Just Business

Source: personal email, December 2022, This is the first time I’ve heard from Raffeisenbank in several years, especially since my account with them has been essentially dormant since well before I left Russia in 2019. ||| TRR


Foreign managers are quitting Petersburg hotels: they are resigning their positions amid the withdrawal of international hotel companies from the Russian market.

In particular, the post of general manager of the five-star Four Seasons Lion Palace has recently been filled by Ekaterina Saburova, who had worked as marketing director at the Four Seasons Moscow Hotel. In an interview with Kommersant-SPb, a spokesman for the Petersburg hotel noted that the previous general manager, Richard Raab, had gone on to work at another hotel in the chain.

Similar personnel changes have taken place at the Grand Moika 22 Hotel, which until recently was part of the Kempinski international chain. The hotel is now headed by Yevgenia Nagimova, and the operations director and Russian staff are responsible for day-to-day operations. The previous general manager, Oliver Kuhn, initially took a similar position at the Kempinski Hotel in Cairo, before running a hotel in the Seychelles. He explained that he had left Russia to transfer to another hotel in the chain. The general director has also been replaced at the Radisson Royal and Park Inn Nevsky: instead of Rune Nordstokke, the hotels are now headed by Mikhail Grobelny, who previously worked as the general manager of the Radisson Blu Belorusskaya Hotel in Moscow.

Experts note that, amidst the departure of international hotel chains [from Russia], industry players have basically lost the need for the position of a general manager responsible for liaising with company management. According to Andrei Petelin, general director of the Hotel Saint Petersburg, the personnel changes may be related to the desire of owners to reduce costs during the crisis [sic], since foreign managers earned more than their Russian counterparts, and also received compensation for housing rental and their children’s education.

Some foreigners still continue to work in Petersburg hotels: Eric Pere, general manager of the Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg; Gerold Held, general director of the Hotel Astoria and the Angleterre Hotel; and Jaehyuk Yang, manager of Lotte Hotel St. Petersburg. Some industry reps have concerns that further resignations by foreign managers may have a negative impact on the level of service. Andrei Petelin, however, is confident that Petersburg-based managers are able to maintain high standards, because they not only have experience working abroad, but also better understand the needs of Russians coming to the Northern Capital to relax.

Speaking of which, since the beginning of 2022, seven million tourists have visited St. Petersburg. Vice-Governor Boris Piotrovsky noted that in November, bookings at the city’s hotels consistently exceeded the sixty-percent mark.

A few weeks ago, DP wrote about how the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] was again thinking about introducing a resort fee. Hoteliers stated that they considered this step reasonable, but only if the revenues generated were used properly.

Source: “Foreign managers quitting Petersburg hotels in droves,” Delovoi Peterburg, 29 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


620,251 views • Dec 2, 2022 • President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is causing major changes back home. Hundreds of thousands of Russian men are being mobilized to fight and tens of thousands have already been killed or injured. Meanwhile, many Russians have left their country and millions of Ukrainians are thought to have arrived. What impact will these changes have on the Russian population? And could the public response lead to Putin’s downfall? We discuss these questions and more with UCLA’s Oleg Itskhoki in this DW Business Special.

Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the heads-up. ||| TRR

Last Address in Petersburg: Pavel Tsesinsky and Solomon Davidson

Three Last Address plaques on Dostoevsky Street in downtown Petersburg, autumn 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Dear participants of the Last Address project!

This coming Sunday, December 4, new Last Address plaques will be installed in St. Petersburg.

At 12:00 p.m. a plaque in memory of Pavel Markovich Tsesinsky, an accountant at the Red Triangle factory, will be mounted at 47 Bolshoi Prospekt, Petrograd Side. Tsesinsky was arrested on September 21, 1937 and shot less than a month later, on October 15, 1937. His wife Bella and five-year-old son Volodar were exiled to the Arkhangelsk region, where his wife was arrested and died, and his son was sent to an orphanage. Another son, Ernest, who was only six months old, was adopted by relatives. The brothers were reunited only eighteen years later. Pavel Markovich’s eldest son is now ninety years old.

At 1:00 p.m., at 15 Tchaikovsky Street, relatives will install a plaque memorializing Solomon Borisovich Davidson, head of procurement at the Bolshevik factory. He was first arrested in 1935, but released a year later, and the case was dismissed. He was re-arrested on July 26, 1938, and shot on October 8, 1938, on charges of espionage. His wife Elizabeth died in 1942 in the Siege of Leningrad, but their daughters Irina and Mariana were evacuated and were able to return to Leningrad after the war.

Pavel Tselinsky was exonerated in 1957, while Solomon Davidson was exonerated in 1964.

We invite you to join the installation ceremonies.

