Unknown assailants attacked 76-year-old artist Yelena Osipova in Petersburg. They snatched anti-war placards from her hands
Two young men attacked the Petersburg artist and protest fixture Yelena Osipova right at her front door. At about three o’clock, she left the house, carrying two anti-war placards, to go picket on Nevsky Prospekt, videographer Nikita Adishchev told Rotunda. (He happened to be nearby because he was shooting a documentary about Osipova.) The young men were waiting for her at the exit from her building. According to Adishchev, they snatched the placards from the artist and ran away.
Ms. Osipova is not the only Petersburg woman who was prevented from holding an anti-war protest on Victory Day. A few days before May 9, police detained three activists from the Vesna Movement on criminal charges for calling on Russians to go to Immortal Regiment marches and voice pacifist slogans. Several more activists — including feminists from the Eve’s Ribs project — were detained on suspicion that they had been involved in telephone calls falsely reporting that bombs had been planted in buildings. But even pro-government media admitted that the criminal investigation into telephone terrorism was only a pretext. In fact, as some publications reported with reference to sources in law enforcement agencies, their field agents “had thwarted plans to organize provocative protest actions on May 9.”
Source: Rotunda, 9 May 2022. Thanks to Imaginary Island for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda. Translated by the Russian Reader
The homes of FemKyzlar activists Dina Nurm, Taisiya Albarinho and Aigul Akhmetova were searched by Kazan police as part of an investigation into “calls for mass riots.” Searches in the same criminal case, launched on March 14, took place earlier at the homes of members of the Yabloko party, a Kazan Federal University lecturer, university students and activists. Idel.Realii talked with one of the founders of FemKyzlar, Dina Nurm, about how and why the police homed in on them.
FemKyzlar is a community for the protection of women’s rights in Tatarstan, established in 2019. Its activists are involved in educational outreach. They hold public lectures, advise women on legal issues, and help victims of domestic violence.
On March 14, the Major Case Squad of the Russian Investigative Committee’s Tatarstan Bureau opened a criminal investigation into the “inciting of mass riots” (per Article 212.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) over a post in the Telegram chat Protest Chat: Kazan. According to investigators, “on 3 March 2022, an unidentified person, located in Kazan, published a message in the Telegram messenger in an open chat while discussing the upcoming unsanctioned ‘No War’ protest rally in Kazan” in which he offered to “buy megaphones,” a mixture prohibited for distribution [sic], and batons, “that is, [he called] for armed resistance to the authorities.”
— How did the searches go? What were the police interested in?
— They came to see Taisiya and Aigul on April 27, and they came to my apartment on Saturday the 30th. We just hadn’t been at home before then: a friend had asked us to look after her cats while she was away. In the morning, around 9:30, there was an insistent knock on the door. There were two plainclothes policemen outside the door and our neighbors were present as witnesses [as required by Russian law during a police search]. They were interested in our office equipment, and we immediately gave them everything they asked for. I was interrogated as a witness in the case (as written on my interrogation report). I told the truth — that I had seen the message with calls to buy incendiary mixtures only in the press. I am not a member of the chat, and I do not know who wrote the message. The police were at our place for about two hours. An “expert” arrived, inventoried the equipment, and packed it into an opaque bag. We signed warnings that protest actions had to be authorized.
On the morning of May 2, my girlfriend Nastya, who was present during the search, was summoned by Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police]. They said she also had to be questioned since she lives with me. Indeed, she was questioned as part of the same investigation. They also asked her about the work of FemKyzlar and what was wrong with women’s rights, why they had to be protected. Nastya told them about how she advises women on custody and alimony issues.
— Why do you think the police came to your house if you have nothing to do with Protest Kazan? Have you ever had problems with the police before?
— I think they came to our apartments as part of such a precautionary campaign. Just like they visited many other Kazan activists, just to say, “In case you were wondering, we know about you, we monitor your work and understand that you could organize some kind of protest action, so we ask you not to to do it.”
— How have these searches impacted your lives and FemKyzlar’s work?
— The fact that they confiscated our equipment makes it difficult to work. I am a designer, I need certain capacities. Taisiya is a singer, and all her arrangements are now gathering dust at the Investigative Committee. Of course, it slows down the maintenance of FemKyzlar’s social media pages. It has involved a lot of extra logistics. Friends have been lending their equipment, which needs to be brought to Kazan from other cities. You have to ask loads of people to help, and you have to warn them that their equipment can sink into oblivion. We have been fundraising to get back on our feet, but our subscribers are mostly poor women. We are very grateful for their help, but they could have spent this money on themselves if this situation had not happened. Women are already an economically vulnerable group, and now both we and our subscribers are incurring unnecessary expenses. As for my psychological state, there is paranoia, the feeling that I am guilty of something, although I understand perfectly well that I am not doing anything illegal. I just want to improve women’s lives.
Baza and Mediazona have reported that a man who threw a Molotov cocktail at a riot police bus was detained in downtown Moscow on the evening of May 2. They have published photos from the scene of the incident and the suspect’s arrest.
A video made by an eyewitness, which Mediazona has at its disposal, made it clear that the front side of the vehicle was charred. The witness specified that the bus “burned for a couple of minutes” before it was extinguished.
The attacker’s motives are unknown, and there was no information about him at the time that the news went to press. In March, a court in Moscow sentenced to two years in prison an anti-war protester who threw a Molotov cocktail at the police: the container did not break, the liquid did not ignite.
Source: Radio Svoboda, 2 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
Before the protest, Vitaly Koltsov posted a poem about fiery hearts lighting up the darkness. The man went to throw a Molotov cocktail in the center of the capital dressed in a suit and carrying a suitcase.
“If the day is extinguished forever, / Our glory will not fade / Death is given only once, / Let’s choose it to our liking / So as to see, at the end, / The desert illuminated / By our fiery hearts / By the rising sun,” the man wrote before attacking the paddy wagon.
Vitaly Koltsov is the father of three children and a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He has been charged under Article 317 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (endangering the life of a law enforcement officer). He faces up to twenty years in prison if convicted.
Source: Astra, Telegram, 3 May 2022. Thanks to Marina Ken for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader
Anti-war messages painted on depictions of soldier and little girl in Petersburg
In at least two places in Petersburg, someone has made a wall painting depicting a soldier kneeling before girl in pink clothes who is bandaging his hand. The letter Z — a symbol of support for Russia’s military actions in Ukraine — is painted on the soldier’s sleeve.
SOTA noticed that in one of these murals, in the Matveevsky Garden on the Petrograd Side, persons unknown had added a speech bubble so that the soldier says, “I killed your mom.”
A photo of the other depiction was taken at Lanskaya railway station by a female reader of Bumaga. There, the slogan “No war” had been written over the image, while the letter Z had been painted over.
