A Wave of Summer Bargains

“On a wave of summer bargains. Up to 80%”

August

Provincial towns, where you’ll never get a straight answer.
What’s it to you? It was yesterday however you cut it.
Outside the elms murmur, nodding to a landscape
Only the train ever sees. Somewhere a bee buzzes.

The knight made a career of crossroads, but these days
Is himself a stoplight. Plus there’s a river in the distance.
And between the mirror into which you gaze
And those who can’t recall you there’s also little difference.

Closed fast in the heat, the shutters are entwined in gossip,
Or merely ivy, to avoid making a blunder.
Bounding through the front door, a sunburnt stripling
Clad in only his swim trunks has come to collect your future.

So twilight’s a long time in descending. Evening’s usually cast
In the shape of a train station square, with a statue, etc.,
Where the glance in which you read “You bastard!”
Is in direct proportion to the crowd that’s not present.

1996

Source: Culture.ru. Image courtesy of Ozon. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg real estate developer and Brodsky museum founder Maxim Levchenko

43-year-old Maxim Levchenko is a managing partner at Fort Group, the developer of a large number of shopping centers in Petersburg and Moscow. His company is one of the largest proprietors of commercial real estate in the country. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, he opened A Room and a Half — a Joseph Brodsky museum located in the communal apartment where the poet lived with his parents. A Brodsky museum has long been the talk of the town in Petersburg. Friends and fans of Brodsky have been trying to open [a museum in the apartment] since the late 90s. A neighbor in the communal apartment [where the Brodskys lived], Nina Vasilyevna prevented it from happening, responding to all requests [to sell her room in the flat to make room for the museum] laconically: “Over my dead body.” That is, until a shopping center proprietor seemingly remote from literature, businessman Maxim Levchenko, showed up at the flat. Brodsky’s fans naturally wondered who he was. Anna Mongayt asked Levchenko to give her a tour of the museum for the program “Patrons” and recount how he managed to persuade Nina Vasilyevna [to make a deal], how architect Alexander Brodsky was involved in designing the museum, and why the businessman wanted to invest in such an unprofitable project.

Watch the thirty-nine-minute program (in Russian, with no subtitles) on TV Rain. Image courtesy of TV Rain. Program synopsis translated by the Russian Reader

Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration

Members of Nochlezhka’s staff in the charity’s courtyard, 2019. Photo courtesy of their website

Court Rules in Favor of Nochlezhka: Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration
Takie Dela
March 30, 2021

On March 30, the St. Petersburg Charter Court upheld the right of homeless people without residence registration [propiska] to access social support from the city. The court recognized that the city government’s current provision, according to which assistance is provided only to people with residence registration, should be abolished. Takie Dela was informed about the ruling by Vitaly Isakov, a lawyer with the Institute of Law and Public Policy.

“Lack of registration is no longer an excuse for turning down a person who wants to register with the welfare agencies and receive benefits. The Charter Court’s decision is generally binding from the moment it was announced, and is not subject to appeal,” Isakov said. “The city government should abolish the regulations that the court found inconsistent with the city’s charter. In particular, they should remove the wording that requires residence registration.”

The lawyer also stressed that in the event of a legal conflict, Petersburg courts would not be able to enforce the current procedure for registering for social benefits, in which providing proof of residence registration is mandatory. “If a homeless person asks to be registered for benefits, but he is refused, he has the right to cite the Charter Court’s decision,” Isakov said.

The homeless charity Nochlezhka filed an appeal with the court in September 2020. The organization noted that among their clients there were those who did not have permanent residence registration in Petersburg. Because of this, they could not obtain the special social welfare registration and count on social benefits from the city.

Nochlezhka said that they had written appeals to city officials and defended the interests of clients in the courts, but had received refusals over the past five years. Subsequently, they decided to submit a request to the Charter Court, which makes sure that the city’s laws and bylaws comply with the city’s charter.

Since only the governor, a group of five legislative assembly deputies, or municipal districts can submit such requests, Nochlezhka turned to Petersburg parliamentarians and found deputies who agreed to sign the request. They also engaged lawyers from the Institute of Law and Public Policy, who drafted the request and, along with Nochlezhka’s lawyers, submitted it to the Charter Court.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Mandatory residence registration, known as propiska, is a relic of the Soviet era that was ruled unconstitutional by Russia’s newly minted Constitutional Court in the mid-1990s.  The ruling, however, sparked fierce resistance from such regional leaders as Yuri Luzhkov, then mayor of Moscow, who claimed that it would provoke widespread “emigration” from rural and poor areas to wealthy cities like his, thus flooding and disabling their social services. The court’s ruling was thus never enforced, meaning that Russians are still obliged to register their domiciles with the authorities, even when renting a flat. Consequently, a person’s ability to do a variety of important things — from applying for a job, a loan or a library card to receiving welfare benefits and getting married — depends on having a propiska in the city or town where they live and thus need to do those things. As a volunteer with Nochlezhka in the 1990s, I saw with my own eyes how the lack of a propiska prevented homeless people from getting help and restarting their lives, especially finding gainful employment and a place to live.

Zinaida Pozdnyakova, “Kalinin Prospekt”

Zinaida Pozdnyakova, Kalinin Prospekt (from the series New Arbat), 1977. Color autolithograph, 33 x 50 cm. Reprinted with the artist’s kind permission. All rights reserved. Originally published on her Facebook page

Ms. Podzdnyakova comments: “I was commissioned to do this series for an exhibition in Moscow. Traffic had then just opened on Kalinin Prospekt, and everyone rushed there to look at the skyscrapers. And I decided to portray all of it. This is my tribute to social realism. I was happy to draw houses in Zaraysk, and peasant houses and interiors in Ukraine, etc., but then I had to depict Kalinin Prospekt. It was difficult for me, but I found workarounds. I drew it almost as soon as Kalinin Prospekt was opened after construction. It was new, and everyone went there to walk and eat; the weather was great. I was looking for something that I myself found interesting and unusual. I even went to a restaurant [there] with a friend, something I had never done before.”

What workarounds! | | TRR

Food Couriers Strike in Moscow

cs-2Food couriers striking outside the offices of Delivery Club in Moscow on June 5, 2020. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

“Bring Back the Old Rules”: Couriers at Delivery Club in Moscow Strike
RTVI
June 5, 2020

Couriers at the food delivery service Delivery Club in Moscow held a strike on June 5. According to them, working conditions at the company have recently taken a turn for the worse. For example, the company has started giving couriers long-distance orders, as well as frequently fining them. The workers walked out in protest. Our correspondent followed the industrial action and listened to the protesters’ demands.

Around forty couriers, nearly all of them wearing the company’s bright green raincoats, came to Delivery Club’s offices this afternoon. The couriers did not chant slogans. They wanted to speak with company management. Although they were not deterred by heavy rain and waited for over two hours, no one from Delivery Club management came out to speak with them.

In a conversation with RTVI, one of the protesters expressed his dismay.

“We have gathered here to get them to cancel the excessive fines against us. Take me: I deliver on foot. I used to get orders within a three-kilometer range, but now they’ve been sending me as far away as five kilometers. Think for yourself how a foot courier can walk so many kilometers and how long that takes,” he said.

According to him, this can cause him to arrive an hour late to a customer’s home or office.

“Then the customer gives us a funny look. But if we fail to take the orders, the company fines us,” he explained.

“Courier Strike at Delivery Club.” TV 360° live-streamed the June 5 industrial action in Moscow.

Another courier said that he and his fellow strikers wanted the company to go back to the old rules, under which workers were able to make all their deliveries on time and none of them was fined.

“Delivery drivers make 3,000 to 5,000 rubles [approx. 40 to 65 euros] for 14 to 16 hours of work, if they do 30 orders. Foot couriers make three to three and half thousand rubles max. At the end of our shifts, management can issue six or seven fines. Each fine amounts to 300 rubles, so that comes to 1,800 rubles [approx. 23 euros],” another young man said.

The couriers say that in the past, when orders were issued within the areas where they chose to work, they were always on time, because they knew, for example, where they could shorten their routes.

“We had everything worked out. Now the situation has changed. We bring people cold food, and I don’t think Delivery Club wants its reputation to suffer. I would like to go back to the old rules,” a female courier said.

The delivery drivers also have problems. They told RTVI about Delivery Club’s clumsy system for compensating their petrol costs. For example, they can be ordered to pick up food from a restaurant far away from their original location, but Delivery Club does not compensate them for their travel there. They are compensated only for travel from the restaurant to the customer, which, according to them, is a small amount of money.

On June 4, TV 360° aired this short but informative report about the upcoming strike.

The couriers coordinated their actions in community Telegram chats. A day before the strike, the Telegram channel Rasstriga, citing one of the couriers, reported the upcoming strike, forcing Delivery Club to announce that they were verifying the report. A spokesperson for the company said that during the period of self-isolation there had been more orders, and consequently the average earnings of their couriers and drivers had increased.

cs-1A striking Delivery Club courier speaking to reporters. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

The same day, a video message from couriers in the Moscow suburb of Khimki was posted on Rasstriga. One of the speakers compared the work of delivery drivers to that of taxi drivers. According to him, they had to travel all over the city.

“We all have families, and we all have children to feed as well,” another courier added.

On the morning of June 5, Delivery Club issued a statement saying that the dissatisfaction of couriers could have been sparked by an experiment with increasing the size of delivery areas. However, the company added, the test was only carried out for a few days, and was terminated before there were reports of an impending strike. Now, according to the company, all unfair fines for couriers had been canceled, and the company had begun returning money previously paid in fines to the couriers.

Ivan Weiss, the head of the Union of Couriers of Russia, also spoke about the problems of delivery people. In a conversation with TV 360°, he said that many couriers and drivers were fined unfairly.

Weiss gave an example.

“A person starts work at 2:15 p.m., and they already have several unfulfilled orders from 2:05 p.m., and so they end up getting fined 1,500 rubles. There is no limit to the indignation a person feels when they need to earn this money.”

Weiss also spoke about the expanded delivery areas. According to him, a foot courier can be asked to pick up an order five or six kilometers away. Weiss also said that while he supported the couriers at Delivery Club, holding an outdoor protest during the self-isolation period could backfire on them.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you want to learn more about the lives of food delivery people in Russia’s major citiesd, check out the recent photo reportage, “In the Imperial City,” by the well-known Petersburg documentary photographer Mikhail Lebedev, who has gone to work as a courier during the pandemic, and journalist Yana Kuchina, published by Takie Dela on May 24, 2020. Here’s a sneak preview.

016c_08-440x440-c

“Since the beginning of the self-isolation regime, the number of couriers has increased more than fivefold. Every day, 50 to 100 new people appear on the delivery chat. People are losing their jobs, and the delivery service is the easiest way to find a new source of income.”

Darya Apahonchich: #outdoorwallpaper

darya-wallpaper-2b

[darya apahonchich]

our private life has been invaded by the public, by the state. our borders are not where they used to be.

but you cannot order people not to be poor, you cannot order them to keep their distance if they have nowhere to hide or stand apart.

i have turned my house inside out with wallpaper.

#outdoorwallpaper
a tiny city apartment poem

darya-wallpaper-1a

1.
we
urge you
not to drink
from the common
cup
of poverty

darya-wallpaper-1b

darya-wallpaper-2a

2.
we have wallpaper and you have wallpaper
and the virus flies freely
in dwellings
only you come to us
with fines and billy clubs,
but you don’t invite us to your house

darya-wallpaper-2aa

darya-wallpaper-3a

3.
what if
what if
my body has become
home to the virus
I think
I am caring
for my loved ones,
but in fact
I am destroying them.
what if
what if
my heart has become
home to
the virus of violence?

darya-wallpaper-3b

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

Welcome to Moscow!

chinamenThe photo accompanying the article translated below would leave no doubt in readers’ minds that it was people from China who would be targeted by the new surveillance measures. Photo by Gleb Shchelkunov. Courtesy of Kommersant

Big Tour Is Watching You
System for Monitoring Flows of Foreigners to Be Readied for When Borders Open
Yulia Tishina
Kommersant
April 9, 2020

It is not only the city’s residents that the Moscow mayor’s office wants to track: it is also interested in designing a system, based on data from telecom operators, for tracking the movements of tourists in the capital. The system should help monitor the incidence of coronavirus and localize breakouts after the borders have beern reopened. According to our sources, Yandex, which already supplies the authorities with data on transport flows and monitors the level of self-isolation in Moscow, could be eligible for the contract.

Moscow authorities could create a system for monitoring places where foreign tourists gather, a source in the mayor’s office has told our newspaper. It would track foreigners who came to Moscow and determine the areas where they spent the most time, using data from telecom providers based on roaming or local SIM cards.

According to the source, the Moscow Department of Information Technology (DIT) plans to sign a contract for providing such data with a sole provider. This information was confirmed by another source familiar with the authorities’ plans. According to the source, monitoring of tourists in Moscow would be required to control the incidence of infection after restrictions on movement between countries had been lifted: “The system should help track residents who have potentially come into contact with foreigners and localize outbreak areas.”

DIT’s press service said there were currently no plans to create such a system, but confirmed it was doing a “cost assessment of services for the provision of on-demand geo-analytical reports.”

City authorities have already been purchasing data from operators on the movement of individuals, based on the geolocation of SIM cards. Since 2015, DIT has spent 516 million rubles [approx. 6.3 million euros] on purchasing such data, Vedomosti reported in March 2019. The city administration’s analytical center acts as an intermediary between DIT and operators, and the data is anonymized.

Yandex could submit a bid design the tourist tracking system, said one of our sources. “The company already transmits its data to the authorities in various categories, including traffic flows,” he said. Yandex has also launched a system for monitoring the level of self-isolation in Moscow and other cities. Yandex declined to comment on city hall’s project. MTS, MegaFon, and VimpelCom also declined to comment.

A spokesperson at Tele2 said it is impossible to identify individual subscribers in projects using depersonalized data.

A system for monitoring coronavirus patients based on geolocation data from telecom operators was launched in Moscow on March 3.

To do this, the patient has to download a special app or get a device loaded with it from the authorities. The best option may be to implement monitoring of tourist traffic on the basis of the existing system, according to Dmitry Karosanidze, head of the network solutions sales support group at Jet Infosystems. “You would also have to work out how to rapidly upload data on newly arrived tourists from the databases of telecom operators, as well as the databases of the Tourism Ministry and the Border Guards,” he added.

Many companies in the retail and banking segment have been purchasing aggregated geolocation data for a long time from telecom operators to determine the best locations for stores and branches, said Kirill Morozov, head of the telecoms and IT division at PwC. “If data were collected and transmitted anonymously, it would not violate users’ rights,” he noted.

Such technologies already enable state agencies to analyze the flow of people in the city in order to make decisions about infrastructure development, said Anna Nikitova, an adviser at Yakovlev & Partners Law Group. “But selective tracking of individuals excludes depersonalizing information. And providing third parties with information about subscribers can only be done with their consent,” she noted. Therefore, bringing the system online would likely involve the authorities enacting new directives, the expert argued, while it would be important to ensure their compliance with European data protection regulation (GDPR).

Thanks to Anatrrra for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Jesus and His Dog

Muscovite Detained While Walking Dog, Police Leave Dog on Street Alone
Mediazona
April 4, 2020

Eyewitness Snezhana Mayskaya has told Mediazona that a young man was detained by police while walking a dog at Patriarch Ponds in downtown Moscow. Police officers put the man in a police van and drove away, leaving the dog on the street, Mayskaya added.

“They tried to call the dog. But it didn’t go up to them—it got scared and ran away. In the end, the young man was driven away, while the dog remained here,” she said.

 

Smartphone video of the incident, shot by Snezhana Mayskaya, as posted on @patriarshi

The Twitter account @patriashi claims the detained man’s wife retrieved the dog.

OVD Info reports that the detained man was delivered to the Presna District police precinct. “The police still refuse to specify what they are charging the detainee with,” it writes. According to OVD Info, the police said that Patriarch Ponds were closed when they detained the man.

The detained man, Jesus Vorobyov, told TV Rain that he was walking the dog within one hundred meters of his home when they were stopped by police. “They didn’t let me take the dog home or contact my wife, and they put me in their van. The dog was running around and barking,” he said. Vorobyov added that, during the arrest, police “twisted” his arm, while he was threatened at the precinct with fifteen days in jail.

A stay at home order has been in effect in Moscow since March 30 due to the coronavirus. People may now leave their homes only to walk their dogs, shop for groceries, seek medical attention, and go to work.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Don’t Protest Here

miting
Petersburg historic preservationists gathering for a “sanctioned” protest near the Sports and Concert Complex (SKK), a late-Soviet era landmark in southern Petersburg that recently collapsed while being illegally dismantled, killing one worker. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Don’t Rally Here: It Will Be More Difficult for Petersburg’s Historic Preservationists to Protest
Svyatoslav Afonkin
Delovoi Peterburg
March 11, 2020

The Petersburg Legislative Assembly is amending the city’s law on protest rallies. The rules for holding protests have become more complicated, especially for historic preservationists.

The city parliament passed in the second reading a new redaction of the law on protest rallies. Thanks to amendments introduced by the parliamentary majority, the minimum number of “Hyde Parks” [locations where it is legal to have public protests] has been reduced from eight, as stipulated in the first redaction of the draft law, to four. Moreover, the parliament’s legislative committee added another restriction: a ban on public events outside dilapidated buildings in danger of collapsing.

Several sites designated as “dangerous” have inflamed the passions of historic preservationists in recent months. The roof on the Petersburg Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) was deemed dangerous. The Basevich tenement building on the Petrograd Side, which has been threatened with demolition, is also considered dangerous. Protest rallies have recently taken place on more than one occasion at both sites. The resettled houses on Telezhnaya Street, which the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] wants to sell, have also been the focus of public attention once again.

Drone footage of the collapse of the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg in January 2020. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Alexei Kovalyov, leader of the Just Russia faction in the legislative assembly and deputy chair of its commission on municipal facilities, urban planning, and land issues, argues that new language in the bill appeared for a reason.

“Of course this will be an obstacle for historic preservationists. Our faction opposed these cretinous amendments. There is no doubt that this is why the new norm was introduced. It was done deliberately,” Kovalyov told DP.

Anna Kapitonova, a member of the presidium of the Petersburg branch of VOOPIiK [Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Landmarks], noted that the amendments could make life more difficult for protest organizers: small protest rallies, such as a series of solo pickets, sometimes take place right on the sidewalks, after all. According to Kapitonova, the authorities were also able earlier to prevent even solo pickets on the pretext that scheduled maintenance or construction work was taking place nearby.

“Last year, I held a solo picket at the entrance to the Smolny. After a while, an official with the law enforcement committee came out of the building. Although the Smolny is hardly a dangerous site, scheduled maintenance of the facade was underway over fifty meters from my picket. But the official told me it was dangerous for me to be there, and asked me to move away,” Kapitonova said.

Denis Chetyrbok, head of the legislative assembly’s legislative committee, told DP that the amendments were introduced in connection with a Constitutional Court ruling, and parliamentarians had no other motives.

“If there is a dangerous building that might collapse located next to the place indicated in the [protest rally] application, then it will be difficult to secure approval for a public event,” Chetyrbok confirmed.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“The People’s Crime”: Drug Convictions Are Filling Russia’s Prisons with Nonviolent Offenders

lebedev-dimaDima has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for a minor drugs offense. Photo by Mikhail Lebedev

Mikhail Lebedev
Facebook
February 19, 2020

THIS IS IMPORTANT! LEGAL HELP NEEDED!

It is no secret that I am now shooting a project dealing with the so-called people’s article [Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code, which makes it a felony to possess over seven grams of a controlled substance; see the articles, below—TRR]. Among other things, I have been photographing people who were convicted under this article and interviewing them. Four months ago, I went to Novgorod to shoot Dima, who was on his own recognizance as his trial was underway. [Last] Friday, Dima, who is twenty-two, was sentenced to eleven years in a maximum-security prison.

Dima was not a dealer. He used synthetic drugs and, as often happens, he used them in the company of others. A couple of times he also used his Hydra account to buy stashes of drugs for friends and sent them photos of the stashes. At some point, the “friends” were detained, the photos Dima sent were found on their telephones, and Dima became a “drug dealer.” At most, he should have been charged with aiding and abetting, but the court refused to change the charges.

This is not a matter of right or wrong, but of whether the punishment fits the crime. Dima is guilty of using drugs and “helping” friends in such an irresponsible manner. Nowadays, however, the emergence of the Darknet and Hydra make it akin to a computer game: you can buy anything with a couple of clicks. I remember what my friends and I were like at the age of twenty-two: any of us could have been sent down like Dima. We lucked out, however, and he did not. Eleven years in prison! People get less time for rape and murder, not to mention assault and battery, domestic violence, and robbery.

We walked around Novgorod for five hours, conversing the entire time. Dima already had a different life: he had stopped using, improved his relationship with his girlfriend, and worked as a loader when possible. (Although Dima is a talented programmer, no one will hire you above the table if you are under investigation.) When he gets out of prison, society will punish him again. Among the people I have met, no one convicted under Article 228 who has served time or been put on probation can get a decent job above the table because corporate security services reject such applicants.

If any of my friends on Facebook know good lawyers in this area or foundations that help people convicted under Article 228 or have practical advice, be sure to write me and I will pass on these contacts to Dima’s girlfriend. His family is now preparing an appeal, and they need support and legal assistance.

message from xtc dealerPetersburg and other Russian cities are now chockablock with stencils and placards advertising illegal drugs like this one, which I photographed in March 2018.

The Stash and Its Master: Why Russians Are Becoming Drugs Couriers
Nataliya Zotova
BBC Russian Service
June 10, 2019

With the spread of the internet and smartphones in Russia, a whole new profession for young people has emerged—stashers (zakladchiki) aka stashmen (kladmeny), people who deliver drugs ordered on the internet to buyers. Although it is a fairly easy way for young people to make money, they could face up to twenty years in prison if they are caught.

Young people employed in the business told the BBC why they went into it, what the job involved, and whether they were afraid of getting caught.

[…]

Twenty-year-old Daniil Zhilenkov did his mandatory military service in the Russian National Guard, and when he was demobbed, he wanted to sign up again as a professional soldier. But he changed his mind when he found out that novice guardsmen made only 16,000 rubles [approx. $250] a month. He then left his hometown of Mariinsk, in Kemerovo Region, to live with his girlfriend, a university student in Krasnoyarsk. Kseniya could not contribute to their joint budget because she had to finish her studies.

Daniil found employment at the train depot (he had graduated from the railway college before going to the army), but he left the job after a month, again due to the low salary. He tried working part-time at a car wash.

“The salary was 27,000 rubles [approx. $420] a month. Our rent was 15,000, and then there were the groceries. We didn’t have enough money to cover everything,” he said.

Kseniya recalled that she bought only the cheapest products at the time.

One day, Daniil and a friend were walking down the street and saw an ad on a wall: a store was hiring couriers. Daniil found out what the store sold when came home and googled the name.

“He took the job without my knowledge. When he started going out in the evenings, I realized something was wrong. We sat down and talked. We had a huge row over it,” Kseniya recounted, explaining that she was afraid for her boyfriend.

Daniil was not afraid, however.

“I didn’t think about how to do things more safely. I couldn’t imagine the police were interested in us. It was quite the opposite, as it turned out: it is only people like us who are arrested,” he said.

Daniil and Kseniya agreed that he would not do the work for long, only until he found a better job.

“He said, ‘I’ll save up and leave,'” she recalled.

So four months passed, but one night Daniil was detained on the street by the police. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for distributing drugs.

He spoke to me on a pay phone from the penal colony in Irkutsk: he had served around two years of his seven-year sentence. Daniil wondered how old I was. I told him I was twenty-age. Daniil would be the same age when he was released.

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader

fullsizeoutput_1ba8“Stashers wanted.” Petrograd Side, Petersburg, March 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

A Change in Russia’s Draconian Drug Laws Could Be on the Horizon
The fiasco surrounding the case of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov is bringing the country’s controversial Article 228 into the spotlight.
Pjotr Sauer
Moscow Times
June 14, 2019

Living in a country where so-called gay propaganda is banned, Denis, 19, was happy to finally meet someone he felt a connection with on the dating app Tinder.

A few weeks after they had started chatting, the guy on the other side of the screen invited him over and asked him to bring “some weed” to relax them during their first encounter. But when Denis arrived at the address his date had given him, he was met by two policeman who began to search him.

“It turned out to be a set up, and the guy I was talking to on Tinder was a cop,” Denis told The Moscow Times.

The police presented him with a choice — pay a bribe or face being charged under the notorious Article 228 for drug-related crimes.

“They told me they would charge me with possession of 7 grams of marijuana and open a criminal case against me, even though I had much less on me. It would have been the end of my university career and possibly my future,” he said.

Possession of up to 6 grams of the drug is an administrative offense, while anything over that is a criminal offense. Denis paid the 70,000 ruble ($1,088) bribe.

Russia has the highest number of people per capita imprisoned for drug crimes in Europe. Most of them were convicted under Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code — nicknamed “narodnaya statya” or “the people’s article” because of the large number of people imprisoned under it. In 2018 alone, around 100,000 people were jailed under the article, and a quarter of all prisoners are in jail on drug-related charges.

According to Maksim Malishev coordinator of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation NGO that aims to change Russia’s drug laws, Denis’s story is far from unique.

“We constantly hear of police either planting drugs on innocent people or increasing the amount of drugs they caught someone with in order to prosecute the person under criminal law,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Arseniy Levinson said that police and other officials fabricate cases for several reasons, including having to reach certain quotas and collecting bribes.

Last week, Russian investigative reporter Ivan Golunov was arrested and charged with drug trafficking under Article 228. The anti-corruption journalist’s detention led to a national outcry among his Russian peers and human rights activists, who said drugs found by police in his backpack and apartment were planted. On Monday, Russia’s Interior Ministry ruled to drop the charges against Golunov, admitting that there was no evidence the drugs belonged to him.

“Not everyone is as famous as Ivan Golunov, and most cases go unnoticed as they aren’t political. We have thousands and thousands of people rotting away in jail because of false charges,” said Vyacheslav Matushin, a colleague of Malishev at the Andrey Rylkov Foundation.

The Golunov case has ignited public debate about Article 228 and how it is being implemented.

“We are feeling the post-Golunov effect, and this could be a turning point in how Russians look at Article 228,” said Ella Paneyakh, a sociologist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

The problem with current drug legislation is how the system is set up, said Mikhail Golichenko, a human rights lawyer specializing in drug and HIV cases.

He pointed to official state figures showing that over 80 percent of all people charged under Article 228 are convicted for the possession of drugs without the intention of selling them.

“In those cases, police have almost full oversight over the evidence that is presented to the courts and the judges need little else to make their decision.”

Golunov’s high profile case, however, might have triggered a response from the authorities. On Tuesday, the independent television station Dozhd reported that a proposal to cut sentences for drug possession unrelated to attempted sales might be passed by Russia’s State Duma before the end of the spring session.

The first hearing could be on June 20.

“I know they have been working for a while now on softening the legislation, maybe now they think they will have the support of the public to push it through,” Malishev said, adding that “it is only a tiny step in the right direction.”

Several high profile officials have also voiced their support for reform. Alexei Kudrin, the head of the Audit Chamber and a long-standing advisor of Russian President Vladimir Putin said while he “welcomed” the release of Golunov, “many others are still in jail” and called for a reform of Article 228.

Lawyers and human rights activists The Moscow Times spoke to, however, remain skeptical that new legislation will bring genuine change.

“The government might soften the laws a bit, but unless there is a fundamental shift in the way police deal with suspects, this will keep on happening,” Levinson said.

It’s also unclear if drug reform has popular support

Sociological polls indicate little public support for any kind of drug decriminalization in Russia. Levada, the country’s sole independent pollster, in 2014 showed that only 14 percent of the population would like to see soft drugs legalized.

VTsIOM, the state polling agency, showed similar numbers in 2018. But attitudes toward punishment for drug-related offenses were much more lenient among under 24s.

“There is a definite generational shift in attitudes towards drug use, young people are seeing the absurdity of the current legislation and how it is being implemented,” said Malishev, adding that his organization received a “large amount of interest and calls” following Golunov’s arrest.

Other initiatives have also sprung up to bring attention to the issues surrounding current drug legislation, including a range of t-shirts with the slogan “228” from Moscow-based fashion brand Kultrab.

“They have been a massive success, we completely sold out and had to order a new batch, people have been proud to wear them on the streets and are posting about them on social media, so the stigma seems to be going away,” said Kultrab’s founder Yegor Yeremeev.

“We have the momentum with us, suddenly everyone is talking about 228. People have realized that they too could be Golunov,” he added.

This sentiment was echoed by the editors of Russia’s three most influential newspapers — Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC — who on Monday made history by printing identical front pages with the headline “I/We are Ivan Golunov” in support of the journalist.

RBC’s editor-in-chief, Igor Trosnikov, told The Moscow Times that Golunov being charged under Article 228 played a big role in the decision.

For Denis, change can’t come soon enough, as he said he and his friends often feel “hunted by police” in Moscow under the current laws.

“This has to end, I am sick of being scared.”

“He Fell on the Knife”: Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay

Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay Man
Takie Dela
February 7, 2020

A jury at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court acquitted a man accused of murdering homosexual Roman Yedalov, reports the LGBT group Stimul, whose lawyers represented the interests of the victim’s friend and mother in court. The website xgay.ru reports that the assailant’s name is Anton Berezhnoy.

The defendant admitted his guilt in part. He claimed, however, that he had not caused the death deliberately but accidentally: the victim had allegedly “[fallen] on the knife.” On February 6, when asked the question of whether Berezhnoy had caused Yedalov’s death or not, the jury said he had not, thus obviating the following question as to his guilt.

A final verdict will be handed down by the presiding judge in a few days but, according to law, the verdict cannot be a guilty one for the defendant. Stimul’s lawyers have already said they would appeal the court’s decision.

“The evidence and testimony presented in the trial convinced me that the altercation was provoked by the defendant,” said Anton Lapov, a lawyer for the injured party. “I’m convinced that it was this bloody outcome that the defendant envisaged. One person had their life taken, while another person was robbed of their health.”

The murder occurred in the early hours of June 29, 2019, at Kursk Railway Station in Moscow. Berezhnoy assaulted gay couple Roman Yedalov and Yevgeny Yefimov, who were returning to their home in the Moscow Region, and struck them with a knife.

The murder was captured on CCTV. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Yefimov’s wounds were not life-threatening and he survived, but Yedalov died on the spot. According to Yefimov, Berezhnoy shouted insults relating to their sexual orientation during the attack. Yefimov suspects that Berezhnoy followed them from a night club.

The Russian Investigative Committee launched a criminal investigation into the murder. Yefimov and the dead man’s mother were named as the injured party, while Berezhnoy was remanded in custody. During the trial, the prosecutor argued that the available evidence proved the defendant’s guilt. Yedalov’s mother told the court that she was proud of her son for defending his friend by stepping between him and the assailant.

In November 2019, Maxim Pankratov, the star of a video on the YouTube channel Real Talk in which children asked him questions about homosexuality, reported that he had been threatened. People on the street recognized him and shouted “Faggot! Pervert” as he walked past. Another group of strangers attempted to attack him at night, but he managed to escape. Pankratov underscored the fact that he had not talked with the children about sex and had not committed violent acts against them.

After the video starring Pankratov was posted, the Moscow police charged the channel’s creators with “promoting homosexualism [sic] among minors,” while the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into sexual violence against minors. Investigators claimed that the conversations with children were designed to arouse them sexually and induce them to have sexual relations. The video was deleted after the scandal erupted.

Translated by the Russian Reader