Yours,

The Last Address Team in St. Petersburg

Source: Last Address in Petersburg email newsletter, 27 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Down in the Hole

Oleg Grigoriev
Pit

Digging a pit? 
I was.
Fell in the pit?
 I fell.
Down in the pit? 
I am.
Need a ladder? 
I do.
Wet in the pit? 
It's wet.
How's the head? 
Intact.
So you are safe?
I'm safe.
Well, okay then, I'm off!

Original text. Translated by the Russian Reader



Putin last week took part in a meeting with the mothers of soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine. The title “soldiers’ mother” carries a lot of influence in Russia — and Putin was famously humiliated by a group of soldiers’ relatives in his early years as president. Unsurprisingly, Friday’s meeting included only those trusted to meet Putin and the gathering passed off without awkward questions. Putin — who now rarely communicates with anyone outside of his inner circle — once again demonstrated a complete detachment from reality.

  • The Russian authorities have been nervous of organizations of soldiers’ mothers since the mid-1990s. During the first Chechen war (1994-1996), in which the Russian army was humiliated, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers was one of the country’s leading anti-war forces and held the state and the military to account.
  • For Putin personally, any encounter with soldiers’ mothers stirs unhappy memories of one of the most dramatic incidents of his first year in the Kremlin. In August 2000, the inexperienced president was subjected to a grilling by the wives and mothers of sailors who died in the Kursk submarine disaster. The transcript of the meeting immediately appeared in the press and a recording was played on Channel One, which was then owned by Kremlin eminence grise Boris Berezovsky. Presenter Sergei Dorenko subsequently claimed that, after the broadcast, Putin called the channel and yelled that the widows were not genuine and that Berezovsky’s colleagues “hired whores for $10.” Ever since that encounter, the Russian president has avoided in-person meetings, favoring stage-managed gatherings with hand-picked members of the public.
  • This time, of course, there were no surprises. The Kremlin carefully selected the soldiers’ mothers who were invited to attend. At least half of those at the meeting turned out to be activists from the ruling United Russia party and members of pro-Kremlin organizations. 
  • The most striking speech at the event was close to parody. It was given by Nina Pshenichkina, a woman from Ukraine’s Luhansk Region whose son was killed in 2019. Pshenchkina later became a member of the Public Chamber of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and has attended almost every official funeral and official celebration. She told Putin that her son’s last words were: “Let’s go, lads, let’s crop some dill” (in this context, “dill” is an insulting nickname for Ukrainians).
  • Putin’s speech was also striking. First, he told the assembled mothers that Ukrainians were Nazis because they kill mobilized Russians soldiers who did not wish to serve on the front line. Then he embarked on a long, strange discussion about why we should be proud of the dead. “We are all mortal, we all live beneath God and at some point we will all leave this world. It’s inevitable. The question is how we live… after all, how some people live or don’t live, it’s not clear. How they get away from vodka, or something. And then they got away and lived, or did not live, imperceptibly. But your son lived. And he achieved something. This means he did not live his life in vain,” he said to one of the mothers.

Why the world should care

It would be an error to assume that Putin has completely abandoned rational thought. However, it is instructive to watch him at meetings like this, which provide a window onto the sort of information he consumes. At this meeting with fake soldiers’ mothers he quoted fake reports from his Defense Ministry and, seemingly, took it all seriously.

Source: The Bell & The Moscow Times email newsletter, 28 November 2022. Written by Peter Mironenko, translated by Andy Potts, and edited by Howard Amos. Photo, above, by the Russian Reader

Black Friday

Despite its declared war on “satanic” western values, Putinist Russia continues to slavishly imitate all the worst the mythical west has to offer, including “Black Friday,” as exemplified by this image from an email flyer sent to me earlier today by the major online retailer Ozon, featuring the pop singer Dmitry Malikov. Nor has Putin’s “proxy war” with the west stopped the pidginization of the Russian language, as seen in the second-to-last piece in this grim holiday collage. ||| TRR


The expected tourist flow from Iran may amount to approximately two thousand people a week starting in the spring of 2023, director of the municipal tourist information bureau Yuri Bogdanov said on November 24. According to him, relevant negotiations are underway with air carriers.

“We are negotiating with airlines that want to provide direct flights between Iranian cities and St. Petersburg. We hope that there will be six flights per week with an average number of around 300 seats on board. This is already about two thousand people a week. We expect that, beginning in the spring, these airlines will supply their airplanes,” TASS quoted Bogdanov as saying.

The expert clarified that there were more flights before the pandemic and six thousand tourists used to arrive from Iran every week.