Source: Bumaga, Telegram, 2 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
In late March, Petersburg artist Yevgenia Isayeva protested Russia’s war in Ukraine by performing an action entitled “My Heart Is Bleeding”: the young woman stood on the steps of the former City Duma, in the downtown, wearing a “bloody” white dress. The artist was jailed for eight days for her protest. Sever.Realii talked to Isayeva about her arrest and whether people who oppose the war should now leave the country.
Isayeva spread out a canvas on which the following message was written: “I feel that it is pointless to appeal to reason. Therefore, I appeal to your hearts. Women, children, old men and old women are dying every day in Ukraine from bombing, hunger, and the inability to get out from under the rubble or get medicines. Their graves, marked with homemade crosses, turn black in courtyards and playgrounds. There are thousands of people who have been wounded and mutilated, there are millions of broken lives. If you make excuses for this, then your heart has gone blind. Find the strength for mercy and compassion, do not support the bloodshed!”
The protest lasted only ten minutes. Isayeva was detained by the police, and subsequently she was jailed by the court for eight days on charges of disorderly conduct. She served her sentence in the special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street in Petersburg.
Isayeva: “My Heart Is Bleeding” was for me a kind of essay in freedom. After February 24, I could not live normally. I felt bad, and for the first time in many years, I started having panic attacks again. And this gesture, in fact, helped me as a ritual – it was easier to go on.
Sever.Realii: Some people have gone on living as they used to live, doing their projects and trying not to notice what is happening, because rockets are not falling on houses here in Russia. How do you communicate with people whose heart does NOT bleed?
– I don’t communicate with people who are not close. I am a categorical person: it’s a matter of black and white for me now. My president was shot dead on a bridge seven years ago. (She means the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov – SR.) I have the sense that we are living an ancient or biblical myth, where there is a kind of crystallization, a highlighting of the truth – of relationships, of how we understand things, of the facts. I am sure that we will survive this horror. While before February 24 it seemed to me that all this would drag on forever, now I’m sure it won’t. Twenty-five percent of Russians do not support what is happening – that is almost thirty-five million people and it is quite a lot. Propaganda is trying to convince society that people like us are crazy. But I’m not crazy. And I told the police at the station that history would judge us and that this would happen quickly enough.
– Can art change anything in life?
– Artists are always troublemakers and disturbers of the peace, even when they later become classics. Take Dürer, for example. He was the first to make a self-portrait en face. Now it is taken for granted, but in fact it used to be that only the faces of saints were painted en face, not those of ordinary people. He was the first to portray himself like this. It was a provocation. Artists are the ones who establish the discourse and make you indignant, who make you think. Art and science look for answers to unanswered questions. It seems to me, of course, that the imagination is also very important: the system is manned by people with no imaginations, who are incapable of abstract thinking – and this is quite obvious. At the police station, they tried to convince me that what was happening was unilinear. I told them that there is your opinion, and there is mine, and it’s different, and that’s fine. And that basically it’s normal to live in a world in which there are different opinions – that’s what I think everyone needs to understand. My generation grew up amid this freedom.
– Is it possible to do certain projects in Russia now without being afraid?
– We are all like hostages of the system here, but if we give up, all this darkness and drabness will swallow us up and devour us. But there are absolute truths that we can and should talk about. Yes, to some extent, the theory of small deeds has failed – we did things, but we didn’t do enough, since now we are faced with all of this. So we have to do it now. Now is the best moment to do rather than giving up, to help each other, while self-flagellation and feeling guilty, in my opinion, are unproductive.
– What were conditions like at the temporary detention center?
– I was in a cell for two in the temporary detention center on Zakharyevskaya [in Petersburg’s Central District]. Compared to the police station, where I had spent two days, things were quite good there. My cellmate was a young woman who had been sentenced to administrative arrest over a fight with her husband; she had a black eye. She and her husband, who had been given ten days of administrative arrest, would shout back and forth to each other there. She had been jailed for seven days for their fight with each other. We had rec time in the yard. When we were walking with the other young women and talking, she would say, “My husband and I are doing our time here together.” The girls would immediately ask whether they had been detained together at an anti-war rally. She was embarrassed to tell the truth: she was the only non-political arrestee among us.
– Tell us about your family.
– On my mother’s side, we have our own plot at the Volkovo Cemetery. The oldest grave is that of Apollon Alexandrov, who died in 1866, but when he was alive he was something like a caretaker at the Alexandrinsky Theater. Basically, he was tangentially involved with art, and I have a long family history on my mother’s side. Some of my relatives are from Ukraine: for example, my ancestors include the famous artist Ivan Makukho–Makushenko, a People’s Artist of Ukraine. The surname was later split into Makukho and Makushenko. Among Dad’s ancestors (Yevgenia’s father is Maxim Isayev, an artist, director, actor, playwright, and co-founder of the AKHE Engineering Theater – SR) there is a Jewish line, whose graves are at the Transfiguration Cemetery. There is a family legend that a young woman, the daughter of a rich rabbi, and a revolutionary–minded poor Jewish boy ran away from Gomel to Petersburg and started that line. The family albums have been preserved at home: you look at pre–war photos and see how there are fewer and fewer men in the pictures: crackdowns and war took their toll, people disappeared and died. I have a very good sense of the two-hundred-year history of my family’s relations with Petersburg. Sitting in the temporary detention center, I read the essays of Joseph Brodsky. He had the idea that in Petersburg they show you the house where Dostoevsky lived, and then they show you Raskolnikov’s house: life equals literature. I lucked out with teachers at school: my literature teacher made sure that the poetry of the Silver Age has stayed with me. The romance with the city is part of my own myth. I draw Petersburg, I write about it. It is a friend, a lover, and a companion. I feel like I’m a part of it. So I don’t have the passionarity [sic] for emigration: there is no place like home.
– Have you asked yourself whether you should stay or leave?
– After the collapse of the Roman Empire came the Dark Ages, when literacy disappeared: everything was so badly destroyed that people forgot how to write, they forgot what these signs meant. But writing later re-emerged. It is very important now to carry the light through these Dark Times. Not everyone will leave [Russia]. There are children here, and they will grow into young people. I grew up in the culture of the nineties, when “freedom” was the watchword, and was greatly treasured. It is very important to sustain this freedom. Even if everything is banned, we must remain free.
This is my detailed summary — for the Russian-impaired — of Proekt’s grim but poignant short new documentary about Russians denounced to the police for their anti-war actions and statements in the last month and the people who denounced them (neighbors, relatives, pupils, etc.). It’s worth watching and reading, I think, especially because it humanizes the whole ugly business in a very moving, personal and easy to grasp way. While I wouldn’t say that it gives me hope, it is inspiring to see how such seemingly different people in terms of their backgrounds (businessman, artist, university student and blogger, district council deputy, ex-policeman and teacher) behave bravely in harrowing circumstances that have silenced many other people, or worse. It’s also to Proekt’s credit that in the case of several of the film’s protagonists they interviewed them where they live, including in public (which leads in two cases to run-ins with the powers that be). It goes to show that however frightening things have become, Russia is not yet “North Korea.” ||| TRR
Mikhail Zheltonozhsky, a businessman and “extreme travel” enthusiast from Bryansk, was denounced by a neighbor lady for flying Ukrainian pennants from his window. His denouncer, Elena Ruchkina, a midwife at a local outpatient clinic, wrote in her complaint to police, “[The pennants] seemed suspicious in light of recent events.” That was grounds for sending three police cruisers and a high-ranking police colonel to their apartment building to detain Zheltonozhsky.
Elmira Khalitova, a university student and political blogger from Moscow, was denounced by her father, Timur, who telephoned police and demanded that they bust down the door to her flat to detain her. He claimed that his daughter had been urging her readers to “murder Russians.” His denunciation was captured on tape. Elmira claims that her father has extreme pro-Putinist views. Among them are his view that Ukraine is “one big fiction” and that it should be merged with Russia. A heavy drinker, Timur is a fan of the rabid pro-Putin TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov. Fortunately, Elmira was able to convince police (for the time being?) that she had not urged anyone to “murder Russians.”
Sasha Skochilenko, an artist from Petersburg, was arrested and remanded in custody for replacing price tags with anti-war messages at a Perekrestok chain supermarket in Petersburg. Her friend Alexei shows Proekt’s film crew around the store as he talks about the circumstances of her arrest. They are confronted by a store employee, who angrily orders them to leave the premises, explaining that she doesn’t want to be “imprisoned and murdered” like Skochilenko. Alexei explains that the Perekrestok customer who reported Sasha was a woman from the neighborhood born in 1947, whom the voice-over narrator claims is the target audience of this particular anti-war campaign because, supposedly, they peruse supermarket price tags more intently than younger shoppers.
Alexandra Arkhipova is an anthropologist. She explains that the authorities have three methods for ferreting out anti-war dissidents. First, so-called Center “E” (the federal “anti-extremism” police, established by the “liberal” Dmitry Medvedev during his term as president) monitor social media for “extremism” posts. Second, the authorities cook up such charges against well-known activists who are in their sights, such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, recently arrested in Moscow on the same criminal charges as Skochilenko. Third, “alert” citizens among the general public report such dissidents to the police. This segment features clips from a recent speech made on TV by President Putin in which he warned the Russian public that a “fifth column” and “national traitors,” as puppets of the west, would oppose his invasion of Ukraine.
Sonya is Sasha Skochilenko’s live-in girlfriend in Petersburg. She explains that they met two and a half years on a dating website and fell in love almost immediately. They live together in Parnas, a neighborhood in Petersburg’s far north, on the border with the Leningrad Region. The voice-over narrator explains that Sonya and her friends are now focused on making sure Skochilenko survives her ordeal in remand prison, where she will be held at least until the end of May. Sonya explains that since Skochilenko is her “family” and closest friend she now feels lost and desperate. We see Sonya on an escalator in the Petersburg subway, which is festooned with Zwastikas. Sonya says that it’s strange that people pretend not to notice them, although the city is covered with them. The voice-over narrator cites the human rights organization Agora, which has recorded one hundred anti-war-related criminal cases launched by the Russian authorities between February 24 and April 20. He goes on to explain that the number of administrative cases filed during this same period would be hard to tally since over 15,000 people have been arrested at anti-war demonstrations since the war began on February 24. The anthropologist Arkhipova returns to explain that denunciations played a role in the prosecution of dissidents and demonstrators in previous years, but now the practice was been gaining more notice because everyone is paying attention.
Andrei Shestakov is an ex-police officer and, now, ex-history teacher in the town of Neryungri (Sakha Republic). Shestakov was forced to quit the police after he publicly supported Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” campaign. Now he has been forced to quit his teaching position for having “anti-war conversations” during class with his pupils. He was denounced to the authorities either by one or more of them or their parents. Shestakov says that he doesn’t even want to know who informed on him.
Elena Kotenochkina is a deputy on the Krasnoselsky District Council in Moscow. Kotenochkina called Russia a “fascist state” during a recent council meeting, which was videotaped and posted on YouTube. The video came to the attention of Russian State Duma deputy Oleg Leonov, who denounced Kotenochkina to the authorities. The security forces have also included in her case file a video for draft-age young men that she made in her capacity as district council chair and co-chair of the district’s draft board. In the video, she explained that conscripts were being sent into combat in Ukraine, but by law they were not required to sign the contracts that made their combat deployment there possible. Although she has not been formally charged with any crime (an official “inquiry” into her actions is underway), loyalist politicians like Leonov are making a fuss that might be lead to her being charged, especially as she is well-known opposition politician in Moscow. The nationally known opposition stalwart Ilya Yashin, shown in the footage, is a deputy of the same district council and her ally. He has pointedly chosen to stay in Russia and speak out publicly against the war.
Zheltonozhsky compares the top-down campaign of support in Russia for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to a “general psychosis.” The voice-over narrator explains that Zheltonozhsky has had trouble with the authorities since Soviet times, when he refused to join the (Communist) Party. The business he started in the nineties — a network of kiosks — was destroyed in the 2010s when Bryansk city hall carried out a “beautification” campaign that outlawed such commercial outlets. As he is explaining how one of his kiosks was torched as part of this municipal campaign, police officers approach him and Proekt’s film crew and ask him to go with them to a nearby police box (in the Bryansk city center). On their way, they pass a banner, featuring the Zwastika as its key graphic element, that reads, “For peace! For Russia! For the president!” At the police box, the officers ask Zheltonozhsky why his (blue and yellow) clothes are that color (he claims he ordered orange pants, but was sent yellow instead), and they ask to see his cellphone. The voice-over narrator explains that the authorities have placed Bryansk and other Russian cities near the Ukrainian border on high-level terrorism alert. The narrator then talks on the phone with Elena Ruchkina, the midwife and neighbor lady who denounced Zheltonozhsky to the police, asking her why she did it. She responds by asking whether the narrator thinks that Zheltonozhsky’s actions were “normal.”
Khalitova says that while she had always been aware of the danger of being persecuted for her political outspokenness, she was now acutely aware of the threat. She has broken off all contact with her family after her father turned her in. She says he did it because he wanted to feel “important.” In a recorded phone conversation, Timur Khalitov claims to the narrator that he panicked when he got an “anonymous” phone call about his daughter’s alleged extremist activities. Walking through a park, Elmira tells Proekt that she has been thoroughly disappointed by the Russian public’s reaction to the invasion because she had been convinced that the widespread notion that there was a “Putinist majority” in Russia who supported the president was a “myth.” Now, she says, she understands that most people are willing to let young men die in battle as long as nothing else changes in their lives.
