The Case of Boris Romanov

Jenya Kulakova’s photo of the care package that she and Boris Romanov’s mother Margarita delivered to the political prisoner at Pretrial Detention Center No. 6 in Gorelovo, a distant suburb of Petersburg.

Today, Boris Romanov’s mother Margarita and I went to Pretrial Detention Center No. 6 to deliver a care package to him. Borya will finally get delicious food and basic necessities. (It is very difficult to get into the prison with care packages because of the always crowded electronic queue.)

Lawyer Luiza Magomedova is also waiting for a meeting with Borya in the pretrial detention center today. The pre-registration for lawyers [to see clients] is all booked up for the next two weeks, so in the morning she queues without any guarantee that she will get in to see him.

Gorelovo is far away, and all the way there I listened to Boris’s mother’s stories about him. How he was twice elected chairman of his housing co-op, and had tried to whip the building into shape, how he had issued paperwork to the janitor and knew all the neighbors. What an impossibly principled, thrifty and honest man he was, intolerant towards even the hint of corruption in its smallest everyday manifestations. How he would not compromise and take good-paying jobs if they were pro-government. What an attentive son and caring father he was. What an educated man he was — a good simultaneous translator from German, a graduate of the European University’s history program. (Besides electronic devices, Boris’s German-language books were seized by police during the search of his mother’s flat.) How, after studying for one and a half years in Germany, he had come back home “to build a new Russia.”

But now Russia is whipping Borya into shape instead. This Russia does not need smart, honest, principled people.

Yesterday, I received my first letter from Borya, and it contained two requests to help his cellmates. When I told this to his mother, she laughed, saying that it was just like her son: he had already found a way to be helpful to someone in prison.

Source: Jenya Kulakova, Facebook, 18 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Boris Romanov with his lawyer, Luiza Magamedova. Photo: Konstantin Lenkov for Zaks.ru

Activist Boris Romanov has been remanded in custody on charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army (punishable under Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). He is the fifth person in Petersburg remanded in custody for the duration of the investigation on these charges. Romanov is accused of making harsh statements about the “special operation” during a meeting of the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council. He faces up to ten years of imprisonment. Zaks.ru has examined this new case of “fake news” about the Armed Forces.

This time round, Petersburg oppositionist Boris Romanov, who has long been known among the city’s activists, is suspected of disseminating false information. In September 2021, as part of the Yabloko party regional group, he was nominated to run for the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly’s fifth district. In the municipal elections of 2019, he tried to run for a seat on the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council, but was refused registration. But the lack of a deputy’s mandate did not prevent him from regularly attending the council’s meetings and broadcasting them on a VKontakte community page.

There are now over 1,800 subscribers to this page. Romanov did not have good relations with the local deputies. For example, he alleged that the wife of one of them sprayed pepper spray in his face. In addition to problems in the Svetlanovskoye neighborhood, Romanov paid great attention to issues of urban development and historical preservation. In particular, he often participated in the grassroots gatherings at the Pulp and Paper Industry Research Institute building [threatened with demolition] in the city’s Vyborg district. Since the beginning of the “special military operation,” he sometimes devoted his speeches to the events in Ukraine, taking a pacifist stance. In mid-March, Romanov was detained at a protest rally near Gostiny Dvor. He was present there as a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council’s monitoring group.

The Ukrainian question at a district council meeting

On May 5, the FSB’s Petersburg regional office launched a criminal investigation into dissemination of deliberately false information about deployment of the Russian Armed Forces (per Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). According to the security forces, a man (his name is not mentioned in the Investigative Committee’s press release) posted a video on the internet containing knowingly false information about the Armed Forces. As Zaks.ru has learned, Romanov’s alleged “criminal activity” was detected in a video recording of a Svetlanovskoye municipal district council meeting. The case file mentions eyewitness testimony. According to Luiza Magomedova, an attorney with the civil rights project Apologia of Protest, the eyewitness in question was Romanov’s neighbor and district chair Yanina Yevstafieva. In conversation with Zaks.ru, Yevstafyeva said that the security forces were interested in the council’s March 29 meeting. The council chair stated that on that day, activist Romanov came to the district offices and allegedly made what she regarded as “anti-Russian” statements.

Yevstafieva alleges that Romanov indulged in rude expressions directed at Russian servicemen. She noted that he also made an invidious comparison involving the symbols of the “special operation.”

