“Focus”: The Lesson of Shiyes

Dmitry Sekushin. Photo courtesy of 7×7

Hi!

This is the 7×7 team on the line. This newsletter has been written by Oleg Gradov. What inspired the environmental protests at Shiyes and why there is no mass protest nowadays is the subject of our newsletter today.

Approximate reading time: 4 minutes.

I’m sorry if you’re from Moscow and our headline hurts your feelings. No one will be scolding the residents of the capital in this newsletter. The quote “Moscow lost its fucking mind” refers only to the leadership of that city and our country, but we will talk more about this later.

One of the few successful cases of protest in Russia’s recent history is Shiyes. In 2018, the authorities decided to construct a landfill in the Arkhangelsk Region to dispose of the waste produced by residents of the Russian capital. The locals did not like it, they started holding protest rallies, and eventually the landfill project was canceled. For this newsletter, I spoke with Dmitry Sekushin, one of the participants and coordinators of the Shiyes protest movement. Marina Feldt, an ex-staffer with the Navalny organization in Arkhangelsk, spontaneously joined our conversation.

What is Shiyes?

Shiyes is a small railway station in the southeast of the Arkhangelsk Region on the border with the Komi Republic. Protests against the landfill took place between 2018 and 2021. The protests at Shies were heavily supported by residents of the Arkhangelsk Region: [according to a poll by the Levada Center] 95% were opposed to the landfill, while 25% were willing to attend unsanctioned protest rallies. The activists were supported by both Russian and foreign journalists, as well as by residents of thirty Russian regions who were concerned about environmental problems and held protests in their own cities.

“The metropole does what it wants”

Where does such support for a regional protest come from? “The landfill itself would have made only a few people want to fight back,” says Dmitry Sekushin. “You have to understand how people feel about this. In our case, it was the feeling that we are a colony, and the metropole does what it wants with us. The idea that Moscow had lost its fucking mind united people.”

Realizing that you were part of a whole, not a splinter, was an important piece in the protests at Shiyes. People were aware of their responsibility for their native land and were proud of their background. “If someone in 2017 in Arkhangelsk had said that he was a Pomor, people would have thought that he was a freak. But in 2019, everyone was already proud to call themselves Pomors. This does not mean that we want to see Pomorye separated from Russia. It was just a unifying factor,” says Dmitry.

People can unite without becoming a homogeneous mass. The protests at Shiyes were environmental, not political: the activists’ demands had to with the basic human right to a decent environment. “One shouldn’t see the mass of protesters who defended Shiyes as ants,” Dmitry says on this score. “They were completely different people. I don’t see anything surprising about the fact that many of the protesters turned out to be fascists [i.e., they now support the war or are involved in it — 7×7]. They were like that in the first place.”

The goal makes all the difference

An achievable goal defines the methods of protest. “We had a goal — getting the [Shiyes landfill] project canceled. Not overthrowing Putin, not overthrowing Orlov, our [regional] governor. The goal was to shut down the project,” Sekushin emphasizes. Politicizing the protests at Shiyes could have a negative impact on the movement.

However, every day the activists were approached by people who argued that they were “protesting the wrong way.” “Some were dissatisfied with the fact that we did not talk about politics and did not chew out Putin,” says Sekushin.

To preserve the environmental component of the protests, Dmitry had to partly abandon media publicity from the opposition. “In the first few months of our protest, around December 2018, I wrote to Leonid Volkov asking Navalny not to say anything about Shiyes. I understood that the authorities would hold Navalny against us,” he says.

If you hang out on VK, you’ll go down on criminal charges

The activists used social networks to unite the protesters: they ran accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as a group page on VK. In Russia’s regions, VK remains one of the primary social networks even now, despite all the security risks. “We used VKontakte for contact with the outside world. It is wildly popular in the Arkhangelsk Region — 85-90% of social media users are on it. But for internal matters, we used only Telegram, which is a more secure network,” says Sekushin.

Nowadays, many activists do not trust Telegram, preferring instead such open-source messaging apps as Signal and Element.

Why are there no mass protests now?

Whereas, during peacetime, activists tried to separate environmental protests from political protests, it is almost impossible to do so now. On 26 February 2022, the Pechora Rescue Committee published a post on its VK group page demanding an end to the hostilities. “Protecting social, environmental and other human and civil rights is impossible in conditions of war,” the activists wrote in their statement. Movements that were originally focused on the environment began to make political demands, and the environmental protest movement was politicized.

Fewer people showed up for the anti-war rallies in 2022 than for the [2021] rallies in support of Alexei Navalny. Dmitry argues that the reason for people’s passive behavior is fear.

“Last year there were no mass protests in Russia because people are afraid,” he says. “Because they’ve learned to be helpless. This is the result of the yearslong destruction of critical thinking and political competition, and the yearslong implicit social contract [between the Putin regime and the Russian people]: ‘You don’t meddle in politics, and we don’t interfere with your lives.’ This agreement is no longer valid, but it’s too late to change anything.”

At this point, Marina Feldt, an ex-staffer at the Navalny organization’s office in Arkhangelsk, joins my conversation with Dmitry. She argues that people in Russia support the war because it gives them positive emotions.

“The main idea of the protests at Shiyes was ‘Moscow is fucked in the head,'” she says. “This is the idea of disconnection: there is Moscow, and and then there is us — Pomorye. But the war in Ukraine is driven by the idea of unification. People in the regions often lack a sense of involvement with the rest of Russia; it seems to them that that they are unwanted. But this war is where people can feel needed by their Motherland. The government has humiliated people so much that now they can rejoice in something that would not be considered decent under normal circumstances.”

Dmitry Sekushin argues that any country can be brought to such a state: “If you propagandized a European country like this for twenty-two years, it too would become fascist.”

If you like this newsletter, subscribe to my Telegram channel.

Source:  Oleg Ogradov, “The idea that Moscow had lost its fucking mind united people,” Focus (an email newsletter produced by the online regional news and analysis magazine 7×7), 28 January 2023. Translated by Thomas Campbell

Agronom Yurri: Songs of Chuvash People from Siberia

90th release from Antonovka Records

Chuvash villages appeared in Russia’s Irkutsk Province during the Stolypin agrarian reforms at the beginning of the 20th century. Later, many Chuvash went there immediately after World War II. The songs on the album are mainly from the latter period.

Kukkuk Ensemble (“Cuckoo” in Chuvash, tracks 1-9) was formed in the village of Tagna in the Zalarinsky Dstrict. Its members range in age from 22 to 56.

Upper photo on the album cover, from left to right:
1. Marina Matveeva (leader)
2. Tatyana Vinogradova
3. Anastasia Vinogradova
4. Elena Avramenko
5. Olga Smirnova
6. Elena Dasheeva

The members of the duo The Belkovy Sisters (tracks 10-17) were born in the village of Uspensky-3 in the neighboring Ziminsky District. The duo is named after their mother’s maiden name. Nadezhda now lives nearby in the village of Maslyanogorsk, while Veronika lives in the city of Irkutsk. Nadezhda is a teacher of the Chuvash language, while Veronika is the chair of the Chuvash national cultural organization Yultash.

Part of the sisters’ repertoire (tracks 10, 14, 15) consists of popular Russian folk songs translated into Chuvash. The “Young Agronomist Song” was translated locally in Siberia and is a hallmark of the duo.

Lower photo on the album cover, from left to right:
1. Nadezhda Fidikova
2. Veronika Timofeeva

Recorded on July 9, 2022, in the House of Culture of the Village of Srednepikhtinsky, Zalarinsky District, Irkutsk Region, Russia.

Thanks to Veronika and all the performers, as well as Elena Ludwig, Lyudmila Gerda, and Natalia Dmitrieva.

Source: Antonovka Records (Facebook), 22 January 2023. The liner notes, above, have been edited slightly for clarity’s sake.

What Mobilization Has Done to the Sverdlovsk Region

The Sverdlovsk Region is one of the leading Russian regions in terms of the number of casualties among mobilized men. Many of them perished in the Kherson Region, from whose capital Russian army retreated after eight months of occupation. Relatives of the mobilized men said that, despite the fact that the authorities promised not to send untrained soldiers to the front line, their loved ones were killed a week after they were drafted. Some were killed literally within a few days. Despite this, the mothers, wives and children of the mobilized men support the war and thank Putin. Our film explains why.

00:00 Sverdlovsk Region is among the leaders in numbers of mobilized men killed 01:15 “They were quickly dispatched to the Kherson Region” 04:57 A man who had four children was taken away 08:43 How a father went to fight instead of his conscript son 13:10 “We had a funeral, but we didn’t see who we were burying” 14:55 What relatives of dead draftees receive 16:40 The mobilization’s end result

Source: “The Mobilization’s Aftermath: What the War Has Done to Russia,” iStories (YouTube), 14 January 2023 (in Russian, with Russian closed captions).


