Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page
The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
September 2, 2021
Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.
On January 31, 2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.
“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.
She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St. Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.
“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.
According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.
According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.
When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.
At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”
There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.
When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.
In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”
Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.
Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.
Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.
In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.
On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”
Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.
“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”
At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.
Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”
Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.
25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.
26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.
27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.
28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.
29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.
30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.
31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD
1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.
2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.
3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.
5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.
10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!
You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:
Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994
You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.
All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader
The enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro and the Littoral will still take place in Cetinje on September 5, despite the flare-up of the situation in the country, Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia told the Tanyug news agency. [TASS, 4.09.2021; translated by the Russian Reader]
Ethnic tensions flare up in Montenegro over church ceremony
September 4, 2021
PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Protesters clashed with hundreds of riot police in the old capital of Montenegro on Saturday, setting up blockades of tires and large rocks ahead of the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the small Balkan nation.
The ceremony planned for Sunday in Cetinje has angered opponents of the Serbian church in Montenegro, which declared independence from neighboring Serbia in 2006.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters confronted the police in Cetinje and briefly removed some of the protective metal fences around the monastery where the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije is supposed to take place. Montenegrin state RTCG TV said the protesters broke through a police blockade at the entrance to Cetinje and threw stones at them, shouting “This is Montenegro!” and “This is not Serbia!”
Waving red Montenegrin flags with a double-headed eagle, protesters then set up road barriers with trash containers, car tires and large rocks to prevent church and state dignitaries from coming to the inauguration on Sunday.
Montenegrins remain deeply divided over their country’s ties with neighboring Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is the nation’s dominant religious institution. Around 30% of Montenegro’s 620,000 people consider themselves Serb.
Thousands protested last month in Cetinje, demanding that the inauguration be held somewhere else. The church has refused to change its plans.
Since Montenegro split from Serbia, pro-independence Montenegrins have advocated for a recognized Orthodox Christian church that is separate from the Serbian one.
Montenegrin authorities have urged calm during the weekend ceremonies, which start with the arrival Saturday evening of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital.
Porfirije is set to attend Sunday’s inauguration of Joanikije, whose predecessor as the church’s leader in Montenegro, Amfilohije, died in October after contracting COVID-19.
Illustrating the deep ethnic divide, thousands of people waving Serbian flags gathered in front of the main Serbian Orthodox church in Podgorica on Saturday to welcome the patriarch. Many were bused to the capital from Serbia.
The Serbian Orthodox Church played a key role in demonstrations last year that helped topple a long-ruling pro-Western government in Montenegro. The new government now includes staunchly pro-Serb and pro-Russian parties.
Montenegro’s previous authorities led the country to independence from Serbia and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. Montenegro also is seeking to become a European Union member.
The emphasis is mine. ||| TRR
New Montenegrin Gov’t Maintains Russia Sanctions, Deferring to EU
December 14, 2020
Disappointing pro-Russian parties in the new government, Foreign Minister Djordje Radulovic says Montenegro won’t lift sanctions on Russia, as the country must respect European Union rules if it wants to join the Union.
Montenegro’s new Foreign Minister, Djordje Radulovic, said the country will continue with sanctions against Russia despite the demands of some parties in the new majority to lift them.
On Monday Radulovic said the government won’t lift sanctions on Russia because Montenegro must respect European Union rules if it wants to join the Union.
“I believe that sanctions against Russia hurt the sentiments of a certain number of people to whom Russia is close, rather than Russia itself. I fully understand those people, but they must know that by imposing sanctions, we are not declaring war on Russia,” Radulovic told the daily newspaper Vijesti.
“We are not enemies of Russia. I informed the Russian ambassador that the sanctions remain in force, but we will seek cooperation in all areas that do not violate our European strategic priorities,” Radulovic added.
In parliamentary elections held on August 30, three opposition blocs won a slender majority of 41 of the 81 seats in parliament, ousting President Milo Djukanovic’s long ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS.
Montenegro has long had close ties to Russia, dating back to the reign of Tsar Peter the Great when Russia agreed to take the small Orthodox principality under its protective wing.
But these have faded since Djukanovic steered Montenegro towards the West. In March 2014, the government backed US and EU sanctions on Moscow for its perceived intervention in Ukraine and for its annexation of Crimea.
This sparked criticism, especially from the Serbian Orthodox Church, SPC, and pro-Serbian political parties who cherish ties to Russia. In August 2015, Russia added Montenegro to the list of countries from which it was banning food imports in retaliation to the Western sanctions imposed on it.
On September 13, an MP from the ruling majority, Marko Milacic, said that lifting sanctions must be the first move of the new government.
The new Prime Minister, and leader of the pro-Serbian For the Future of Montenegro coalition, Zdravko Krivokapic, on September 16 vowed to rebuild bridges with Russia.
“The current situation is absurd. Imagine that, as a small country, you impose sanctions on a large country like Russia. We will establish good relations with all countries of the world, including, of course, Russia,” he told the Russian Telegram channel Nazigar.
According to the new Montenegrin governing constitution, the government has the power to simply lift the sanctions, even if the EU was not impressed.
Candidates for membership are expected to align their foreign policy with that of the EU, but there is no legal obligation. Serbia, for example, has refused to join the sanctions despite negotiating to join the EU.
The emphasis is mine. ||| TRR
In January 2019, I posted a brief report about a Pskov couple, Liya and Artyom Milushkin, opposition political activists who had been charged with drug dealing. In fact, the local police had threatened that they would plant drugs on the couple and frame them after they attempted to stage a protest on Putin’s birthday. The cops made good on their threat.
Today, August 12, 2021, the court sentenced Artyom to 11 years in a maximum-security prison, and Liya to 10 years and 6 months in a penal colony. Liya will begin serving her sentence only after their children turn fourteen.
During the reading of the verdict, Artyom had a nervous breakdown and smashed the bench in his cage in the courtroom.
Yakutsk Court Orders Compulsory Medical Treatment for Shaman Gabyshev
July 26, 2021
Alexander Gabyshev has been sent to a specialized medical facility as part of the case against him following accusations of violence against a Russian National Guard officer. The court issued an obiter dictum against Gabyshev’s lawyer, Olga Timofeyeva.
The court in Yakutsk ordered Gabyshev, known as the “Yakut shaman,” to undergo compulsory medical treatment “at a specialized medical facility with intensive care.” Alexei Pryanishnikov, coordinator of Open Russia Human Rights and a defense attorney for Gabyshev, informed MBKh Media of this on Monday, July 26.
According to Pryanishnikov, his defendant will remain in custody until the court order takes effect. Furthermore, the court issued an obiter dictum against Gabyshev’s lawyer Olga Timofeyeva, who stated that she “was ashamed to be taking part in this trial.”
The Gabyshev Case
It was reported in June that Gabyshev—held at the time in the Yakutsk Psycho-Neurological Treatment Clinic—had taken a turn for the worse: he reported feeling weak, dizzy and drowsy.
The shaman’s trial began on April 30. Gabyshev stood accused of using force against a Russian National Guardsman. Gabyshev had been sentenced to six months in the psychiatric clinic, a term that expired on July 27. This is precisely why the Yakutsk court was in such a hurry to review his case, according to Pryanishnikov.
Marching to Moscow
In March 2019, Gabyshev, a resident of Yakutsk, announced that he was walking to the Kremlin to “drive out Putin.” He was detained in September following six months and 3,000 kilometers of travel. The FSB opened a case into publicly calling for extremism, but did not officially accuse the shaman of anything. He was placed in the psycho-neurological clinic and declared mentally incompetent on October 3, but was later released.
In December 2019, Gabyshev again set out for Moscow, but he was detained again, and this time accused of failure to obey the police. In 2020, he underwent compulsory medical treatment in the Yakutsk Republic Psychiatric Clinic, at which point Memorial recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner.
In January 2021 Gabyshev announced that he was preparing for a new march to Moscow, after which he was again detained and subsequently transferred to the psychiatric clinic.
Translated by the Fabulous AM
Today at 3:00 p.m. a verdict will be announced in the trial of Roman Pichuzhin, an elections commission member targeted in the so-called Palace Case. Pichuzhin is represented by OVD Info lawyer Dmitri Zakhvatov.
Yesterday the prosecutor requested three years in prison [for Pichuzhin]. The court took only a day to examine the case.
We publish Roman Pichuzhin’s closing statement here.
Photographs and trial transcript provided by RP’s lawyer.
When I read [Gianni Rodari’s] Cippolino as a kid, I swore an oath that if I ever encountered Signor Tomato in my life, I would fight against him.
And you, esteemed prosecutor, esteemed riot policeman: when you read Cippolino, did you swear to serve Signor Tomato or to fight against him?
And when I watched the old Soviet movie about Cinderella, there was the last line, where the king says, “Connections are connections, of course, but when all’s said and done one must listen to one’s conscience. When they ask you, ‘And what exactly can you say for yourself?’ no connections in the world can help make a foot smaller, a soul bigger, or a heart more just.”
Why do we forget our childhood oaths? Why are you doing this?
Personally I can’t understand it. I don’t think you understand it either.
If, in order to remain free, I have to forget my childhood oaths, then I don’t want that kind of freedom. If keeping these oaths means I have to go to prison, well, fine, I’ll have to go.
In conclusion I want to recite some [Vladimir] Vysotsky.
If you’ve never in your life
Eaten meat with a knife
If with arms folded you just
Looked down on other folks
And you didn’t join the fight
Against the butchers and the scum —
Well, that means that in this life
You are just beside the point, you are nothing!
That’s all I have to say.
Translated by the Fabulous AM, with many thanks from me.
Elections commission member Roman Pichuzhin sentenced to two years in prison
June 30, 2021
A court has sentenced Roman Pichuzhin, a defendant in the so-called Palace Affair and a member of a precinct election commission, to two years in a medium-security penal colony, reports OVD Info attorney Dmitry Zakhvatov.
On June 29, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow found Pichuzhin guilty of using violence against authorities (punishable under Article 318.1 of the Criminal Code) at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny on January 31. The prosecution asked the court to sentence Pichuzhin three years in a medium-security penal colony. According to investigators, Pichuzhin struck a riot police officer in the torso with his fist on Komsomolskaya Square in Moscow. The court took only a day to examine the case.
Pichuzhin was detained on March 2 as he was leaving Special Detention Center No. 2, where he had served a thirty-day administrative sentence after being detained at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny on January 31.
Roman Pichuzhin is 44 years old and has an 11-year-old child. According to OVD Info, Pichuzhin suffers from epilepsy.
In January and February, large-scale protests took place, the first of which was advertised in Alexei Navalny’s film Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Biggest Bribe. More than 11 thousand people were detained at the protest rallies. 134 people have been named as suspects and defendants in criminal cases: this is more than in the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case and the Moscow Case combined. Forty-nine criminal cases involve charges of using violence against the authorities (punishable under parts 1 and 2 of Article 318 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), while twenty-three cases involve charges of obstructing roads (punishable under Article 267.1 of the Criminal Code). Some cases include charges of violating health and epidemic regulations, threatening the lives, health and safety of citizens, and involving minors in the commission of illegal actions.
Translated by the Russian Reader
“I realized that the country was over”: a “terrorist” electrician from Toropets flees to Lithuania
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.
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.
“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
Woman, Prison, Society
June 26, 2021
NO PLACARDS ALLOWED
While its hospitals are overflowing with covid-19 patients, and photos of mass events and celebration in Petersburg are making the rounds of the media, solo pickets are still prohibited in the city. Marina Shiryaeva and Yevgenia Smetankina were taken to a police station yesterday for violating health restrictions, that is, for placards demanding the release of political prisoners.
According to MBKh Media, the young women held up pieces of cardboard containing the messages “I’m not waiting for a prince at Crimson Sails, I’m waiting for all political prisoners to be released,” and “While you’re celebrating and watching football, the prisons are filling up with political prisoners.”
Four solo picketers detained in Moscow demanding that authorities not exacerbate the epidemic
June 19, 2021
Alexander Rimov has informed OVD Info that four people involved in a series of solo pickets demanding that authorities not worsen the epidemiological situation have been detained.
During the United Russia party congress, taking place at Moscow’s Expo Center, several people took turns holding up a placard containing a message encrypted using a QR code. The protesters urged the authorities not to worsen the epidemiological situation and postpone the elections so that the ruling party does not endanger the electorate.
Among the detainees, according to Rimov, are two virologists, a law enforcement officer and a municipal employee. They were taken to the police department in the city’s Arbat district, where they were cited for violating the rules for holding public events (per Article 20.2.5 of the Administrative Code).
UPDATE 10:00 P.M. After the charges were filed, the detainees were released, a friend of theirs has told OVD Info.
During the United Russia congress, President Putin announced the first five names on the party’s federal list for the upcoming State Duma elections.
United Russia has set itself goal of winning the elections, but this is not an end in itself. The main thing is to achieve more for the country, Vladimir Putin said.
He noted that the platform of United Russia, as a leading party, should be truly popular.
In the top five of United Russia’s federal list in the elections, there should be both political heavyweights and relative newcomers, Putin believes. The Russian president named Shoigu among those whom he sees at the top of United Russia’s federal list in the elections.
Putin also said that Protsenko, Lavrov, Shmeleva and Kuznetsova should be among the names at the top of the federal list.
Source: TASS, June 19, 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader. Mediazona editor Yegor Skovoroda writes that new data from Rosstat, the Russian federal statistics service, shows how authorities in many of Russia’s regions have been hiding covid-19 deaths by passing them off as mortalities from respiratory and circulatory diseases. In Chechnya, for example, such deaths suddenly increased by 674%, while in the Samara region they increased by 202%. It was mostly the elderly that have been dying from these alleged causes, prompting Skovoroda to call the phenomenon a “nightmarish variety of ‘pension reform.’” All the particulars are contained in Mediazona’s survey of the stats, published on June 18, 2021.
And now – against crackdowns!
In 2021, only three forms of street activism have been possible in Moscow: “navalnings” (such as in January and April), “putings” (such as in March) and “rashkings,” named in honor of Communist MP Valery Rashkin, who does not get tired of defying the de facto ban on rallies by holding “meetings with an MP” (that is, with himself), since by law such meetings do not require prior authorization. This spring alone, Volja has written several times about progressive “rashkings” (against infill construction in Kuntsevo; against the planned demolition of the Palace of Young Pioneers; and, no less than four times, against the law banning educational outreach activities; in particular, I published an overall report and a separate remark about provocateurs).
Rashkin’s progressive work to ensure freedom of assembly in Moscow, it seems, has not gone unnoticed by the Communist Party leadership and the Presidential Administration. Open Media today published a short article in which, citing sources in the party leadership, they claimed that it was possible that Rashkin would be moved from a surefire first place on the regional party list for the State Duma elections in the autumn to a (second?) place that would make it impossible for him to win re-election. And this, it seems, is exactly what the Presidential Administration, who have soured on Rashkin over his open sympathy for the winter-spring protest rallies (the “navalnings”), wants from the Communist Party leadership.
In the spring, Rashkin, who heads the party’s Moscow city committee, was removed from the presidium of the party’s central committee and now, at the pre-election congress in late June, he could lose his place on the party list.
But Rashkin is not giving up without a fight. At two o’clock in afternoon on Thursday, June 10, he has scheduled another meeting with MPs (that is, he will probably not be alone) outside the reception area of the Presidential Administration building on Ilinka, 23, to protest recent political crackdowns. Mikhail Lobanov, in particular, has written about the meeting, apparently disappointed by today’s confirmation of the sentence meted out to his colleague Azat Miftakhov (six years in prison for breaking the glass in the door at a United Russia party office on the outskirts of Moscow; Miftakhov claims he is innocent).
It is clear that the Communist Party as a whole does not arouse much interest among political observers, but it seems that Rashkin is something special. He’ll probably show us all his stuff once again — to begin with, at two o’clock on the afternoon on June 10.
With greetings from Moscow,
Source: Volja, 9 June 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader
Against political crackdowns: a meeting with State Duma MPs
State Duma MPs from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation went to the Presidential Administration building to speak out against the political crackdowns taking place in Russia. They opposed the encroachment of security forces on freedom of thought. First of all, they spoke about the persecution of party members in the regions, who have been prevented from standing in the [autumn 2021] elections in every possible way, and the criminal cases initiated against them. In particular, they voiced their support for Azat Miftakhov and Nikolay Platoshkin.
Yesterday, the Moscow City Court, considering an appeal against the verdict of Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov, did not overturn the six-year prison sentence handed down to him, although it excluded a couple of incidents from the case. Yesterday, the Basmanny District Court left the four editors of the student magazine DOXA — Armen Aramyan, Natalya Tyshkevich, Alla Gutnikova, and Vladimir Metyolkin — under virtual house arrest (they are allowed to leave the house for two hours, from 8 to 10 am, and are forbidden from using the Internet and receiving mail) until September 14.
Source: Activatica, 10 June 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader
Communist MP Valery Rashkin and others protesting outside the Presidential Administration building in downtown Moscow, 10 June 2021