According to Bogdanov, the flow of tourists may return to its pre-covid levels in St. Petersburg by about 2026, but at the same time primarily due to guests from Russia, and not from foreign countries. According to the figures he cited, in 2019, about five million Russians and 5.5 million foreigners visited the Northern Capital, while 6.4 million Russians and 150–200 thousand foreigners visited the city in the first nine months of 2022.

“We have reformatted the priorities for domestic tourism — we want to reach the same 10.5 million tourists a year. There is every ground for this to happen,” Bogdanov opined.

Earlier, the State Duma Budget and Taxes Committee recommended that St. Petersburg be included in the list of regions that charge tourists a resort fee.

Source: “Petersburg expecting two thousand tourists from Iran weekly from spring,” ZakS.ru, 25 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


At least 58 children, some reportedly as young as eight, have been killed in Iran since anti-regime protests broke out in the country two months ago.

According to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), 46 boys and 12 girls under 18 have been killed since the protests began on 16 September, sparked by the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

In the past week alone, five children were reportedly killed by security forces as violence continued across the country.

Those who died last week include the nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak, who was one of seven people – including a 13-year-old child – killed in the western city of Izeh on Wednesday.

Speaking at Kian’s funeral on Friday, his family said security services had opened fire on the family car, where Kian was sitting next to his father. Iranian security services have denied responsibility for his death, blaming the shooting on “terrorists”.

Iran’s mounting child death toll comes amid escalating violence in cities across the country, with protests showing no sign of abating.

[…]

Young people have been at the forefront of anti-regime protests, which started after Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police. She had been arrested for not wearing her hijab correctly.

The deaths of two teenage girls, Nika Shakamari and Sarina Esmailzadeh, both allegedly beaten to death by security forces for protesting, provoked further outrage.

Videos of schoolgirls across the country protesting against their killing by removing their hijabs and taking down pictures of Iran’s supreme leaders went viral on social media, leading to raids on schools where children were beaten and detained. According to Iran’s teachers union, another 16-year-old girl, Asra Panahi, died after she was attacked by security forces in her classroom in the north-western town of Ardabil on 18 October.

The attacks on children in schools is continuing, according to Hengaw, which said a 16-year-old girl from Kurdistan is on life support after throwing herself from a school van, having been arrested at her school last week.

HRA says more than 380 protesters have been killed since the protests began and more than 16,000 people have been detained, including children. The figure is disputed by the authorities.

Source: Deepa Parent, Ghoncheh Habibiazad and Annie Kelly, “At least 58 Iranian children reportedly killed since anti-regime protests began,” The Observer, 20 November 2022. Thanks to Sheen Gleeson for the heads-up.


A view of Vokzal 1853 on opening day. Photo: Sergei Yermokhin/Delovoi Peterburg

On November 21, the opening of the food hall [fud-kholl] Vokzal 1853 took place in the building of the former Warsaw railway station.

It is the largest gastronomic space in St. Petersburg and, so its creators claim, in Europe.

So far, not all the establishments in the eater have opened — the launch . The event zone [event-zona] is designed for to accommodate 2.5 thousand guests and have 4 thousand seats, while the entrance to the second floor is still closed.

The cost of renovating the former railway station exceeded 1.5 billion rubles. The Vokzal 1853 food hall [fud-kholl] is a project of the Adamant holding company and restaurateur Alexei Vasilchuk. In total, as stated earlier, more than 90 restaurant concepts [restorannykh konseptsii] will await visitors, and the total area of the food hall will be about 34 thousand square meter.

The company plans to open a concert venue, craft [kraftovye] shops, and a coworking [kovorking — sic] in the space.

Earlier, DP reported that its creators had conceived the decoration of the premises to suggest the atmosphere of nineteenth-century railways stations, and visitors would find themselves in the “epicenter of a bustling creative life.”

Source: “The largest food hall in St. Petersburg opens in Warsaw railway station building,” Delovoi Peterburg, 22 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Ukraine continued to reckon with the fallout from Russia’s air strikes on its energy infrastructure, with much of the country still struggling with blackouts. Residents in Kyiv, the capital, were told to prepare for more attacks. Russian missiles damaged a hospital on the outskirts of Zaporizhia, a Ukrainian-held city not far from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, controlled by Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia was heavily shelling Kherson, the southern city recaptured by Ukrainian forces in early November. Local officials said that strikes killed seven people in the city on Thursday.

Source: The Economist, “The World in Brief” email newsletter, 25 November 2022


Maxim Katz, “Why Russians don’t protest — answered by an old experiment (English subtitles),”1,108,570 views. Nov 23, 2022. “The lack of mass anti-war rallies in Russia is often explained with some psychological defect of the Russian people. But is it truly so? Today we will talk about a social experiment called the Third Wave, and think about whether it is true that it can all be explained with some unique malleability of Russian society.”

