Anush Avetisyan’s opinion piece in the Stavropol Pravda newspaper. The sidebar contains a summary of polling data on (the mostly negative) Russian attitudes towards ethnic minorities and migrants. Courtesy of Anusha Avetisyan’s Facebook page
I haven’t written about racism, the death of George Floyd, or the protests all these days. It hurts me to think and talk about it. No matter how childish it sounds, I would have liked to have been on the scene at that moment and saved Floyd by getting personally involved. When I was a second-year student of journalism, I needed such help. I couldn’t breathe, either. I was suffocated by constant reminders that I was an “other,” that I and my kind had “ruined the neighborhood,” that I was “desecrating Russian culture,” and that I was a “blackass.” (Sorry!)
I had thought that once I found myself among educated people, I would finally forget what discrimination and nationalism were. But no. Even more often was I forced to hear comments like “Why are so you normal, when all wogs act like they’ve just come down from the mountains?”
Maybe because you have a lot of prejudices?
I was the only person in my class to graduate from school with distinction, and the teacher decided to congratulate me by saying the following to my schoolmates: “Look, you lot should be ashamed. Even she, a NON-RUSSIAN, could do it!”
During lectures on the cultural history of Stavropol Territory, my female university classmates were eager to prove that Caucasians were originally not from the Caucasus, and that “national minorities” (as they called all non-Russians) had no place in Russia. My classmates would ask me mockingly why I didn’t cover my head with a scarf and celebrate Ramadan. This proved not only that they were ignorant of the history and culture of other countries, but also that they viewed all people with dark hair and thick eyebrows as an undifferentiated black mob of non-Russians with cultures, traditions, and values they found incomprehensible.
When I got a job on the radio, the editor tried to make me lose my “Caucasian accent.” I still don’t understand how I could have had one, since we spoke Russian at home all our lives. Unfortunately, my dad does not know Armenian, as he grew up in Petersburg.
The problem of racism exists here in the United States, but it was in this country that I first felt at home. This can be said by many immigrants from all over the world, by people of various nationalities. Here “others” are accepted and given the same opportunities.
I found this copy of an opinion column in the Stavropol Pravda that I wrote as a second-year journalism student in my grandmother’s personal belongings. She trusted me with her innermost secrets. Among letters from her son, audiotapes of her daughter singing, and postcards from her beloved granddaughters, I found my cri de coeur, neatly clipped from the newspaper. My grandmother, the closest person in the world to me, knew how important the subject was to me, how much anguish I feel when faced with injustice.
Anush Avetisyan is a journalist at Voice of America and lives in Washington, DC. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader
The young woman (left) and the late Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky (right) have nothing to do with the story, told below, of a Central Asian female migrant, working as a residential building caretaker in Petersburg, and her temporarily misplaced daughter. In recent days, however, this “graffiti” portrait of the Nobel laureate, which was quickly painted over, has been the talk of Brodsky’s hometown. The brutal conditions in which Central Asian migrant workers live in Petersburg and other Russian cities are virtually never the talk of the town, although it is their poorly paid drudgery that makes it possible for the “natives” to lead such rich spiritual and intellectual lives, chockablock with fine poetry and heated debates about “street art” and aesthetics. Photograph courtesy of the Instagram page Dom Muruzi
While I was at work, I found a little girl outside the entrance of a residential building. She was calling for her mother, her mommy. She was lost. Although the girl could speak Russian, she was unable, of course, to say where she lived and when she had last seen her mommy. But she was enjoying playing with a broken plastic motorcycle.
I couldn’t go to the police. Who knew what problems with papers the little girl’s family had? In any case, the police would shake down the girl’s mother and father and rob them.
An old lady in the neighborhood with whom I organized an ACSC (ad-hoc committee for saving the child) agreed with my assessment. During the ten minutes of our existence as a committee, we couldn’t come up with anything. Fortunately, the mother—a local building caretaker—showed up and fetched her daughter.
How disgusting it is to live in a society where you can’t go to the police, because the police are robbers and looters with blank stares.
George Losev is a housing authority electrician and revolutionary leftist activist in Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader
Investigation of Bomb at Arkhangelsk FSB Office Discontinued Due to Suspect’s Death Kommersant
May 24, 2020
FSB (Federal Security Service) investigators have dropped the criminal prosecution of the teenager who in October 2018 brought a explosive device into the FSB’s Arkhangelsk Regional offices and perished in the resulting blast, TASS reports, citing a source. The case has been discontinued on non-exoneratory grounds.
“FSB investigators conducted a thorough investigation into the allegations of terrorism made against the Arkhangelsk teenager. Investigators obtained the findings of previous forensic examinations and questioned witnesses before deciding to terminate the case on non-exoneratory grounds in connection with the suspect’s death,” the source said.
All legal proceedings in the case have been completed, but the case will not be referred to the court. Once the criminal investigation into the terrorist attack is discontinued, the process of establishing the deceased man’s guilt has been completed, but the charges are not considered withdrawn.
The explosion in the entryway of the Arkhangelsk regional offices of the FSB occurred on October 31, 2018. A homemade bomb was detonated by 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Three FSB employees were injured, and the young man himself was killed on the spot. Before his death, [Zhlobitsky] posted an explanation for what he was about to do in an anarchist chat room on Telegram. He had decided to protest the “fabrication of cases and torture of people” [by the FSB] by setting off a bomb.
Several people have since been convicted of exonerating [sic] the attack. In February 2019, a criminal investigation was opened into the actions of Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopieva, who had voiced an opinion about the teenager’s motives for detonating the bomb. For approving [sic] the bombing in Arkhangelsk, a resident of Sochi was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. For the same reason, Kaliningrad activist Vyacheslav Lukichev was fined 300,000 rubles. Ivan Lyubshin, a resident of Kaluga, was sentenced to five years and two months in a penal colony for exonerating terrorism over a comment he had posted on Vkontakte (VK). In Voronezh Region, a criminal investigation of exonerating terrorism was recently launched over a series of social media comments made by a local resident, Nadezhda Belova.
not to drink
from the common
we have wallpaper and you have wallpaper
and the virus flies freely
only you come to us
with fines and billy clubs,
but you don’t invite us to your house
my body has become
home to the virus
I am caring
for my loved ones,
but in fact
I am destroying them.
my heart has become
home to the virus of violence?
Darya Apahonchich has been posting the texts and photographs of her outdoor wallpaper poems on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to her for her permission and her assistance in republishing them here. Translated by the Russian Reader
TV Rain, April 8, 2020. “Three years after the first terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the court sent eleven people to prison—an entire terrorist network. We studied the evidence, talked to witnesses in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, and realized that there are too many secrets and questions left in the case. We assembled our own jury to decide whether the case should be reopened.”
People Freaked Out in a Good Way Ilya Ershov spoke with TV Rain reporter Yevgenia Zobnina about her documentary film on the strange investigation of the April 3, 2017, terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway. Open Space
Why did you decide to tackle this topic?
I was working as a correspondent for TV Rain in Petersburg and spent the whole day [of April 3, 2017] outside the Tekhnologicheskii Institut subway station. The most amazing thing was what happened afterward. The entire city raised money [for the victims and their families], government-organized rallies were held, and then somehow everyone abruptly forgot about it . Then there were fragmentary reports that the culprits had been caught. Next there was the trial. On the first day, reporters came running to film and photograph those eleven [defendants]. That was it. And then there was the verdict. There has been a good trend in journalism, on YouTube, of returning to the sore spots in our history. It seemed to me that this story should also be told.
Were there things you found out when shooting the film that didn’t end up in the film?
There was this thing with one of the relatives of the Azimov brothers, who had been corresponding on WhatsApp with unknown numbers. The investigation used some of them as evidence of [the brothers’] connection with terrorists. One of the relatives said, This is my number, I exist, I live in Ukraine, I am not a terrorist. If Ukraine had not gone into quarantine, we could have found more witnesses there.
How many people refused to talk to you?
It was a big problem for the relatives of the defendants to give their relatives’ contacts, because everyone is scared. None of the relatives turned us down. They were happy that someone was interested in their lives. They say that if their relatives were terrorists, the local security service would not have left them alone. But they came once, took their information, and never showed up again.
How openly were Kyrgyzstan’s human rights defenders ready to communicate with you? Were they and the relatives [of the defendants] under pressure from the local security services?
It was a great surprise for me to talk with Sardorbek, a lawyer at the [Kyrgyz] human rights organization Justice. He says that they know how to assert their rights. In Kyrgyzstan, there are laws that enable one to defend one’s rights. When they found out about the disappearance of their relatives, the Azimov family practically lived in the offices of the human rights defenders for several days, and no one came and tried to take them away. But we did not find any attempts by [the governments of] Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to stand up for their citizens.
Have the Russian authorities reacted to the film?
We made official inquiries even as we were making the film, but we didn’t get any answers. This film was made for society, not for the state.
What kind of reactions have their been to the film in general?
People have freaked out in a good way. Their reaction has been, “Wow, why is it like that in our country?”
You staged a jury trial in the film? Are such trials the future?
There should be jury trials at some stage. But there will never be a jury trial in this case. [On the day the verdict in the real trial was announced] Putin came to Petersburg: how could those people have not been convicted? In the film, the jury was there to keep us from turning into accusers of the FSB. We thought it vital to turn this into a conversation about what was wrong with the case. Jury trials are demonstrative. Every detail of a case is examined carefully, because both sides understand that they are facing people who do not understand anything about it. The verdict depends on how you explain the evidence. When we begin to explain what happened in the investigation of the terrorist attack, everything immediately becomes clear.
Thanks to Ilya Ershov for the heads-up and for permission to translate and publish this interview here. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged financiers and planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking absence of local and international solidarity with the eleven people convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in the case:
Karelian Supreme Court Refuses to Release Historian Yuri Dmitriev from Remand Prison Where Coronavirus Has Been Discovered
Denis Strelkov and Sergei Markelov 7X7
May 7, 2020
The Supreme Court of Karelia has turned down an appeal by the defense to not extend local historian and head of the Karelian branch of Memorial Yuri Dmitriev’s arrest in police custody, 7X7 has been informed by Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anunfriev.
The defense had asked the court to change the pretrial restraints imposed on the 64-year-old Dmitriev because the local historian was at risk for the coronavirus infection since a couple of months ago he had suffered a severe cold. On April 30, Artur Parfenchikov, head of the Republic of Karelia, wrote on his social media page that two prisoners in Petrozavodsk Remand Prison No. 1 had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
More than 150 people, including famous actors and musicians, scientists and teachers, had signed an open letter expressing concern for the health and well-being of Dmitriev, who in the late 1990s uncovered at Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor the mass graves of Soviet citizens executed during the Great Terror of the 1930s.
In April 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriev on charges of producing child pornography. The charges were made after nude photos of his foster daughter were found during a police search of his house. Dmitriev claimed that he had taken the snapshots at the request of social and health services to keep track of the girl’s health. Expert witnesses at the trial testified that they did not consider the pictures pornographic. Two months later, the acquittal was overturned by the Karelian Supreme Court, and Dmitriev was charged, in addition to making the pictures, with sexual assault.
Yesterday marked the thirty-fourth anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Petersburg artist and political activist Yelena Osipova took to the streets of her hometown to remind people of the anniversary and say no to nuclear energy via her unique protest paintings. Police detained the seventy-five-year-old artist, held her at police precinct for three hours, confiscated her paintings, and charged her with an administrative offense.
Here is how St. Petersburg is protecting the elderly from the coronavirus infection. Police detain a 75-year-old artist [Yelena Osipova] on the street as she stands alone with her paintings, at a distance from everyone and wearing a protective mask. They drag her to the 78th police precinct, which is not just a pigsty, but also a place where people are constantly coming and going. They keep here there for three hours, putting her health at real risk while they drag “attesting witnesses” [ponyatye] at random off the street so they can legally confiscate her paintings.
Yelena Andreyevna is finally home, but she faces a court hearing on administrative charges and a battle to get back her paintings.
Photo courtesy of Varya Mikhailova. Translated by the Russian Reader
“Eat Pizza, Not Animals”: Petersburg Vegan Pizzeria Trying to Survive till Summer
Alla Konstantinova Mediazona
April 23, 2020
Mediazona has been working and growing for over two years thanks to the support of its readers. Today, small businesses need help, and that is what our “Solidarity” column is all about. Founder Daniil Petukhov, a man with a tattoo of a cabbage on his stomach, tells us how the vegan pizzeria Däner Pizza Spot has been doing during the lockdown in Petersburg.
How to help:order pizza and drinks for delivery or pick up the order yourself.
I’m a committed vegan: I haven’t eaten meat for ten years, and I haven’t eaten any animal products for about nine years. I won’t go into questions of ethics, ecology and health. Let’s just say that when I see an apple, I want to eat it. When I see a chicken, I don’t want to. And I’m glad that I don’t have to kill anyone to be fed and happy. I also have matching tattoos—a pig on my chest, near my heart, and a cabbage on my stomach.
I’ve never wanted to earn much. I’ve always believed that the main thing is to cover your basic needs so you have money for food and travel. So in April 2018, when I rented a room on Nevsky, I had to somehow pay for it and feed myself. So I started making vegan pizza at home, right in the kitchen. Friends called, and I would take the pizza downstairs for them to pick up.
A few months later, I moved to the Llamas Vegan Shop, which my friends had opened. We split the rent, and I set up a kitchen in part of the space and made pizza and focaccia there for a little less than a year. Then I realized I wanted to open a full-fledged restaurant and I knew exactly what I wanted to cook—Neapolitan vegan pizza in a wood-burning oven. I started crowdfunding, borrowed money from a friend, found a space at Third Cluster on Eighth Sovetskaya Street, and fixed it up. Däner Pizza Spot opened in December 2019: we are only four months old.
This is the first Neapolitan vegan pizzeria in Russia. What does that mean? We make cold-proofed dough from Italian fine flour, sea salt, water and yeast. It produces a thin but puffy crust, which we bake in a birch wood-fired oven. Our menu includes seven types of pizza, soft drinks, and several kinds of beer and cider. The entire pizzeria occupies about one hundred square meters, and the dining area takes up around forty square meters. There is enough space, but now that the dining area is closed, we have slightly modified the kitchen to make it easier to pick up orders. The number of pizza boxes we go through has increased: before, we used five hundred boxes a month, but now we’re up to around two thousand.
When the general shelter-in-place order was issued in Petersburg, our landlord quite categorically said there would be no breaks on the rent. Later, he made concessions after all, discounting the rent by thirty percent, but we had to pay two months in advance. With suppliers, everything has changed, too: before, we could order products in the morning and get them in the evening. Now delivery can take three days, so it’s easier for me to go to the store myself.
We haven’t had to fire anyone: there are nine of us on staff, plus four delivery people. When the bad news came, I told the guys, “Guys, I don’t want to fire anyone, but you have less work to do. So tell me how much I can reduce your salary to make it okay.” The guys get it all and have not been down in the dumps: they listen to music in the kitchen and hang out.
I’m not very good at math, and I don’t like counting things, but I know this is the beginning of something bad, and it’s only going to get worse. We have had a certain minimum per day we had to earn. Now, while there were two such bad days in March, there have been five or six in April. Overall, we have started earning at least thirty to forty percent less than we used to do.
I tried to reduce the price of delivery, but quickly realized there are parts of the city that are too remote to deliver pizza at a discount—it’s more trouble than it’s worth. There were cases when several orders were made from the same district—I combined them and gave people a discount. Now we have teamed up with the vegan burger joint Hood Street Food—they are located one floor below us. Their burgers and our pizza can be combined in one order so people don’t overpay.
My sunniest plan is to be able to last at least until the summer. But if the epidemiological situation does not change and people are not allowed outside, our project may come to an end in July. At the same time, in my heart I’m not planning to close down, because I am an optimist. Well, and I need to pay off my debts somehow.
That’s why I haven’t been selling gift certificates yet. We opened with crowdfunding money, among other things, and we raised a significant amount of money through gift certificates. So, all four months we’ve been in business, people have kept coming in with them. But I still want to start paying back my debt to my friend: it’s good he doesn’t rush me and has generally been accommodating.
I am counting on support from customers and friendly establishments because all attempts by the government to improve the lot of small businesses have been futile. Personally, I, like many of my friends, got absolutely no support from the government. So if you want to see us when it’s all over (and it will be over), order delivery from us, and we’ll do everything possible to continue to please you. Together we will win! Eat pizza, not animals!”
Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Check out my other postings on how people in Russia have been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Uprising in Penal Colony No. 15, Angarsk, Irkutsk Region (Updated) Russian Behind Bars
April 10, 2020
Image of text message stating “Good evening. I am asking for your help, Penal Colony No. 15, Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. They are killing prisoners, shooting them with automatic weapons, gassing them. I called my son, he asked for help.”
There is an uprising in a penal colony. Relatives report that prisoners are being shot with automatic weapons and gassed. The press service of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) reports that the uprising has been put down, while photos of the burning colony have been posted to social media. The convicts are calling their relatives crying and asking for help. There are bodies.
Source: Approximately 300 injured in uprising at Penal Colony No. 15 in Irkutsk Region
Around 300 people have been injured in an uprising at Penal Colony No. 15 in Irkutsk Region, one of the prisoners has reported to MBKh Media. He also stated that around 200 people have injured themselves.
8:11 p.m., April 10 Audio recording of a mother of one of the prisoners in Penal Colony No. 15 in the Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Russia Behind Bars
Translated transcript: “Hello, I’m calling from Anzhero-Sudzhensk, Kemerovo Region. My son is at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. He just called and said that the situation there is getting out of control. They’re killing them, shooting them with automatic weapons, and the whole colony is drenched in blood; they’re gassing them, beating them with batons, and he just says ‘they’re killing us all.’ He asked me to call and ask for some kind of help.”
7:19 p.m., April 10
Video recorded by a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Published on the Facebook page of Pavel Glushenko, chairman of the Irkutsk branch of For Human Rights
Translated transcript: “People, this another appeal from Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. The pigs are running riot. They’re beating everyone, everyone’s wrists are slashed, nothing’s helping. The whole prison’s burning. Look, help us somehow . . . As we speak, the special forces are beating us, they’re using grenades, they’re using pump-action guns. Look, the prisoners standing here have slit their wrists, we can’t do a thing. We’re asking for your help . . . Here everyone’s wrists are slashed. Right now, we’re located in the work area, the special forces can’t get to us, soon everything will burn down and we’ll be in trouble. [Other voice: “They’re going to kill us”]. People, help us please, we’re begging for your help.”
6:52 p.m., April 10
Photos from Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Baza
6:38 p.m., April 10
Penal Colony No. 15IK-15. Explosions are audible and bursts of flame visible at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Published by Baza
6:27 p.m., April 10
Video of burning buildings at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Baza
5:57 p.m., April 10
Recording of a conversation between Russia Behind Bars director Olga Romanova with Penal Colony No. 15 inmate Andrei . Recorded April 10. Posted by Russia Behind Bars
Andrei: They were wearing masks and had shields, naturally… They huddled up and came after us… What did we have to defend ourselves with? We didn’t have anything special. But they had batons, they had masks, they had . . . They started detonating flash grenades. They started just thrashing the prisoners they caught with batons. So, in a sign of protest we slashed our veins. I slashed mine, and I don’t know how many others did, but the majority did.
Olga Romanova: Andrei, so what is happening now in the prison colony?
A: What’s happening now? I don’t know what’s happening in the residential area. I don’t know what’s happening there. But we’re in the work area now, everything around us is burning. Every convict in the area, [inaudible] . . . everything’s on fire. All the utility yards, all the agricultural buildings, everything’s burning, everything’s just ablaze.
OR: It’s now 6 p.m. Moscow time?
A: Yes, Friday, 6 p.m. Moscow time.
OR: Can you tell us please, have people been killed or wounded? Have you seen them?
A: Well, so rumors have reached us that, yes, there’s a body . . . As for wounded, you could say everyone is, because we all slashed our veins, everyone who could.
OR: How many inmates are in the penal colony now?
A: There are 1,200 inmates in the colony, I think, at least.
OR: And 200 special forces officers have entered the colony, or is it 300?
A: Yeah, probably around 300.
OR: They came this morning?
A: No, this evening. Probably 7 p.m. Irkutsk time, 2 p.m., Moscow time.
OR: Can you tell me please, has the prison administration tried to enter into negotiations with you in some way?
A: No, they haven’t in any way . . . I have no idea where the administration is, no one has negotiated.
OR: Do I understand correctly—
A: The special forces are catching people and beating them up. What happens next, I don’t know.
OR: Do I understand correctly that the uprising happened because prison staff have been systematically beating prisoners?
A: Yes, systematically.
OR: And the prisoners—
A: —systematically beating prisoners, you got that correct, because the other day there was a similar situation, and as a sign of protest all the prisoners refused to go to morning exercise. That seemed like no big deal to them. They went back to their old tricks and started beating prisoners again.
OR: Andrei, have you been in touch with doctors? Have you been in touch with your relatives, maybe, or members of the PMC [Public Monitoring Commission; in every Russian region, these commissions monitor conditions in prisons and other places of imprisonment and confinement]?
A: No one has been in touch with us.
OR: No one ban in touch with you?
A: They say that the roads leading to the colony have been closed by the Federal Penitentiary Service’s special forces troops.
OR: But you can communicate for now?
A: I have this telephone, nothing else.
OR: Andrei, we’re getting messages from many prisoners’ relatives whose children, whose husbands, may be in your penal colony. What should we tell the families?
A: What to tell the families? Tell them hello, everything’s okay, or what? We’re hanging in there . . . Why the relatives? It would be better for you to get the attention of society, I don’t know, the mass media in Angarsk.
OR: Mm-hm. What kind of help do you need?
A: Well that’s what I’m telling you . . . We need . . . Our conditions are just that they leave here. Just that they leave. And we’ll go back to our cell blocks.
OR: You want the special forces troops to leave? And then you’ll go back to your cell blocks?
A: Of course. We don’t want to [inaudible] with them. They’re the ones who started this.
OR: Thank you, Andrey, hang in there. Thank you very much. This will be published right away.
1:50 p.m., April 10
“I was beaten by Duty Officer Krutynov.” A Video featuring Viktor Tirskikh, inmate at Penal Colony No. 15, Irkutsk Region. Posted by the Irkutsk Human Rights Council. The video was presumably made on April 9.
Translated transcript: “I was beaten by Duty Officer Krutynov, so I slashed my wrists, because this isn’t the first instance of mistreatment by the police. Look, I’ve been beaten here. They choked me. I don’t know how much one can take. The lawlessness that’s going on here . . . So I’m asking you to take action of some kind.
Translated by Comrade JS. A huge thanks to them for bringing this publication to my attention and doing the hard, important work of translating it. \\TRR