people, to save money, and to avoid condemnation and hatred.

A video about how the Culture Laundromat is organized, and about the people who come there for help

The project got its name thanks to the famous joke “Hello, is this the laundromat?” Jokes aside, the place really has become not just a laundromat, but a genuine space for culture. During off hours, a theater studio has rehearsed there, volunteers with the Persimmon project have gathered there to knit warm clothes for homeless people, an apartment concert has been staged there, and the Notyetpozner team filmed an episode there featuring Shortparis lead singer Nikolai Komyagin.

 

There are shelves of books at the Culture Laundromat and stacks of newspapers and crosswords. Indoor plants turn green on a whatnot in the back. It’s a great place to wash off the grit and grime of hard, terrible days and put on warm clean clothes before going out the door and continuing the path to home from the streets.

Like all our other projects, the Culture Laundromat operates thanks to the people who support us. Thank you for this anniversary and for every day that Nochlezhka is up and running.

Source: Masha Kalinkina, Nochlezhka email newsletter, 25 November 2021. Photo and videos courtesy of Nochlezhka. You can support Nochlezhka by making a donation (via Visa, Mastercard, Apple Pay, Google Pay or PayPal) here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Disappeared: Abror Azimov

Abror Azimov. Photo courtesy of The Insider

Abror Azimov, sentenced to life in prison for Petersburg subway bombing, disappears during transfer: there has been no news of him for a month
The Insider
November 2, 2021

Abror Azimov, sentenced to life imprisonment in the case of the Petersburg subway bombing, has disappeared on his way to a penal colony. The convicted man’s father Ahral Azimov has told The Insider that nothing has been known about his whereabouts for over a month.

In mid-September, Abror Azimov was allegedly transferred from the Crosses pre-trial detention center in Petersburg. By verdict of the court, he was to be delivered to a high-security penal colony. The other defendants in the case have already been taken to various penitentiary facilities, including Abror’s brother Akram Azimov.

The last time Abror Azimov telephoned his parents was on September 14 from the Crosses. He said then that all the other defendants in the case had been transferred, and suggested that he would probably be transferred soon, too, the convict’s father said.

According to Petersburg philologist Elena Efros, who has been corresponding with Azimov, the last letter she received from him was from the Butyrka pre-trial detention center in Moscow on September 29, the day he was sent to the next transit prison. “There he writes that he would let me or his father know as soon as he arrived, but so far we’ve heard nothing,” Efros said.

Abror’s father sent several appeals to the authorities asking them to inform him which colony his son was sent to. On October 26, a response came from the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service office for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, in which they claim that the wardens at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 (The Crosses) had sent a letter to the convicted man’s father informing him about the place where his son was serving his sentence. Ahral Azimov says he has not received any letter. In this regard, he submitted an appeal to the prosecutor’s office, requesting they conduct an inquiry.

Abror Azimov’s lawyer Jargalma Dorzhiyeva told The Insider that she also has no information about his whereabouts. “I have no information about where Azimov is. Currently, I only have his consent to file a cassation appeal,” the lawyer said.

In December 2019, Azimov was sentenced to life in prison. His brother Akram Azimov and another defendant in the case, Muhamadusup Ermatov, were sentenced to 28 years in a maximum-security penal colony. Eight more defendants were sentenced to prison term of up to 19 years. All of them denied any wrongdoing, and four of them, including Abror and Akram Azimov, reported that they had been brutally tortured.

The blast on the line between the subway stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskii Institut occurred on 3 April  2017. Sixteen people were killed and fifty more were [hospitalized].

Abror Azimov reported that he and Akram were abducted and tortured in a secret FSB prison in the Moscow Region before their official detention. During the trial, he testified that he had been tortured into confessing to organizing the terrorist attack. The other defendants in the case have also repeatedly stated that they had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. All of them had come to Russia at different times to earn money: they worked on construction sites, in cafes and as taxi divers. At one of the first hearings in the trial, they pressed sheets of paper against the glass of the cage on which they had written “We were framed,” “We are not guilty,” and “You will see that there is nothing on us.”