This is a wildly disappointing exercise in sophism and self-deception by the usually much more lucid Maxim Katz. Russia has arrived at its present murderous and self-destructive bad end not through rigorous and ruthless totalitarian indoctrination and psychological manipulation, as suggested by Katz’s invocation of Ron Jones’s 1967 Third Wave experiment in a California high school, but through a chaotic, consistent indulgence of opportunism, consumerism, escapism, ressentiment, hipsterism, “westernism,” capitalism, cynicism, nihilism, and thuggery by the elites and the much of the so-called intelligentsia, thus almost completely overwhelming the decent, democratic, and egalitarian impulses and undertakings of differently minded and empowered “other Russians” from all walks of life and all parts of the country. It has been one of the missions of this website to bear witness to both these tendencies in their extreme and trite manifestations. You’ll find vanishingly little of what Katz describes in my chronicles of the last fifteen years here and on The Russian Reader‘s sister blog Chtodelat News. You will find, however, plenty of stories of brave grassroots resistance and movement building blunted and, ultimately, murdered by a police state whose PR wing has urged Russians to trade their freedom for food courts. ||| TRR

I’ll Show You the Life of the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

No scarier than covid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perennial classics

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

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

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

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

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

Cinema depends on the weather

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

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

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

Going Underground (Continuity)

The “underground” exhibition Continuity [Sviaz’ vremen] has been underway in Petersburg since September. The parents of Yuli Boyarshinov, who was convicted in the Network Case, were involved in organizing it.

The exhibition is dedicated to political prisoners. They produced some of the works on display themselves using improvised means while in pretrial detention centers and penal colonies. Poetry readings and art therapy sessions at which postcards for political prisoners are produced also held in the space.

Bumaga visited Continuity and shows here how the exhibition is organized.

The “underground” exhibition opened in September in a private space. The organizers have already planned to close it several times, but people keep coming. “We didn’t think it would last that long. There is even a poetry reading scheduled for Saturday,” Nikolai Boyarshinov, Yuli Boyarshinov’s father, told Bumaga.

Photo: Andrei Bok

The exhibition features works by current political prisoners, including those involved in the Network Case. Some of the works are dedicated to the victims of the Great Terror.

Photo: Andrei Bok

The living room — the main exhibition space — contains paintings by the artist Ad’u. She says that exhibition spaces are reluctant to take her work. “They say, ‘Well, you know,'” she shares with us.

Photo: Andrei Bok

A portrait of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev and maps of Sandarmokh hang under the ceiling. Dmitriev was convicted of “sexual violence” against his adopted daughter. He was scheduled to be released in 2020, but the court toughened his sentence from three and a half years in a medium security facility to thirteen years in a maximum security penal colony.

Photo: Andrei Bok

There are paintings dedicated to Alexei Navalny. A protest action with flashlights, which took place in Russian cities on February 14, 2021, is depicted as a flashlight shining into the sky and signaling for help.

Photo: Andrei Bok

One of the paintings alludes to a protest action by Pavel Krisevich: a man on a cross, under whose feet dossiers of political cases burn. Next to it are drawings by Krisevich himself, which he made while in a pretrial detention center, using pieces of a sheet, improvised materials and homemade paints. In October, Krisevich, who had previously spent a year in pretrial detention, was sentenced to five years in a penal colony.

Photo: Andrei Bok

On the walls of the corridor outside the living room there are portraits of the young men convicted in the Network Case and their stories. Drawings by the men themselves are also presented. Nikolai Boyarshinov says that each of the convicts “has begun to draw to one degree or another.”

Photo: Andrei Bok

In a closet in the hallway there are drawings by the artist cyanide the angry [tsianid zloi]. Since February, he has been producing one image every day about the war and political crackdown. On the closet doors and inside it there are portraits of Sasha Skochilenko and Seva Korolev, who are charged with “discrediting” the Russian army, Kansk Teenagers Case defendant Nikita Uvarov, and scenes of Navalny in a cell.

“Today, Sasha Skochilenko was remanded in custody until June 1. She replaced price tags in shops [sic] with anti-war messages. She faces 5 to 15 years in prison. #FreeSashaSkochilenko,” Photo: Andrei Bok

There are also anti-war drawings in the exhibition. They are painted in yellow and blue colors. They were created by Ad’u, who, along with other artists, was detained during a protest rally in April 2022, when she was painting riot police against the backdrop of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

Photo: Andrei Bok

There is an art therapy group in the space, which has been led by Nikolai Boyarshinov’s wife Tatiana since May. The group’s members make postcards to fight burnout, stress and fear. They then send postcards to political prisoners.