According to her, Romanov’s speech caused a negative reaction among council members. Yevstafieva argues that such statements are unacceptable. Romanov’s statements were captured on a video posted on March 29 in the Svetlanovskoye Neighbors group page in VKontakte. After studying the recording, police investigators concluded that the activist’s words could be regarded as purveying deliberately false information about deployment of the Armed Forces, motivated by political hatred or enmity.

The topic of Romanov’s speech was probably related to statements made on March 29 by Russian deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin and Russian peace negotiator Vladimir Medinsky. After the latest round of the negotiations between the two countries [sic], the Russian officials stated that they intended to curtail military operations in the Chernihiv and Kyiv areas. 

The fifth arrest in the “fake news” investigation

The police found Romanov in his apartment on the morning of May 10. The activist’s electronic devices were confiscated, as well as various informational materials. The latter, the investigators allege, may be “extremist” in nature. A couple of hours later, the security forces showed up at the apartment of Romanov’s mother, at whose address Romanov is officially registered. Her communications devices was also confiscated.

“They said that I had raised a bad son. That I should have monitored him and brought him up right,” Margarita Romanova, the defendant’s mother, said in conversation with Zaks.ru, quoting what the police had told her.

During the search, she was told that a criminal case had been opened against her son because of a speech he made during a meeting of the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council.

After the preliminary investigation, Romanov was placed in the temporary detention facility on Zakharyevskaya Street, where he spent the night awaiting his bail hearing, which took place on May 11 in Petersburg’s Vyborg District Court. Police investigators asked the court to remand the oppositionist in custody.

Judge Oksana Golovinova read out a statement by the investigators.

“The accused Romanov posted […] knowingly false information that was aimed at destabilizing the political situation in the country and arousing panic among citizens, as well as causing a negative attitude towards Russian federal authorities, thereby demonstrating his indifference to public safety.”

The prosecution argued that Romanov could attempt to destroy evidence, influence witnesses, escape from justice, and continue his alleged “criminal activities.”

Magomedova petitioned the court to impose a restraining order on her client that would ban him from doing certain things. Romanov has an underage daughter who needs her father. He is also his family’s sole breadwinner.

Judge Golovinova took Romanov’s having a child into account, but did not consider this sufficient grounds to order a milder form of pretrial restraint. But the court did not share the prosecution’s position on the likelihood of Romanov’s attempting to hide from the authorities, since his foreign travel passport had already been confiscated. After spending about an hour deliberating in her chambers, the judge remanded the activist in custody in Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 [sic] for the duration of the investigation. He will remain there at least until July 5. The activist denies any wrongdoing.

Romanov is the fifth person arrested in Petersburg on charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army (as punishable under Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). Previously, artist Alexandra [Sasha] Skochilenko, journalist Maria Ponomarenko, Peaceful Resistance member Olga Smirnova, and Victoria Petrova had been arrested. They face from five to ten years in prison. As in the case of Romanov, the criminal charges against them were most often occasioned by social media posts.

Source: Konstantin Lenkov, “From a District Council Meeting to a Pretrial Detention Center: Yet Another ‘Fake News’ about the Army Case,”  Zaks.ru, 12 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Kazahkstan’s State Oil and Gas Company Besieged by Striking Oil Workers from Zhanaozen

Employees of the Zhanaozen oilfield service company Kezbi LLP were in the capital demanding higher wages and better working conditions for over two weeks. The reason for the workers’ march on Nur-Sultan was the sacking of some strikers and management’s unwillingness to settle the labor dispute at the company.

Striking Zhanaozen oil workers outside KazMunayGas headquarters in Nur-Sultan

A strike of workers at Kezbi LLP in Zhanaozen has been underway since April 18. More than 300 people are involved in the protest. For almost a month, workers have demanded improved working conditions and wage increases. On the seventeenth day of the labor dispute, the company filed a lawsuit against twenty-one employees, and twelve employees were fired for participating in a strike that had earlier been ruled unlawful by a court.

Nevertheless, despite the pressure, the workers have refused to end the strike.

According to the protesters, they are dissatisfied with low wages, numerous violations of their labor rights, and discrimination. Separately, the employees highlight the serious wear and tear of production equipment, which poses a danger to their lives.

Amid the escalation of the conflict, a group of delegates went to Kazahstan’s capital in early May to get the truth [sic]. Twenty-six workers visited the Energy Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the state-owned oil and gas company KazMunayGas. The oil workers reported that, during negotiations, the Ministry asked to give them time to resolve the issue.

However, without waiting for any concrete actions to resolve the labor dispute on the part of state representatives, the workers moved to “besiege” state agencies and the offices of KazMunayGas.