Alexei Rozhkov responded with Molotov cocktails to the decision by the Russian authorities to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. On March 11, he set fire to a military enlistment office in the suburbs of Yekaterinburg. He was detained the same day and charged with “attempted murder”: allegedly, there had been a watchman in the building at the time. The young man faced up to fifteen years in prison.

Alexei was held in a pretrial detention center for six months. The charges were then unexpectedly reduced to a less serious crime — “property damage” — and the insurgent was released on his own recognizance. After a time, thanks to the support of a human rights organization, Rozhkov left Russia, and we were able to speak to him.

Tell me what you did before February 24. Did you have a job? Any hobbies? Were you interested in politics?

Rozhkov: I lived in the city of Beryozovsky, a suburb of Yekaterinburg with a population of about 100 thousand. Yekaterinburg itself can be reached by bus in twenty or thirty minutes. I worked as a sales consultant at a DNS store.

I was fond of music — I’m a guitarist, a bassist. About six years ago, I had a band, Tell Me the Reason. I started recording a solo album [before February 24], which is still not finished due to the war, having to moving around, and being in prison.

I love dynamic, energetic music: it invigorates me, helps me get out of depression, and gets me warmed up and excited.

I have been interested in politics since I was fourteen. [Alexei is now twenty-five.] My views have changed over time. Previously, they were more democratic or something, more legal. Now I can call myself a left-wing anarchist. I have always campaigned to open people’s eyes and make them see what is happening with the country — for example, with the standard of living. I talked to my family and acquaintances, friends and even strangers. I drew leaflets and spray-painted walls. Do you know those big advertising banners? At night, I would climb up and write “Putin is a thief” on them. At the time, he was merely a thief. But now, of course, he is not just a thief but also a murderer. I wrote on such billboards at night so that people would also start asking questions and arrive at the same opinion.

Tell me why you decided to set fire to the military enlistment office. What did you hope to achieve?

Rozhkov: Since February 22, I had been closely following independent media and social media channels. I expected the war to start in the last week of month, because Russian troops were amassed in Belgorod, Belarus, and other border areas. It was obvious that some kind of movement of troops would begin. And it kicked off on February 24. I began to go into a depression. I was constantly flipping channels and reading the news. I was getting worse every day. I just understood that it was impossible to remain indifferent. What is happening now is illegitimate; it is illegal. Any war means death for ordinary folks. A war in the twenty-first century seems somehow alien to me, especially for such ridiculous, made-up reasons. We annexed Crimea in 2014, and I said already back then that it was wrong. Crimea is not ours and will never be ours. I said there would be consequences. And that’s how it turned out.

It is really awful for me to get my head around the fact that people are getting killed — civilians are dying, and those who do not want to fight, but have been drafted, are also getting killed. I wanted to make some kind of appeal for people to start fighting against this war. I wanted to impact the situation, to do something to stop it all or at least weaken [Russian troops]. So, I set fire to the military enlistment office in the city of Beryozovsky. I didn’t try to burn it down. I threw three Molotov cocktails at the glass doors, which broke. I didn’t even expect them to shatter. Actually, I was thinking that I would just set fire to the door, to the entrance. I was unlucky: at that moment, traffic cops were driving past and noticed what I did. [They] put out the fire, and then they followed me. I couldn’t get far. I ran about a kilometer, and I was blinded by the high beam from their vehicle. I tried to get out of there, to run away, but they threatened to shoot me, and I was forced to surrender.

Tell me how you prepared for this. How spontaneous was this protest?

Rozhkov: It happened quite spontaneously. I didn’t even develop an exit plan and was operating in unfamiliar territory. It seemed to me like some kind of self-sacrifice. I perfectly imagined that I would be held [criminally] liable for this, but I had no fear.

After my protest action was carried out, Putin admitted on Channel One that conscript soldiers had been deployed to the military special operation zone, and [said] that they would be withdrawn from there and that those who had sent them would be punished. It was after my arson attempt that he said this. I was the third person in Russia to set fire to a military enlistment office, and this is [an example of how] several people made an impact to save guys like us, guys our same age. [Conscripts] were not killed in the war. None [of them] were killed: they were simply transferred back to Russia, leaving only contract soldiers [in the war zone].

So you think that the arsons of military enlistment offices also influenced this decision by the authorities?

Rozhkov: Yes, I think so. I’m certain of it.

How did you feel while you were in police custody? Was there any pressure from the investigative authorities? What actually happened after you were detained?

Rozhkov: I was detained, handcuffed, searched, thrown into a paddy wagon, and taken to the police station. I was treated pretty badly at the station. The police chief of the city of Beryozovsky threatened me personally that he would piss on me and beat me with a stick — those were literally his words. But there were also decent people [among the police officers] who did not threaten me and talked to me calmly. They supported me so that I would not go into complete shock.

At Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Yekaterinburg, I was quarantined at first. They didn’t issue me bed linens, they didn’t give me a pillow or a blanket — they only gave me a pissed-stained mattress. Thank God I didn’t spend much time there. On the fourth day, the head doctor of the psychiatric ward summoned me. Since I have some ailments, she put herself in my shoes and I was transferred to the hospital wing, to the “psycho hut.” Basically, I liked it there. Despite the fact that some people in my cell were wacky, I had almost no conflicts with them. It wasn’t the first time my cellmates had been in prison. I was the only first-timer.

[In the pretrial detention center] they gave me very strong drugs, which made me feel lousy. One of those drugs was risperidone, which is prescribed to schizophrenics. I was given a triple dose. I suffered from restlessness [akathisia], I had panic attacks, I was short of breath and suffered from insomnia. That is, the treatment wasn’t right for me. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I was sent there, and not to gen pop.

I was a “road worker” [the person in a prison cell or block responsible for the “road,” the illegal system of communication among cells] — they respected me and listened to my opinion. Basically, everything was fine while I was in the joint. The prison staff were mostly supportive: you could talk to them a little bit during inspections or when the gruel was served.

During the period of my imprisonment, I was taken for an inpatient mental competency examination to the psychiatric hospital on the Siberian Route [i.e., Sverdlovsk Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital]. I stayed there for twenty-one days. There, on the contrary, the prison staff behaved aggressively and tried to provoke many people, including me, into conflict.

Those who succumbed to provocations were tasered and locked up in solitary confinement. The worst, most deranged prison staff, I believe, were in the tenth ward of the psychiatric regional hospital on the Siberian Route.

Did anyone support you while you were in prison, such as relatives, friends, or maybe human rights campaigners?

Rozhkov: When I was in the pretrial detention center, a lawyer from the Anarchist Back Cross came to visit me and offered their help. They also asked whether I wanted to receive letters, [financial?] assistance, care packages, and publicity for my case. I turned down the assistance and publicity, but decided that it would be nice to get letters from concerned folks who help people like us who are in prison. The letters really gave me a boost. My parents and concerned people from Yekaterinburg helped me by bringing me care packages. I won’t name names, but they helped me and are still helping me.

Why did you decide to turn down the assistance from the Anarchist Black Cross?

Rozhkov: Because I gave into the persuasions of my parents and lawyer. They were against my case being [widely] publicized — allegedly, so as to avoid hounding the investigator in my case. They were afraid that he would toughen the punishment if I attracted public attention. So, due to pressure from [my parents and lawyer], I had to turn down this help.

And yet, when you were in the pretrial detention center, as far as I remember, you were facing the rather harsh charge of attempted murder, right?

Rozhkov: Yes, I had been charged with violating Article 105, part two, in combination with Article 30 — “attempted murder, committed with extreme cruelty, from hooligan motives, in a generally dangerous way.” The crime carries a sentence of between eight years to life in prison.

Do you think that someone’s life was actually threatened as a result of what you did?

Rozhkov: I’m absolutely sure that this wasn’t the case. I doubt that there actually was a woman [night watchperson] of some kind in the military enlistment office building. According to the testimony of the policemen who detained me, who helped extinguish the fire, there were no lights turned anywhere on the premises, and they did not see this woman either. So, I doubt that she was there. In addition, in other such cases — I monitored similar cases — no one was charged under the same article of the criminal code as me. There were no guards there.

When you were released on your own recognizance, you didn’t leave the country immediately. What was holding you back?

Rozhkov: I was promised that the charges against me would be light: Article 167 in combination with Article 30, which translates into “attempted destruction of property,” and carries a maximum sentence of five years. But, after looking at the other cases, I realized that sooner or later, Article 205 [“terrorism”] would be rolled out against all of us.

I also wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family, with relatives and friends, so that I could at least somehow restore our relations and thank them. But ultimately I left. I was evacuated from the country.

How did your relatives react to your actions and to your prosecution?

Rozhkov: They said that I had acted stupidly, that it was impossible to go against the system and that I had let everyone else down. They accused me of suffering from a guilt complex. But I believe that I saved people and that my life is a small sacrifice compared to the number of people who survived thanks to what I did. Even if I had been shot when they were detaining me, I would still have achieved more than anyone else.

How are you feeling right now?

Rozhkov: I feel sad and lonely. I am not in my native country. But I have a friend — I am lucky that he ended up here for the same political reasons — and he helps and supports me. I am also supported by evacuation organizations. I feel pretty bad. But now I’ve purchased the medications prescribed by a psychotherapist, and things are getting easier and easier in my head every day. But sometimes a powerful sadness rolls over me, a melancholy due to the fact that I am lonely and had to leave the country.

Berezovsky and Sverdlovsk Region, on a map of the Russian Federation. Image courtesy of DOXA

When we were agreeing to do this interview, you said that after you had left [Russia], you tattooed the anarchy symbol on the back of your hand. Can you tell me about it for the interview?

Rozhkov: The symbol means a lot to me. I am an anarchist myself, a leftist; I espouse this political position. And although a society without powerful authorities and hierarchies seems like a utopia, we could get there. Power should belong to the people, not to a bunch of corrupt bastards who commit terrible crimes. My symbol also means that I share the views of the people who helped me when I was in prison. It says that I am close to these people. And that I, in turn, will also help political prisoners at the first opportunity.

Maybe you would like to convey something to Ukrainians?

Rozhkov: Yes, I would. I want them to know that there are dissenters, people [in Russia] who do not want war with Ukraine or any war at all. I hope that soon no one else will suffer due to this shit that Putin has made happen. Ukrainians are doing a good job of retaking their territory and destroying Russian troops. I think everything will be fine sooner or later. Ukrainians are very strong, motivated people and will defend their territory to the end. I respect them for that. I would have done the same thing in their place.

Source: Ivan Astashin, “‘I believe I saved people’: an interview with one of the first to torch a military enlistment office in Russia,” DOXA, 22 December 2022. Thanks to Simon Pirani for the heads-up. Translated by Hecksinductionhour

Khudain Gol: Voices of the Kuda Valley

 
88th release from Antonovka Records
 
Buryats are a native people of the Republic of Buryatia, the Irkutsk region and the Transbaikal region. The Irkutsk Region (Russian: oblast) consists of 32 districts (Russian: rayons), six of which form the Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Area (Russian: okrug) with the capital in the village of Ust-Ordynsky (Ust-Orda). Thus, in the administrative structure, the okrug has an intermediate position between the region and the district. From 1990 to 2008, however, it was a separate subject of the Russian Federation equal in status to a region. In 2008 the status was downgraded.
 
The Khudain Gol (“Kuda Valley” in Buryat) Ensemble was founded in Ust-Orda in 1986. The band performs folk songs of the local Buryats in their own arrangements. The leader is Nina Baldynova, the choirmaster is Bayar Zhambalov.
 
On the album cover photo, from left to right:
1. Irina Yatogurova: vocals
2. Bayar Zhambalov: vocals, chanza (10, 11)
3. Victoria Khakhalova: vocals
4. Nina Baldynova: vocals
5. Andrey Banzaraktsaev: vocals, solo vocals (10)
6. Nina Baldaeva: vocals
7. Elena Barkhunova: vocals
8. Alexander Mantatov: vocals, solo vocals (11)
9. Victoria Mandanova: vocals
10. Albina Makhasoeva: vocals
11. Alexander Tsybenov: vocals
 
The Buryat song titles are written as given by the performers and may differ slightly from the literary version.
 
Recorded on July 18, 2022 at the Ust-Ordynsky House of Culture, Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Area, Irkutsk Region, Russia.
 
Thanks to Irina Molotkova, the ensemble, Lyudmila Gerda, and Natalya Dmitrieva.
 
 
Source: Antonovka Records, Facebook, 8 January 2023
 
 
 

What I Like About Photographs

“’What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.’ 
Karl Lagerfeld, German fashion designer and photographer.”

Source: Dmitry Markov, Facebook, 3 January 2022. I found the original text of the Lagerfeld quotation on Goodreads. ||| TRR


The origins of the town of Vorkuta are associated with Vorkutlag, one of the most notorious forced-labour camps of the Gulag. Vorkutlag was established in 1932 with the start of mining. It was the largest of the Gulag camps in European Russia and served as the administrative centre for a large number of smaller camps and subcamps, among them Kotlas, Pechora, and Izhma (modern Sosnogorsk). The Vorkuta uprising, a major rebellion by the camp inmates, occurred in 1953.

In 1941 Vorkuta and the labour camp system based around it were connected to the rest of the world by a prisoner-built rail line linking Konosha, Kotlas, and the camps of Inta. Town status was granted to Vorkuta on November 26, 1943.

Source: Wikipedia

In Izhevsk

A [billboard] advertising the delivery of “Cargo 200” has gone up in Izhevsk.

It’s a timely service with good prospects.

Source: Andrei Pivovarov, Facebook, 28 December 2022. Earlier this years, Mr. Pivovarov, a well-known Russian opposition politician, was sentenced to four years in prison for “leading an undesirable organization,” i.e., Open Russia.


Prominent opposition politician Ilya Yashin has been transferred to a detention facility some 1,000 kilometers from Moscow even though his sentence must still be approved by an upper court, his lawyer said Tuesday.

A Moscow court sentenced Yashin, 39, to [eight and a half years in a penal colony] earlier in December after he was charged with spreading “false” information about the Russian military for comments he made during a YouTube stream about the civilian massacre carried out by the Russian army in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha this spring.

The Moscow city councilor’s whereabouts were unknown when the city’s prison monitoring commission reported on Monday that Yashin had been moved to “a different region.”

Lawyer Maria Eismont said that Yashin was transferred to a pre-trial detention facility in the city of Izhevsk, the capital of the republic of Udmurtia, some 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow.

Yashin’s prison sentence has not yet taken effect, as an upper court must still reject his appeal and confirm his sentence, which means he must remain in pre-trial detention rather than being sent to a penal colony.

Eismont ironically called Yashin’s transfer an “early New Year’s gift” from the authorities, noting that his mother had been scheduled to visit him in Moscow later this week.

Source: “Jailed Kremlin Critic Yashin Transferred to Prison Outside [sic] Moscow,” Moscow Times, 28 December 2022

Ayhal Ammosov: “Yakutian Punk Against War”

Ayhal Ammosov standing in front of a funeral bureau holding a placard that reads, “The groom has arrived.”  Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Aikhal Ammosov

The Free Yakutia Foundation has published a letter from Ayhal Ammosov, an anti-war activist who disappeared last week. The letter is dated November 22.

Ammosov, who faces criminal charges stemming from his public activism, has not been in touch with friends and family since December 11. They suggest that law enforcement agencies may be involved in his disappearance, Sibir.Realii reports.

In the published letter, the activist writes: “If you are reading this letter, it means that something has happened to me, something really serious. I can’t sit here right now and wonder what could have happened to me in the future, but I think that either I’m missing or I’ve been killed. This was to be expected, because they would not have given me a quiet life, especially in the republic.”

Ammosov goes on to note that he was not going to “stop” in his struggle, and that he has numerous plans.

“They are trying to intimidate us, to shut our mouths. They are trying to break us, but we will not give up, we will endure everything — all these trials, all the persecution, all the tortures and beatings. I believe in myself and in my supporters. I had to do this and I will go all the way to the end,” he writes.

In late August, it was reported that criminal charges had been filed against grassroots activist and leader of the punk band Crispy Newspaper Ayhal Ammosov for publicly discrediting the actions of the Russian army. OVD Info wrote that the charges stemmed from a banner, emblazoned with the slogan “Yakutian punk against war” (in English), which Ammosov attempted to hang on a building in downtown Yakutsk on August 13 — the same day that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin arrived in the city. The musician was also sentenced to fifteen days of administrative arrest for his protest.

On December 13, according to friends of the activist, Ammosov did not appear in the Yakutsk City Court for a hearing in his criminal trial on charges of discrediting the army. In addition, according to the Free Yakutia Foundation, persons unknown had recently been following Ammosov.

Source: “Letter by missing Yakut activist published,” Radio Svoboda, 22 December 2022


Musician and artist Ayhal Ammosov, who was known in Yakutsk before the war as the leader of the punk band Crispy Newspaper, began to regularly stage anti-war protests after Ukraine was invaded. For a few months he managed to hide from the police and Center “E” [the Russian Interior Ministry’s “anti-extremism” police] but ultimately his activism ended with a pile of administrative charges of “discrediting” of the Russian army — and one criminal charge for the selfsame “discrediting.” Mediazona recounts here how concert performances gave way, in Ammosov’s life, first to anti-war leaflets and graffiti and a semi-clandestine existence, and then to endless games of “crabs” in jail and the threat of hard time in prison.

Punk rock has always been marked by its anti-war stance, and the Yakutsk punk scene, one of the most distinctive in Russia, was no exception. In early 2018, the band Crispy Newspaper performed at a concert organized by the label Youth of the North. After taking the stage, a young man with a microphone began to do the pogo while two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer churned out aggressively rhythmic music. When the band stopped playing, the young man made a short introductory speech: “Every day is a war, a war with the society that gave birth to us. We are descendants of slaves, sons of the proletariat, children of incomplete families, freaks, outcasts and rebels. And if we are here, then we have something to say, and if I am destined to drop dead today, I would like to say only one thing: if we’re going to die, let’s do it with music!”

The young man was Ayhal Ammosov: the name in his passport is Igor Ivanov, but he plans to make the pseudonym his official name. Four years later, when Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, this thirty-year-old punk, poet, musician and artist would prove to be one of Yakutia’s most consistent anti-war activists.

Before February 24, he almost never engaged in political activism, except for putting up leaflets criticizing the head of Yakutia, Yegor Borisov and his henchmen, but Ammosov himself recalls those protests as not particularly interesting. His friend Mikhail Pogosov (his name has been changed to protect his identity), who has now left Yakutia, recalls that some time before the invasion they wagered whether there would be a war or not. Ammosov was sure that there would be a war — and won two pizzas.

“People wrote: ‘You can come to my place for the night, then leave in the morning.’ So that’s what I did.”

Ammosov recalls that after the war began, he warned a comrade that he was going to protest, and he replied, “If you can combine it with work, do it.” At the time, Ayhal worked as a barista in a coffee shop.

Crispy Newspaper broke up back in January, so that Ammosov could focus on anti-war activism. His most active period was during the first two months of the war. For example, Ammosov was photographed outside a funeral services bureau holding a placard that read, “The groom has arrived.” (This phrase is uttered by the policeman in Alexei Balabanov’s film Cargo 200 as he dumps the corpse of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan into a bed to which his fiancee is handcuffed.)

Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Ayhal Ammosov’s Instagram page

On another occasion, the activist, who then appeared on Instagram only in a mask covering his face, posed with a placard that read, Kun kihite komuskes. Ayyy kihite ahynygas.

“It means, ‘The man of light is compassionate, merciful. The man of the sun is a defender, a helper.’ The Ayyy are the supreme gods, the light for the Sakha people,” Ammosov explains. “I wanted to remind my people who they are. They should not attack and kill other people or attack foreign countries. The strong must protect the weak.”

Ammosov soon learned from friends that the security forces were looking for him. For example, the police paid a visit to a former Crispy Newspaper guitarist at his workplace, the House of Musicians. The guitarist later told a friend that he was taken to the police department and even threatened with death: the police demanded that he give them Ayhal’s address, phone number or other leads. The young man did not tell them anything — the artist says that they were not in close touch. Besides, Ammosov had already switched to a semi-clandestine existence by that time: he often changed cell phones and slept at the homes of friends or the coffee shop. Later, he would only work one-day temp jobs, for example, clearing roofs of snow.

At night, the activist continued going out to put up leaflets and draw graffiti. Back in March, Center “E” became concerned (as follows from Ammosov’s criminal case file) about the local artist’s anti-war activism, which he talked about on his publicly accessible Instagram page.

As his friend Mikhail recalls, at that time Ayhal was interested in everyone who opposed the Russian government — for example, he was interested in a video featuring [Chechen independence leader] Dzhokhar Dudayev. Mikhail himself also went out at night several times with his friend to put up leaflets.

According to Ammosov, at that time he did not trust close relatives and friends: he was afraid that the security forces could find him. He would only briefly inform his mother that everything was fine.

“Many people in Yakutsk knew me, so I had support: if anything happened, I could turn to them. But it was dangerous, of course,” recalls Ammosov. “I didn’t know whether they would turn me in or set me up. People wrote: ‘You can come to my place, spend the night, have breakfast, and then go [in the morning].’ So that’s what I did.”

“Ayhal led a kind of anonymous lifestyle. No one knew where he worked or lived. He would only mention the district [where he was at the time],” confirms Mikhail.

This went on for about two months. In late April, Ammosov was finally detained while leaving a grocery store.

“Yakutian punk against war” — a raft of administrative charges and one criminal case

Ammosov was held at a police department for “almost a week.” According to the musician, he was threatened while he was in a cell. The police tried to force him to record an apology on video, and did not give him water.

His friend Mikhail adds: “The police in Yakutsk are not particularly fussy. I have been beaten when I was drunk and beaten when I was sober. It’s true, however, that I like to talk about the rights of policemen. They hate everyone equally, locals and nonresidents alike.”

For leafleting, graffiti, and posting photos of [anti-war] placards on Instagram, Ammosov was charged several times with administrative offenses — minor disorderly conduct (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.1.1) and “discrediting” the Russian army (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.3.3.1).

A series of court hearings ensued. On April 27, two administrative cases against Ayhal were tried in the Yakutsk City Court, and three more were tried a day later. For example, the court ruled that a graffito written on a wall, Suoh buollun serii, constituted “discrediting” the army. It translates as “Let there be no war”, and is a line from a song.

“They used to sing it in schools, everyone knows it,” Ammosov explains, perplexed.

By late May, the trials were over. The punk was found guilty on all the charges, and he was fined a little more than 90 thousand rubles. The summer passed relatively calmly. Ammosov tried to earn money to pay off the fines, but he was unsuccessful, managing to amass only half of the amount needed.

For a period of time, Ammosov, along with other concerned residents of Yakutia, helped build a house for Anatoly Chomchoyev, a local nuclear physicist who in May was shot with a trauma pistol and stabbed by men driving a vehicle marked “Russian National Guard.” The Interior Ministry, reporting on the arrest of two suspects, claimed that the men, who were intoxicated, had tried to drive through private land fenced off with a barrier. Chomchoyev had refused to let them through and was assaulted. The ministry did not mention the suspects’ place of work in its press release.

In August, the artist had the idea for the protest of which he is most proud. Later, when interrogated by a police investigator, Ammosov said that he had borrowed a bicycle from a friend to ride around Yakutsk when he noticed the Nugget swimming pool, in the very center of town. He took down an advertising banner he found on the street, and on August 12 asked his girlfriend to videotape him writing the slogan Yakutian punk against war on the back of the banner.

On August 13, two days before Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s arrival in Yakutsk, the punk climbed onto the roof of the swimming pool building. A friend filmed the protest, standing on the opposite side of Taloye, the small lake on whose shore stands the swimming pool building. After hanging the banner, the musician raised his arm in a clenched fist salute and descended the outdoor fire escape. None of the photos or video of the protest has been preserved: the security forces were already waiting for Ammosov and his girlfriend at the bottom of the fire escape and immediately confiscated their phones.

Ammosov was later charged with the criminal offense of repeat “discrediting” of the Russian army (per Article 280.3.1 of the Criminal Code, which states that criminal charges can be filed if a person already has already been charged administratively once in the past year for the same violation.) Ammosov faces up to three years in prison or a fine of 100 to 300 thousand rubles if convicted.

Police investigators examined not only the protest involving the banner at the pool, but Ammosov’s previous anti-war protests as well. The police forensic experts predictably found signs of “discrediting” the army in fairly innocent statements. For example, analyzing the placard featuring the Yakut proverb “the man of the sun is a defender,” the forensic experts concluded that the statement recognizes that “showing pity for Ukrainians suffering onslaught, attack, and encroachment by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and protecting them from the actions of the latter, is true and correct.”

The experts appointed by the investigators also analyzed Ayhal’s gesture at the pool: his right arm raised with his fist clenched. “The Rotfront salute is a call to unite in the fight against fascism, by which the actions of the Russian authorities are meant as the addressee,” they write.

Discussing the phrases “Long live peace” or “No war”, these experts note: “They were often used in Soviet times, but in a different socio-cultural situation.”

Aikhal Ammosov outside the Yakutsk City Court. Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Aikhal Ammosov

However, the forensic experts based their assessment of Ammosov’s slogans and gestures not only on those statements themselves, but also on the report of the musician’s interrogation. On the day of his arrest, Ammosov told an investigator outright that he believed that Russia had invaded Ukraine, that there was not a “special military operation” going on there, but a real war, and that he had wanted to draw people’s attention to this.

A day later, during another interrogation, Ammosov nevertheless noted that the slogan on the banner implied that he was opposed to war in general, not specifically the war in Ukraine. He now admits that he resorted to this trick hoping that he would not be sent to remand prison and would be able to find a lawyer and brainstorm some options for his defense.