Photo: Andrei Bok
Photo: Andrei Bok
Continue reading “Going Underground (Continuity)”

Going Underground (The Pulkovo Variations)

The river of eclipses is over, but not everyone’s psyche has recovered yet. For example, in the parking lot of Pulkovo Airport, a man decided to attempt an escape.

He stripped to the waist and climbed into a sewer pipe. He managed to crawl twelves meters before getting stuck.

Municipal services had to pull the man out using an excavator.

According to Fontanka.ru, the man is a 21-year-old resident of the city of Zhigulyovsk, in the Samara region.

On November 6, he left home and never returned. He had presumably gone to St. Petersburg to visit friends. It was known that the young man had a return ticket for November 9, but he did not use it.

The entire time his relatives back home and Liza Alert activists had been looking for him, but he was found in the sewer outside Pulkovo Airport, under circumstances already known to us.

Source: St. Petersburg Photo Diary (Natalya Yuda), Facebook, 12 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Dima Vorobyev: Forty Days

Dima Vorobyev, in a construction workers’ camp on a new housing estate, Petersburg, spring 2017.
Photo by the Russian Reader

Although I met dozens if not hundreds of people through my late friend Dmitry (“Dima”) Vorobyev (1974–2022), some of whom would become real friends, I cannot for the life of me remember when and how exactly I met Dima himself. It must have been sometime in 2005 or 2006, at the latest, because by the spring of 2007 we were already well enough acquainted to give a talk on our beloved city’s “anti-regeneration” movements at a conference on art and urbanism in Hamburg. Benedict Seymour, one of the editors of Mute magazine, was at the conference, and he kindly asked us to turn our talk into a full-fledged article, which we did. It was published the next year, somehow appropriately, in an issue featuring a picture of a cute kitten on the cover. Dima loved cats.

He also adored his hometown, Petersburg, in a wide-eyed, insatiably curious, panamorous fashion that meant endlessly exploring and enthusiastically embracing all its nooks, crannies, back alleys, abandoned lots, outskirts, dive bars, suburbs, new estates, subcultures, and courtyards. A geologist turned sociologist, he turned his “teleporting” (his coinage) from the imperial city center to the “provinces” (some of which, as it transpired, were also in the city center) into an undertaking called Sunday Cafe (in Russian, Voskresnoe kafe or V-kafe for short), a constantly mutating ensemble of serious urbanists and flighty flaneurs who went on long walks through the city that invariably featured a more or less elaborate “coffee break,” which often as not, happened outside, using a tiny camping stove and a Turkish coffee pot to make the coffee.

These walks were not “drifts” in the Situationist sense of the term. They almost always had well-defined beginning and end points (usually, subway or train stations, thus making it easier for the walkers to gather and disperse), and they often had more or less planned routes and even themes. For example, Dima and I did two “Leninist” walks as part of Sunday Cafe. The first, inspired by a book of Lenin-related addresses in Leningrad-Petersburg that I had picked up somewhere, was a fairly comprehensive tour of the Petrograd Side to all the places listed in the book while, periodically, stopping to read aloud choice passages from Lenin’s writings. The second, similarly inspired by a found bit of Leniniana (a late Soviet-era map for teenagers), recreated Lenin’s fateful journey, in October 1917, from his hideout in the Vyborg District to the Smolny Institute. Although several dozen people were with us at the start of this second Lenin walk, only five or six of us made it, several hours later, to the Smolny. I sarcastically thought at the time that this was a stark illustration of modern-day Russia’s utter lack of “revolutionary potential,” and subsequent events have only confirmed my intuition.

Like the nineteenth-century Russian revolutionary movement, Sunday Cafe was nearly always a marathon of sorts and thus prey to attrition and low attendance, especially in the “unseasonable” part of the year, which often makes up most of the year in Petersburg. But sometimes these marathons didn’t entail walking for hours “god knows where” in deplorable weather. In a memorable series of walks, Sunday Cafe saw everything there was to see on the two blocks of Pushkinskaya and three blocks of Kolomenskaya, two adjoining streets (where we both also happened to live at the time) in the city center, conducted over three Sundays in gloriously perfect summer weather. There were whole other words right under our noses, as we discovered, and to sharpen our focus Dima had printed out little tags, reading “This is good” and “This is bad,” to affix to the good and bad things we found along the way, including cars parked on sidewalks (bad) and grassroots efforts to turn parts of the downtown’s notorious labyrinth of courtyards into little oases of greenery and recreation (good).