Sonya reads aloud the first letter that Sasha Skochilenko wrote from remand prison. In the letter she says that while her accuser might get a “miserable reward” for denouncing her, Skochilenko herself will gain “immortality.” Sonya claims that none of the letters that she and other friends have sent to the remand prison have been delivered to Sasha, nor has she received the food care packages that she needs as someone who suffers from celiac disease. Her friend Alexei explains that patients with this diagnosis must not eat bread and pasta, but since the disease is not officially recognized by the authorities as a “serious” ailment, they are not obliged to meet her dietary requirements. Sonya explains that, when celiac disease is not managed properly, it can lead to cancer, osteoporosis and other life-threatening ailments.
Arkhipova argues that the practice of denunciation that has now come to the fore in Russia is “for art’s sake” in the sense that it is motivated neither by the need to protect oneself nor by the prospect of monetary gain. On the contrary, Russia’s new-model denouncers are “exercising their civic muscles” because they feel “needed.” The narrator says that the number of denunciations in wartime “civil society” will only grow, citing the United Russia party’s launching of a special bot for filing denunciations, which Rostelecom has promised to support by passing the denunciations on to the authorities. Elmira Khalitova says that she feels she is surrounded by people who, although they behave normal in everyday life, are quite willing to “condone a crime.” She says that because of this new sense of what her society has become, she feels “empty inside” and that the country has no future. Shestakov says that he has become more careful about what he says to whom. Zheltonozhsky says that he also no longer talks about political topics to certain people. Sonya says that everything has been changed by the war, but that this wasn’t clear at first. She says that Skochilenko loves Russia, is a “genuine Russian patriot,” and had hoped that things could be changed for the better. Kotenochkina says that although people are afraid, such a war in the twenty-first century is so wrong that they have no choice but to act. As she begins crying, the screen fades to black and the message “No war” appears on the screen.
The case of Sasha Skochilenko is a striking example of the absurdity of today’s Russia. She faces ten years in prison for her anti-war protest at a supermarket.
Bumaga has discovered that Sasha’s protest was reported to the police by an elderly woman. The security services organized a special operation to capture Skochilenko. Today the young woman is in a pretrial detention center. She will remain there for a month and a half even though she has serious health problems.
Read the story of Sasha Skochilenko, an artist and musician from Petersburg, a former Bumaga staffer, and a person with a conscience.
The security services mounted a special operation to capture Sasha Skochilenko. An elderly woman informed on her.
On the evening of March 31, anti-war messages were inserted into the shelf slots for price tags in the Perekrestok supermarket on the second floor of the Skipersky Mall on Vasilievsky Island.
According to two of Bumaga’s sources who are close to the investigation, the protest attracted the attention of a 75-year-old retired female shopper. According to one source, the woman went to the prosecutor’s office “to seek justice.” The second source says that she immediately went to the police.
Bumaga has learned that for over ten days, law enforcement officers, allegedly, interrogated Perekrestok employees and viewed security camera footage to determine who had replaced the price tags with the anti-war messages and where this person had gone after leaving the store.
On Monday morning, April 11, law enforcement officers conducted a special operation. They went to the apartment of the alleged suspect. His home is 900 meters away from Perekrestok. What exactly happened in the apartment is unknown. The man living there turned out to be a friend of 31-year-old Sasha Skochilenko.
That morning Sasha received a message from this friend saying that they were “looking for a body” in his apartment and asking her to come over. When she was already on her way, the friend texted her that “everything was okay.” Skochilenko’s friends believe that the security forces could have texted Sasha from her friend’s phone.
When Skochilenko arrived at the apartment, she was detained. It was around 11 a.m. Bumaga learned about her arrest at about 2 p.m. There was no news from Sasha for more than four hours, and law enforcement officials would not comment on the situation to Bumaga.
Later, Dmitry Gerasimov, Skochilenko’s lawyer, who is affiliated with the Net Freedoms Project, found out that Sasha’s apartment was being searched in her presence. She was then taken for questioning and kept in police custody until 12:30 a.m.
That same evening, Gerasimov told Bumaga that Sasha was the subject of a criminal investigation into disseminating “fake news about the Russian army” over the anti-war stickers with which she had switched the price tags at Perekrestok. According to investigators, the young woman had “publicly disseminated knowingly false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
Skochilenko was charged under the second part of Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 207.3, which means that she faces up to ten years in prison. Investigators argue that she was “motivated by political hatred” when she distributed the flyers.
How the information on the anti-war flyers could be “knowingly false” and how Skochilenko came to be “motivated by political hatred” is not mentioned in the documents provided by the investigation.
The criminal case could have been opened due to a mention of those killed in Mariupol. But the contents of the stickers are unknown.
Sasha had been actively speaking out against the war in Ukraine since its very beginning. Along with the same friend whose apartment law enforcement officers raided, she had performed at intimate “Peace Jams” and also produced pacifist postcards. For this reason, the young woman’s acquaintances thought that she could have been charged with violating the recently popular article in the administrative offenses code for “discrediting” the Russian army. But that was not what happened.
Gerasimov tried to explain to Bumaga the rationale behind the investigation.
“[An administrative charge was not filed in Skochilenko’s case], because in those price tags [for which administrative proceedings had initiated] there were only statements against the war itself, while in Sasha’s case there was information about the alleged actions of the Russian Armed Forces,” he said.
At the same time, the part of the case file that the lawyer has reviewed does not mention the specific flyers for which Sasha was charged.
The Net Freedoms Project wrote that her case file contains price tags with information about the shelling of the theater in Mariupol and the deaths of civilians. Gerasimov told Bumaga that he could neither confirm nor deny this information, since “Sasha does not remember now what the price tags were and what was written on them.”
Earlier, Sasha had drawn anti-war stickers with such messages as “Don’t be discouraged, we’ll live in peacetime one day!” and “Human life has no price.”
“There are still so many people who do not know (do not remember?) what a miracle human life is, how beautiful and precious it is, and that violence is not the solution to problems,” Sasha said in explanation of her stance.
Currently, Sasha’s defense is based on her admission that she did plant anti-war flyers with information about Russia’s use of military force in Ukraine and its consequences in the store. But the young woman does not think that the information in the flyers was “false,” as the criminal code article that she was charged with stipulates, her lawyer said to Bumaga.
The judge sent Sasha Skochilenko to a pretrial detention center. She has celiac disease (gluten intolerance).
Sasha Skochilenko spent the night of April 12 in a temporary detention facility. As she later said in court, she managed to get some sleep there, but the guards did not give her water and did not bring her the food that friends had collected for her. Ultimately, the first hearing in Sasha’s case was postponed to the next day, and the young woman spent another twenty-four hours in the temporary detention facility.
Sasha’s bail hearing began at the Vasileostrovsky District Court at 9 a.m. on April 13. More than forty people had gathered at the court (where a Bumaga correspondent was present), including friends, journalists from both independent and pro-regime publications, activists, and human rights defenders.