According to the protesters, there should have been many more envoys, but a number of Kezbi employees who had also planned to fly to the protest site to support their colleagues were unlawfully detained by regional law enforcement agencies. Some of them were threatened as well.

On May 16, after a whole day of silence by agencies and officials and heightened attention from the capital’s civil society groups, the authorities announced that they had created a commission that would be charged with resolving the labor dispute. According to the workers, the working group includes the chief state labor inspector, inspectors from other regions of the country, and officials from KazMunayGas, who have already left for Zhanaozen.

Satisfied with this response, the protesters left the KazMunayGas offices and headed home.

The workers hope that the main issues will be resolved in dialogue with commission. They want to be paid for a twelve-hour working day, receive a wage increase, sign a collective labor agreement, and be transferred to the staff of Ozenmunaigas.

Law enforcement officers watched the protesters the entire time but did not intervene.

Source: Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, 17 May 2022. Thanks to Kirill Buketov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Watch this space for a subtitled version of this recent documentary film about the massacre of striking oil workers in Zhanaozen in December 2011 and its aftermath. I translated the subtitles of this detailed, harrowing film earlier this year.

“Monkey”

Ailama Cesé Montalvo. Photo courtesy of the Lokomotiv Volleyball Club’s press service

Andrei Voronkov, the coach of the volleyball club Lokomotiv Kaliningrad, called a player on the competing team a “monkey” during Lokomotiv’s championship final match against Uralochka-NTMK. His remark has sparked a scandal, with the sports community demanding that the winning club’s skipper at least apologize.

On May 12, during a timeout in the decisive match, Voronkov chastised his players for losing the initiative and getting behind in the score. He turned to blocker Valeria Zaitseva and shouted, “Why are you trying to catch that monkey again?” Viewers of the match’s broadcast thought that the coach had directed his remark at Uralochka’s Cuban striker Ailama Cesé Montalvo, who is an important part of the Sverdlovsk team’s offensive line.

A screenshot of a video of the scandalous conversation between Coach Voronkov and player Valeria Zaitseva, as posted on Uralochka’s VK page. You can listen to Voronkov’s “pep talk” there. He does indeed audibly say what he is accused of saying.

In conversation with E1.ru, Uralochka-NTMK CEO Valentina Ogiyenko stressed that the insult could not be put down to the emotionally charged atmosphere during the Super League’s decisive match. She is sure that public apologies and the volleyball federation’s reaction will help to remedy the situation.

“Emotions are no excuse. Nikolay Vasilyevich Karpol worked [as Uralochka’s coach] for many years, but he never did such a thing, although there were much more serious and emotional matches in his career. Even at the Olympics, I have never heard such a thing from any coach. But we have three coaches in our country who excel at this behavior. […] I think that Andrei Voronkov should make a public apology in the same format as the insult was inflicted. […] He should not call Ailama and whisper ‘Sorry, dear’ in her ear. [His apology] should be broadcast on a national TV channel,” Ogiyenko said.

Uralochka’s press service also stated that the club expects an apology from the Lokomotiv coach. And the disciplinary commission, which monitors unsportsmanlike behavior during the championship, should put the matter to rest, reports Sports.ru.

Sports commentator Dmitry Guberniev has been the most categorical of all. On his Telegram channel, he called Andrei Voronkov a “racist” and a “disgrace,” saying that the Lokomotiv coach should be demonstratively banned from the profession.

The general director of the Kaliningrad team, Alexander Kosyrkov, has not yet evaluated the incident in any way.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard about it. I was sitting in the stands and didn’t hear the break. I didn’t see that moment at all. I’m not up to reviewing videos and anything else right now. I’m not going to review the match yet. I’m a little bit not up to it now,” he told the newspaper Sport Ekpress.

Uralochka missed winning the heavily fought five-set match only on the tie-break. For the first time in six years, the team took second place in the Russian Volleyball Championship. But the Cuban athlete Ailama Montalvo will leave the team: the Ural climate does not suit her. She will continue her career at another club.

Source: “Opposing coach called Uralochka volleyballer a ‘monkey’, sports community demands punishment,” Vse novosti, 13 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Darya Polyudova

Darya Polyudova, holding a placard that reads, “Ukraine, we are with you.”
Image courtesy of Ivan Astashin

A subscriber has reported that he received a letter from political prisoner Darya Polyudova in which she told him about her court hearing in the Moscow City Court on May 12.

Let me remind you that left-wing activist Darya Polyudova is currently doing her second stint in prison on political charges.

In 2015, the activist was sentenced to two years in prison for “calling for extremist activities and separatism”: this was how the authorities viewed her preparations for a March for the Federalization of the Kuban.

After her release, Darya continued to be involved in political activism. But in January 2020 Polyudova was arrested again. In May 2021, she was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “condoning terrorism” and “calling for terrorism.” The court regarded posts about Shamil Basayev and a phrase about the “Lubyanka shooter” Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire on FSB officers near Lubyanka Square in Moscow in December 2019, as evidence of Polyudova’s guilt.

In both cases, the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Polyudova as a political prisoner.

However, the Russian state’s persecution of Darya Polyudova has not ended there. In late 2021, the FSB opened another case against the activist. Now she stands accused of “organizing an extremist community,” i.e., the so-called Left Resistance movement. Under the new charges, Darya may face another six to ten years in prison.

In this new case, Darya has been remanded in custody. Of course, she is already in custody. Without a new criminal case she would have been in a prison camp a long time ago [serving the sentence for her previous conviction], but the investigation wants her in a pretrial detention center.

Darya is appealing all the court decisions on the extension of her remand in custody. The court will consider her appeal of the latest extension on May 12.

Come and support Darya Polyudova!

11 a.m, 12 May 2022, Moscow City Court, 8 Bogorodsky Val, Room 327

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 7 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Absolutely Horizontal

Olga lived in Mariupol for many years. Until February 24, she worked as a courier, while her husband worked at the Azovstal steel works, and their two children studied at school. Since early March 2022, due to the so-called special operation, Mariupol has been under siege, and fighting has been going on in the city. In the middle of the month, when humanitarian corridors opened up, the family was able to get to Donetsk, and from there they took a bus to Petersburg. Their bus tickets were bought by volunteers — ordinary people who are not connected with government agencies. They also met the Mariupol residents in Petersburg and housed them in their apartment for the night, and then took them to Ivangorod, where Olga and her relatives crossed the Estonian border. The family is now in Finland.

There are many similar stories. In Petersburg, hundreds of residents help transit refugees every day. There are so many people willing to help that all requests — from putting up a family of five people and two dogs to transporting a nursing mother with a baby to Ivangorod — are claimed by volunteers in a matter of minutes. Over the border, in the Estonian city of Narva, Ukrainians are also welcomed by volunteers. This is the story of how ordinary citizens sat and watched the news, feeling powerless, but then found an opportunity to help others and themselves.

How Volunteering Heals Witness Trauma
Alexander from Petersburg is an artist. If it weren’t for [the war], he would now be engaged in art making. “I won’t be getting around to art anytime soon, but there will be food for it,” he says.

In April, Alexander and other volunteers launched a platform on the internet where they coordinate requests for assistance in crossing the border with Estonia and (less often) Finland. For security reasons and at the request of the volunteers, we are not publishing a link to this resource. Currently, there are more people willing to help than requests for help: people span up the requests in minutes.

Here is an example of a typical request: “A family is coming from Mariupol: a grandmother, grandfather, their daughter, grandson (12 years old), and a pregnant cat. You need to meet them at the train station, feed them, provide overnight accommodation, chip the cat and put the family on the bus to Tallinn the next morning.”

“Society has been traumatized. People were watching the news and tortured by a feeling of impotence, so we created a platform where we try to cure this powerlessness. I have the feeling that any problem can be solved en masse. People are competing for the opportunity to help,” says Alexander, “and so [the campaign] has turned out absolutely horizontal. People find the requests on their own and fulfill them  on their own. In the past, I worked on the problems in my neighborhood, and back then it was several activists dragging the whole movement like locomotives, but now the wave rolls on by itself.”

We thought we were going to disappear inside Russia, the refugees tell local volunteers. People travel mostly in groups. Most of them are women, children, and the elderly. There are fewer men. “Many people are traveling with their pets,” says Alexander. In addition to Mariupol and the surrounding area, they come from the Kharkiv region, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They are going to European countries, but some seek to  return to Ukraine as quickly as possible because they have relatives there, they can speak their native language, and they don’t have to deal with the “refugee” label.

It is not only Petersburgers who have been helping them to make the journey to the Russian-Estonian border. There are also hundreds of volunteers in Moscow. The Petersburgers are now establishing contacts in Rostov, Krasnodar, and Belgorod, the [southern] Russian cities through which the refugees travel most often.

“The other day I came to my senses, looked up from the screen, and realized that nothing was hurting inside me. I haven’t watched the news for more than a week and I don’t know what is happening in the political space. I have a specific task, it is very simple and clean. Unlike everything else, I have no doubt that it’s a good thing,” says Alexander. “Everyone wants to do good, and helping refugees certainly satisfies this need.”

How Natalia Got from Mariupol to Vilnius via Petersburg
Natalia got from Ukraine to Lithuania thanks to the internet platform where Alexander volunteers.

Previously, she worked as a cook in the Shchiriy Kum retail chain. She has two daughters: one is a high school student, the other, a university student. On the morning of February 24, Natalia went to work as usual. “I heard that there had been an explosion somewhere. But in Mariupol this is so routine that no one paid it any mind. (Echoes of the fighting have been audible in Mariupol since 2014, and most residents were used to the sounds of distant explosions and shooting — The Village.) When I arrived at work, I realized that things were serious. I finished up by three o’clock, and they let us go home. I didn’t go to work anymore after that.”

Natalia and her family remained in Mariupol until March 23. There was no “serious fighting” in her neighborhood, so she and her daughters stayed in their apartment, not in a basement or a bomb shelter. “But our things were packed to leave at any moment,” she says. The electricity in the city had been turned off, and the water was also turned off, so the family went to a spring to get water. Then the gas was turned off, so they had to cook on a bonfire.

When the fighting got close, Natalia, her girls, and her eldest daughter’s boyfriend went to the outskirts of city, where “there were buses from the [Donetsk People’s Republic].” They went on one of these buses to her parents who live near Mariupol and stayed there for three weeks. Then all four of them traveled to Taganrog [a Russian city approximately 120 km east of Mariupol]. At the local temporary accommodation point, they were offered a choice: they could go either to Khabarovsk or to Perm. Natalia didn’t want to go to Khabarovsk or Perm. She needed to get to Lithuania, where a friend of hers lives. That was when a Mariupol acquaintance put her in touch with the Petersburg volunteers.

“The vbolunteers bought us tickets to Petersburg. We got to Rostov, where we boarded a train. In Petersburg, we were met by Ivan, who took us home to eat. We washed up and changed clothes, and he took us to get on a minibus to Ivangorod,” Natalia says. The Mariupol residents crossed the Russian-Estonian border on April 23. “At the Russian border, they asked [my daughter’s boyfriend] where he was going and why.” The Petersburg volunteers had put Natalia in touch with Narva volunteers, and so the family immediately boarded a free bus to Riga.

Natalia is currently in Vilnius. She has no plans to leave — she no longer has the strength to travel with suitcases. “We’ve rented a room. We’re going to look for jobs,” she says.

How to Help via Twitter
“It all started with the fact that I felt helpless and useless. I really wanted to do something,” says Katya from Petersburg.

You can find out about helping refugees who are traveling to Europe via Petersburg on various websites. The one on which the artist Alexander volunteers is the largest. There are others. For example, Katya saw such a request on Twitter. In mid-April, a friend of hers asked whether anyone could welcome a family (a mother, son and daughter) and an 18-year-old girl who was traveling with them for a couple of days. Katya responded. The family was put up by her friend, while Katya took in the girl. “She met the family she came with two weeks before [the war]. They went for a walk once with the boy, and he decided to take her with him. Her mother refused to leave, and so now the girl is all alone, without relatives here,” says Katya.

Katya met the girl at the Moscow Railway Station and they traveled the rest of the way to her house. The question arose: how to talk to a person who has country has been invaded by your own country? “Either we were a match, or the girl herself is this way, but it was easy to communicate with her, like with a sister,” says Katya. They sat down to drink tea, and the girl recounted in a calm voice how one day a tank drove up to the nine-story building in Mariupol where she was hiding in a bomb shelter, raised its turret, and began shooting into the distance. “I was bored, and I started counting. It fired seventy shots,” the girl said.

Before the girl left, Katya and her guest hugged tightly. The Mariupol family eventually stayed in Sweden, while the girl ended up in Germany. “I was constantly thinking about what is it like to live when your city is gone, when it has been wiped off the face of the earth,” says Katya.

What Ivangorod, the Transit Point for Refugees Going to Estonia, Looks Like
It takes two hours to drive from Petersburg to Ivangorod. At the outskirts of the city, you need to show the frontier guards a passport or a special pass for entering the border zone. Refugees are allowed through with an internal Ukrainian passport. A kilometer from the checkpoint, on a pole right next to the highway, storks have built a large nest.

Ivangorod is home to around nine thousand people. Its main attraction is a medieval fortress. In the six years that have passed since The Village‘s correspondents last visited the city, it has become prettier. The local public spaces have been beautified under the federal government’s Comfortable Environment program.

Estonia can be seen from the bank of the Narva River. To get to the European Union, you need to walk 162 meters across the Friendship Bridge. At the entrance there is a hut where insurance used to be sold, but now it is abandoned, its windows broken. People walk down the slope carrying bags and plastic sacks stuffed with things. The local children ride scooters. Closer to the shore, the children turn right onto the embankment, which the local authorities attempted to beautify in the 2010s with funding from the EU. The people carrying bags go to the left.

There are several dozen people at the border checkpoint. A heart-rending meow resounds from the middle of the queue. A woman removes a black jacket from a pet carrier: a hairless Sphynx cat stares at her indignantly.

“Maybe I should let him out on the grass?”

The people in the queue say there is no need, that they will get through quickly. But it seems that this forecast is too optimistic.

“Are they all Ukrainians?” a man with a reflector asks loudly. The people in front of him shrug their shoulders. “Are they Maidanovites? Refugees? Are they fleeing from the nationalists?”

Someone argues that the frontier guards should organize two queues — “for people and for refugees” — to make the border crossing go more quickly.

Under the bar at the border restaurant Vityaz hangs a homemade “Peace! Labor! May!” banner and an image of a dove. On the way to the Ivangorod fortress there is a memorial stone dedicated to “the militiamen, volunteers, and civilians who perished and suffered in the crucible of the war in the Donbas.” The Village‘s correspondents did not encounter a single letter Z — the symbol of the “special operation” — in Ivangorod. Nor they did encounter a single pacifist message either.

How Narva Helps Transit Refugees
At the border checkpoint, people are met by numerous volunteers from various associations, including the Friends of Mariupol. “These are all private initiatives,” says Narva volunteer Marina Koreshkova.

“We have been seeing exhausted people,” says Marina. “Many are in rough psychological condition, and they really want to talk. We listen to them for an hour, two, three — we empathize with them and share important information. People say that while they were traveling through Russia, they saw the Z, heard unpleasant messages addressed to Ukrainians, and were forced to put up with it and remain silent just to get to Europe. But I often see examples of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe people are just afraid to say the wrong thing.”

Six years ago, Marina and her children moved to Narva from Petersburg, because she understood that the situation in Russia was getting worse. In Russia, she was a lawyer, working for ten years in a government committee on social policy, then as an arbitration manager. She started her life from scratch in Narva, and is now studying new professions. She is a member of Art Republic Krenholmia and Narva Meediaklubi, nonprofits engaged in civil society development and social and creative projects.

On April 10, Marina received a call from the manager of the Vaba Lava Theater Center, who said that they had decided to temporarily convert a hostel for actors into an overnight accommodation for refugees. Soon, the Narva Art Residence also let transit refugees into its hostel for artists. Then the Ingria House, located near the train station, equipped a room to accommodate Ukrainians. And on May 1, a Narva businessman temporarily vacated his office, located near the border, for daytime stays.

“For the first week, Sergei [Tsvetkov, another volunteer] and I tried to do everything ourselves. We quickly realized that at this pace we would burn out or get sick. Now about sixty local volunteers are involved, and people have come from Tallinn to help. The number of people helping out has been growing every day. Local residents collect the refugees’ laundry for washing, and bring them food and medicine.”

Almost none of the refugees remain in Narva. “The proximity to the border generates a new sense of uncertainty for them,” Marina argues. In addition, the region’s refugee registration office, which enables Ukrainians to gain a foothold in Estonia, has been closed. The nearest one still in operation is in Tartu [a distance of 180 km from Narva by car].

Narva is also “the most Russian city in NATO.” Only four percent of the city’s population is ethnic Estonian, and thirty-six percent of residents are Russian passport holder. “I don’t have time to read social media, but until April 10, I constantly observed negative comments [from Narva residents] about the refugees, although I have not seen any outward aggression in the city,” says Marina.

She believes that a welcoming station where refugees could get basic information and relax inside in the warmth should be equipped at the border. “It was quite cold in late April. People were freezing on the border outside in the wind, then thawing out for an hour and not taking off their outerwear.”

There is not even a toilet on the Russian side of the border, however.

Source: “‘An absolutely horizontal business’: How residents of Petersburg and Narva are helping Ukrainian refugees going to Europe,” The Village, 5 May 2022. Image (below) courtesy of The Village. Thanks to JG for the story and the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

______________

Umm Khaled hardly leaves the tent where she lives in northwest Syria, and she says she doesn’t pay attention to the news. But she knows one reason why it is getting harder and harder to feed herself and her children: Ukraine.

“Prices have been going up, and this has been happening to us since the war in Ukraine started,” said the 40-year-old, who has lived in a tent camp for displaced people in the last rebel-held enclave in Syria for the past six years since fleeing a government offensive.

Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the increase since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24. The impact is worsening the already dangerous situation of millions of Syrians driven from their homes by their country’s now 11-year-old civil war.

The rebel enclave in Syria’s northwest province of Idlib is packed with some 4 million people, most of whom fled there from elsewhere in the country. Most rely on international aid to survive, for everything from food and shelter to medical care and education.

Because of rising prices, some aid agencies are scaling back their food assistance. The biggest provider, the U.N. World Food Program, began this week to cut the size of the monthly rations it gives to 1.35 million people in the territory.

The Ukraine crisis has also created a whole new group of refugees. European nations and the U.S. have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced within Ukraine’s borders.

Aid agencies are hoping to draw some of the world’s attention back to Syria in a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians that begins Monday in Brussels, hosted by the U.N. and the European Union. The funding also goes toward aid to the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Last year, the EU, the United States and other nations pledged $6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that fell well short of the $10 billion that the U.N. had sought — and the impact was felt on the ground. In Idlib, 10 of its 50 medical centers lost funding in 2022, forcing them to dramatically cut back services, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.

Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed several hundred families around the country and found 87% were skipping meals to meet other living costs.

“While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to demand world attention, donors and governments meeting in Brussels must not forget about their commitment to Syria,” NRC’s Mideast Regional Director Carsten Hansen said in a report Thursday.

The U.N.’s children’s agency UNICEF said more than 6.5 million children in Syria are in need of assistance calling it the highest recorded since the conflict began. It said that since 2011, over 13,000 children have been confirmed killed or injured.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is dwindling fast, saying it has received less than half of its funding requirements for this year. “We urgently need nearly $20 million for the cross-border operations” in Syria, the agency said in a statement.

Umm Khaled is among those who rely on food aid. With her aid rations reduced, she has gone deeper in debt to feed her family.

Her husband and eldest son were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in their home city of Aleppo in 2016. Soon after, she escaped with her three surviving children to the rebel enclave in Idlib province. Ever since, they have lived in a tent camp with other displaced people on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border.

Her family lives on two meals a day — a small breakfast and a main meal late in the afternoon that serves as lunch and dinner. Her only income is from picking olives for a few weeks a year, making 20 Turkish liras ($1.35) a day.

“We used to get enough rice, bulgur, lentils and others. Now they keep reducing them,” she said by telephone from the camp. She spoke on condition her full name is not made public, fearing repercussions. She lives with her two daughters, ages six and 16, and 12-year-old son, who suffered head and arm injuries in the strike that killed his brother and father.

The price of essential food items in northwest Syria has already increased by between 22% and 67% since the start of the Ukraine conflict, according to the aid group Mercy Corps. There have also been shortages in sunflower oil, sugar and flour.

Mercy Corps provides cash assistance to displaced Syrians to buy food and other needs and it says it has no plans to reduce the amount.

“Even before the war in Ukraine, bread was already becoming increasingly unaffordable,” said Mercy Corps Syria Country Director, Kieren Barnes. The vast majority of wheat brought into northwest Syria is of Ukrainian origin, and the territory doesn’t produce enough wheat for its own needs.

“The world is witnessing a year of catastrophic hunger with a huge gap between the resources and the needs of the millions of people around the world,” said WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.

In many of its operations around the world, WFP is reducing the size of the rations it provides, she said. Starting this month in northwest Syria, the provisions will go down to 1,177 calories a day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of commodities, including wheat flour, rice, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur wheat, sugar and oil.

Rising prices have increased the cost of WFP’s food assistance by 51% since 2019 and that cost will likely go even higher as the impact of the Ukraine crisis is felt, Etefa said.

Earlier in the year, before the Ukraine conflict began, a 29% jump in costs prompted the Czech aid agency People in Need to switch from providing food packages to giving food vouchers. The vouchers, worth $60, buy less food than the group’s target level, but it had to take the step to “maximize its coverage of food assistance to the most vulnerable,” a spokesperson told The Associated Press.

As the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is on the verge of becoming yet another forgotten crisis,” Assistant U.N. Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.

In northwest Syria, “a staggering 4.1 million people” need humanitarian aid, Msuya said — not just food, but also medicines, blankets, school supplies and shelter. She said almost a million people in the territory, mainly women and children, live in tents, “half of which are beyond their normal lifespan.”

Many fear that the situation could only get worse in July, because Russia may force international aid for the northwest to be delivered through parts of Syria under the control of its ally, President Bashar Assad.

Currently, aid enters the Idlib enclave directly from Turkey via a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The U.N. mandate allowing deliveries through Bab al-Hawa ends on July 9, and Russia has hinted it will veto a Security Council resolution renewing the mandate.

A Russian veto would effectively hand Assad control over the flow of aid to the opposition enclave and the U.S. and EU had warned earlier they will stop funding in that case.

The result will be a severe humanitarian crisis, likely triggering a new flood of Syrian migrants into Turkey and Europe, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs warned in a report.

Umm Khaled said she has no choice but to endure her deteriorating living conditions.

“They keep reducing our food basket,” she said. “May God protect us if they cut it completely.”

Source: Bassem Mroue, “Syrians in desperate need of aid hit hard by Ukraine fallout,” AP News, 8 May 2022. Thanks to Harald Etzbach for the story.

Police Target Feminist Activists in Kazan

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.

Dina Nurm

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.

— What are you plans for the future?

— FemKyzlar continues to do what we’d been doing.

Source: Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 4 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Vitaly Koltsov

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 Molotov cocktail flew into a riot police vehicle in the center of Moscow. It all happened not far from the Karl Marx monument on Revolution Square — there are always several police buses there. A man threw a Molotov cocktail and it set fire to one of the paddy wagons. The vehicle was extinguished, and the thrower was detained.” Source: Baza, Telegram, 2 May 2022

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


Vitaly Koltsov

A Molotov cocktail thrown at a paddy wagon in Moscow turned out to be an anti-war protest by an alumnus of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Russian State University for the Humanities.

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

This Is What You Wanted!

Dear Sir,

I’m sorry you did nothing with our message.
As you will have noticed, all Russians will be held accountable for the genocide of the Ukraine people.
We will destroy your economy and life in Russia will be set back 100 years.
Many more than the present almost 25,000 death Russian soldiers will be killed.
Russia will lose its youth.
Every Russian will be treated as a potential criminal.
This is what you wanted!

Free people in the World

Source: Email sent to avvakum (at) pm.me, 3 May 2022

Shot of a young woman using a smartphone and having coffee in the kitchen at home

I enraged this particular reader, apparently, by not “acting” on their previous letter, dated 4 March 2022, to wit:

Dear sir,

Please help to stop the genocide in Ukraine by Putin.
We know this is not the will of the ma[j]ority of the Russian people.
Ukrainian and Russian population are interrelated in many families. They should be brothers and sisters.
War should not be something of the 21st century.

In the last 30 years there was cooperation in Europe and more understanding. The Russian economy was helped by efforts of many investors, business owners and countries. By this a backlog in welfare has diminished.
The war started by Putin means that all the people in Russia will get poorer.
And travel abroad is made impossible. Nobody wants Russian people anymore.
Even if the killing is stopped. The committed war crimes and the grieve about lost ones will be in the memories for decades.
Everything you have build up in welfare, relations or future will be lost for a very long time.

Do something against the killing of civilians in Ukraine!
You are the ones that should and could do that!
What would you tell your children when they ask you why you tolerated this war?

Kind regards,

[Name withheld]

The Case of Sasha Skochilenko

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.

Sasha Skochilenko. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

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.

A sampling of Sasha Skochilenko’s handmade anti-war stickers. Photo courtesy of Bumaga

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.

Sasha Skachilenko being led out of the courtroom. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

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. 

“War is hell.” Sasha Skochilenko’s supporters in the hallway at Vasileoostrovsky District Court in Petersburg.
Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

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 Bumaga and who advocate for Sasha’s release are pessimistic. For example, Vishnevsky himself told Bumaga that 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.

A sampling of anti-war “price tags” from Feminist Anti-War Resistance’s Telegram channel.
Courtesy of Kholod. This image was not included in the original article, in Russian, on Bumaga.

“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.

Bumaga will continue covering the case of Sasha Skochilenko. For the latest news, subscribe to our Telegram channel and the Free Sasha Skochilenko support group channel on Telegram.  You can also sign a petition calling for Sasha’s release.

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

Coach Yakovlev’s War with the Zwastika

Valery Yakovlev copied out some of the supportive text messages he received after the media wrote about his case.
Photo courtesy of Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)

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.

The letter Z taped on the Onokhoy sports school’s front door. Photo courtesy of Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)

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.

Onokhoy, Republic of Buryatia. Photo courtesy of Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)

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.