Read more about this case in The Insider article “‘My brother’s screams were audible from the next cell’: torture, secret FSB prisons and falsification of evidence in the case of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the case against its alleged “financiers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven Central Asian migrant workers scapegoated and convicted in the case.

11/11

 

“Killer icicles” on the rooftop of a building in downtown Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

11 November 2021

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office has petitioned the Russian Supreme Court to “liquidate” the venerated human rights, educational and charitable organization Memorial, reports the BBC’s Russian Service.

A snowy street in downtown Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

200 Years Ago

On this day in 1821, Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow into the family of an army doctor who worked at a hospital for the poor. After finishing school in Moscow, Dostoevsky joined the army and studied engineering in St. Petersburg, where he was captivated — or perhaps invented — the city’s dark allure. He published his first novel, “Poor Folk,” in 1845. Four years later he was arrested for being in a literary club that discussed banned books critical of the authorities; he was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted just moments before he was to be shot. He spent four years in a prison camp and another six years of compulsory military service.

A snow-covered Alexander Pushkin on Pushkinskaya Street in Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

1 Year Ago

The US correspondent of a newfangled “leftist” Russian website, writing one year ago:

“If you believe the mass American media, former Vice President Joe Biden won the US presidential election. If you believe the camp of the current president Donald Trump and American Marxists (a bizarre interweaving), it was not without machinations. I personally have no confidence in any of the candidates, much less in their parties, or in the American electoral system as a whole.”

 

Corner of Bolshaya Podyacheskaya Street and Nikolsky Lane at the Fontanka River in Petersburg, with a view of the Trinity Cathedral of the Izmailovо Life Guards Regiment in the background, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

11 November 2021

Officials Decide to Send Network Case Convict Viktor Filinkov to Single-Cell Room, Then to Punitive Detention
Mediazona
November 11, 2021

Prison officials have decided to send Viktor Filinkov, convicted in the [Network] case, who was sent to Orenburg Correctional Colony No. 1 in August, to a single-cell room for a month, and then to a punitive detention cell for ten days. His public defender Evgenia Kulakova reported this turn of events to Mediazona.

According to Kulakova, yesterday the prison’s disciplinary commission decided to send Filinkov to a single-cell room [abbreviated EPKT in Russian, this is a prison within a prison for the most “unruly” or “dangerous” inmates] because of razor blades that, as the prisoner noted, had been planted [in his cell] by Federal Penitentiary Service officers on his birthday. The second penalty was imposed on the young man for “inter-cell communication.”

Filinkov was delivered to Orenburg Correctional Colony No. 1 in August after 45 days in transport. Since then, he has spent only three days in the general population. He has spent the rest of the time in a punitive isolation cell or strict conditions of detention.

On October 6, Filinkov received a month-long reprimand for his [alleged] refusal to sweep the exercise yard in the colony and transferred to a single-cell room. He was also put on a watch list as someone “prone to systematic violation of internal regulations.” Kulakova also said that on October 30, Political Prisoners Day, he went on a hunger strike.

Filinkov demanded freedom for all political prisoners and that he be moved from solitary confinement. A few days later he added a new demand — that books, newspapers and writing materials be brought to his cell. He ended his hunger strike on November 9.

In 2020, the Second Western District Military Court, sitting in St. Petersburg, sentenced Filinkov to seven years in a penal colony in the Network case. He was found guilty of involvement in a terrorist community (punishable under Article 204.5.2 of the Criminal Code). Filinkov was the first of the young men charged in the case to report that he had been tortured by the security forces.

Translated by the Russian Reader

2 Lungs, 2 Eyes

Forgive me, dear,
For I’m a human being:
Two lungs, two eyes
And only one heart.

I took this snapshot during a long, memorable walk with Dima Vorobyev, Marina Maraeva and her dog through a gloriously snowy Petersburg five years ago today.

When I posted it on Facebook, Slava Popov pointed out to me that the graffito was a quotation from the 2013 song “Ships,” by the Petersburg “math rock” band Samoe Bolshoe Prostoe Chislo (“The Largest Prime Number,” usually identified by the acronym SBPCh).

[intro]
Parah-poo-pah-boo-pah-boo paah-boo-bah-poo-bah
Parah-poo-pah-boo-pah-boo paah-boo-bah-poo-bah
Parah-poo-pah-boo-pah-boo paah-boo-bah-poo-bah
Paah-poo-baah-poo-baah-boo-baah

[chorus]
Sadness is the place where the ships come
Windstorm is what we put in our tea
Dried apricots lift cars off the ground
When you cry, I go to the pier
Sadness is the place where the ships come
Hurricane is what we put in our tea
Dried apricots lift cars off the ground
When you cry, I go to the pier

[hook]
Where do the ships come from?
Where do the ships come from?
Where do the ships come from?

[verse]
Today is a really special day
Stupid, ridiculous and funny
I throw a t-shirt into a faded shadow
It’s so hot I don’t know whether to laugh or cry
Whether to stand or lie on the yellow grass
Prickly, withered and spiteful
You’re all dummies in my head
Who have swapped a night’s lodging for an overnight stay
To go to the sea through a steppe and a half
And another three along the way
Guys in underpants, kids in underpants,
Everything on the way in underpants
I look at a cow, at a dragonfly
It’s a pity that I’m a human being
At birds, at dogs, at a gray nanny goat
That life has slowed down
I’m sorry I brought you to this dump
I’m sorry, goat, for the dump
It could have been a kangaroo in your place
A koala chewing bark
But I remembered something from my childhood, from books
About the fleet and about a fraternal people
We’ll cut straight through the fence here
I remember there is a turn
Sorry for the scales running out loud
For joy that immediately turns to grief
But out loud, in front of the goat, because there are more than two of us
I swear the sea is there beyond the garden
In the meantime, there is the garden, where
Melons, plums and peppers live out their days
I’m sorry, dear, for I’m a human being
Two lungs, two eyes and only one heart

[hook]
Where do the ships come from?
Where do the ships come from?
Where do the ships come from?
Ааааh-аааh-аааh

[refrain]
Sadness is the place where the ships come
Hurricane is what we put in our tea
Dried apricots lift cars off the ground
When you cry, I go to the pier
Sadness is the place where the ships come
Hurricane is what we put in our tea
Dried apricots lift cars off the ground
When you cry, I go to the pier

[bridge]
Parah-poo-pah-boo-pah-boo paah-boo-bah-poo-bah
Parah-poo-pah-boo-pah-boo paah-boo-bah-poo-bah
Parah-poo-pah-boo-pah-boo paah-boo-bah-poo-bah
Paah-poo-baah-poo-baah-boo-baah

Source: Genius.com. The refrain plays on the fact that the words pechal’ (sadness) and prichal (pier), and uragan (windstorm) and kuraga (dried apricots) are near rhymes. “Ships” was released on SPBCh’s 2013 LP Forest Oracle. Translated by the Russian Reader

Comrade Sharapov almost as immediately pointed out the striking similarity between SBPCh’s graffitoed sentiment and “Two Lips, Two Lungs and One Tongue,” a song by the venerable Vancouver punk band Nomeansno, released on their fourth album, Wrong (1989).

Look Back in Anger (Hotel Sovietskaya)

The Hotel Sovietskaya in Petersburg, as seen from 8th Red Army Street. Photo by the Russian Reader

The architects who designed the Hotel Sovietskaya (Levinson, Gankevich, Pribulsky, Panfilov, 1963-1965) on Lermontovsky Prospect in Leningrad-Petersburg are literally the only people in the city’s architectural history to have shown they had the slightest clue about how to design and situate a modern high-rise in a quite peculiar, “touchy” built environment.

And yet I have never heard anyone say a kind word about the building. Maybe I hang out with the wrong people, but I think the Hotel Sovietskaya is cool, stylish, and just the ticket.

Since no one learned any lessons from the Hotel Sovietskaya, however, the city’s reigning mafia of anarchitects and catastrophists have blithely sashayed from one soul-destroying monstrosity to the next, turning some parts of the city into unlivable aesthetic disaster zones.

People complain about these buildings, too, of course. So far as I know, however, the prevailing opinion is that the only decent new buildings in the inner city are imitations of pre-revolutionary buildings.

When proposed abstractly, that sounds like a plausible albeit boring approach to a thorny problem and a surly, anti-modernist public, but in reality local architects are as helpless when it comes to emulating neoclassicism, baroque, eclecticism, and art deco as they are all thumbs when the flavor of the day is constructivism and all other forms of modernism, early and late.

If you don’t believe me, go have a look at the dreadful “neoconstructivist” block of flats one of the city’s big-name nincompoops plopped down right next to Erich Mendelsohn’s now-denuded and orphaned Red Banner Factory power station, which has been given a “eurorenovation”-style makeover by way of subjugating it to the reigning architectural regime and local public opinion’s retro-tsarist disdain for modernism. ||| TRR, 6 November 2018

All in the Family

In his profile of badass Petersburg photojournalist David Frenkel, published today in the Globe and Mail, Anthony Feinstein focuses on Frenkel’s father (Alik, unnamed here) as the source of his moral courage and love of photography, not deigning to mention his equally badass mom (Lika) and badass wife (Varya). Or, for that matter, the “family business”: the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center, one of the most incredible and welcoming places in the city, which Alika and Lika have run for many, many years. I miss all of them and the Center more than I can say.

Below the quotation from Feinstein’s article I’ve posted links to David’s, Lika’s and Varya’s numerous appearances over the years on this website. Thanks to Lika (Leokadia) Frenkel for the heads-up. ||| TRR

David Frenkel and Varya Mikhailova at their wedding on 23 October 2020. Lika and Alik Frenkel look on proudly in the background. Photo courtesy of Varya Mikhailova’s Facebook page

That Mr. Frenkel came to find himself with a camera recording voting irregularities may be traced in large measure to his outrage at Mr. Putin’s increasingly dictatorial rule and the unravelling of the rule of law in Russia today. “For some people in Russia, it has become uncomfortable just to do your job,” he said. “Being a scientist, it’s not enough. You do your job, you do it well, but it’s not enough to be a good person any more.”

[…]

In trying to understand Mr. Frenkel’s evolution from physicist to photographer, it is helpful to look at his early, formative influences. His family is Jewish, and his father is a Yiddish scholar and translator who photographed his suppressed religion and culture during the Communist era. Jewish religious holidays were forbidden, and therefore celebrated secretly. Mr. Frenkel’s father documented this underground resistance to Soviet orthodoxy – activities that came with their own risks. For example, his work provides a pictorial record of the life of refuseniks, Jews who were persecuted by the state for wanting to emigrate to Israel.

___________________

Doppelganger

“It’s kind of a dystopia. In some respects. Of course, it has nothing to do with reality. The world is shrinking and becoming cramped. Something or someone is always offended in close quarters. And there’s always someone pointing a gun at your head. Sometimes it’s you.”

Masyanya, Episode 152: “Doppelganger.” (Toggle the “CC” button for English subtitles)

____________

The caste of those deprived of their civil rights — foreign agents, undesirable organizations, extremists of all stripes — will constantly expand. Social stigmatization will be strongly encouraged. The number of persons on different registries and lists, and under police watch will grow exponentially. Legal restrictions — bans on participating in elections, serving on various public councils, founding mass media, attending football matches, working in certain areas, and so on — will be supplemented by defamation campaigns. The separation of the estates in terms of legal and social status will be vigorously encouraged by the authorities.