Skochilenko was brought into court in handcuffs and placed in a cage. The young woman looked exhausted, and she asked for something to drink. There was no water in the courtroom, however, so the visitors looked for a water bottle among themselves. Despite her subdued spirits, Sasha thanked everyone who came.
“I did not anticipate so much support, that so many people would come [to the hearing],” Skochilenko said to Bumaga before the hearing began. “Everyone here tells me that you are doing something bad if you call for peace, but people’s support for me shows this is not the case. That is the most important thing.”
The judge in Sasha’s case was Elena Vladimirovna Leonova. Appointed to the Vasileostrovsky District Court by President Boris Yeltsin in 1998, she has held this post for over twenty years.
The media has mostly mentioned Judge Leonova in a positive light, and she was given high marks from the Petersburg qualification board of judges in the past. In particular, Leonova has often declined requests by prosecutors to jail activists and protestors, unlike her colleagues. There are also some ambiguous cases and decisions in her case history, however.
In the case of Sasha Skochilenko, the judge sided with the prosecution. Leonova began the trial by forbidding the taking of photographs in court. She then granted the prosecutor’s request to close the proceedings to the public because, allegedly, the state’s case was based on the interview records of witnesses. When members of the public were still present, the defense lawyer only managed to request the judge to release Skochilenko on bail, or prohibit her from certain actions, or at most, place her under house arrest.
The hearing, which took place behind closed doors, lasted almost five hours. When she delivered her ruling, Judge Leonova permitted several journalists, including the correspondent from Bumaga, to enter the courtroom. She began as follows: “It has been established that Skochilenko, acting deliberately, placed fragments of paper containing deliberately false information [about the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation] in the premises of a trading hall.”
The judge read out the verdict quickly, not distinguishing between the arguments of investigators and her own words. “Misleading citizens about the actions carried out by the armed forces of the Russian Federation creates tension in society [and] conducts subversive activities [sic],” she said.
Among the arguments for Sasha’s being remanded in custody, Judge Leonova mentioned that Sasha:
had been accused of committing a serious breach of public safety.
“could exert pressure” (on investigators).
refused to reveal the password to her telephone.
“might destroy evidence” if she were at large.
“has a sister in France.”
“has friends in Ukraine.”
“has the ability to hinder the collection of evidence and hide in Ukraine.”
Is registered to reside in Petersburg but resides with a female acquaintance in a rented apartment, and the female friend does not have documents proving the residence’s lawfulness for serving as a place of house arrest, and the landlady might change her mind.
The judge emphasized that Skochilenko had “visited acquaintances in Ukraine.” In fact, a friend of hers told Bumaga, Sasha had gone to Ukraine in 2020 for work at a children’s camp, where she taught animation to the children.
Furthermore, Leonova brought up as an argument the fact that Skochilenko had “an administrative arrest for organizing a mass gathering of citizens during the pandemic.” Indeed, Sasha had been detained at an anti-war protest on March 3, her friend told Bumaga. Skochilenko was released after a night in the police station, and a court sentenced her to a fine of ten thousand rubles. Sasha had challenged the decision, but on appeal the court upheld the verdict.
The judge did not consider the fact that the artist had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and celiac disease, a genetic gluten intolerance requiring a strict diet, to be a valid reason for declining to send Sasha to a pretrial detention center.
Leonova noted separately that Skochilenko had not been diagnosed with serious illnesses and that there was no evidence that she needed emergency medical care. When the defense lawyer provided the court with a doctor’s note about Sasha’s health, the judge stated that the document could not be accepted because it did not mention the source of the information.
Judge Leonova ultimately decided to remand Sasha in custody to Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 until May 31. In response, the people in the courtroom cried and told Sasha that everything would be okay, while people in the hallway shouted, “Shame on you!” to the judge. As people left the courtroom, Skochilenko smiled and waved to her friends.
“The war will end, and I will be amnestied,” Sasha managed to tell a friend before the bailiffs forced him to leave the courtroom.
Sasha is an artist and a musician. She wrote A Book on Depression and filmed protest rallies for Bumaga. Many people support her, but they are pessimistic.
“Sasha is one of my most talented acquaintances,” journalist Arseniy Vesnin, a friend of Skochilenko’s, told Bumaga. “We met around fifteen years ago. We used to play Mind Games—it was this project on Channel 5 where schoolchildren would debate. Sasha was always—or rather she is (we’re almost talking like obituaries now)—very smart, talented, and well-read.”
Sasha was born on September 13, 1990, in Leningrad. At the age of seventeen she enrolled at the Theater Academy to study directing but withdrew during her final year, transferring to St. Petersburg State University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences where she studied anthropology and graduated with honors.
From 2013-2015, Sasha made video reports of rallies and protests for Bumaga.
“Sasha is the ‘good person’ from Andrei Platonov’s works,” says Kirill Artemenko, general director of Bumaga. “Platonov’s heroes do good without fully realizing that they are good, without expecting kindness from anyone and without being offended by evil. They are hardworking, patient people. They might look weak, but in reality, they are very strong. Their strength is in their principles and natural, effortless kindness.”
When Sasha fell ill with cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar affective disorder, she wrote A Book on Depression to support people with similar health problems. The book has been translated into English and Ukrainian. The story of Sasha’s struggle with her illness can be read in this text, published by Bumaga.
Lately, Sasha had been filming and editing lectures for the feminist space Eve’s Ribs and helping to renovate the homes of women who did not want to hire a handyman to do the work, a friend tells Bumaga. She also worked as an administrator at a children’s center on Vasilievsky Island. “She communicates well with children, unlike with the cops,” explains the interviewee.
According to the friend, Skochilenko never had the goal of building a career. It was important to her to do good while also being able to live on the money she earned.
“I don’t have any kind of particular profession. In different interviews they have called me an artist from Petersburg, a cartoonist, and an actress, and many other things,” Sasha, who at that moment was working as a nanny, said in 2020. “I don’t want to have a particular profession. And in fact, I don’t have one.”
Sasha’s passion has always been music, her friends say. Sasha views it as “an instrument of freedom,” said Skochilenko’s friend Alexei Belozerov. “She wants to create a free space with the help of music—without the hierarchies that inevitably arise within a musical collective, without the division between performers and listeners,” says Alexei.
A friend of Sasha who has been involved with her in musical events on many occasions said that the main idea of her music is free improvisation, so that “people who don’t have a musical education but very much want to play won’t be afraid to grab an instrument and play together.” For example, the friend said, Sasha held music jams at psychoneurological resident treatment facilities as a form of art therapy.
Sasha vigorously advocated the idea of freedom even after February 24. “I do not support the war in Ukraine! I went on the streets today to say it out loud!” she wrote from a rally on the first day of the war. “Two years ago, I taught children in Ukraine at a children’s camp to film videos. I remember each of their faces. They are no different from Russian children.”
Sasha decided not to emigrate, despite the risks. “Sasha said that she would not leave, because she has her social capital here, Petersburg is her city, and Russian is her language,” Sasha’s friend Arseny tells Bumaga. “She is not someone who made it her goal to fight the regime. She is a person with a conscience, and as a person with a conscience, she could not help but react to this shameless situation that is now happening in Russia”.
Guarantees for Skochilenko were signed by St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputies Boris Vishnevsky and Mikhail Amosov, [Pskov] politician Lev Schlosberg, and municipal deputy Sergei Troshin. The court also received a positive character reference from Bumaga general director Kirill Artemenko. There are hundreds of posts on social networks about her case, which has been dubbed absurd. The case has also been covered by Russia’s remaining independent media. And Bumaga has learned that protests in support of Sasha have been organized in London.
The main source of public indignation is not even that Sasha is being prosecuted for an anti-war position, but, rather, the possible sentence (up to ten years in a penal colony) and the fact that she was sent to a pretrial detention center despite her illness.
“I remind you that no one was punished for threats to ‘cut off heads,’” wrote Vishnevsky. “And there was no response to two attempts to kill my friend Vladimir Kara-Murza. But for anti-war speeches, [people get sent to] a pre-trial detention center, and then to a penal colony for ten years. Feel the difference.”
Many of those who spoke with Bumagaand who advocate for Sasha’s release are pessimistic. For example, Vishnevsky himself told Bumagathat he would be glad to be proved wrong if the outcome of the case were positive after all. Journalist Arseny Vesnin recalls that it was clear to him that Sasha would be sent to a pretrial detention center, although he did not want to believe it.
“We must pray that not only the war ends, but also that something in our country changes. This would be a good outcome. But realistically I don’t see any good outcomes,” Vesnin concludes.
Sasha’s friend, who vigorously advocates for her release, tells Bumaga that he cannot express his opinion about what is happening, including in this case, without breaking the law.
“This is terror,” he says anonymously. “It has been unleashed in the original sense of the word— as ‘fear’ and ‘horror.’ They are maintaining an atmosphere of terror. This is the only way to explain why, for replacing one piece of paper in a store with another, a bunch of people in uniform write up interrogation reports and put them into case files, conduct searches, and arrange an ambush using the person’s friend. In this sense, the possible outcome of this case is the same as that of everything that is happening here. The terror will grow, the terror will intensify. They will be trying to frighten us and to break us more and more.”
Sasha’s case is not an exception. The security forces are persecuting many people who have protested the war by replacing price tags.
As of April 7, four days before Sasha Skochilenko’s arrest, twenty-one criminal cases had been launched nationwide on suspicions of spreading “fake news about the Russian army,” wrote human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov. Almost all of the cases involve publishing “knowingly false information” on the internet—with the exception of five cases, and only one of those cases also involves distributing flyers in a store.
Despite increased pressure, Russians continue to replace price tags with anti-war messages. This “quiet protest” is considered an easy way to convey the truth about what is happening in Ukraine to people living in a different “information bubble.”
Replacing price tags in stores became a popular form of protest after the campaign was announced by Feminist Anti-War Resistance, a movement of Russian feminists that came to life in February 2022 in response to the war. But the movement recognizes that protesting can be dangerous.
“The police have increasingly been tracking down people involved in various types of anti-war protest,” a spokeswoman for Feminist Anti-War Resistance told Bumaga. “To date, we know that one of our participants, who put anti-war slogans on price tags, was tracked down through the card she used to pay in the store.”
The movement says that they have not been in contact with Skochilenko—or, perhaps, do not know that they have had contact with her, since they communicate with many members of the movement anonymously. But they expressed their support for the artist: “We believe that Sasha should be released immediately, and the case against her should be closed and all charges dropped.”
“Today, anti-war price tags are one of the most common forms of protest, along with posting stickers and flyers in public places,” the spokeswoman said. “Unfortunately, no forms of anti-war protest are absolutely safe in Russia today. We believe it is important to emphasize this regularly and encourage everyone to pay special attention to safety rules and to take potential risks into account.”
Two days after the hearing, Sasha Skochilenko is still in the temporary detention facility. In the evening, she is supposed to be taken to the pretrial detention center. She delivered a message through her lawyer, saying that she was doing well and was grateful for people’s support.
The wardens at the temporary detention facility promised to provide Sasha with a gluten-free diet and, according to her lawyer, they have kept their promise. A request to meet her dietary needs has also been sent to the pretrial detention center. At the same time, Sasha’s girlfriend has been summoned to the Investigative Committee for questioning.
Source: Bumaga, 15 April 2022. Translated by Christopher Damon, Zhenia Dubrova, Savannah Eller, Emily Hester, Marta Hulievska, Kirill Lanski, Jasmine Li, Milla McCaghren, and Andres Meraz. Thanks to Victoria Somoff for her assistance and the Fabulous AM for her abiding support of this project. ||| TRR
Since the war in Ukraine broke out, protesters have set fire to military enlistment offices in several regions of Russia. The media has reported at least five such incidents. The people detained in these cases told police that they were trying to disrupt the spring recruitment campaign.
On February 28, a 21-year-old local resident set fire to the military enlistment office in Lukhovitsy, Moscow Region, to protest the war’s outbreak. After he was detained, he said that he wanted to destroy the archive containing the personal files of conscripts in order to prevent mobilization. Two weeks later, he escaped from the police station.
In March, military enlistment offices caught fire in Voronezh, Sverdlovsk Region, and Ivanovo Region. In all cases, local residents threw Molotov cocktails in the windows of these offices. The young men who started the fires in the Sverdlovsk and Ivanovo regions were detained. Both of them explained their actions by saying that they wanted to disrupt the draft campaign amid the hostilities in Ukraine. Moreover, persons unknown had scrawled anti-war appeals on local government buildings and shops in several towns in the Ivanovo Region before the blaze.
In April, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the military enlistment office in the village of Zubova Polyana in Mordovia. In this case, the protesters achieved their goal: the recruitment campaign was stopped. The rooms in the office where the data of conscripts were stored caught on fire.
The spring draft in Russia began on April 1 and will end on July 15. 134,500 young men are scheduled to be drafted into the army.
The Russian authorities have repeatedly claimed that conscripted soldiers will not be sent to fight in Ukraine. However, on March 9, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged for the first time that conscripts were fighting in Ukraine, and reported that several conscript soldiers had been captured.
On February 24, university student Anastasia Levashova threw a Molotov cocktail at an antiwar rally in Moscow. The court sentenced her to two years in prison for violating Article 318.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, which criminalizes the use of violence against authorities.
Valery Yakovlev, a 64-year-old children’s sports coach in the village of Onokhoy, in the Republic of Buryatia, spoke out against the special operation in Ukraine and twice tore down a “Z” sign from the entrance of the village’s sports school. His explanation for why he did this was recorded by the school’s doorkeeper on a dictaphone, and the recording was later handed over to the police. For publicly discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation, the court fined the Coach Yakovlev 90 thousand rubles [approx. 1,030 euros].
Valery Yakovlev is a USSR master of sports in classical archery. He has been a winner of individual events and an overall champion at republic-wide archery competitions. Having worked as a coach for twenty-two years, he has trained numerous champions, masters of sports, and candidates for master of sports.
For many years he was a successful businessman: he had his own store in the village. Later, he bought twenty hectares of land and became a successful farmer.
In adulthood, he fulfilled a childhood dream by building a glider and flying it. He is fond of sailing, paints pictures, and studies Spanish. He plays the synthesizer. He has four adult children, as well as grandchildren.
On March 23, a flash mob entitled “Za nashikh” [“For our lads”] was held in Onokhoy. In its wake, a Latin letter Z was pasted on the entrance to the children’s sports school. When Coach Yakovlev saw the sign, he tore it down. But the next day the letter appeared on the door again.
So I tore it off again [says Valery Yakovlev]. On the third day, when I came to practice, the doorkeeper didn’t want to give me the keys to my room. She said she’d been forbidden to give them to me. I think that was their way of provoking me. I snapped. I yelled, “Is this because I tore down the letter?! Did anyone ask you, me, or the children whether we wanted this letter on the door? Who gave you the right to hang it up there on my behalf?! Do you want bombs falling on your heads? Or your children’s heads? Why are you acting like sheep? So, now if I’m against the war, I can’t be given the keys?!” I don’t remember it verbatim anymore, but I said something like that. The whole thing was recorded on a dictaphone and turned over to the police.
I was later summoned to the police station. They kept me there until half past eleven. And the next day they interrogated me for another four hours. Some police boss showed up who started scanning me, checking me out. They asked me what ethnicity I was. The next day, a lieutenant colonel arrived and started scanning me too. It was unpleasant, frankly speaking. I had the feeling that they were digging hard for one specific word, figuring out what my associations were with the Z, so that later they could they tie it in with the army. I felt that they wanted to pin me with this fifteen-year article [i.e., the new article in the Russian criminal code that makes “discrediting” the Russian army punishable by a maximum of fifteen years in prison]. But I argued that there was nothing political about what I did. I just didn’t want the children to get mixed up with that sign. It gives off dangerous vibes.
I told the police that I don’t like the armed forces, I don’t like marching, I don’t like military uniforms. There are people who have this point of view. There is no such sign on the art center. There is no such sign on the comprehensive and music school, there is no such sign on the recreation center or the kindergarten. There’s not even one on the village administration building! But there is a sign like that on the children’s sports school! Why? I run the archery section. I teach kids to shoot. It’s shooting! But I don’t want them to apply their knowledge. What’s not clear about that? I don’t like that letter. And yes, it reminds me of something.
What is the total amount of the fine that the Zaigrayevo District Court imposed on you?
I was tried on three charges at once. The first two were for tearing off the sticker [with the letter Z]. The third was for what I said on tape. On April 5, the Zaigrayevo District Court of Buryatia found me guilty of violating Part 1 of Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.3.3, “Public actions aimed at discrediting the deployment of the Russian Federal Armed Forces.” I was ordered to pay 30 thousand rubles for each of the violations. The total amount of the fine was 90 thousand rubles. I was given two months to pay the fines.
After the verdict was announced, I only said, “But at least I won’t be ashamed in front of the children!”
Could you afford, on your salary, to pay off this amount so quickly?
My salary at the school is 18 thousand rubles a month [approx. 205 euros], and I have a pension of 9 thousand rubles a month as a working pensioner. Of course, it was unpleasant. I thought that I would have to sell my outboard motorboat. Or that I would have to give up my entire salary every month and live for the time being on my pension alone. Since I have a lot of potatoes in the basement, I would have survived.
But my children took pictures of the charge sheet and announced a fundraiser on the internet. Apparently, they circulated it on some messenger services. The donations came to me, along with the messages. I can’t read them without crying, I immediately get a lump in my throat. Some of the messages are brief: “For the fine,” “For the fine to the ghouls,” “For justice,” “Hang in there, bro!” Others are longer: “Accept this donation with my respect and gratitude,” “You are not alone, thank you for your courage and honor,” “All the best to you, normal people are on your side!”, “You are right, thank you,” “Valery, you are a hero of our time,” “Conscience is your main thing,” “Thank you, you are a role model,” “Thank you for peace — no war.”
There was not a single negative comment. People sent messages from different cities around the country. That is the most important thing.
As my children tell me, the comments about the doorkeeper were by no means unsparing in all cases. But I haven’t seen them myself, I’m not on social media.
We ended up raising 200 thousand rubles [approx. 2,300 euros] in two days instead of 90 thousand. I gave the surplus to charity and asked people to stop sending money.
Has the village’s attitude towards you changed?
Some people say “Hello, Valery Anatolyevich” when they meet me, as usual. But others walk by me like they don’t know me. But, apparently, these people were not close to me before. I see surprise in some people’s eyes, like they didn’t know I was that kind of person.
A lot of soldiers from Buryatia have been dying in this war. Is this discussed in your village?
Do you think that people even know this? They don’t know. There is no such information in the public domain. I once went up to a father of two sons of draft age. They are about to be summoned to the military enlistment office. I said to him, “Listen, your sons may be taken away from you, they may be killed. What do you think of that as a father?” He replied, “Well, that means it was fate.” I almost fell over. Another father had a different reaction. He said, “I’d rather go with [my son] and rob a store so that we could go to prison together. He will always be my son, whether he’s a criminal or anything else.” Those are the opinions people have.
I saw on the internet the [internal] passport of a man whose body had been found on the battlefield. He had the same last name as people I knew from a neighboring village. I wanted to call them and ask whether he was their relative. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Later, I found out that yes, it was their relative.
I don’t know what to think about this… I can’t talk. Everything inside me hurts! (He cries – Siber.Realii.)
Sometimes you start talking to people, and the person responds by talking at you like the TV. Everything is immediately clear. I ask whether they’ve been watching TV. There’s no one to talk to anymore except old acquaintances. I’m irritated by human stupidity and people’s unwillingness to try and understand anything, their inability to be independent in their judgments.
Where do you get your information from?
I used to listen to Echo of Moscow, but now it’s gone. There are twenty channels on the TV in Onokhoy, but there is nothing to watch. I rarely turn it on. I even have my own personal rating of channels in terms of mendaciousness: Zvezda, TV Centre, and so on. I also have my own ratings for TV presenters. I regard them as frontline soldiers. They do tremendous work, trying to condemn millions of people to death.
I’m not involved in politics, and I don’t trust anyone. First I compare and analyze the information. I use the internet and YouTube. I look for the experts, in both politics and economics. By the way, judging by the forecasts of the latter, we are in for rough times. I have land, several hectares, that I’ve been working for many years. I bought more seeds and potatoes just in case. I have to at least cover my costs as a farmer — diesel fuel, tractor repairs, and dog food.
Can we say that the story with the stickers and the audio recording has come to an end?
Now I am being asked to make a statement in the media saying that I made a mistake, and that the western media blew things out of proportion. They even gave me a sample text written in advance. I don’t know what to do yet. After all, I don’t want to lose my job working with children. I love my job.
Why do you think what has happened to Russia happened?
There should be turnover in the country’s leadership. Eight years and two terms should be the maximum in office, no matter how good a president is. This should be the case in any country to prevent dictatorship and corruption.
Now, after some time has passed, do you not regret that you tore down that letter Z and got into so much trouble for it?
When I saw that sign, I thought for only half a second. Later, I pondered why I did it. I thought for a long time and this is what I discovered: when I was in grades four, five and six, I hated Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov. At the time, I didn’t know why I hated them. [They were] “enemies of the people” and “traitors.” But many years later, after I had read almost all of Solzhenitsyn’s works, when I found out who Sakharov was… My God, how they hammered that stupidity and rubbish into our heads! I don’t want it to happen again. That’s all.
Source: Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL), 18 April 2022.Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader. Earlier today, Reuters published a revealing portrait of another brave Russian teacher who resisted his country’s wartime plunge into fascism and also paid the price.
The crackdown against Russians who oppose the war with Ukraine continues. Two new articles in the administrative offenses code and the criminal code — Articles 20.3.3 and 280.3, i.e., making it a crime to “discredit the Armed Forces” — have been specially adopted to punish those who call the war a war. But they have been enforced by the courts and the security forces in a such a way that grounds can be found in anything — a placard reading “Fascism will not pass,” a placard containing an anti-war quote by Putin’s, leaflets containing the biblical commandment [“Thou shalt not kill”], asterisks instead of letters, the inscription “Two words” [i.e., “No war”] — for detaining and charging someone. Police in Nizhny Novgorod did not like placards that read “Mariupol. We remember, we grieve” and “Give birth yourself!”
A photo of a young woman holding a placard featuring a man in black cradling a bomb and the slogan “Give birth yourself!” gained fame far beyond Nizhny Novgorod in March. The woman in the photo was the school teacher and feminist Maria Petrovskaya. She had not been involved in public protests before. According to her, the war was her turning point.
“There is a certain last straw,” says Petrovskaya. “All my friends were on Bolotnaya Square, and then on Sakharov Avenue. [This is a reference to the “fair elections” protests in Moscow in 2012.] I endorsed their stance and supported them emotionally, and it was around that time that I began to get a little interested in politics. And yet, as long as it was about the pro-Putin clique’s political, territorial (e.g., Crimea), and financial ambitions, I was not so deeply worried about it. But war destroys and takes the lives of people on both sides. When it comes to the suffering of people, I can’t stand on the sidelines.”
The court hearing on the “Give birth yourself!” protest is still to be held, but the police charged Petrovskaya not with violating Article 20.3.3, but with the more familiar Article 20.2.5, i.e., “involvement in an unauthorized protest rally.” Law enforcement officers decided that Ilya Myaskovsky, who photographed Petrovskaya, was a full-fledged participant in the picket, which meant that it was no longer a solo picket, but a “mass” protest.
But last week, the Sormovo District Court in Nizhny Novgorod fined Petrovskaya and Myaskovsky for their involvement in another protest, in memory of the victims of Mariupol, under Article 20.3.3. Petrovskaya says that, as in the case of the “Give birth yourself!” protest, it was entirely a feminist protest that Myaskovsky had nothing to do with. He only photographed a homemade cross made of branches on which the message “5,000 killed. Mariupol. We remember, we grieve” had been hung.
After the police took Petrovskaya to the precinct, Myaskovsky followed her in a jitney.
“For over an hour [Myaskovsky] hovered outside the doors to the police station, waiting for me. In the end, the inspector who was writing me up dragged him into the station as well. ‘To talk,’ as he said. Meaning that Ilya might not have been charged if he hadn’t chivalrously followed me.”
Petrovskaya and Myaskovsky were charged with “discrediting the Armed Forces.” But Sergei Kulikov, a lawyer from the Visor Project who represented them, says that in court even the policeman who wrote out the arrest sheet could not immediately explain how Kulikov’s clients had discredited the Armed Forces.
“‘Can we say exactly who this text targets?’ I asked the police officer [in court]. ‘No,’ he says. ‘Does this text contain a negative appraisal of the authorities?’ I asked him. ‘No,’ he says. Well, okay, I thought, let’s take the bull by the horns. ‘Does this text discredit the Armed Forces in any way?’ I asked him, and he repled, ‘No!” The police officer later realized that he had made a mistake, and asked to testify at the very end [of the hearing]. He said that in the context of everything that was happening, it discredited [the Armed Forces], of course! Who else was it about?” recalls Kulikov.
Both activists were fined: Myaskovsky, 30 thousand rubles [approx. 324 euros], and Petrovskaya, half that amount. The lawyer presented the court with written proof of Petrovskaya’s low salary at the remedial school where she teaches, and the judge decided to show leniency.
People at Petrovskaya’s workplace do not approve of her activism.
“After the “Give birth yourself!” placard went so vividly public, I was horrified to find that almost all my colleagues supported the war and had a positive take on what Putin was doing. They thought I was a disgrace to the school. The head teacher told me that her colleagues had been calling her all weekend, consoling her and asking her how I could have done such a thing. I was given a very long dressing-down, and so was the director, although he is already an elderly man. Everyone told me that I was throwing him and the [regional] education ministry under the bus, although it’s hard to see how I could have done that,” recounts Petrovskaya.
Kulikov argues that the police’s lack of preparedness helped his client avoid the charge of “discrediting the Armed Forces” in this case.
“They probably had not yet been instructed what to do with this article. They have been instructed now. I know this for sure because there are two cases in which even pro-government picketers have been charged under this article. So, I think our policemen are performance artists, too. They have been given an absurd tool, and they are raising the absurdity to the next level! It’s more like the law enforcement that the Soviet authorities practiced after the Revolution: ‘revolutionary legal awareness’!” says the lawyer.
“If they fined people who held up a blank piece of paper or a placard with three asterisks followed by five asterisks [thus suggesting the Russian phrase Net voine (‘no war’), which consists of a three-letter world and a five-letter word]… Or, for example, I saw an image of three bears and five bears drawn by a female artist, and she was fined, too. Toy bears in memory of dead children: yes, that discredits the army, of course,” says Petrovskaya.
Last week, city hall announced a competitive review of Nizhny Novgorod’s bomb shelters. The purpose of the review is to maintain the shelters “in constant readiness so that they can be used for their intended purpose.”
Source: Alexander Lugov, Radio Svoboda, 11 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader