Happy Birthday, Dmitry Ivanov!

Today, Open Space Moscow celebrated the birthday of a political prisoner Dmitry Ivanov, the administrators of the Telegram channel Protesting Moscow State University, with cakes, stickers, candles, and merch.

In addition to Ivanov, who is on trial for disseminating “fake news about the army,” the evening’s organizers remembered other people currently jailed under Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code who are not as well known, in particular:

Olga Smirnova, a Petersburg activist with Peaceful Resistance, who has been prosecuted for writing post about the war in Ukraine and burning a cardboard letter Z.

Vladimir Zavyalov, a businessman who hung anti-war price tags in a supermarket.

Ioann Kurmoyarov, a priest who said on YouTube that hell awaits the soldiers who attacked Ukraine.

Igor Baryshnikov, a Kaliningrad activist who wrote about Bucha on Facebook.

Source: SOTA (Telegram), 5 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Dima is in jail for words”
A merrymaker at Russian political prisoner Dmitry Ivanov’s birthday party writes him a postcard.

“It’s Too Late for Me to Be Afraid”: Olga Nazarenko’s Solo Anti-War Protests

Olga Nazarenko: “I’m a Russian citizen who opposes the war. Send Putin to The Hague!”

Olga Nazarenko, a lecturer at medical university in Ivanovo, got involved in protests supporting Ukraine back in 2018. Since February 24 of this year, she has gone on an anti-war picket almost every week. Over this time, five cases have been opened against her for administrative offenses. Recently, Nazarenko was fined 150 thousand rubles [approx. 2,350 euros] for an anti-war picket. Only a few people in Ivanovo support the lecturer, so she usually stands alone with a placard. There are incomparably more people in her city who disagree with her position. Once, when Nazarenko was returning home, a passerby doused her face with spray paint on a dark street. People have written the Z symbol and the words “Ukrainian scum” on the associate professor’s mailbox. Nazarenko paints over the insults with yellow and blue flowers.

Nazarenko spoke to Radio Svoboda about her resistance to the war.

What was February 24 like for you?

– I didn’t believe until the last moment that war was possible. I can describe my reaction to the news about the outbreak of war with Ukraine only with obscene language. That same day, I went on a solo picket with an anti-war placard, and the next day too. Since then, I have been going on pickets every week, sometimes once every two weeks.

– You have already been convicted once for “discrediting the armed forces.” Why do you risk being prosecuted?

– My conscience won’t let me do otherwise. In the twenty-first century, problems in interstate relations are not solved by war. It’s barbaric. This war is an injustice on Russia’s part, and I cannot remain silent when I see injustice. A [solo] picket is now the only way to voice one’s stance publicly. Yes, most passersby do not voice their opinion in any way while I am picketing. But at each picket I see that two or three people support me. I understand that it is vital for each of them to see that they are not alone. Also, I have friends and acquaintances living in Ukraine. I worry about them, of course, and I know that for them my support — at least in the sense that I am not silent — is also vital.

– What was the trial at which you were fined 150 thousand rubles like?

– On February 27, I went out with a placard that read, “I’m a Russian citizen who opposes the war. Send Putin to The Hague!” Half an hour later, I was detained after a disgruntled passerby denounced me to the police. In April, the court recognized that my right to a defense had been violated due to the fact that my lawyer was not given the charge sheet to sign. The police appealed this decision, and the court found me guilty under Article 20.2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code for, allegedly, “organizing a public event” and fined me 150 thousand rubles. I told the court about my anti-war stance and that our courts are cemented into the power vertical, and so they make the rulings that the Russian authorities need them to make. I also told the court that Russia is waging an unjust war against Ukraine, that people are dying, and that I opposed it. In my opinion, the judge’s ruling had been made in advance.

– Do passersby often react aggressively to your anti-war pickets?

– Of course, there are people who react aggressively to my position. They drew the Z symbol and wrote “Ukrainian scum” on my mailbox. I painted over the inscription with yellow and blue flowers, making it beautiful. Once on the street late at night, a young man doused my face and clothes with spray paint. Fortunately, my glasses protected my eyes from injury, while my clothes turned a golden color. My down jacket even became beautiful, iridescent, but only on one side, sadly. Once, at a picket in support of the boys from the Network Case, a man came up and said that people like me should be shot. He tried to take my placard away and hurt my finger in the scuffle. But I kept him from getting my placard.

– At what point did you decide to go on pickets?

– I have been actively voicing my position since 2014. I was outraged that Russia, at a difficult moment for Ukraine, committed a treacherous act against it by annexing Crimea. This was the first thing that angered me, and the second was the lies that supported it. I realized that in such circumstances I could not remain silent. At first, I went to various protest rallies and marches. But they were held rarely and I wanted to voice my civic stance more often. At first, I was bashful about going out on solo pickets. But on social media I saw that people were doing solo pickets. At some point I decided to try to picket too and got sucked into it.

I have been going on pickets in support of Ukraine since 2018. A friend of mine and I protested for the release of the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. After all, a hybrid war had essentially been waged since 2014, and I had always opposed it. I was brought up on the principle that you couldn’t take what doesn’t belong to you, which also applied to international relations. Crimea is Ukrainian by all international standards. I could not approve of Russia’s interference in the affairs of a sovereign state, and from that moment I took an unambiguous stance. On February 24, everything became completely transparent.

– In February of last year, you hung a large banner that read “The FSB is a disgrace to Russia” on a railway bridge. What made you decide to do this protest?

– I believe that the FSB now holds all the power in our country, because Putin is from the FSB. So, the FSB lets itself break any law and torture people with impunity — such as, for example, the defendants in the Network Case. I think it important to voice my negative attitude to this. The banner hung for about half an hour until police officers arrived and tore it down.

I was detained right there and taken to the police department, where they took my statement and released me. This is not the first time I have publicly condemned the actions of the FSB. For example, I picketed against the Network Case outside the FSB headquarters in Ivanovo.

Olga Nazarenko

– Aren’t you afraid to publicly criticize the FSB?

– Yes, that organization has a lot of power, but I have no respect for it.

– I know that you sued Center “E” last year. Please tell us how that happened.

– I was doing community service at the zoo for a video in which I had talked about the problems of our region and called for peaceful protest. I was charged with “organizing an unauthorized event” for these actions. Right when I was cleaning the bird cages, a Center “E” officer came and videotaped me without my permission. The video was posted on the Telegram channel “A Cop’s Life: Ivanovo,” along with what they imagined was a funny comment. I decided that the Center “E” officer had violated my right to privacy. I filed an administrative lawsuit against the Interior Ministry, but my suit was dismissed.

– Not long ago, you were accused of resisting the police because you tried to help a friend at an anti-war picket. What did you do then?

– A female acquaintance decided to go on a picket on February 24 and asked on a chat for support. I responded to this request and arrived at the picket site. As soon as the young woman held up her placard, a policeman approached her and tried to detain her. She was opposed to being detained, so I got between her and the policeman. Consequently, we were both detained. The next day, I was taken to the police department, charged with resisting the police, and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. I’ve already done them. But soon I will have to do another 180 hours for a fresh administrative offense related to publicly voicing my anti-war position.

– How do the heads of the medical school where you work look at your pickets and court hearings?

– They are still relatively friendly to me at work. The bosses said that I could do anything as long as it was not during working hours. I never engage in activism to the detriment of my work: I don’t lobby anyone in the classroom. So I have no problems at the university now. For the time being I can juggle work and activism.

– Does your family support your anti-war position?

– My loved ones worry about me, but they don’t try to dissuade me. My husband and I try not to talk about politics. His point of view runs counter to mine, and we don’t discuss politics to avoid spoiling our relationship. As it is, there are so many situations in which I have to get harsh to defend my position, but at home I want to live in peace and tranquility. My little son and adult daughter worry about me and support me emotionally.

Olga Nazarenko, holding a placard that reads, “Free political prisoners!!! While we drink tea, they’re in prison.” It features a long list of current Russian political prisoners, nearly of all whose cases have been covered on this website.

– How are you going to pay the 150 thousand ruble fine?

– Friends and friends of friends helped me to pay the previous fine of 75 thousand. I don’t know yet how I will raise this amount. I’ll probably have to turn to public organizations for help.

– Putin recently passed laws that give [law enforcement] even more possibilities to crack down on grassroots activists. Aren’t you afraid to continue going on pickets when this is the reality?

– It’s too late for me to be afraid. If the security forces want to sanction me, they have enough material against me. I have already passed the phase of being afraid.

– Do you think your numerous pickets have affected the attitude people in Ivanovo have toward the war with Ukraine?

– Everything in society has only gotten worse over the years. In the big scheme of things, such protests cannot change a thing. They matter only to the person who does them and to people who think the same way, as well as for those supported by them.

– Why are you taking such a big risk in this instance?

– I just act on the principle that you do what you have to do, come what may. This is how I was brought up as a child. I realize that there could be unpleasant consequences for me, but I don’t think about it.

– How exactly were you brought up?

– My parents are teachers. They are decent people who shaped my principles, such as the literature I read as a child. My favorite books were Alexandra Brushtein’s trilogy The Road Goes Off into the Distance.

– But many Russians have read those books. Aren’t you angry that so few Russians protest publicly?

– I am a little annoyed, rather, that people cannot act in keeping with their conscience. And I realize that if more Russians had openly voiced their position when it was not less dangerous, the situation would be slightly different now.

Most people let their personal interests outweigh [other things], and this is normal. My instinct for self-preservation is a little dull, and perhaps this is not entirely normal. I don’t condemn Russians, but still I think that, in the current situation, it is impossible to remain silent.

– Now, after almost five months of war in Ukraine, many Russian activists complain of burnout and fatigue. Do you have such problems?

– I don’t have burnout and depression, but nor do I have any hope that things will change quickly. Perhaps in a hundred years our great-grandchildren will be able to change something — if we manage to raise our children the right way, and then they raise their children the right way. At some point, there will be enough people to change things here. But my generation won’t live to see it.

– Are you not planning to leave the country if a criminal case is opened against you?

– I’m not going anywhere. Russia is my country: it doesn’t belong only to those in power and their supporters. I won’t let anyone kick me out of my own country. I’m ready for a possible prison sentence. If it happens, I will serve my time, and then I will get out and continue my pickets. I’m not too afraid of prison: people somehow live in there too. You can’t jail everyone, and you can’t shut everyone up.

Source: Darya Yegorova, “‘It’s too late for me to be afraid’: Olga Nazarenko’s solo pickets,” Radio Svoboda, 16 July 2022. All images courtesy of Ms. Nazarenko via Radio Svoboda. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Church Militant

Archbishop Pitirim of Syktyvkar

Archbishop Pitirim of Syktyvkar has called on his parishioners to rally not around Christ, but around Putin, calling the West “the enemy of the human race.”

“After [hearing] the appeal made by His Eminence the President (on supporting the war – ed.), I considered it my duty to appeal to all the clergy, monastics, and God-loving laypeople of the Syktyvkar Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as to all the patriots of our Northern Region, to rally even closer around our supreme military and political leadership and our valiant army, which, as in the years of the Great Patriotic War, is defending our earthly Fatherland from the insidious enemy of the human race.

“Only by joint prayer and tireless military efforts will we be able to contain the enemy and erect a strong barrier to the West’s aggression.”

It should be noted that “the Great Satan” is Iran’s traditional name for the United States. Meanwhile, the Head of the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of the Russian Federation, Mufti Albir Krganov, invoked the same metaphor in a speech he made during Eid al-Adha.

Previously, Pitirim (who had already taken holy orders) expressed his pride at being awarded the rank of Cossack colonel.

We should also add that Metropolitan Leonid, appointed Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, has devoted seven of his last ten posts on Telegram to the polemic with the “collective West.” Leonid’s position statements were published as part of the ROC’s revenge on the Patriarchate of Alexandria for supporting Ukrainian autocephaly.

Source: Sota, 11 July 2022. Photo courtesy of Sota. Translated by the Russian Reader


The officers who raided Father Ioann Kurmoyarov’s home reportedly seized his mobile phone, a laptop, two icons, a cassock and a wooden cross.

He was taken to a police station in St Petersburg, and allowed to make one phone call to his family.

He told them he had been arrested.

Father Ioann is believed to be the first priest imprisoned under laws introduced in Russia to punish those who spread information countering the Kremlin’s narrative of the war.

“I am a prisoner of conscience, suffering for my beliefs. I consider the charges against me and my detention to be illegal,” says Father Ioann now in a statement he dictated to his lawyer in St Petersburg’s Kresty Prison.

Father Ioann adds that he is a Christian pacifist whose moral views are entirely based on the commandments of the Gospel and canons of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God,” and “Thou shalt not kill,” are among the quotes he includes in his statement.

On 12 March, just over two weeks after Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, Father Ioann uploaded an eight and a half minute video to YouTube.

In it he said that those who unleash aggression would not go to heaven, and that in this case it was not Ukraine that attacked Russia but the other way around.

“You are the aggressors who attacked and killed civilians. You will not be in any kind of heaven, you will be in hell,” he says of the Russian leadership.

A picture from a sermon posted on YouTube in which Father Ioann Kurmoyarov said Russian aggressors in the conflict would go to hell.
In a sermon posted on YouTube, Father Ioann Kurmoyarov said Russian aggressors in the conflict would go to hell.

In his video Father Ioann goes on to compare the Russian invasion with violent “jihad” suggesting that bloodthirsty leaders in Moscow should have converted to become “militant Islamists”, a theme that he kept returning to.

“We worried but we just didn’t expect that he would be arrested,” says his brother Alexander Kurmoyarov. He tells me that Father Ioann is currently serving an initial two month detention and is then likely to face trial.

“We thought maybe he would be given a warning by the police, but now we are worried that he will get 10 years in prison,” he says, referring to the maximum sentence Father Ioann could receive.

The only visitor to have seen Father Ioann in Kresty Prison is his lawyer Leonid Krikun who says his client appeared to be in good health and also defiant.

“I told Father Ioann that if he pleads guilty he will probably get a shorter sentence, but he refuses to say he has committed any crime,” Mr Krikun says.

“He says that he would rather serve a longer sentence than admit any wrongdoing and if that happens he will preach to fellow inmates.”

Father Ioann has shown before that he is unafraid of speaking out. He was suspended from the church in 2020 after calling the newly-built Church of the Russian Armed Forces a “pagan temple”.

The Cathedral in Moscow was the brainchild of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and was due to house frescos that featured President Putin and Josef Stalin as well as scenes that celebrated the Crimean occupation.

In a social media post, Father Ioann said Mr Shoigu should be arrested for offending religious sentiment.

But what makes Father Ioann’s story all the more unusual is that before he got in trouble with the Russian state, he also had a brush with the Ukrainian security service, the SBU.

Ioann Kurmayarov lived in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine for most of his life, his parents having moved there after his father retired from the Russian army.

“Even as a child he was always very outspoken, always searching for the truth,” says his brother Alexander who speaks to me from Vinnytsia.

“It was in the church that he found a place where that search for truth was satisfied,” says Alexander.

But in 2017, Father Ioann made the news in Ukraine for an act of defiance.

With Crimea annexed by Russia and parts of the east occupied by Russian-backed forces, Ukraine expanded laws banning Soviet symbols.

But Father Ioann posted pictures of one of the most controversial of them, the St George’s ribbon.

He was taken in by police for questioning and the SBU brought administrative charges against him.

“He was not radically pro-Russia, he was standing up for freedom of speech and simply believed the authorities were doing the wrong thing by banning displays of the ribbon,” says Alexander.

At the time Father Ioann said he was prepared to pay the fine, worth around $100 (£84.50), but said he would then openly wear the ribbon seeing as he had now paid for the privilege. The Ukrainian case against him was dropped.

He soon moved to Russia where he is already paying a much higher price for speaking out against curbs on freedom of expression.

In April he was defrocked by the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate, though members of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) say he has been accepted by them.

More pressing is that he remains behind bars at Detention Centre Number One in Kresty Prison with the prospect of staying there for years. His initial detention period ends on 6 August after which his trial date is due to be set.

“I want him to be found innocent, as a Christian who was talking about Christian values,” says Alexander.

“But I worry about what is going to happen now and I worry about his future.”

Source: Aleem Maqbool, “Russia-Ukraine war: Priest detained for criticising Putin,” BBC News, 17 July 2022


There are tens of thousands of refugees from Ukraine in Russia. Some of them are trying to leave Russia for countries in Europe or the Transcaucasia, while others remain in temporary accommodation. Both groups are being helped by Russian volunteers. One of the informal leaders of this movement in Petersburg is Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko, a bishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church and a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council. Farida Kurbangaleyeva spoke with him about why he is not afraid of the Russian security forces, why Ukrainians are being taken to the Far East, and why the Russian Orthodox Church failed to oppose the war.

Father Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko, holding a copy of the Russian constitution across the street from the Russian Constitutional Court’s current home in downtown Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Facebook and Republic

— How did you start dealing with the problem of Ukrainian refugees?

— In the very first days of the war, we thought about the Ukrainian nationals already living in Russia. According to various estimates, there were from eight hundred thousand to two million such people. We assumed they might have problems. I proposed to the Human Rights Council that we set up a hotline for Ukrainian nationals, and all my colleagues [on the council] supported me. Immediately, there was a large number of inquiries from people trying to leave Russia. In fact, if people’s papers were in order, there was nothing complicated abut the situation. But while we were figuring it out, refugees from Mariupol reached out to us. Som of them wanted to leave Russia, while others wanted to stay. But all of them were asking for legal assistance.

— Could you have imagined that Ukrainians would be brought to Russia?

— To be honest, no. Although it didn’t surprise me. I don’t want issue any judgements now—for this you need to be inside these events. But if you believe what the people directly involved have been saying, there was no possibility of organized evacuation anywhere except to Russia. At least, that’s what these people were told. And yet, when it is said that these people were taken to Russia by force, this is a somewhat inaccurate way of putting it.

— When I spoke with refugees from Mariupol, they said they had wanted to go to areas controlled by Ukraine, but that was tantamount to death—the humanitarian corridor was being shelled all the time.

— I don’t question what they said. I accept it as a fact. There was a humanitarian corridor to Russia, and, apparently, it was quite safe. I know that some people also left for Ukraine, but mostly at their own risk and mainly those who had vehicles. There was no way out on foot, as far as I know.

— But isn’t this violence on Russia’s part?

— When we talk about forcible removal, what I see in my mind’s eye are stills of German shepherds and people being struck in the back with rifle butts. There was no such thing [in this case], of course. But as far as I understand, people were not offered much choice. So, there was an element of there being no alternative. I personally am not ready to speculate about why it happened. I was not an eyewitness myself, and I have not seen any documents in this regard. I have only heard stories.

But it would be much worse if people who found themselves on Russian soil were legally subjected to forced detention, if the authorities prevented them from moving freely. According to my observations, they have not been prevented from doing this. Those who do not want to go to the proposed temporary accommodation facilities can safely go wherever they want.

It is another matter that these people have no money, that they have telecommunications problems, problems with paperwork. In this sense, the Russian state has not been providing them with anything. Ukrainian nationals could not cope without the volunteers who have been helping them obtain papers, board trains, and buy clothes and medicines, including prescription medicines, because there are people with chronic diseases among them.

— But why do the Russian authorities tell Ukrainian refugees to evacuate if they cannot provide for them? Is there no Pharisaism in this?

— I think there is an element of Pharisaism. But, again, now is not the time for making judgements. Now is the time for action. For example, I need to find a place for refugees to spend the night. Here we are talking, but at the same time I am corresponding on a chat, because another family is waiting for help.

The point is that what happened on February 24 is a crime—a crime against humanity, the unleashing of a war of aggression. Period. Everything else is a consequence of this crime.

We’ll figure out a bit later who is a hero and who is a scumbag. But now everyone should do what they can where they can do it. Journalists should write stories, human rights defenders should defend human rights, and caring people should make moral decisions by sharing their apartments, cars, or their own time. Not helping a refugee—even from the point of view of a book called the Bible—is a very grave sin. As the saying goes, “for you were strangers in a strange land.”

— How many Ukrainian refugees are currently in Russia? And how many camps are there?

— There are no official statistics. There are figures from different departments, and they radically contradict each other. The Russian authorities cite certain fantastic figures that are impossible to believe—860,000 people. I don’t understand where they came from, because there are much fewer people in Mariupol. Are they from the Donetsk region? But there seemingly hasn’t been a mass evacuation from there.

I think that these figures, as they pass along the chain through different departments, get zeros and ones added to them. I think that around one hundred thousand people have actually arrived in Russia from the war zone. Several thousand of them have already left, while a certain number of others are planning to leave.

We know of around five hundred temporary accommodation camps. That sounds scary, but you have to understand that there are places housing literally between fifty to seventy people. They’re like small boarding houses. There are probably only a few large camps, like the one near Petersburg, where 550 people have been accommodated. Or, for example, there are around three hundred people at the camp in Vladivostok.

— But why have refugees been taken so far away? Do you have an explanation?

— To be honest, I don’t see any special malicious intent in this. Apparently, somewhere in the presidential administration there was a request to all regions of the federation to ready sites for taking in refugees. And each region reported how many people it could take in. They are still trying to place these people in more or less normal conditions. These are not tent camps or barracks in the taiga.

The regions were also tasked with providing jobs and papers to the people who wanted them. It is clear that no region in the European part of Russia is ready to take in one hundred thousand people and give them jobs. Where would they find them? So, they began spreading people [around the country] as thinly as possible. Taking into account the size of the country, it turned out the way it turned out. We should be grateful that the most distant reception center is in Vladivostok, not Kamchatka.

— The buzz on social media is that this is another [mass] deportation.

— I don’t want to use words lightly. And, since the phrase “special operation” was introduced, words don’t function anymore, they’re finished. The safety of people has been ensured, and tickets from Vladivostok to Moscow, Petersburg, or Tokyo cost no more than money. Of course, this is all redundant. But what can be solved with money is not the problem.

Excerpts from Facebook chats between Ukrainian refugees and Russian volunteers. Courtesy of Republic

— Can people who have no papers at all leave Russia—for example, if they burned up during bombing?

— Refugees can receive a temporary document called a “Certificate establishing the identity of a foreign national or a stateless person.” It’s a very valuable invention. It is issued at police stations, and features a photo, a seal, and three signatures. With this document, a refugee can leave Russia.

To apply for this paper, a person must confirm their identity in any way. They can even submit an electricity bill, or provide witnesses. For example, a family leaves [Ukraine]: five of them have their papers, but the sixth does not. Cases when an entire family does not have their papers are rare. Besides, there is an analogue of Russia’s Public Services Portal in Ukraine, so in ninety-nine percent of cases it won’t be difficult to confirm a person’s identity.

This document was introduced several years ago. As far as I understand, it was championed by the human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina and her Civic Assistance Committee—because there were a large number of migrant workers in Russia, and their cases were different. Some people had lost their papers. Or, a person, for example, worked in Tyumen, but their country’s consulate was in Yekaterinburg.

Clearly, the nearest Ukrainian consulate is located outside the Russian Federation. Fortunately, the Russian border service understands this, so [Ukrainian refugees] face no particular difficulties when leaving [Russia].

There are more complex dilemmas. For example, there are infants who were born in the now-infamous Mariupol maternity hospital and did not have time to receive any papers. I met a couple here: the dad and mom are legally married, they have plastic biometric cards, but the child’s only ID is the tag it had on its hand or foot.

— Have you baptized any refugee children?

— I was asked to baptize two children, but at that moment there was no room ready. When I asked for a room to be readied, the baptism was postponed. I think we’ll go there in a week. God willing, we will baptize them.

— Who are more numerous—the people who want to leave or the people who want to stay?

— The overwhelming majority (and among them there are people who are absolutely pro-Russian) say that their greatest desire is to get home. You ask, “But isn’t everything wrecked there?” They reply, “That’s okay, we’ll rebuild it.” We’ll set aside how they imagine reconstruction from a political point of view—it’s not about that. The point is that people want to return [to Ukraine]. And they will do so the first chance they get.

That’s why, by the way, the vast majority of refugees do not apply for the fast-track Russian citizenship they are offered. They get either a temporary residence permit or a residence permit. Even those who don’t want to go to Europe and say “We’ll stay here for a while” still regard returning home as their ultimate task.

— How ethical is the offer of Russian citizenship under such circumstances?

— If we set aside February 24, it is something that is done within the concept that the Russian authorities have proclaimed.

— But we cannot set aside February 24, can we?

— That is why it is an outrage. But within this outrage, there may be things that are completely beyond the pale, and there may be things that, from a humanitarian point of view, make it easier for a person to live at a particular moment.

— It seems to me that this is like torturing a person and serving them cake during the breaks.

— But it’s a slightly more complicated scheme if they are told, “Eat cake and we’ll let you go.” Purely practically, there are people who gave the orders to start shelling, others who set up a humanitarian corridor, and still others in the federal migration service who offer fast-track citizenship. All of them together constitute the state apparatus. But individually, they are different people—who, by the way, also have different judgementsd of what is happening.

A very great misfortune has come into our home. But now, I repeat, is not the time for judgements. Now is the time for action.

If a person asks you to give them underpants, a t-shirt, and a toothbrush, you don’t need to ask them who they voted for in the previous election. You have to give them what they ask.

— If martial law is imposed in Russia, will refugees become more vulnerable?

— Such a turn of events would affect everyone. It’s another matter that I have a rather low opinion of our government’s administrative willpower. In Russia, things are usually loudly announced, but come to naught.

I strongly doubt that the authorities would impose martial law. Most likely, they will again make do by adopting hybrid measures so as not to call things by name, because the level of support for this whole business is quite low. In 2014, all the cars were decked out with Saint George’s ribbons and everyone shouted joyfully, “Crimea is ours!” But now we see the letter Z only on Russian National Guard vehicles.

— What about the opinion polls?

— In an authoritarian country that is smoothly segueing to totalitarianism, the worth of such polls is quite low. People are well aware of what answers are expected from them. By the way, the latest poll by the Levada Center says that support for the war has decreased ten percent in a month. This is quite a serious drop, despite the fact that hysteria is being whipped up.

Yesterday, we sent abroad a [Ukrainian] family who had arrived from Astrakhan. They got to Petersburg by train without concealing from others who they were. They did not hide the fact that they were leaving our blessed country. People gave them food, and money, and toys. This is a very important indicator. All the people they met tried to make amends to them.

— Many volunteers also say that they do not go to protest rallies, but help Ukrainians because they feel guilty.

— Now is not a time when you can change the opinion of the authorities with a protest rally. Now there is a flesh and blood problem—the people who have ended up here [in Russia]. And a lot more problems will start to emerge, because the war does no one any good.

I have an appeal on my hands from two hundred families of conscript soldiers who, as you can guess, wound up in this war without any desire or legal grounds for it. But now the high command won’t issue them papers stating that they were involved in hostilities [and are thus owed veterans’ benefits].

Some of them were injured and need long-term rehabilitation and treatment.

It’s called a “ruined life.” A man goes into the army to serve the Motherland and comes home without legs. But he is told, “Actually, fellow, you’re nobody, and we didn’t send you there.” I’m not even talking about those who came back in zinc coffins. War benefits no one except the idiots at the very top.

— If we go back to the statistics, the Ukrainian authorities say that about 200,000 children have been taken to Russia. It turns out that these numbers also don’t jibe with yours?

— Unfortunately, the situation is so monstrous that I am not sure that there is even one agency that can responsibly cite exact figures about the refugees. Imagine: it is a war zone. Management at each individual site belongs to the operational command located there. From there, people are sent to a variety of pretrial detention camps in the Rostov and Belgorod regions, and so on. And from there they are sent further on.

How well are the records kept there? How systematic and accurate are they? Or do people cross the border and that’s the end of it? If I understand correctly, the Russian border service should, theoretically, have more or less accurate data. It should also be borne in mind that among the refugees there are people who managed to get DNR-LNR passports, and people who managed to get Russian citizenship. Some are even citizens of third countries. My data revolves around the number I cited. Perhaps it is already larger. But in any case, it is tens of thousands of people.

— And what is happening in Russia with Ukrainian children who have been left without parents?

— This is the most important issue we are trying to deal with. Fortunately, so far we have not found documentary evidence of such cases. We know that a few days before the war started, an orphanage was evacuated from the DPR. As for all the other children from Ukraine who are in Russia, if they are not with their parents, they are with legal guardians—meaning grandmothers, grandfathers and so on. So we’ve read a lot of stories about total orphans, but we haven’t encountered them yet.

— Do you know what to do if such children turn up?

— Theoretically, we do. In the interests of such a child, a lawyer would represent them with the consent of its legal guardians. This is a difficult job, because the Ukrainian side would have to be involved. I think we would solve the problem somehow.

— You now communicate a lot with children from Ukraine. They say that a child’s psyche is supple, but surely war leaves an irreparable mark on it?

— Of course it does. We can do a deep dive philosophically and discuss when and how to talk to a child about death—what to do if its hamster has died. But what to do if a loved one has died in front of the child? Today, we helped a family travel on to Estonia. The father and grandfather were killed [in Ukraine]. The grandfather died in the arms of his grandson. The boy was barely eighteen years old. And his two younger sisters saw it. Words and tears fail me. This is monstrous.

— How do you find the right words for them?

— I don’t try to find the right words. I try to behave in such a way that, perhaps, they themselves will feel like talking. Of course, post-traumatic syndrome is a very difficult situation. Very often people need to talk to a person who inspires confidence. But I’m not unique in this. All our volunteers are caring, empathetic people. And they all tell their own stories about the refugees.

A few days ago, we had a difficult case getting a family out of the country. The eldest son, who is seventeen years old, has a severe form of cancer. We carried out the evacuation along with the Ukrainian League of Oncologists, because the boy was scheduled for surgery in Switzerland. That was why the family was evacuated directly there, via Warsaw. One of the younger children, a three-year-old boy, has a shrapnel wound. That is, out of four children [in this family], two are in serious condition.

Naturally, this family communicated with our case managers. Our volunteer asked them a completely standard question in the chat: “Do you have pets? Do you need carriers?” And the mother of these children replied, “No, we don’t need anything: our parrot was incinerated along with our apartment.” Such details reveal the degree of horror that has been occurring there.

Yes, a child’s psyche is supple, but we know that young prisoners kept their memories of Auschwitz for life. Many of those who survived have lived thoughtful, fulfilling lives. But this does not mean that they [the Ukrainian children] will forget everything. A lot will depend on the environment and the circumstances in which they find themselves. This is supremely hard work for many years to come.

Father Grigory (far left) with a family from Mariupol whom Russian volunteers were able to send to Switzerland.
Photo courtesy of Facebook and Republic

— I can’t help but ask you as an Orthodox priest: how do you feel about the ROC’s position on the war in Ukraine?

— I feel bad about it. This stance was the basis for my leaving the ROC clergy—because I’d been seeing this position since 2014. Let’s set aside all the theological chatter and just say it outright: the ROC is a public organization with members in two countries. Naturally, this public organization has all the levers it needs for getting involved in peacemaking and bringing people together. Instead, the organization a priori takes one side: these guys here are right, and those guys there are wrong.

This is no dialogue. This is the clerical habit of preaching from the pulpit, from the position of “I teach, and you listen.” This has facilitated only one thing—a decline in the ROC’s authority among the faithful both in Russia and Ukraine and around the world. Read what Pope Francis had to say about his conversation with [Patriarch] Kirill: [he called him] “Putin’s altar boy.”

— But why does Patriarch Kirill support this war?

— Kirill is a man of the system. He has his assignment, and he is carrying it out. His assignment is to support the party line. He is part of the Russian leadership. Recently, a friend told me that there is Rosneft [the Russian state oil corporation], and then there is Roschurch, the state corporation in charge of spirituality. Rosspirituality is probably the right name for it.

That’s the wrong way of doing things, guys. In any case, [Patriarch Kirill] is the head of a powerful organization. It has tens of thousands of regional branches—let’s call them that. It has tens of thousands of rank-and-file clergy. I’m not even talking about the millions of believers in Ukraine. And Ukraine is a much more religious country, a much more “observant” country than Russia. That is, they are people who don’t go to church only out of obligation. Many people in Ukraine now say, “Yes, we are parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Moscow Patriarchate. But, of course, it should stop communicating with Kirill. Of course, Kirill should no longer be our leader.”

I’m not even talking about the huge number of people in Russia who say, “That’s it, we’re not setting foot in that church.” [The ROC] doesn’t have to condemn or anathematize Putin. But it can and should clearly explain the difference between killing and peacemaking.

— Does this mean that Orthodoxy as a whole is losing its reputation?

— The reputation of religion generally will be greatly devalued by this war. Because religious leaders, unfortunately, do not have sufficient resources for peacekeeping missions. Yes, I know a number of clergymen in Ukraine—they are not necessarily Orthodox, many of them are Protestants—who are working in the war zone, evacuating civilians and helping the wounded. This is the Church’s business.

But the Church cannot make political decisions nowadays. Its word doesn’t have the weight it did in the Middle Ages, when wars were stopped and started because the Pope said so. It has no such resources. And there is no Sergius of Radonezh in Russia nowadays who could seal off the churches in Nizhny Novgorod.

One could, of course, do a performance. I could go to Red Square and seal the doors of St. Basil’s Cathedral. It would get written about, but it would be forgotten in five minutes, because [the Church] has now sway over minds. Society has long been de-Christianized.

— But the Pope has spoken out against the war, hasn’t he?

— I have a lot of sympathy for Pope Francis. But the Catholic Church is not just the Pope. There are also a huge number of people who should have worked even more vigorously. Now, unfortunately, what the Pope says is not heard by those to whom it is primarily addressed. Putin does not hear [the Pope], and Kirill does not tell him what the Pope says. We have reached a dead end. This is the trouble with ecclesiastical diplomacy and the Church’s influence.

— Do you cooperate with the Catholic charity organization Caritas?

— I don’t have any prejudices about anyone at all, especially when it comes to humanitarian cooperation. People can be atheists to the fourth degree or Catholics to the eighteenth power, but I say, “Lord, what a blessing that there are people who care.” Basically, we are willing to work with absolutely everyone—with the police, the border service, the Defense Ministry, the FSB. If it can be of real benefit to people, I say let’s cooperate, let’s look for a solution. If people are sitting and talking it’s always better than when they are looking at each other through the sight of a gun.

— Some of the volunteers helping the refugees have now become targets of harassment. Aren’t you afraid of this?

— I’m definitely not afraid of bullying. I didn’t experience it in 2014, when I supported Ukraine. Although I was asked a lot of puzzled questions. I think that the events that are happening now with the volunteers have to do with the fact that one of the heads of the regional special services isn’t quite up to his job. He misunderstands the state’s goals and objectives.

I talked to the big bosses in Petersburg and got their full agreement that everyone who wants to leave [Russia] should be sent away as soon as possible. This is in the public interest. Because otherwise we end up with an unmanageable number of socially disadvantaged people who still have personal ties to Ukraine and may have grievances against the Russian state.

Today, they say they want to live here, but tomorrow? Are we sure? Maybe we should get them out of her faster? And if the state does not have the material resources to keep them here and send them off, then thank God that there are volunteers who are willing to help these people go quietly and calmly wherever they want. [The officials] thought it over. They said, “This is an approach that suits the state.” I replied, “Well, you see.”

— Is it true that volunteers do not unite in one big movement and instead operate as discrete partisan detachments intentionally so that the authorities don’t harm them?

— We don’t have time to unite in one big movement. We would start spending time on organizational work, on electing a chair—on nonsense. Now there is a simple task: a man arrives at a train station [in Petersburg] and writes, “I have three bags and four kids.” He needs to be helped through simple efforts.

You can even just stand at the Moscow Station in Petersburg holding a sign that says, “I am driving refugees to Ivangorod.” That’s it. If you seem basically trustworthy, [the refugees] will approach you.

I am very happy (if I can say that at all nowadays) when I see thousands of volunteer chats. All my hopes rest on this.

People ask me, “Aren’t you afraid that half of [the people on the volunteer chats] are officers in the special services?” If that’s the case, then I’m doubly happy that they see and read everything. A person with the remnants of a healthy psyche cannot help but reach the right conclusions. It is a lot of fun to press a button and destroy an abstract opponent from afar. You listen to [pro-Putin TV talk show presenter Vladimir] Solovyov and go into battle for denazification. But when you come across people who have nothing to do with it at all—such as the dead grandfather [that Father Grigory mentioned, above] and the dad, who worked as an engineer at the Azovstal plant—you get a completely different picture.

— Aren’t you afraid of being named a “foreign agent”?

— I am a foreign agent by definition, because I abide by the the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. This does not mean that I would deliberately and maliciously violate the laws of the state. But there are primary laws and secondary laws. The primary laws are: do not kill, do not steal, and so on down the line. So it is shameful to be afraid.

I don’t believe that I am violating the law by doing what I do. I obey it scrupulously. The law does not stipulate that the phrase “no war” is a crime.

Nor do I think that these words discredit the armed forces. I believe that they are words that any sane person would say. War is something that should not be part of humanity in the twenty-first century.

— Now you are you refraining from judging what is happening. When can we make this judgement?

— First of all, the fighting must end. Secondly, all refugees must find a home. It is clear that everyone won’t be getting home anytime soon. And considering such dangers as the use of nuclear weapons, this whole business could drag on for a very long time.

But that day will come. Someday a peace treaty or an act of surrender will be signed. The guns will stop talking. Not only analysts, but also historians will start talking. Sooner or later, judges and prosecutors will have their say. It’s a very sad spectacle. Of course, I would have rather that Russia had avoided this shock. But that didn’t happen.

Source: Farida Kurbangaleyeva, “‘I am a foreign agent by definition, because I abide by the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven’: how a Petersburg priest who left the Russian Orthodox Church has been helping Ukrainian refugees,” Republic, 10 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Reader T-Shirt Contest

My so-called Mayak mayka (right) was a hit among progressive trade unionists in earlier decades.

What is, arguably, wrong about the assertion, made below, by the stunningly courageous Russian tennis player Daria Kasatkina? The first reader to supply the correct answer gets a Russian Reader t-shirt—if and when I come up with a design for one, which I’ll be more determined than ever to do if someone sends me the right answer.

Kasatkina’s comments about her sexuality and Russia’s views on homosexuality will undoubtedly cause shock waves in her country. She criticized the country for forcing L.G.B.T.Q. people into having to live secret lives.

“Living in the closet is the hardest thing, it’s impossible,” she said. Asked whether two women would ever be able to walk down the street holding hands, she said, “Never.”

Source: Matt Futterman, “Leading Russian Tennis Player Criticizes War in Ukraine,” New York Times, 19 July 2022

It’s Not as Far from Kathmandu to Mariupol As It Is from Mariupol to Cape Cod

Russia builds apartment buildings in Mariupol

Specialists from Russian Ministry of Defense have started construction of 12 residential buildings in Mariupol in June 2022. About 2.5 thousand residents will occupy more than a thousand apartments in new five-storey buildings. The flats will be fully renovated.

Commercial and non-commercial property and social facilities, such as shops, will be on the ground floors. There will be recreation areas, children’s and sports grounds with full equipment, including play and exercise facilities.

In Mariupol, it will be one of the first such complexes.

#Russia#DPR#IDA

Source: Russia House in Kathmandu, Facebook, 17 July 2022


Screenshot of the response to my Google query

[…]

So, what’s to be done? The United States needs to open a diplomatic channel with Moscow to get a clearer sense of what would be an acceptable settlement for all parties. Right before the invasion, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman indicated “possible support” for an approach in which Ukraine would pledge military neutrality and give up its bid for NATO membership. If it will stop the suffering of ordinary Ukrainians, why should the United States not encourage Ukraine to put that back on the table now? Given its ongoing struggles with corruption and undemocratic practices, Ukraine is still far from meeting the democratic criteria of NATO membership anyway.  

Promises of unlimited support only embolden what is starting to be seen as the Ukrainian president’s “reckless stubbornness” in outright rejecting the possibility of territorial concessions. President Biden has repeatedly expressed that there are limits to U.S. assistance — it does not help Ukraine to pretend otherwise. It is rare that a war ends in total defeat, and it is not realistic to expect Moscow will fully retreat. U.S. policy must now shift to embrace this reality, and plan for the months ahead when deep divisions within the Western coalition grow, and when, in a lopsided war of attrition, Ukraine might lose even more ground.

Source: Mark Hannah, “It’s time for a US push to end the war in Ukraine,” Responsible Statecraft, 18 July 2018


Mark Hannah

Mark was born and raised on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He received a BA from UPenn, an MA from Columbia, and a PhD from USC’s Annenberg School. His doctoral research examined international transitions of journalism from statist to capitalist media models.

Mark worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and the 2008 Obama campaign. During the Obama administration, he regularly provided political and policy analysis on MSNBC, FOX News, and CNBC. His writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, TIME Magazine, PBS, Politico, The Huffington Post, NBCNews.com, and elsewhere.

His knowledge about the role which media play in driving — and sometimes thwarting — democratic progress was what first caught the eye of EGF. And Mark was excited by the innovative and important work being led by Allyn Summa and Ian Bremmer at the new organization. Mark wanted to work in the world of ideas, but also knew that world all too often seemed unapproachable to most Americans. He wanted to help foster a conversation around the urgent foreign policy challenges our country currently confronts. EGF has enabled him to do just that.

He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two young sons. After a childhood on Cape Cod, he enjoys spending as much of his free time as possible at one beach or another. He is learning to whittle, but despite being from a long line of carpenters, has found it to be quite challenging. He loves reading, and George Saunders, Philip Roth and Marilynne Robinson are among his favorite authors.

Source: “About: Team: Mark Hannah, Senior Fellow,” Eurasia Group Foundation website


Screenshot of the response to my Google query

What strikes me as particularly undeniable is that the absence of the feeling of belonging to a class is characteristic of children of the bourgeoisie. People in a dominant class position do not notice that they are positioned, situated, within a specific world (just as someone who is white isn’t necessarily aware of being so, or someone heterosexual). Read in this light, Aron’s remark can be seen for what it is, the naive confession offered by a person of privilege who imagines he is writing sociology when all he is doing is describing his own social status. I only met him once in my life, and immediately felt a strong aversion towards him. The very moment I set eyes on him, I loathed his ingratiating smile, his soothing voice, his way of demonstrating how reasonable and rational he was, everything about him that displayed his bourgeois ethos of decorum and propriety, of ideological moderation.

Source: Didier Eribon, Returning to Reims, trans. Michael Lucey (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2013), p. 100


[…]

Kateryna burst into tears when describing how she saw some 2,000 dead bodies with her own eyes. The shooting made it impossible to go in and help, despite the desperate pleas of bystanders.

“Russian units were occupying our flats, and I saw them shooting at civilians from the streets from the apartments. I was travelling around with a medical kit, trying to evacuate them to the main hospital, but then the Russian soldiers captured it too, using the patients and medical staff as human shields.”

On her last day in Mariupol, the road was destroyed, so she had to travel on foot. She saw a car that had hit a tree, with the driver already dead inside.  

But then she spotted a teenage girl sitting in the back of the car. “Get out, we need to leave, they’re bombing here,” Kateryna told the teenage girl. On the other side of the car, a woman was lying in a pool of blood, moaning. 

She realised that these were the girl’s parents, but she knew that with projectiles flying overhead she could only help one person — so she had to make the horrifying choice between saving the mother or the daughter. 

Seeing that the younger woman was still able to walk, she chose the daughter. When she got her down the stairs of the shelter, Kateryna saw that the woman’s shirt was so full of blood that she was not able to wring it out.

When she was finally evacuated from the Black Sea port city, thousands of dead bodies were still on the streets, but she received messages from friends saying that Russian soldiers forced the remaining civilians to clean up the bodies to hide their crimes. 

Now safe in Warsaw, Kataryna believes she will never forget what she has seen.

[…]

Source: James Jackson, “‘I was praying we would die quickly,’ Mariupol survivor says,” Euronews, 12 July 2022

Belarusian Railway Partisans Face Death Penalty

Dzianis Dzikun, Aleh Malchanau and Dzmitry Ravich. Images courtesy of Viasna (via People and Nature)

The Belarusian regime is threatening “railway partisans”, arrested for sabotaging signalling equipment to disrupt the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the death sentence.

Criminal investigators have passed a file on the first three cases – Dzmitry Ravich, Dzianis Dzikun and Aleh Malchanau of Svetlagorsk – to court prosecutors.

The state Investigations Committee says they could face the death penalty, although lawyers say there is no basis for that in Belarusian law.

On Saturday 23 July, Belarusians will protest at their country’s embassy in London, in support of the Svetlagorsk defendants and eight others arrested on terrorism charges.

Ravich, Dzikun and Malchanau were detained in Svetlagorsk on 4 March this year – a week after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine – along with Alisa Malchanau, Aleh’s daughter, and Natalia Ravich, Dzmitry’s wife, who were released a few days later. 

Dzianis Dzikun’s brother, Dmitry, said in an interview last month that Dzianis had wanted “to help Ukraine somehow”. Three people had been arrested, he said, and:

As far as I understand, people knew [at that time] that all the Russian equipment was moving towards the north of Ukraine through Belarus. And for that they used the railways. They wanted to help Ukraine somehow – to stop these armaments, to make sure they couldn’t go further.

There are 11 people in the “railway partisans” case, and now the first three are going to court. For me, these people are heroes. They didn’t sit at home, like the “armchair battalion”. At least they tried to do something.

Dmitry said that Dzianis, who is in a detention centre at Gomel’, had been able to send and receive letters, and had been visited by his partner and and his sister.

Straight after his arrest in March, it was very different. Dzianis was severely beaten and forced to record a so-called confession on video – one of the Belarusian security forces’ standard techniques. Dmitry said:

On the so called “confessional” video it is clear that my brother’s face was smashed in. A black eye, swelling on his chin. The day before he was arrested, we spoke [on line] in the evening. I saw how he looked; not so much as a scratch. He was feeling fine. [But after his arrest] he was limping. Other people saw him. He was holding his side, his face was bruised.

The case against Ravich, Dzikun and Malchanau concerns an arson attack on a railway relay cabinet. This is reportedly the most common form of rail sabotage: it wrecks automatic signalling systems, disrupts schedules and forces trains to move at reduced speeds of 15-20km/hour.

The Svetlagorsk trio have been charged with participating in an extremist organisation; acts of terrorism; deliberate harm to the transport system, resulting in serious damage and threats to life; and treason.

The Investigations Committee said the trio could face the death penalty. But Zerkalo, the independent news site, published legal advice that the death penalty for terrorism offences, introduced on 29 May this year, can not be applied retroactively. Prior to that date, it could only be applied if the offences had led to deaths.

Obviously there is no reason to think that Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime will obey its own laws, and so the lives of the Svetlagorsk accused are in danger.

On 21 April, a coalition of six human rights organisations recognised the Svetlagorsk three, and eight other “railway partisans”, as political prisoners.

An overview of the “railway partisans” movement by Belarus Digest estimated that in the first two months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were more than 80 actions.

“Incidents at this scale have not been seen since world war two”, Lizaveta Kasmach wrote in that report. Railway workers had been among those arrested, and in the last week of March, independent Telegram channels had reported that more than 40 of them had been arrested.

The authorities charged the detainees with high treason, espionage, and terrorist acts. By 30 March, Telegram channels affiliated with the security forces posted more than three dozen “confession” videos featuring arrested railway workers.

The fate of these detainees is unknown to Belarusian activists I have been in touch with. They are not included in the human rights organisations’ list of political prisoners, but that does not mean they are safe. There are so many detainees that activists are struggling to keep track of them all; people are only included on the list according to narrow criteria.

In April, the Belarusian opposition politician Franak Viačorka reported that, as well as sabotage, there were “dozens” of smaller actions, e.g. by train drivers who refused to carry equipment.


Dzianis Dzikun before his arrest (left) and on “confessional” video.
Images courtesy of Viasna (via People and Nature)

A decentralised network, including Bypol (former security services officers now in exile), the Community of Railway Workers (organised on Telegram) and the Cyber Partisans (Belarusian IT professionals now in exile), helped facilitate action against Russian military transport, the Washington Post reported.

The “railway partisans” actions are indicative of widespread discontent with the Belarusian regime over its support for Russia’s war on Ukraine. In response, the authorities have lashed out with renewed repression of trade unionists, journalists and other opponents.

The Supreme Court of Belarus last week (12 July) ordered the liquidation of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, which for thirty years has played a leading role in the struggle for workers’ rights.

“The union’s activities have always been about increasing workers’ wages, workplace safety, and fair and dignified relations with people in the workplace”, its organisers stated prior to the decision.

Since 1991 members of our trade union, united in primary organisations of Mozyr, Novopolotsk, Soligorsk, Grodno, Bobruisk, Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk, independently defended their legal rights by concluding collective agreements.

The union’s president Maksim Poznyakov was arrested in May in Novopolotsk. A week previously he had been elected as president of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions – to replace Aleksandr Yaroshuk and his deputy, Sergei Antusevich, who were also arrested.

This month, Katsiaryna Andreyeva, a journalist, had an eight-year sentence for treason added to her two-year jail term for participating in the 2020 protests, and Danuta Perednia, a student, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for reposting an anti-war statement.

Human rights organisations say there are now more than 1200 political prisoners in Belarus – although the total numbers detained in response to protest activities (such as the rail workers mentioned above) is far higher.

Railway workers’ support for the antiwar movement this year follows their active participation in the wave of protests that swept Belarus in 2020.

Those actions, too, led to dismissals, arrests and jailings, which are documented, together with information about the “railway partisans”, in a report by Our House, the civil society campaign group. (A downloadable version of the report, that Our House has circulated among trade unionists in the UK, is here.)

In September last year, three railway workers – Sjarhei DzjubaMaksim Sakovicz and Hanna Ablab – were rounded up as part of a “treason” case against the Rabochy Rukh labour rights group.

On Saturday 23 July, Belarusians and their supporters in the UK will demonstrate in support of the “railway partisans” and other political prisoners, at 12 midday, at the Belarusian embassy, 6 Kensington Court, London, W8 5DL.

The demonstration is called “in support of the rail workers of Belarus, who despite facing tremendous repression from the regime, successfully disrupted the Russian invasion in Ukraine by sabotaging the railway network. We will be demanding an immediate release of the imprisoned heroes”.

Earlier this month, a conference of the UK rail workers’ union RMT resolved to support Belarusian rail workers facing repression. This welcome stand will help to strengthen desperately needed solidarity. 

Source: People and Nature, “Belarusian ‘railway partisans’ face death penalty,” 18 July 2022. Thanks to Simon Pirani for encouraging me to repost his article here.

Kronotsky Nature Reserve Employees Sentenced to Long Prison Terms

The Uzon caldera in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve: Photo: Igor Shpilenok/Kronotsky Nature Reserve

Greenpeace Russia strongly disagrees with the charges against the nature reserve employees.

On July 15, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk City Court found employees of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve guilty of embezzlement in the amount of [454] million rubles [approx. 7.9 million euros]. The money had been allocated from the federal budget to eliminate accumulated environmental damage.

Darya Panicheva, head of the reserve’s scientific department, was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. The court sentenced Roman Korchigin, deputy director for science and educational tourism, to five years in prison. Oksana Terekhova, deputy director for financial and legal support, was sentenced to five years and six months in prison. Nikolai Pozdnyakov, a former employee of the reserve, was also convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. All of them were taken into police custody in the courtroom.

The court also sentenced all the convicted persons to compensate in full the financial damage indicated in the charges and to pay large fines.

None of the reserve employees of the reserve has admitted any wrongdoing. The defense will petition a higher court to review the verdict, seeking to have the charges completely dropped and obtain an acquittal.

The director of the Kronotsky Reserve, Pyotr Shpilenok, commented on the court’s decision.

“I’m in shock,” he said. “Innocent employees have been taken into custody for doing their official duties. We will continue to fight on their behalf — otherwise we wouldn’t know how to go on living and working. There is now only one recourse for us — to go to higher courts and seek the complete dismissal of charges against them. In addition, the reserve is now literally in a state of emergency: it won’t be able to function as before without these key employees. The specialists sent to prison were responsible for the most important areas of work: science, tourism, and economic support. Kronotsky will now have to urgently make some difficult decisions to keep nature protected.”

The Kronotsky Reserve employees were charged with embezzling over 454 million rubles from the federal budget and being involved in an organized criminal group. The money was earmarked for and spent on cleaning up the reserve and eliminating accumulated environmental damage. The Investigative Committee, however, believes that this money was stolen. On June 27, the prosecution requested that the court sentence the accused reserve employees to six to eight years of imprisonment, multimillion-ruble fines, and overall damages of 454.6 million rubles.

The charges caused a massive public outcry, and the trial came to be called the “Clean-Up Case.” The team at the Kronotsky Reserve publicly posted materials that testify to the innocence of the reserve’s employees: paperwork, photos and video footage, witness statements, and official findings by scientific institutions, Rosprirodnadzor, and the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. They clearly show that there are many discrepancies in the case.

“The Clean-Up Case,” a 21-minute exploration of the case by persons unknown, posted on YouTube on 23 June 2022.
The video is in Russian, without subtitles in other languages.

“I personally know the accused reserve employees and can confirm that they are some of the best and most dedicated specialists in the reserve system,” says Mikhail Kreindlin, project manager for specially protected natural areas at Greenpeace Russia. “Basically, the employees are accused of conscientiously and competently performing their work in assessing the damage caused to the reserve earlier, while the investigation is trying to prove the existence of an organized criminal group by pointing to the organizational structure of the institution that manages the reserve.”

Greenpeace Russia considers the sentence imposed on the employees of the Kronotsky Reserve unfair. Over years of cooperation, the reserve employees have proven themselves to be exceptionally honest and professional people, dedicated to their work.

Source: Greenpeace Russia, “Kronotsky Nature Reserve Employees Sentenced to Up to 5 1/2 Years in Prison,” 15 July 2022. Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Internationalism à la russe

Kirill Medvedev

At the moment I’m worried by the sense that there is no way out of the situation at the regional level—the war between Russia and Ukraine can go on indefinitely long. Continuing within the pre-established framework of geopolitical nationalism, Russia wants to expand its borders or fortify them with new puppet buffer entities; Ukraine wants to preserve existing territories and get back lost ones; other countries in the region are concerned about preserving themselves as nation-states; and finally, there are territories that someone hopes become new nation-states. We understand some of the above while condemning others, but all of it together is a nationalistic impasse in globalization from which there is no global way out.

A sensible global response to the crisis will emerge only if the situation (no matter how scary this is to say) actually escalates into a global confrontation, into a Third World War. And then those who abstractly and dogmatically insist today that everyone is to blame for the new insane war and the new arms race—Putin, NATO, Ukrainian and European elites—will be proven right. Because the global war, which has been going on for a long time and has lost even a semblance of meaning, naturally provokes peoples and nations who are worse off to ask questions of elites who are still well off or even better off than they were before.

Apparently, this is the only way the one big question to the world order of the last thirty years can be posed and give rise to a big answer—in the form of a new global anti-war, anti-imperialist, redistributive, climate, human rights, unifying federalist, etc., agenda, which would be articulated by new international bodies fueled by genuinely widespread grassroots discontent.

It would be just terrible if different parts of humanity had to kill and maim each other even more in order to feel unity again, embrace common challenges, and suggest common responses.

[Comments]

Hanna Perekhoda Here the Western left has been looking and looking for an anti-war movement on the Russian left. They have searched high and low, wondering how to help them and guessing that those poor people are thinking how to stop the war and undoubtedly need support. With your permission, I will show them this post as an illustration of the ardent zeal on the Russian left to accelerate the defeat of its own fascist regime and stop the war in Ukraine.

Hanna Perekhoda I reread [this post] and was even more gobsmacked. Has helplessness really crushed your brain so much that you are practicing at imagining exactly how the Third World War would solve problems that you no longer have the courage try and solve, let alone think about normally? Have even basic moral and ethical principles fallen by the wayside? This is the living end, and a pathetic one at that. No fucking war indeed. Game over.

Source: Kirill Medvedev, Facebook, 11 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


In an existential crisis and looking to solve a cold case, Max checks into a secretive hotel with elaborate assisted suicide fantasies. He uncovers a disturbing truth, questioning the nature of life, death, and his perception of reality.

Source: IMDb


Mindfulness has never been more important.

[…]

“There used to be diasporas, now there are communities,” say newcomers in Kas. Some of them organize traditional guided tours, some are in charge of taxi services jointly with locals or are developing food delivery companies.

Maksim Zaikin creates co-living spaces for people with similar habits and values by subletting villas. Maksim, a mentor for several projects in Moscow and St. Petersburg, creator of Co eco-system, arrived in Kas in November 2020 to pass the winter. He first organized a party in the neighboring town of Kalkan attended by 45 people mostly from Kas. Maksim then realized that it’s better to move there.

“All people that I am talking to here say that it’s a sort of place of power,” he says. “Kas gives you energy and helps you grow. Everyone in my circle can feel it. I was meeting people that I knew through Facebook but never had personal contacts with when Russians were arriving here in big numbers. Now, the trend has reversed — people stayed in Turkey for the officially allowed 90 days and decided to move back home or change the location.”

“We often see people leave, realise what they really want and come back. In the time of war, Kas has become not just an isle of calmness but also a space for development.”

At their peak, Maksim and his business partner Nikita had 6 villas on the peninsula and apartments in the centre. Prices start from $1,000 per month for a double room outside of the tourist season. When it gets hotter, prices go up as well to at least $1,700. Coworking spaces that host events, lectures and workshops are also available. It has essentially transformed into a home for the community or a culture centre. “It’s very easy for us to find speakers, they themselves come looking because Kas is a place with a lot of fantastic people.”

The team is planning to set up camps with experts on their villas and launch educational programs for kids. Maksim himself has two, 8- and 10-year-olds, they are currently studying online. But the entrepreneur is dreaming of creating an offline program for education.

Many Russians come with kids but the nearest school offering education in Russian is located in Antalya.

“I am not thinking of going back to Russia,” Maksim concludes. “I want to create a lifestyle where I can move between hubs: Kas, Bali, Portugal. We go where there’s a market for it, where Russians go. I want to live on the planet, not in a country.”

Source: Olga Grigoryeva, “Russians in Kas: A small town in southern Turkey turned into a hub of Russian intellectuals,” Novaya Gazeta. Europe, 14 July 2022

Masyanya: Saint Mariuburg

“Compassion and empathy—the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes—are the most vital human emotions. This cartoon is addressed to those who, through some monstrous error, support Russia’s war on Ukraine.”

Source: Masyanya, “Episode 162: Saint Mariuburg,” YouTube. Over three million people have watched this episode since it was posted several days ago. Press CC for English subtitles.


Masyanya creator Oleg Kuvaev, montaged with a still from the latest episode of his hit cartoon, which imagines what an unprovoked Chinese invasion of Russia would look like in Masyanya’s hometown of Saint Petersburg.

From an interview with Oleg Kuvaev about the latest episode of Masyanya (“Episode 162: Saint Mariuburg”):

“I would argue that Russian society was deliberately depoliticized during the early two thousands. I played along with this process to a certain extent. […] I was categorically against [putting] politics in the series. Masyanya didn’t touch on any controversial topics whatsoever, and I didn’t get involved in anything, but only enjoyed my own jokes. But now is not the time for humor: comedians in Russia have found themselves in a situation where they do not have the tools to do their job. The main tool of humorists—exaggeration—no longer works, because the absurdity is now so off the scales that no humorist can go further.”

Source: Sergei Averkov, Facebook, 12 July 2022. Thanks to Vladimir Volokhonsky for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

UXO: Support the White Helmets!

My name is Nermin Al-Hassan and I’m one of the first women to join the White Helmets’ unexploded ordnance (UXO) removal team in northwest Syria. The White Helmets have responded to 247 military attacks this year, the majority by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally. Cluster bombs and rockets have turned our farms into minefields and river banks where children should be free to play into a no man’s land.

With your generous support, the White Helmets respond quickly to every attack to rescue the injured and save lives. Afterwards, our UXO awareness teams go into camps and schools near the bombing to teach people to stay away from the remnants of war that litter our land, which will later be destroyed by our teams. Having women volunteers is so important as we now reach more women in society, alongside their families and crucially children. We also help to survey land and cordon off dangerous areas.

UXO removal is one of the most dangerous jobs at The White Helmets, but knowing that I am part of a team that saves lives helps me overcome my fears. Despite all the risks we face, whether in unexploded ordnance removal or elsewhere, I am honored to be part of an organization that gives people new hope despite all our years of suffering and war.

White Helmets volunteers giving a UXO awareness presentation to a group of students

Northwest Syria lacks almost all of society’s basic services and the White Helmets are stepping up where international actors fail us time and again. During these hot summer months, the medical needs of elderly residents and children in displacement camps are rising and we’ve doubled our services to ease their suffering.

Thanks to your donations to the White Helmets, our volunteers have provided tens of thousands of ambulance services this year, conducted over 700 firefighting operations and we are working hard to repair infrastructure destroyed by bombing. The women volunteers have provided 55,000 consultations to families across 33 women’s centers – with first aid, immunization campaigns and medical advice.

Your generous support is helping the families of volunteers who tragically died doing this life-saving work. 296 families receive $600 each per quarter, and in 2021, donations from supporters like you helped 233 volunteers receive medical treatment for issues ranging from field injuries and urgent surgeries, to cancer treatment and prosthetics.

We all do this stressful work while worrying about our own families’ safety, but our mission to save lives and to keep hope alive for our neighbors who have been abandoned by everyone else sustains us. Knowing that we have the support of individuals like you around the world motivates us greatly even on our most difficult days.

With hope,

Nermin Al-Hassan

PS – If you can, please consider starting a monthly donation to help The White Helmets reach even more people in northwest Syria with life-saving services.

Donate to The White Helmets

Source: Email newsletter from The Syria Campaign, an independent advocacy group campaigning for a peaceful and democratic future for Syria. I just donated $25 to them via PayPal. It took me less than a minute to do this.