Source: Pavel Chikov, “Not a Tyranny Yet: A Prognosis for the Rest of Putin’s Fourth Term,” Republic, 19 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

 

Artist unknown, Russian National Guardsmen in Their Free Time. Posted by Dmitry Vrubel on Facebook. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up

____________

Security forces raided a gathering to write letters to political prisoners at the Vogel Bar. They showed up along with Rospotrebnadzor officials for a surprise inspection on the evening of October 24. After managing to tally forty-five people on the premises and not find markings on the floor mats, the officials sealed the establishment prior to a court hearing. The bar’s management fears bankruptcy and plans to open a new bar in a new location.

The latest gathering to letters to political prisoners at the Vogel this time ended with a visit by regulatory authorities. The police officers who arrived twenty minutes after the event started immediately stated that the 76th police precinct had received a complaint alleging that the bar was not in compliance with the mask mandate. At that moment, the gathering, at which attendees were to write letters to the performance artist Pavel Krisevich, jailed on charges of disorderly conduct after a performance on Red Square in which he pretended to shoot himself, had just begun. That evening, Krisevich’s friends and acquaintances, as well as former political prisoners, were to speak to the guests. One of the bar’s co-founders, Valentin Khoroshenin, told Zaks.Ru that the complaint claimed that a “meeting of anti-covidniks” was planned for that evening at the Vogel. He believes that this was just an excuse to find non-existent violations and close the bar.

The inspection report indicated that more than forty-five people were present in the room at the time. The bar’s management are adamant that this was not the case. The Vogel’s owners have already studied surveillance camera tapes and counted less than forty people on the premises, including the police officers.

Other violations included the absence of markings on floor mats and an insufficient supply of medical masks. According to regulations, such establishments should have a five days’ supply of personal protective equipment. The available supply was only enough for one day. Rospotrebnadzor officials did not enter the kitchen. According to Khoroshenin, they claimed they were too tired to do so.

Vogel Bar has been in business since March 2021. From the very beginning it advertised itself as a venue for activists: political lectures, discussions and debates were held there. During this entire time, Rospotrebnadzor never carried out inspections. But the Interior Ministry regularly sent its people there. For example, Center “E” officers attended the debates. The security forces showed up for other letter-writing gatherings, but everything had ended without trouble.

Text & photos: Konstantin Lenkov, Zaks.ru, 25 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

We have been preparing an investigation into torture in Russian prisons for almost a year. It took a lot of time to track down, earn the trust of, and obtain testimonies from former inmates of the penal colony in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, thousands of kilometers from central Russia. Simultaneously with The Insider’s investigation, Russian human rights activists published an archive of video footage depicting torture being inflicted on prisoners across Russia. The clips, obtained from the FSB and FSIN secret archive, show prisoners from Irkutsk, Saratov, Belgorod, Rostov and other Russian regions being raped, beaten and humiliated. Torture victims explain their torturers’ motives by their desire to break their will in order to obtain material for blackmailing other prisoners, make them confess to crimes, pay tribute, or even to start torturing other prisoners themselves. This all takes place in the modern world, in a country where there is no war, where torturers are not tasked with extracting valuable military information from prisoners at any cost. Torture is rampant in Russia, a country that has signed a number of human rights and anti-torture conventions and seems to enjoy a peaceful life. We have long known that in Russia, prison is not a place of correction, but rather a strange world separate from everything else, where guards and inmates resurrect on a daily basis the practices of the Stalinist Gulag. This has not always been the case. As early as ten years ago there was serious talk in Russia about the need to reform and humanize the penitentiary system. Now things are different. The authorities have been clearly and unambiguously showing how they prefer to rule the country. That is mainly by fear. Investigations into torture have hardly been a revelation, but in a split instant, they made it impossible to ignore torture and pretend it only concerns those behind bars. Of course, the situation will not change overnight, but one thing is certain – this knowledge has now become an integral part of our society. In the following article, we bring you the raw testimony of people who have experienced torture in Russian prisons. They share their thoughts on why it is used, the impact on them, and recount the involvement even of doctors in their ordeal.

Source: The Insider, 19 October 2021. Thanks to Antti Rautiainen for the heads-up