A month in jail with “crabs” and men back from Ukraine

Ammosov says that he spent several days in police stations and was transported from one to another. Formally, the activist had been released on his own recognizance, but he was not actually released — the musician was sent to jail for twenty-four hours several times in a row. On August 17, the court jailed him for fifteen days for minor disorderly conduct, followed by two more jail sentences — on September 2, for seven days, and on September 9, for another fifteen days — both times for failing to pay in a timely manner the fines imposed on him (per Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.25) after he was convicted on administrative charges of “discrediting” the army.

Consequently, Ammosov spent over a month under administrative arrest. After being released, Ayhal shared two main impressions that had nothing to do with the disgusting food and the conditions of detention.

First, he was sentenced to his first fifteen days in jail for, allegedly, pasting a “Banned in Sakha” sticker under the picture of a former Crispy Newspaper guitarist on the honor board at the municipal water and sanitation authority, where the musician is now employed. (“Banned in Sakha” is a paraphrase of the title of the song “Banned in D.C.,” by the hardcore punk band Bad Brains.) The police and the court claimed that this was done on August 14, although Ammosov had by that time already been detained for the protest at the swimming pool. The investigator took advantage of this circumstance: while the artist was serving his jail sentence, the investigator petitioned the court to send Ammosov to the pretrial detention center for violating the terms of his release on his own recognizance. The court sided with the activist, who insisted that he could not have pasted the sticker after his arrest. (The court also sided with the girlfriend, with whom, according to the police, Ammosov had pasted the sticker. Although the police asked the Yakutsk City Court to jail her for fifteen days too, the judge only fined her a thousand rubles.)

Second, two men who had been involved in combat in Ukraine were among the anti-war activist’s cellmates. One was an ethnic Russian with the call sign “Temple,” who had served with the Wagner Group. He said that he had been wounded but had not received compensation. The second was an Evenk whose call sign was “Evenk.” He was a veteran of the first Chechen war and a sniper.

“They didn’t say anything bad to me,” Ammosov recalls. “They said, Well, if you’ve done so much for all this, for your beliefs, you’re sitting here in jail, and you haven’t been broken yet, then you rock, man! You just have to understand that Russia is going to win, we’re going to beat the crap out of everyone. This, they said, is a fact. So the fact that you are doing some kind of anti-war shit… there will be wars anyway.”

Ammosov spent his days reading books and playing “crabs” [mandavoshka] — a prison game in which the players roll dice and move figurines around a map. The dice and figurines are fashioned from bread and toothpaste, while the map is drawn on a piece of paper or carved on a table. Care packages were regularly delivered by friends, so Ammosov had instant noodles, fruit and cigarettes, which he would give to his cellmates.

The musician recalls that when he was detained he was wearing shorts, but when he was released, on the morning of September 24, it was snowing, although the snow soon melted. By this time, mobilization for the war with Ukraine had already been announced in Russia.

“I just wanted to speak out, I wanted to do something”

Yakutsk, about which Ammosov had once proudly said that it was a young people’s city with a diverse music scene, seemed deserted to him: “Only old men, young women and ‘Zeders’ are left.” The musician recalls the raids on shopping malls and mentions that his cousin was mobilized.

“I remember that, in the spring, most musicians stopped communicating with me. They were afraid that the FSB and Center ‘E’ guys would try to catch them too. And then, when the mobilization began, they all left for Kazakhstan and from Kazakhstan they began writing fiercely to me and supporting me, as if they had always supported me. I thought, Well, what the fuck,” the Yakut punk says ironically.

Ayhal is no longer involved in anti-war activism. He got a job as an orderly in a care home where he takes care of the elderly and disabled. Only once, according to him, a prosecutor visited him at work to warn him about the inadmissibility of violating the laws on extremism, before taking him to a separate room and advising him “not to get cocky.” Meanwhile, the activist is preparing for his criminal trial, which was supposed to start on November 23 in the Yakutsk City Court, but has been postponed to December 13. He is not planning to plead guilty, but he hopes that he won’t be sent to a penal colony. And he has no regrets.

“I just wanted to speak out, I wanted to do something,” the musician explains. “Well, at the beginning, when the war started, and when I had the court hearings in the spring, people didn’t understand why I was doing it. There was no mobilization back then. But when the mobilization started, everyone was like, ‘Fuck, he was right, we should have done something earlier.'”

Source: Dima Shvets, “Yakutian punk against war: the man behind the placard ‘The groom has arrived’ tried on criminal charges of ‘discrediting’ the army,”Mediazona, 23 November 2022


Dude… this is frickin’ amazing… roaring out of Asia’s northernmost punk scene, Yakutsk (Russia), this phenomenal 70’s/80’s inspired punk band Crispy Newspaper have released a brand new album of solid gold material! You HAVE to check out this band…

Further below check out what the band is like live.

Stay in touch at this link with Youth of North who seem to be a collective/label that releases music from the scene from here.

Source: “Yakutsk Punk Band Crispy Newspaper Release PHENOMENAL Album [Russia],”Unite Asia, 17 October 2020. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for inspiring this entire post by sending me the links to all the articles translated and/or reposted here. This post is dedicated to my little sister K., whose birthday is today. ||| TRR

_________

UPDATE, 9 JANUARY 2022. Various Russian-language media outlets have reported today that Ayhal Ammosov is now safe and sound in Kazakhstan. ||| TRR

Radio Free Vologda: The Case of Vladimir Rumyantsev

Vladimir Rumyantsev, in the cage at Vologda City Court. Image courtesy of BBC Russian Service via SOTA

Vladimir Rumyantsev, a former factory boiler plant stoker from Vologda, has been sentenced to three years in prison. He was found guilty of violating the article [in the Russian criminal code] on disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army. He had his own underground radio station on which he spoke out against the war.

The criminal charges against the 61-year-old man were made public on July 14. The next day, the court remanded him in custody to a pretrial detention center. On December 20, in a hearing at the Vologda City Court, the prosecutor requested that Rumyantsev be sentenced to six years in a penal colony.

The grounds for the criminal case were Rumyantsev’s posts on social media, as well as the fact that the man was spreading information about the war in Ukraine via his amateur radio station.

The podcast Hello, You’re A Foreign Agent, produced by journalists Sonya Groysman and Olga Churakova, described Rumyantsev as a music lover, local amateur historian, and creator of the video blog Vovan Media. The man worked for twenty years as a boiler plant stoker at a local machine tool factory, and after its closure, as a municipal trolleybus conductor.

His underground radio station operated on transmitters purchased on AliExpress. Rumyantsev built it eight years ago and regularly went on the air, mostly playing Soviet hits. After the outbreak of the war, he began to pay more attention to political topics. In the summer, he was the first person in Vologda charged with disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army.

Rumyantsev pleaded not guilty to the charges. It is not known whether his radio station had listeners and how many listeners it did have, according to Groysman’s special report on TV Rain [see below].

The article on dissemination of “fake news” about the military, as prompted by political hatred (Article 207.3.2.d of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), which Rumyantsev was accused of violating, stipulates a maximum punishment of ten years in prison.

Previously, long prison sentences for violating this article were handed down to Alexei Gorinov, a deputy of the Krasnoselsky municipal district in Moscow, and opposition politician Ilya Yashin. They were sentenced to seven years and eight and a half years in prison, respectively.

Source: “Stoker from Vologda sentenced to three years for anti-war radio,” BBC News Russian Service, 22 December 2022. Thanks to MV for the heads-up. Translated by TRR


Vologda boiler plant stoker Vladimir Rumyantsev was found guilty of disseminating “fake news” about the army on the pacifist radio station he created. 61-year-old Rumyantsev faces up to six years in a medium security penal colony. According to the investigation, and now the trial court, Rumyantsev published reposts about the SMO in Ukraine on his VK page, and also broadcast audio reports that the Investigative Committee considers “fake news” about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation at a frequency of 91.7 MHz.

Source: Sotavision (YouTube), 22 December 2022 (in Russian). Annotation translated by TRR


From the very beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Russian authorities have been waging another war — against Russian citizens who do not support the invasion. In the seven months since the laws virtually establishing wartime censorship were adopted, more than four thousand charges have been filed for alleged violations of the law against “discrediting” the army. According to OVD Info, the defendants in these criminal cases are 116 people whose stories usually warrant only a couple of lines in the news. Sonya Groysman’s film is about these people, who despite everything have remained in Russia.

Inside:

00:00 Intro

01:36 The story of Vladimir Rumyantsev’s underground radio station in Vologda

08:12 “We have more than 4,000 court rulings: people are being punished for voicing their opinions”

10:23 Vitaly Gotra: 691,000 rubles in fines for anti-war leaflets

15:44 Actress Galina Borisova: “I painted the slogan ‘No war!’ all over the stairwells”

22:26 Who is being persecuted in Russia for “discrediting the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation” and how

23:40 Zaurbek Zhambekov: two years probation for removing a Z sticker from a car

28:22 Why are so many resources being wasted on persecuting people for their words?