It was also Dima who dragged me, finally, into the Soviet-era ryumochnaya (“shot bar”) right across the street from our house, the now (supposedly) “legendary” Dvadtsatochka (it was nicknamed that because it was in the commercial, first floor of house no. 20 — dvadtsat’, in Russian — on our street). For years, I had been too afraid to go in there alone, having witnessed many an outright fight there from our balcony, and seen several men removed from the establishment feet first after such scuffles or after particularly earnest drinking bouts. Dima enticed me there with the promise of cheap drinks and eats and a supremely colorful cast of regulars and staff. Although the two of us stuck out like sore thumbs — like the one and a half sociologists we were at the time — nobody minded us being there at all, while I, for one, appreciated being somewhere that the city’s burgeoning pseudo-middle class and then-upsurging hipsters still feared to tread. Unfortunately, the bar was shut down, a few years later, by the discount supermarket chain that had already taken over the old-style neighborhood grocery next door. Fittingly, just after Dvadtsatochka shut down, it served for a week as a location for a retro crime drama that was shooting in the city. Even more fittingly, my tender friend Dima persuaded the outgoing owners to give him the official sign board that had hung just inside the bar’s entrance, seemingly for decades. Among other helpful information, the board listed the categories of patrons who were entitled to be served without queuing: as I recall, they included veterans of the Great Fatherland War (World War Two) and exonerated former political prisoners, along with “invalids” (i.e., people with disabilities). Knowing how much I (literally) admired this sign, Dima presented it to me as a Christmas or New Year’s gift later that year.

It has been forty days since Dima died, which is an important milestone in the Russian mourning tradition. Today in Petersburg, Dima’s friends and loved ones convened Sunday Cafe on a route that took them to the cemetery where his remains are buried. As on the day of his funeral, over a month ago, I wish that I could have “teleported” to Petersburg to go on this walk, although, following its progress on social media in the early hours of the morning here on the other side of the planet, I couldn’t help but notice just how sad everyone looked in the photos, naturally. It is not that just Dima, had he been present, would have found way to liven things up. (For example, by lining us against a wall and making us strike absurd poses while having our pictures taken, an entertainment he called (za)bashit’ luki.) He was one of a vanishing breed of Petersburgers, one almost never captured in the city’s world-famous “text.” The characters in the Petersburg-Leningrad writer Konstantin Vaginov‘s novels, published in the late 1920s and early 1930s, have been cited as prototypes for the city’s late-Soviet, perestroika-era and post-perestroika bohemians, and it’s true that when I came across these novels, quite by accident, in the mid-1990s, I had the distinct impression that Vaginov was describing many of my own friends and acquaintances.

But a lot happened in Vaginov’s hometown between his death in 1934 and the childhoods and youths of Leningrad’s “last Soviet generation,” in the 1960s and 1970s. Since I’m definitely not even half of a sociologist anymore, and I’m definitely not an anthropologist, I won’t venture to describe that generation at all. But I will say that its brightest and best members, especially as exemplified by Dima, are worldly, adventurous, warm, funny, open-minded and absurdly well-educated “patriots” of their city in a way that has been utterly at odds with the regime established by its now sadly most famous native son. This blog was conceived, in part, a chronicle of the “cold civil war” between this group of Petersburgers (and Russians) and the regime, a war that now seems to have been conclusively won by the latter.

But even as I write this, solemnly and grimly, I recall an argument I had with Dima after one Sunday Cafe many years ago. We were having supper in a real cafe, a welcoming place in our neighborhood that served cheap, decent food and doubled as a venue for readings, concerts and other events (meaning that it was just the kind of “democratic,” low-profile, grassroots venture that Dima adored and was uniquely capable of discovering in every corner of the city), and there were several other V-kafeshniki with us. I must have been preachifying, as I was wont to do then, about the sad state of civil society in the face of the regime’s growing ugliness and repressiveness. Angered by my sermon, Dima said something to the effect that it wasn’t “our” (Russian? Petersburg?) way to oppose the regime in the sense I was suggesting it should be opposed.

It’s not that now I realize he was right and I was wrong. But Dima knew a thousand times more than I did about the fine grain of Petersburg’s grassroots anti-regime and “a-regime” subcultures, and he hoped, I think, that however bad things actually were then, those communities of grassroots activists, artists and entrepreneurs would still have enough space and light and nourishment to grow into something bigger and better and more powerful that, over time, would simply shunt the regime aside and render it irrelevant.

In any case, as a friend pointed out soon after his death, there was nothing more incompatible than the lifelong pacifist Dima Vorobyev and the regime’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent “mobilization” of Russia’s draft-age population, which, blessedly, kicked off after his death.

But there was a time — which happened to be the time when Dima and I met — when there was a hope, however faint, for a better future. The article that we wrote together reflected that strange interregnum (which was nothing of the sort, of course), and so I will close with a brief excerpt from it, below, and a plea to Dima, wherever he is, that he forgive me for writing so clumsily about him. (This is just a first draft, my friend.) You should have known him. ||| TRR


What has caused ordinarily apolitical Petersburgers to swell the ranks of protest movements headed by political parties whose ideologies otherwise leave them suspicious or cold? The multi-pronged viral assault on the city on the part of bureaucrats and developers that we have briefly described. Strange as it may seem, in contemporary Petersburg, class conflict has been translated into opposed visions of urban renewal and historic preservation. It is precisely the preservation of Petersburg as a gigantic open-air architecture museum and the very particular places people live (with their unique ‘ensembles’ of stairwells, courtyards, archways, streets, squares, and local curiosities) that has become the point around which a more general sense of rampant social injustice has crystallised. A shattering series of crimes and indignities have been visited upon the bodies of Petersburgers in recent decades: widespread corruption, police violence, bureaucratic abuse, racist and xenophobic attacks, the dismantling of the social safety net, alcoholism and drug abuse, a high mortality rate, environmental pollution of all sorts. And yet, since Soviet times, all these risks and dangers have usually been felt to be part of life’s grim ‘common sense’ and thus inaccessible to sustained critical reflection or direct collective intervention.

Why do we see mass mobilisation in defense of the city rather than against such widespread albeit de-individualised injustices? Is it because the destruction of the city is something specific — a matter of real, lived places, places that can be seen and touched and remembered? Is it because the threat of injustice now takes the form of an alien skyscraper on a horizon that used to be peacefully uncluttered? Is it because people wake up one morning and find a fence erected around the humble square where they used to walk their dogs and play with their kids?

The answer to these questions would seem to be yes. First, the now ubiquitous and visible destruction of the city its residents are used to (which includes ‘unbecoming’ tree-filled green spaces in late-Soviet housing projects as well as neoclassical masterpieces), which we have likened to a kind of cancer or virus, has provoked an ‘anti-viral’ reaction. This reaction has taken very different forms. Future activists have followed a number of routes to mobilisation and collective action. Moreover, their first experiences of political engagement, while not always successful, have usually been ‘safe’ enough to encourage further involvement. The usually high threshold to political participation amongst ‘apathetic’ post-perestroika Russians has thus been lowered considerably.

Source: Dmitry Vorobyev & Thomas Campbell, “Anti-Viruses and Underground Monuments: Resisting Catastrophic Urbanism in Saint Petersburg,” Mute, vol. 2, no. 8 (2008)

“Prophecies about Ukraine”

The books on display, from left to right, are: I.A. Ivanova, “Yevgenia Negina: A Novel in Verse”; Klementina Bove, “Is That Really the Same Tatiana? (A Novel)”; A.S. Pushkin, “Yevgeny Onegin: A Graphic Guide”; I.V. Stalin, “Prophecies about Ukraine”

A textbook and resource guide store for school teachers, Lomonosov Street, Petersburg, today.

Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 21 October 2022. Remarking on this post, “Marina Marina” wrote: “I got into a fight with a history teacher from Russia in the comments [to another social media post]. She doesn’t see any historical parallels at all. And she says that it was the Americans who made up the history of Ukraine. And that what she teaches there at home is the only truth in the world.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Irina Tsybaneva: “You Raised a Freak and a Murderer”

Irina Tsybaneva. Photo courtesy of Mediazona

A court in St. Petersburg has put sixty-year-old accountant Irina Tsybaneva under house arrest for leaving a note that read “Death to Putin” on the grave of the Russian president’s parents. The woman was able to steal up to the gravestone, which is guarded, but she was unable to leave the cemetery unnoticed. The police and the prosecutor’s office asked the court to send Tsybaneva to a pretrial detention center, calling the crime “audacious,” but the court found that this was too harsh a pretrial restraint. Mediazona has delved into the details of the case and found out what role the news played in the Petersburg woman’s spontaneous actions.

“I just saw a [TV] program, at that time very serious, there was some news, and something just…,” said Tsybaneva, trying to explain her actions, while standing in the defendant’s cage at the Primorsky District Court in Petersburg.

Tsybaneva has been charged with desecrating the burial place of deceased persons due to political or ideological enmity. It is alleged that she went to the grave of the parents of Russian President Vladimir Putin and left a note there that included the following phrase: “You raised a freak and a murderer.”

“And how often do you go and write notes to everyone [sic] while watching the news?” the prosecutor asked her.

“Never. I watched the news and realized that everything is quite scary, everything is very sad, a lot of people have been killed.”

“We had the coronavirus, everyone was depressed. Did you also write something to someone then?”

“What for? No, of course not,” said Tsybanev, smiling.

“Well, I don’t know. You watched the news and decided to write.”

“Yes, under the influence of the news.”

“Are the media to blame for your actions?”