29:02 Sasha Skochilenko: six months in remand prison for anti-war price tags

33:59 Philippenzo: attacked for anti-war art

37:22 How Vitaly Gotra was left without a job for his anti-war position

39:36 How Vladimir Rumyantsev built an underground radio station and broadcast about the war

45:01 “It seems it is considered bad form to talk about the war”

52:55 “Rumyantsev gets too many letters”: how people on the outside support people accused of “spreading fake news”

55:00 “Now everyone is living in fear that a bomb will be planted”

55:43 Galina Borisova: “I will pay the fine using money I set aside for my funeral”

We thank Caucasian Knot and OVD Info for their assistance in making this report.

[…]

Support Sasha Skochilenko: https://skochilenko.ru

Support us by donating to TV Rain: https://tvrain.tv/

Follow the headlines and new episodes of programs on TV Rain’s Telegram channel: https://t.me/tvrain

#partisans#wаr#tvrain

Source: TV Rain (YouTube), 10 October 2022 (in Russian). Annotation translated by TRR

Anna Chagina: “Putin Is a Demon Who Stole My Country”


Anna Chagina at an anti-war protest in Tomsk, 6 March 2022. Photo: Dmitry Kandinsky/vtomske.ru

On the early morning of November 30, the security forces came to the home of Tomsk musician and teacher Anna Chagina: this was how she found out that she been charged with the criminal offense of “discrediting the army.” Chagina had been detained at an anti-war rally on March 6. In September, the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked Chagina’s page on VK over anti-war posts, which have now served as the grounds for the criminal charges against her under Article 280.3.1 of the Criminal Code. The maximum penalty is up to three years in prison.

On December 1, the court imposed pretrial restrictions on Chagina: she was banned from using the internet and mail, leaving home after ten o’clock in the evening, and attending mass events. On the evening of December 1, after the court hearing, Chagina talked to Sibir.Realii’s correspondent about her criminal case and her scenarios for how and when the war would end.

“Gentlemen, this is my house and my rules”

On the eve of the visit from the security forces, Chagina celebrated her birthday, and her guests had left late. She hadn’t sleep half the night because her nineteen-year-old daughter had a fever, and at six a.m. the doorbell rang. Anna opened it and saw an entire brigade: “There were two witnesses, two field officers from the FSB, an investigator, a special forces soldier, and a lawyer.” Only after returning from the temporary detention center, where she had spent the night, did she discover that the peephole in her door had been prudently sealed with a sticker on the stairwell side. At the time, Chagina had been too busy to notice it: she says that fear had made it hard for her to breathe and she was constantly thirsty. The second feeling she had was indignation.

– As soon as they came, I said, “Gentlemen, this is my house and my rules.” I insisted that they take off their shoes. They rifled through all my books and looked through all the folders. I have a lot of papers — printouts, sheet music, archives. They confiscated computer equipment and a bunch of flash drives and phones, including ones that didn’t work.

To calm her nerves, Anna picked up a guitar and put on a concert. She sang children’s songs and Okudzhava.

– Actually, I rarely give concerts, but then and there I realized that there would be no such opportunity anymore. I was trying not to pay attention to them.

– Did you have a lawyer present?

– They brought a lawyer with them. The court-appointed lawyer was both theirs and mine. At my request, she telephoned my friend Igor, but during the search she didn’t tell me, for example, that I could write in the report that I was against their videotaping during the search. We added that when I was already at the Investigative Committee. My daughter had also wanted to film the search on camera, but her smartphone was taken away. I was scared that I would first be locked up in a temporary detention facility for forty-eight hours, and then immediately sent to a pretrial detention center for two months.

The police search of Anna’s house lasted about three hours, after which she and her daughter were taken to the Investigative Committee.

– My daughter had a temperature of 39 [degrees Centigrade — 36.6 degrees Centigrade is considered normal body temperature]. I asked that she be questioned first as a witness and released, and after that they could talk to me. But first I was interrogated for four hours, and my daughter waited ll that time. The court-appointed lawyer told me that with such a temperature she could have refused to go in for questioning, but for some reason she told me that after the fact. Today, my daughter was taken away by ambulance with pneumonia.

During the interrogation at the Investigative Committee, Chagina cited Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution, which gives people the right not to give evidence themselves, their spouses, or close relatives] and refused to testify about the case per se.

– I verbally said that I did not admit any guilt, but, in my opinion, this was not included in the arrest report. They gave me some document about cooperating with the investigation and asked me to read it carefully. But I refused to cooperate, and I wrote on this document that I did not consider it necessary to read it. Copies of the search and arrest reports were not given to me because, they said, the the court-appointed lawyer had photographed them.

– And then you were taken to the pretrial detention center?

– Yes. To have something to do there, I took a pocket Bible with me from home. I was in solitary confinement. It was cold, and the sink and toilet stank. By law, I could be kept there for forty-eight hours, so I asked for cleaning liquid or power to wash the sink and toilet. They brought it in the morning.

The light does not go off at night. Radio Vanya, a pop station, was playing in the cell until ten p.m. I am a musician, and have other musical preferences. To keep this music from seeping into my mind, I meditated. I read the Bible. I spent the time well.

Anna Chagina. Photo courtesy of Ms. Chagina via RFE/RL

– How did the court hearing go?

– I had petitioned for a change of counsel, and the attorney I had retained was already at the hearing. We were able to keep the hearing open to the public. The investigator asked the court to impose pretrial restrictions that would prohibit me from using all means of communication. The lawyer asked for a mitigation, and I was still permitted to use the telephone.

Chagina is now forbidden to use the internet and mail, leave home after ten o’clock in the evening, or attend mass events.

– They put a Federal Penitentiary Service tracking bracelet on you. How do you like it?

– When I would see such a bracelet on others, I would think, Those are the fetters of Satan! It’s fine so far. I haven’t tried doing yoga in this bracelet yet. I’ll work out, and it’ll be clear how it feels… I’m talking calmly and even joking, but in fact I’m in shock. Once I saw a man who, after an accident, was standing there with a split skull – his brain was clearly visible, but he was talking calmly. He was in shock from the pain. Something similar is happening to me now.

– How much will the court-imposed pretrial restrictions, the ban on using the internet and leaving the house in the evening, complicate your life?

– Things couldn’t have been worse even before the criminal case came along. In September, the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked my VK page, which had a very strong impact on me, because I used this page to advertise private lessons and find music students. I have a very low income. I was selling my apartment to buy a smaller dwelling and pay off my debts, but due to the fact that I am now a criminal defendant, I cannot wrap up the deal.

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

Chagina recalls how she gave a concert on the eve of the March anti-war rally.

– There were about a hundred people there. Before playing, I openly spoke out against the war. I played one of my favorite Ukrainian carols on the violin. It was very warmly received. After the concert, a woman from the audience approached me: “My son is going to the [anti-war] rally on March 6th. I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid.” There were others. They were surprised: “You say that war is always bad. That it was Russia who attacked.” But even these people did not condemn me, but shared their misgivings with me.

My daughter went to a solo anti-war picket on March 3 and was immediately taken away. This was even before the laws were tightened, which occurred on March 5. I was afraid to go out on March 6, but I couldn’t stay away. My friend, who is seriously ill, went to the rally with her family. I can’t tell you her name, because I’m afraid that they will start pulling in everyone again. Her husband was detained. I thought hat she would be detained next. She had come out with a placard that read, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I took the placard from her and held it up. I stood there holding it for ten minutes before they put me in a traffic police car and took me to the Soviet District police department. I was later fined on administrative charges of “discrediting the army.”

– How long have you been in the protest movement?

– Protest rallies are not the most important thing in my life, but I’m used to openly voicing my opinion. I went out to protest for Navalny and for TV2 [the Tomsk independent TV channel shut down by the authorities in 2014 — SR]. In 2014, when Crimea began, I went to a protest rally carrying a placard that read, “Don’t shoot your brothers.”

– Why are you personally against this war?

– I am against any war. Violence cannot solve any conflict. I sincerely admire the martial arts, if it is an honest one-on-one duel without weapons. But you can achieve only universal death through wholesale slaughter.

I rethought a lot of things after February 24. The war enabled me to separate what I love from what I hate. I had wanted to leave Russia for many years before the war. I hate it when a person endlessly tolerates what cannot be tolerated — humiliation, filth, an unseemly life — and does nothing about it. War is an attempt by such people to resolve the logjam of problems through violence and hysteria.

– What do you like about Russia?

– I love the nature. I love a certain kind of simplicity. Not the the kind of simplicity that is worse than thievery, but the kind of simplicity that can be called openness. The war made it possible to find out that there are many honest and decent people among Russians. Before the war, I was little interested in politics, and I didn’t closely follow the events in Donbas. I was busy with my family, my art, and my work.

When the war began, Tomsk showed a new side to me. I have reached a different level of social connection and communication here. Despite the fact that we don’t agree about everything, we still manage to keep in touch. This is very important to me. It is for the sake of this that it is worth going to protest rallies. Love will save the world.

Anna Chagina. Photo courtesy of Ms. Chagina via RFE/RL

– You had already been found guilty on administrative charges of “discrediting the army” for your posts on VK, which eventually served as the pretext for the criminal charges. Did you understand what the consequences could be?

– I understood. But it was important for me to convey my position to people. I am mentally ready for the fact that the state will punish me for this. I haven’t yet talked in detail to the lawyer who is defending me. But, as far as I understand, I face either a prison sentence or a huge fine. I’m not afraid of either.

I felt like I was being watched, but I couldn’t quite believe it. I saw some people outside, standing below my apartment. The FSB field officer who escorted me today said that he had personally shadowed me. And the investigator said that all the investigators at the Soviet District police department know me. Apparently, they were all here pulling shifts. By Tomsk standards, I have a rather large social media following — more than a thousand people on VK. And I have a lot of acquaintances from very different circles that do not intersect in any way.

– Which posts on VK did they deem “discrediting”?

– I have only read the arrest reports so far, not the stuff in the criminal case file. As far as I understand, the incriminating posts are the ones featuring texts by the Christian thinker Pavel Levushkan and the philosopher Nikolai Karpitsky, as copied from Facebook and posted on my VK page, with the authorship of the texts indicated. Karpitsky is a philosopher who lived in Tomsk and headed the Tomsk Anti-Fascist Committee, but now lives in Ukraine. He talks about necrophilic imperialism and about why Russians behave this way, both in war and in peacetime. Plus the comment “No war!” which I wrote below someone else’s post on VK.

“I am also to blame”

– Anna, why do you think there is no mass anti-war movement in Russia nine months after the start of the war and even in the wake of the mobilization?

– Because no one wants to go to prison. But when mobilization began, the war affected even those who had hoped to remain observer. I am acquainted with a Tomsk family in which the husband works at Gazprom and the wife teaches at a university. The husband earned good money, and the family traveled a lot around the world. But when the war began, they did not object to its officially stated aims, nor were they surprised by the claims of the propagandists that Putin was fighting NATO and gay parades in the west. But then the husband received a conscription summons, and their point of view changed immediately. The husband fled abroad.

– Speaking of emigration. You’d already had an admin. You saw that you were being followed. Why didn’t you leave?

– I had obligations. I didn’t emigrate due to my family. My daughter has health problems. My mom is here. I have a grandmother and a grandfather who are already ninety years old. Finally, my romantic partner is here.

– And you don’t even consider such a possibility for yourself in the future?

– I consider it, of course. More precisely, I would like to travel around the world, immerse myself for a long while in a different culture, in a different linguistic environment, and live in a different climate. I am a very curious person. Before the war, I had such plans: when the children grow up, I’m off! But I wasn’t thinking about the kind of emigration in which you leave and burn all your bridges.

– In your opinion, who is to blame for the fact that this war began?

– Putin, first of all. He signs off on all the decisions. But he’s not the only one to blame. I am also to blame. I voted for Putin the first time he was elected. It was the only time I voted for him. He seemed like a man who could do something good for the country. I was very naive, and I didn’t know anything about Putin’s past. The epiphany came when I noticed that Russian reality had begun to resemble C.S. Lewis’s science fiction novel That Hideous Strength. There is this character, the Grey Shadow, in the novel. He is nowhere and everywhere. His henchmen on the ground resemble him and poison the atmosphere. And there, as in Putin’s Russia, they endlessly repair what doesn’t need to be repaired and generate the semblance of busyness.

The “castling move” and even the “nullification” seemed mere absurdities. But I didn’t expect the scale of demonism that we see now. Like Stalin or Hitler, Putin is a demon who stole my country.

– How long can this war last, and how will it end?

– I have three scenarios: reasonable, mystical, and punk/optimistic. Which one would you like to hear?

– Let’s hear all three in turn.

– Reason says that this is going to go on for a long time, for many years. Even if the fighting against Ukraine ends in the foreseeable future — within two years — it is unlikely that everything will end quickly in Russia itself. But I don’t want to talk about a civil war.

The mystical point of view says that the war is part of an ongoing struggle between Good and Evil, which just touched us personally now.

And the punk scenario says that “We will leave the zoo,” as Yegor Letov sang. Lately, before the criminal case, I wanted to forget everything, and just believe that sooner or later we would stop being monkeys who piss on each other. That we would exit our individual cages and become human beings.

– Do you see any rudiments that give you hope that an epiphany, a kind of purification, is possible in Russia?

– I see them. Many of my friends say, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to build something here. This is my homeland, and I won’t surrender it to anyone.” Among them are calm optimists who believe that “this too shall pass,” and determined folks who are ready to fight.

An acquaintance of mine supported Navalny and left for California forever to avoid criminal charges. But his friend, an American, on the contrary, moved to Altai from California ten years ago, became a Russian farmer, and has no plans to leave Russia. I love the Russian language and Russian culture, but I’m not a nationalist — I’m a globalist. I am for a world without borders, and I hope Russia will one day become a part of this world.

– You took a Bible with you to the temporary detention center. Do you consider yourself Orthodox? How do you feel about the fact that the ROC has been stumping for the war?

– I practice integral spirituality, but I still seek guidance in the Orthodox Church and consider myself a Christian. The ROC’s official position [on the war] is a disgrace, and all [other] Orthodox churches have condemned it. Real Russian Orthodoxy and what it is associated with today are heaven and earth. What is the Christian conclusion here? God is merciful. And He is merciful to those who labor under delusions, too. Another thing is that everyone suffers for their delusions, including the deluded themselves.

Anna Chagina (left) in concert with other musicians. Photo courtesy of Ms. Chagina via RFE/RL

– All the independent media that reported your arrest wrote that you are a musician. What kind of music do you play?

– I graduated from music college as a violist and I play the viola. I teach violin. I’ve had a bunch of musical groups in the past. I’ve played rock, punk, folk, and Celtic. In addition, I’ve played with an ensemble of violinists. I worked in a symphony orchestra for a year.

– Is there a particular kind of music that serves as a lifeline for you nowadays?

– I’ve been listening to very little music lately — I’ve been overloaded. But Bach is always a lifeline. One of my relatively recent discoveries is the Petersburg singer Sasha Sokolova, who, unfortunately, died of cancer. I can say of her music that it’s about our time.

– Do you imagine that the court could acquit you?

– I’m not counting on it… When I was dozing in the cell at the temporary detention center, I thought it would be cool to open my eyes in the morning and see the ocean, clean and transparent. In exactly the same way I believe that the court could hand down a fair verdict — as in a pipe dream, as in a miracle. I believe this war will end. I admit that a miracle is possible.


Since the new articles of the Criminal Code and the Administrative Offenses Code on discrediting the Russian army and disseminating “fake news” about it came into force, more than 100 criminal cases have been launched in Russia and around 4,500 reports of administrative offenses have been filed, according to Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, speaking at a session of the State Duma on October 19.

According to OVD Info, a total of 352 people are under suspicion or facing charges in so-called anti-war criminal cases launched in Russia between February 24 and November 24. As of 23 November 2022, 5,159 administrative offenses cases have been instituted in Russia under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code (i.e., for “discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”).

On March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law criminalizing “fake news” about the actions of the Russian Armed Forces. Russians can be fined up to 1.5 million rubles or imprisoned for up to three years for violating the new Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code, defined as “Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes “discrediting” the Russian army, stipulates a sentence of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to a million rubles.

Source: “‘Putin is a demon who stole my country;: an educator accused of ‘discrediting the army’ talks about her criminal case and believing in a miracle,” Sibir.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 3 December 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader, who in the “real world” would have been paid 275 dollars or euros for this work (as an experienced professional translator) or, at least, 75 dollars for the five hours I spent doing it, per the minimum wage in the US state where I currently live. Please make a donation to this free resource today and thus send me the message that you value the work I do here and want me to continue doing it.

Environmental Movement 42 (Is a “Foreign Agent”)

Hi!

It’s the 7X7 team on the line. Today we’re going talk about the environmental movement 42 and why it suddenly became a “foreign agent.”

Approximate reading time: 4 minutes.

Some people look forward to Friday to go drinking after the work week, but we look forward to Friday to learn the names of the new “foreign agents,” as designated by the Russian Justice Ministry. Their updates to the registry of “foreign agents” are like a new episode of a TV series, the release of a long-awaited game, or a new song by a favorite artist. Russian officials know how to put on a show, you can’t take that away from them.

This week, The Bell, ex-What? Where? When? contestant Rovshan Askerov, TV Rain journalist Mikhail Fishman, philosopher Ruben Apresyan, and the Environmental Movement 42 were added to the registry. We’re going to tell you about 42, an eco-movement based in Arkhangelsk.

What does 42 do?

Article 42 of the Russian Constitution states: “Everyone has the right to a favorable environment.” The movement named itself after this article. 42’s activists run online seminars on eco-education, talk on social media about the Arkhangelsk Region’s unique sites, and organize subbotniks.

Everyone can lead an eco-friendly lifestyle. You can start by sorting and recycling garbage. So, the 42 team, together with the Ecomobile project, accepts glass, plastic, metal, and paper for recycling. And for convenience, once a month a real ecomobile drives around Arkhangelsk, staffed with activists to whom residents can hand over their recyclables.

“Foreign agent”

42 is this environmental organization’s second incarnation. They used to be called Aetas, but in 2017 the Justice Ministry designated the organization a “foreign agent.” The reason they were put on the registry was their cooperation with the Norwegian activist group Natur og Ungdom, which financed some of Aetas’s events, including free children’s camps, expeditions, and Ecobattle, an annual championship for collecting recyclables.

After they were put on the foreign agents registry, the activists founded a new movement, 42, in February 2018. But it was also designated a “foreign agent” this past Friday, December 9. Will there be a third incarnation and a second reincarnation? We’ll see.

Organizations and individuals are place on the “foreign agents” registry for a reason. You have to consistently and vigorously mess with the state’s attempts to generate tyranny and speak out against it. But how did people trying to organized segregated waste collection deserve the new designation? One can never say for sure, but there is speculation that the reason they were placed on the registry is that they have called for locals to participate in public discussions about the construction of a new waste sorting complex in the village of Kholmogory.

Friends in misery

Someone may think that the title of “foreign agent” is a seal of excellence. Perhaps this is partly true, but it is also a heavy burden for any organization, especially if it is located in Russia. Foreign agents have to submit additional reports, indicate their foreign agent status on any public platforms, and cannot receive state grants.

In 2022, the Russian government has been pressuring activists from environmental protest groups more vigorously than usual, but most often not for environmentalism, but for anti-war statements. On December 9, Elena Kalinina, one of the participants of the protests in Shiyes, was ordered by a court to refrain from certain activities due to her alleged “repeated discrediting of the army.” Ivan Ivanov, chairman of the Pechora Rescue Committee, was fined by a court in June for appealing to Putin to stop the war. And Arshak Makichyan of Fridays for Future and his family members were stripped of their Russian passports altogether: officials claimed that they had suppled false information when they applied for them in the early noughties after moving from Armenia.

Life goes on

Fines, bans, and denaturalization. But is there any good news? Of course there is! And we at 7×7 are just the people to find it for you.

Greenpeace opened its first branch in the USSR in 1992 [sic: the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991]. The money for opening this branch was raised from the sales of a charity album called Greenpeace Breakthrough. Songs for the album were recorded by U2, Sting, Talking Heads, Dire Straits, and others.

Thirty years later, a collection called Greenpeace Breakthrough 3.0 has been released in Russian. The songs on it were recorded by Samsara, Electrophoresis, Neschatsnyi Sluchai, Nogu Svelo, and other Russian-speaking artists. The artists will transfer the money received from the auditions to environmental organizations in Russia.

In its group description on VK, 42 writes: “We are safeguarding nature in Russia until better times.” Indeed, garbage recycling and subbotniks may seem unimportant now, but this is not the case. The war will end, and the country and its nature will still be a concern for inhabitants of the regions.

Take care of yourself. Thank you for sticking with us.

Source: “Focus” email newsletter, 7X7, 12 December 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


THIS IS THE LAST POST

Today, the Russian Justice Ministry placed the Environmental Movement 42 on its registry of foreign agents. It should be noted that the persons listed as members of an association are not deemed “individual foreign agents.” This bit of misinformation has been widely repeated. 😡

❗About the law

The Law on Foreign Agents has been in force in Russia since 2012. At that time, you to had to engage in political activity and receive foreign funding to earn a spot on the registry. Despite the fact that “activities for the protection of flora and fauna” are excluded from the law as forms of political activity, thirty-four environmental organizations have been placed on the registry to date. Ten years later, on December 1, a new law on foreign influence went into force. Its implications are unclear. You are probably reading this post on a smartphone manufactured somewhere other than Russia. You listen to foreign music, watch foreign movies, and go on holiday to Turkey. Under the new law all these things can be deemed “foreign influences.”

❗Our opinion

Naturally, we do not agree with our inclusion on this registry. If we are “agents,” we are only agents of nature. Our families have lived in the Arkhangelsk Region for several generations. We are rooted to this land, and so our principal mission is safeguarding nature and the well-being of future generations. This is reflected in our name: 42 is the number of the article in the Russian Constitution that states that everyone has the right to a favorable environment. We doubt that the people who put us on this registry have the same love for our region and our people as we do, that they understand the connection between environmental mistakes and people’s health and safety.

We are not surprised by this turn of events. Unfortunately, this is the trend — to drown out the public’s voice. Why do you think we were included in the registry? Just a few days ago, we published information about public hearings on the proposed construction in Kholmogory of a municipal solid waste processing facility with a capacity of 275 thousand tons. There was clearly an attempt by the authorities to hold the hearings quietly and unnoticed; even local council members didn’t know about them. Due to the attention they attracted, the administration has had to hold a second round of hearings, which now will be going on until January 7. But again, the project documentation has not been made available, although it is topic of discussion. Why all these secrets? Why the pressure on us?

❗What’s next?

We do not know what we’ll do next, because the law is quite harsh and imposes numerous burdens, including financial ones, which we simply cannot afford. We are consulting with lawyers about this. It is very easy to break the “rules,” the fines are large, and there is a risk of criminal liability for us. The safety of the people who selflessly protect nature under 42’s auspices is important to us.

We will be glad of any support on your part. You can also like, comment, and share information here as before (the lawyers explained that it is safe). This is our last post without the ugly boilerplate [indicating “foreign agent” status], which from tomorrow we will be obliged to put in all our informational materials. 🤕

* The photo, above, shows members of 42 after they arrived in Shiyes for a week-long vigil on the eve of 8 March 2019.

Source: Environmental Movement 42, VK, 9 December 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The Arkhangelsk-based Ecological Movement “42” is one of the first to be listed after Russia on December 1 drastically expanded the oppressive foreign agent legislation. The eco-group was started after Aetas environmental organization in 2017 was declared foreign agents and shut down.

“The only agents we are, are agents of nature,” the group wrote at its site on VKontakte when it became known that the Ministry of Justice in Moscow declared them so-called foreign agents.

“Naturally, we do not agree with the inclusion of us in the register.”

The foreign agent law itself was adopted in 2012 and said that registered organizations could be listed if they conducted political activities and got funding from abroad.

Later, successive amendments in 2017 and 2019 expanded the law to include media, individuals and non-registered associations.

The latest expansion of the law, adopted in July and entering force on December 1, says individuals, organizations, legal entities, or groups without official registration, receiving foreign support, or are “under foreign influence” and conduct activities that authorities would deem to be political would be listed as foreign agents.

The definition of “foreign influence” and “political” could be endlessly broad.

In Arkhangelsk, the Ecological Movement “42” says they don’t know for what reasons it is included on the list.

“Preservation of nature, and hence the preservation of the well-being of future generations, is our main goal and task.”

42 points to the article in the Russian Constitution stating that everyone has the right to a favorable environment.

“We doubt that those people who included us in the register have the same love for our region, for our people, understand the connection of errors with the health and safety of people,” the group says.

The eco-group has over the last years worked actively worked to stop the plans to establish a huge dump field for household waste from Moscow in Shiyes, far north in the taiga forest in the borderland between Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Komi Republic.

Ecological Movement “42” was started by former members of Aetas, another youth eco-group that in 2017 had to shut down after being labeled as “foreign agents.”

The group is only for members under the age of 30. It is member of the Russian Social Ecological Union, the Climate Action Network and the Stop Shiyes Coalition.

Since 2012, 34 environmental organizations in Russia have been included in the foreign agent register.

The foreign agent law was also used to shut down the human rights group Memorial that last weekend was given the Nobel Peace Price for 2022 in Oslo.

The “foreign agents” designation, which carries negative Soviet-era connotations, burdens subjects with strict labeling and auditing requirements.

Many independent journalists, activists and civil society figures have been added to the registry in recent years amid a sweeping crackdown on non-Kremlin-aligned voices.

Source: Thomas Nilsen, “Rebranded ecological youth group declared foreign agent,” Barents Observer, 12 December 2022