“That’s the upshot.”

Irina Tsybaneva. Photo courtesy of Mediazona

Before the war in Ukraine, Tsybaneva, who is employed as an accountant in Petersburg, was not particularly interested in politics. Even after the Russian invasion, she practically never raised the topic of war raised in conversations with relatives, her son Maxim told Mediazona.

“She went to concerts, festivals, theaters, and museums. She traveled a lot both in Russia and abroad,” the man added. “At one time, she was a big fan of bard music. I don’t know how it is now, but it’s probably still the case. She went to the Grushinsky Festival many times. She was a prominent figure in Trofim‘s fan club.”

Tsybaneva spent a lot of time with her six grandchildren. (Her daughter and her son each have three children.) She moved to St. Petersburg in the 1980s from the Tver Region, working as an engineer and then as an accountant in various companies.

On October 6, the eve of the Russian president’s birthday, Tsybaneva went to the Serafimovskoe Cemetery, where Mr. Putin’s parents are buried.

Security had already been beefed up at the cemetery and specifically at the graves of Vladimir and Maria Putin, probably due to the fact that, in late September, a small poster in the guise of a school pupil’s class journal appeared on their headstone. It read as follows: “Dear parents! Your son has been behaving disgracefully! Skipping history lessons, fighting with his desk mates, and threatening to blow up the whole school! Take action!”

“Dear parents! Your son has been behaving disgracefully! Skipping history lessons, fighting with his desk mates, and threatening to blow up the whole school! Take action!”
Photo courtesy of Feminist Anti-War Resistance

A week later, a court in Petersburg jailed the activist Anastasia Filippova for ten days on charges of disobeying a policeman. As reported by Bumaga, Filippova’s relatives linked her arrest with the poster. Yesterday, a court overturned her arrest, and she was released from the special detention center.

Despite the beefed-up security and the police officers on duty at the cemetery, Tsybaneva was able to walk up to the grave of the Putins.

“They got distracted there, and she somehow left the note. It transpired that there are a lot of cameras there,” Maxim Tsybanev said, adding that his mother was able to photograph the note on her phone, which was later seized, however.

The contents of the note were made public today during Tsybaneva’s pretrial restraints hearing. “Parents of the maniac, move him in with you. He has caused so much pain and trouble, the whole world is begging for his death [illegible]. Death to Putin, you raised a freak and a murderer,” Tsybaneva’s message read.

In a linguistic analysis, a copy of which was submitted as part of the written request for pretrial restraints in court today, experts concluded that the note contains a “negative assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin” addressed to his parents. But how exactly the police identified the person who left the note is unknown. In court, the prosecutor cited an “ongoing investigation.”

The leaflet containing the appeal to Putin’s late parents was found the same day by a cemetery guard, who immediately informed the police. On Monday, October 10, they were already knocking on Tsybaneva’s door.

“She wouldn’t open it for a long time, but eventually a policeman promised to pry it open, and she opened it. At three p.m. yesterday she was taken to the 35th police precinct. For some reason, they kept her waiting there for a long time. Finally, around nightfall, she telephoned and said that there would be a search. We immediately went to her house, but she wasn’t there,” Maxim Tsybanev told Mediazona.

The accountant was placed in the temporary detention center and a criminal case was opened against her for abusing the burial place of deceased persons due to political or ideological enmity. If she is convicted, Tsybaneva could face up to five years in prison.

During the couple of days that Tsybaneva was in custody, the police were able to conduct a DNA examination, which confirmed that the traces of skin found on the note were hers. Handwriting analysis also indicated that it was Tsybaneva who wrote it. In addition, a picture of the note was found on her phone.

“I immediately admitted that I had written [the note], and that there was no need to do these analyses,” Tsybaneva said in court.

Police investigators and the prosecutor’s office asked that Tsybaneva be sent to a pretrial detention center.

“She is suspected of a crime whose danger to public consists in insulting the memory of the dead, the deceased, and the feelings of the living towards the dead,” the prosecutor argued.

She called the crime committed by the accountant “audacious” and, given Tsybaneva’s impressionability and the impact the news has on her, she argued that it was better for the woman to be in custody.

The defense lawyers were able to convince the court that the restraint measure requested by the state was too harsh. Consequently Judge Dmitry Lozovoy put Tsybaneva under house arrest for twenty-eight days, forbidding her to use the internet, telephone and mail.

“Given the actions committed, this is too harsh, but given current situation in the country, it is quite good,” said her son Maxim, commenting on the judge’s decision.

Source: Pavel Vasiliev, “‘Move him in with you’: 60-year-old Petersburg woman put under house arrest in case of note left on grave of Putin’s parents,” Mediazona, 12 October 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader