Elena Milashina: In Chechnya, Only the Dead Have Nothing to Fear

milashina
Elena Milashina

It Was an Execution: Dozens of People Were Shot in Grozny on the Night of Janunary 25
Elena Milashina
Novaya Gazeta
July 9, 2017

Over the years, Novaya Gazeta has regularly published information about massacres and reprisals in Chechnya. The motives for persecuting the people who live in the repubic have been quite varied. In early April, Novaya Gazeta published evidence testifying to the widespread persecution, torture, and killings of gay Chechens. Due to enormous international pressure, Russia’s law enforcement agencies for first time conducted, much against their will, a pre-investigation of evidence of extrajudiciary killings in Chechnya. This was in itself an incredible achievement.

On April 20, we handed over to police investigators information about two men who, we had concluded, had been killed during the anti-gay campaign in Chechnya. Our journalistic investigation, in fact, began with attempting to clarify what had happened to these two men.

We sent all information about the murdered men to investigators for their review as soon as we received it. We also gave the Russian Investigative Committee the anonymous testimony of the surviving victims, who had been kept in secret prisons and gone through terrible torture. This testimony aided investigators in independently and successfully establishing the identities of the victims, according to our information.

Igor Sobol, deputy head of the major case squad in the Central Investigations Department at the Russian Investigative Committee’s North Caucasus Federal District office, who conducted the pre-investigation, had planned to meet with the victims to try and convince them to make statements. However, Sobol had worked on the pre-investigation for a mere two weeks when he was suddenly appointed to a new post. The pre-investigation was assigned to another investigator. After this reshuffle, the official investigation ceased to be robust and adopted a predictable stance.  Since the victims had not filed complaints themselves, no crime had taken place.

Moskalkova’s Stance
We guessed this would be the outcome. It is the silence of living victims, scared to death by the unlimited capacities of Chechnya’s security forces, that is the main argument used by police investigators in response to all complaints about human right violations in Chechnya.

Therefore, in addition to the names of the slain gays, we gave investigators a list of twenty some Chechens, arrested starting late December 2016 and, according to our information, murdered in January of this year. These people were arrested during several special raids conducted in Chechnya after December 17, 2016. These people were not formally charged with any crimes. As in the case of the gays, a decision was most likely made to exterminate these people, and the order was carried out.


FYI

On December 17, 2016, a group of young men assaulted and murdered a policeman’s acquaintance. The assailants stole the policeman’s car. During the chase, they ran over a traffic police officer in this car. All the assailants were destroyed [sic], including three detainees.

According to the Memorial Rights Center, they were shot in a hospital in Grozny.

The incident triggered massive arrests throughout Chechnya, and two preventive, proactive counter-terrorist operations were conducted.


All the information about what we have assumed were murdered Chechens was passed on not only to police investigators but also to high-ranking officials, including Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s federal human rights ombudsman.

In our letters to these officials, we made a special point of distinguishing between the people we assumed had been killed on suspicion of homosexuality, and the people killed for another reason. (Most likely, they were killed on suspicion of extremism, although we cannot corroborate this: no formal charges were filed, and the Chechen police did not have sufficient information to file charges.)

“No one can be subjected to violence, humiliation and, especially, the loss of life under any circumstances,”  Moskalkova announced publicly before sending our petition to the Russian Investigative Committee for review.

On June 6, the preliminary outcome of the review, which the Russian Investigative Committee had been conducting for over two months, was made public. Ombudsman Moskalkova reported on the Investigative Committee’s reaction to her request.

“The reply I received says they have not ascertained evidence confirming violent actions, because they had no specific information on these citizens.”

Moskalkova had every reason to put the matter to rest, as many high-ranking officials had done before her. But she adopted a principled stance under the circumstances.

“Since my request and the letter from Novaya Gazeta I sent contain the names of the people who have, allegedly, perished, the review cannot be deemed completed at this point, and I ask you to clarify what happened to the people whose names are listed in the letter,” wrote Moskalkova.

In an interview with TASS News Agency, Moskalkova likewise remarked that the list given to her by Novaya Gazeta “contains only surnames and names, and nothing else.” She expressed her hope that the “investigative authorities would be able to talk with the article’s author and obtain additional information about years of birth, places of burial, relatives, and former places of residence.”

The fact is that, during our communications with the investigator conducting the review, we passed on more complete information that would make it possible to identify people from the list and establish what had happened to them. At the time, we had information about the places where these people had resided and their dates of birth.

One January Night
After sending the list to the official investigators, we did not halt our own investigation. We kept on trying to explain what had happened to these people.

Since we no longer have any confidence that the new investigator conducting the review will want to talk with our reporters, we have decided to publish everything we know about the circumstances of how these people disappeared.

Large-scale arrests of people kicked off in Chechnya after December 17 of last year. In early January, special raids were carried out the Grozny, Kurchaloy, and Shali districts of Chechnya, during which many people were arrested. The arrestees, however, were not formally registered or charged with crimes. Instead, they were put in the cellars and outbuilding of police departments.  The arrests continued until late January.  According to what we have learned, around two hundred people were arrested.

Novaya Gazeta carefully monitored these events and has written on several occasions about the plight of the arrestees. Thus, on January 12, we published the names of those arrested after a special raid in the Kurchaloy District. Some of the people on this list were “legalized” only on February 20. This means they were formally arrested only a month and a half after they had in fact been detained. These people were formally charged with illegal arms trafficking (Article 222 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), and a handful were also charged with violating Article 208 (involvement in an illegal armed formation).

We believe that, during a month and a half of illegal detention, these people were coerced into confessing their guilt, which is often the only evidence of guilt in Chechnya. This can be easily seen if we examine the criminal cases currently under investigation by the Chechen Investigative Committee. The names of twenty-two men, detained on January 9 and 10, 2017, and published on Novaya Gazeta‘s website on January 12, is evidence of the illegal one-and-a-half-month detentions, which, in fact, from the legal point of view, render null and void all thhe so-called confessions of guilt.

When comparing this information, we discovered that six people, detained on January 9 and 10, are on the list of those presumably murdered, which we passed on to the Russian Investigative Committee.

The Marked List
During our journalistic investigation, we were able to obtain a list of the people detained in January from a source in the Chechen Interior Ministry. We were also able to match the detainees with the following towns and villages in Chechnya.

Shali: 28 people
Kurchaloy: 9 people
Tsotsi-Yurt: 11 people
Mayrtup: 6 people
Germenchuk: 3 people
Komsomolskoye:  1 person
Avtury: 2 people
Old Sunzha: 4 people
Serzhen-Yurt: 2 people
Belgatoy: 1 person

Comparing this document with the list of allegedly murdered people that Novaya Gazeta sent to the Russian Investigative Committee, we found out what had happend to another 21 people who had been arrested and subsequently killed, according to our information. The great number of arrests took place in Shali, and we have ascertained the addresses of the people on our list from Shali. But all our attempts to find out anything about the plight of these people have been met with incredible fear on the part of our sources. One of them, an employee in Shali city hall, panickedly refused to look over the names of the Shali residents we had ascertained.

“Everyone who was detained in Shali in Janury is gone. Don’t look for them,” he said.

Currently, we know about 27 people who were presumably killed (see the list at the end of this article), although we have reason to believe that 56 Chechens may have been killed. These people were detained at different times. (We have managed to ascertain the dates when thirty of the detainees were arrested: January 9, January 10, January 21, and January 24.) However, the date and time of death, according to our information, is the same for all these people: the night of January 25.

That night, all the detainees were held at the base of the Police Patrol Service’s Hero of Russia Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov Regiment, headed by police colonel Aslan Iraskhanov. The relative of one victim, an influential Chechen official who has managed to uncover the circumstances of the detainees’ disappearance, has testified that, on the night in question, the following people were located at the Kadyrov Regiment’s base: Apti Alaudinov, First Deputy Interior Minister of the Chechen Republic; Abuzeyd Vismuradov aka The Patriot, commander of the Terek Rapid Deployment Task Force and head of Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal security detail; Colonel Iraskhanov of the Kadyrov Regiment; and the police chiefs of the districts where the detainees were registered.

According to the information we have, the detainees were shot that night. Their bodies were transported to various cemeteries, including Christian cemeteries, and buried in hastily dug graves. (Novaya Gazeta knows the locations of some burial sites).

Careful study of the lists of detainees has led us to conclude that the decision to carry out the extrajudicial executions was taken centrally [sic] and, oddly enough, spontaneously. However, this is how key decisions are made in today’s Chechnya.

This follows, at least, from an analysis of a document given to us by our source in the Chechen Republic Interior Ministry. It consists of the typical photo charts that are used by all police officers and are compiled, apparently, according to a single template. (We can assume that Chechen police officers keep records of their “unofficial” actions according to the generally accepted practices of the Russian Interior Ministry.) The photographs were obviously taken immediately after the arrests; moroever, they were not taken in official police departments. Many of the detainees are handcuffed to gym wall bars or radiators, which are more typically found in basements. Marks have been made next to certain photographs, apparently, at different times. If there are no marks, it means the detainee was released. Marks containing the numbers of criminal code articles mean the detainee was later charged with a criminal offense. These marks were made in the same column of the photo chart, right after each detainee’s personal information.

That is, up until a certain point, the police had two options as to what to do with the detainees: release them or bring them up on criminal charges. Later, however, marks that have nothing to do with police expediency emerged on the margins of the list: plus and minus signs. The plus signs most often match detainees charged with criminal offenses. The minus signs can mean only one thing: extermination.

The Dead Speak
We would like to underscore the fact that despite its having been confirmed by two sources (the first source works in the Investigative Department of the Chechen Investigative Committee, and the second in the administration of the head of Chechnya), we cannot affirm that, on the night of January 25, an extrajudicial execution took place in Chechnya, unprecedented in its scale even for that republic.

But we can insist on instituting a criminal case, during which it would not be particularly hard to check this evidence. First, we have given the Russian Investigative Committee more than enough evidence about the victims. Second, the exhumation and postmortem forensic examination of corpses is quite capable of revealing traces of bullet wounds: they stay on bone remains forever. Ascertaining the identities of the presumed murder victims is also easy: DNA samples would need to be taken from the relatives of the victims for comparative analysis. Unlike the persecution of the gays, in which the victims’ families, albeit under duress, were involved in the crackdown, the relatives of people arrested on suspicion of extremism will assist investigators in this case. In addition, far from all of them know what really happened to their loved ones. Many still hope the detainees will come home alive. People are still looking for their loved ones who disappeared in January. They visit police stations and ask questions.

In response, they have heard the same excuses for months on end. “Maybe they are already somewhere in Syria.” “You should have kept track of your relatives yourselves. What do you want from us?” At best, the police tell these people, “You’ll find out when the time comes.”

Our recurrent and now public appeals to the Russian Investigative Committee are our attempt to bring to the country’s leadership and the country’s head investigators evidence that leaves little doubt that extrajudiciary executions have been actively pursued in Chechnya. We are sure it was long-term connivance of this practice that made possible the widespread persecution of gays in Chechnya. If this practice is not harshly eliminated, next time we will face an even more brazen crime than killing people only because somebody considered their sexual orientation unacceptable.

We have published this evidence because the state, as represented by the authorized law enforcement agencies, has left us no choice. For two months, we had hoped for cooperation, which was effective at the very outset. Today,it is obvious that the Russian Investigative Committee is giving ground on this case just as it gave ground in the Boris Nemtsov murder case. That is why we are publishing a list of those people who, according to our information, were victims of possibly the most terrible extrajudicial execution in Grozny. And now police investigators, who refer to the lack of living complainants, will have to deal with special witnesses.

Because in Chechnya only the dead have nothing to fear.

Novaya Gazeta‘s List
1. Abdulmezhidov, Adam Isayevich, born May 27, 1987
2. Abumuslimov, Apti Hasanovich, born June 2, 1989, resided at Shkolnaya Street, 16, Shali
3. Abdulkerimov, Said-Ramzan Ramzanovich, born March 25, 1990, registered at Dokhtukayev Street, 18, Kurchaloy
4. Alimkhanov, Islam Aliyevich, born July 6, 1998
5. Abubakarov, Adam Dzhabrailovich, born May 5, 1995
6. Bergayev, Ismail Shadidovich, born August 19, 1998
7. Dasayev, Adam Ilyasovich, born June 16, 1988, Shali
8. Jabayev, Zelimkhan Khizirovich, born December 18, 1993
9. Ilyasov, Adam Khuseinovich, born September 22, 1997
10. Lugayev, Rizvan Said-Khamzatovich, born September 13, 1987, Shali
11. Malikov, Rizvan Agdanovich, born June 1, 1990
12. Muskiyev, Mohma Turpalovich, born July 17, 1988, registered at Novaya Street, 10,  Tsotsi-Yurt
13. Mussanov, Temirlan Ahmadovich, born April 28, 1986, Chicherin Street, 2, Shali
14. Ozdiyev, Usman Vakhayevich, born December 24, 1989, registered at Grozny Street, 39, Shali
15.  Rashidov, Doku Ibrahimovich, born May 30, 1995
16. Syriyev, Magomed Musayevich, born February 23, 1993
17. Soltamanov, Ismail Ezer-Aliyevich, born March 30, 1994, registered at Nuradilov Street, Mayrtup
18. Suleimanov, Magomed Arbeyevich, born January 3, 1987, Caucasus Village, 8/4, Shali
19. Tuchayev, Ahmed Ramzanovich, born February 23, 1987, Shkolnaya Street, 30, Shali
20. Khabuyev, Khamzat Slaudinovich, born February 14, 1993
21. Hakimov, Alvi Aslambekovich, born November 16, 1992
22. Khamidov, Shamil Ahmedovich, born November 14, 1986
23. Tsikmayev, Ayub Sultanovich, born April 2, 1984, Molodezhnaya Street, Germenchuk
24. Shapiyev, Muslim Isayevich, born November 28, 1989, registered at Kutuzov Street, 12, Shali
25. Eskarbiyev, Saikhan Vahamsoltovich, born May 23, 1992
26. Yusupov, Sakhab Isayevich, born January 19, 1990
27. Yusupov, Shamkhan Shaykhovich, born June 17, 1988, registered at Soviet Street, 11, Kurchaloy

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Jenya Kulakova: My First Time as a Social Defender

russian courtroom

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 27, 2017

Today, for the first time in my life, I was a social defender [obshchestvennaya zashchitnitsa] in court. I wanted to record my experience here at least: six months ago (or fewer), it would have been hard for me to imagine doing such a thing. The hearing was perfect for starters: an appeal against charges filed in connection with the events of June 12. It was impossible to lose. However, it was just as impossible to win.

I was a bit worried yesterday evening: my first hearing was just round the corner. Lovely Alina told me that, first, I should treat it like having to deal with the housing management authorities, and second, she wished me success. When I asked her what success would look like, she said, “If you get a judge who isn’t too strident.” That was exactly the kind of judge we got: not too strident. The judge listened attentively to my babbling about the principle that forbids punishing someone twice for the same offense. She looked straight into my eyes and nodded. Finally, she asked whether we had anything else to say. And then she rejected our appeal. As usual, there is nothing interesting about any of this.

The human factor is much more interesting. Suddenly, you seemingly find yourself in the same boat as a complete stranger. There was no one besides us in the large courtroom, and the huge wooden table really resembled the deck of a ship. The “perpetrator” was a middle-aged man. As he put it, there had been only two “geezers” among the June 12 detainees in the police precinct where he had been taken. A few years ago, he was happy when Crimea was occupied, but later he changed his mind. June 12 was the first protest rally in his life, and, right off the bat, he was detained. He says he has no regrets. His colleagues at the small firm where he works concealed from management where he was while he served his jail sentence. The fact he travels a lot for a work made that possible.

On the way back from the hearing, I told him about the solidarity of the Crimean Tatars, and he told me about his wedding to a Georgian national, which almost didn’t come off, because the war suddenly broke out, and the embassy closed. His wife is now a Russian national and quite patriotic. After he was arrested, they even had a falling out, but they have made up. They have four small children. The judge was almost affectionate when she agreed to add a certificate to this effect to the case file.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Kulakova for her kind permission to translate and publish her remarks on this website. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Enemy Within Is Everywhere

The Russian National Guard Has Been Crushing the General Staff
Alexander Goltz, Military Observer
The New Times
June 5, 2017

A calling card of a militaristic society is the tendency of the authorities to respond to all challenges by means of force, military or otherwise. The Kremlin’s fear of so-called color revolutions has materialized into a buildup of the resources available to the recently minted Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), which was designed to quell unrest. Unprecedented powers have now been added to its resources. 

 «Чтобы все было в ажуре». Экспонаты организованной Росгвардией выставки, которая посвящена технологиям правохранительных органов, Красноармейск, Московская область, 25 мая 2017 года. Фото: Антон Луканин/ТАСС“So that everything is just so” (Chtoby vsyo bylo v azhure). Exhibits at a trade show, organized by the Russian National Guard, dealing with law enforcement equipment. Krasnomarmeysk, Moscow Region, May 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Anton Lukanin/TASS

In the last part of May, when the public was distracted by the police raids on the Gogol Center and director Kirill Serebrennikov, almost no one noticed a new decree, issued by President Putin, which approved the “Regulations on the Tactical and Geographical Organization of the Forces of the Russian Federal National Guard.” At first glance, it is a run-of-the-mill and extraordinarily boring bureaucratic document. But that it is only at first glance. In fact, only a few lines in the decree point to a genuine revolution in the organization of Russia’s military.

“By decision of the President of the Russian Federation,” reads the document, “the units and divisions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as well as other military formations and bodies, can be transferred to the tactical subordination of the district commander to perform tasks assigned to National Guard troops.”

A New Kind of War

In both Soviet and post-Soviet times, the possibility was envisaged that the Internal Troops of the Interior Ministry, on whose basis the Russian National Guard was established in 2016, could be subordinated to the Armed Forces. After all, an external foe could have gained the upper hand over the army, and to repel it, it would have been necessary to concentrate all the country’s military forces into a single fist. Units from the Internal Troops have been involved in all major military exercises in recent years under the command of the army. But it has never been suggested that army units would be subordinated to the command of the Internal Troops.

There were no hints in last year’s law, which instituted the Russian National Guard, that army units could be subordinated to Guard commanders, for such subordination could mean only one thing: the Kremlin regards domestic threats as much more dangerous than foreign threats. These domestic threats are so serious that, at some point, the Russian National Guard might lack the strength to repel them, although, according to its commander-in-chief, Viktor Zolotov, its troop strength has doubled in comparison with the Internal Troops (which had 187,000 men in its ranks before their reassignment), i.e., the Russian National Guard has close to 400,000 soldiers. The president’s decree means the authorities concede the possibility of large-scale unrest that would affect the entire country. Under such circumstances, all reserves would be deployed, and the army would be engaged in performing their notorious “internal function,” something the military has avoided like the plague both in Soviet and post-Soviet times.

In 2014, however, at a conference organized by the Defense Ministry, the generals, wishing to oblige the Kremlin, came to the stunning conclusion that so-called color revolutions were a new form of military action. Thus, in the new edition of The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, published in December 2014, we read that modern military conflicts are characterized by the “integrated use of military force and non-military political, economic, informational and other measures, implemented with extensive use of the populace’s protest potential and special tactical forces.” As we see, the “populace’s protest potential” is equated with the actions of enemy saboteurs.

Loyalty Counts

At this point, seemingly, it was incumbent that something be done. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has on several occasions ordered several military institutions (including the Academy of the General Staff, for example) to carry out research on how the Armed Forces should react to such threats, but the outcomes of this research are still unknown. Likely as not, the officers corps did not wish to dirty its hands by planning how to deploy troops against its own people. All they could force themselves to do was come up with the idea of subordinating the army to the Russian National Guard, thus shifting responsibility to it for using force on the streets of Russia’s cities. Yet the commanders of the army units assigned to the Russian National Guard will themselves have to decide, when push comes to shove, whose orders to carry out and how to carry them out.

Last summer, units of the Russian National Guard and the Airborne Forces engaged in joint exercises in Volgograd Region. Servicemen from two brigades of the Russian National Guard and the Special Ops Centers, as well the Fifty-Sixth Airborne Assault Brigade of the Airborne Forces were involved in the exercises: a total of four thousand men. However, a member of the Defense Ministry, Lieutenant General Andrei Kholzakov, Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces, was in charge of the maneuvers. The general explained then that the exercises were the first to take place “after the reformation of the Internal Troops. We have been working out issues of interaction to understand how to cooperate in the future.” The reason why, during the initial stages, army generals were tapped to command the exercises is obvious. Their colleagues in the Russian National Guard did not have the know-how and experience to plan large-scale operations. But now, the president’s decree would have us think, the Kremlin favors loyalty over knowledge and ability, and it has subordinated the army to the police. By hook or by crook, the army is being prepared to put down its own people.

Russian National Guard Units in Russia (Districts and Cities Where Units Are Deployed. Source: www.rosgvard.ru

Super Law Enforcement Authority

The authorities, however, have not been hiding what jobs, the most important, as they imagine, the Russian National Guard will have to take on for the state. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin quite seriously dubbed it the “most belligerent military unity solving problems inside the country.” Even so, he underscored that the “Russian National Guard must be armed to the teeth, and not just to the teeth, but with the highest-quality weapons.”

True, the Guard itself is steadily becoming a super law enforcement body, a secret service backed up by thousands of troops. Relatively recently, for example, it transpired that the Guard was establishing a service for monitoring social networks on the internet.

“We see today the areas where we would like to develop. IT is in first place. […] The Russian National Guard plans to train IT specialists and specialists for monitoring social networks,” said Colonel General Sergei Melikov, deputy commander of the Russian National Guard.

According to Melikov, “such training groups” were already functioning at the Perm Military Institute.

Военнослужащие Росгвардии во время курса боевой подготовки, Московская область, февраль 2017 года. Фото: Дмитрий Коротаев/Коммерсантъ Russian National Guardsmen during combat training. Moscow Region, February 2017. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant

General Melikov claimed the new unit would tasked only with tracking terrorists and preventing their attacks. But it is more likely the cyber-guardsmen will identify groups of “rebels,” including people planning to take part in protest rallies.

In the meantime, the media has reported on the Russian National Guard’s intentions to obtain permission to perform investigative work, thus establishing their own version of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department (MUR). So far, high-ranking officials in the Guard have decisively denied this. However, General Melikov revealed that the Russian National Guard would train the appropriate specialists if the authorities decided to give them these powers.

Finally, the top brass has consistently been involved in guiding the National Guardsmen ideologically. It would seem their ideal is the NKVD, for the authorities have not limited themselves to naming an tactical division of the Guard after Iron Felix. So, in the very near future, Dzerzhinsky’s name will be resurrected, incorporated as part of the name of the Guard’s Saratov Institute. The Guard’s units and divisions are supposed to be given the insignias and honorary titles of glorious predecessors. Uniformed historians have been tasked with finding something heroic about the NKVD’s troops. It is curious what they will write about the involvement of these “glorious warriors” in wholesale deportations and whether they will use these “heroic examples” to educate the Guardsmen.

The Potential Enemy 

For the time being, the Russian National Guard’s commanders insist that its main objective is confronting terrorists and armed gangs, underplaying its role in dispersing civilians. But the same day the president’s decree was published, May 20, an article with the byline of Yuri Baluyevsky was published in the Independent Military Observer. In the recent past, Baluyevsky had been chief of the Armed Forces General Staff; he was later deputy secretary of the Security Council, and is now an adviser to the Russian National Guard’s commander-in-chief. His article is notable for its frankness.

“As a military man,” writes Baluyevsky, “I compare our country to a target. The center is the leadership and political elite. The second circle is the economy, the third, infrastructure, the fourth, the populace, and the fifth, the Armed Forces. Currently, it is not the Armed Forces who are being attacked, but the civilian population, since, compared with the military, it is the segment of society most vulnerable to the forces and methods of psychological warfare. The scenario for how events unfold is known from the color revolutions. The organizers get millions of people shouting ‘Down with the government!’ to take to the streets. The authorities start to lose control. Next come sanctions and an integrated attack on the country’s economy. The armed forces don’t know what to do. All of this leads the country to collapse. This is how a modern war could unfold.  The emergence of the National Guard is a response to the challenge to our society, to the threat posed by the use of so-called nonviolent resistance, which it would be more accurate to call a ‘color revolution.'”

Thus, society’s allegedly least responsible segment, the civilian population of one’s own country, has been transformed into a potential enemy against whom the Russian National Guard and the army will be allowed to use force. They will be allowed to use military force against their own people.

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

Surviving the Siege

“I Only Want to Take a Bath, Nothing More”
Alexander Kalinin
Rosbalt
May 15, 2017

Anna Yegorova is ninety-eight years old. She defended Leningrad all nine hundred days of the Nazi siege of the city during the Second World War. On the seventy-second anniversary of Victory Day, the combatant did not even get postcards from the government. But there was a time when she wrote to Brezhnev—and got a reply. 

Anna Yegorova. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

Anna Yegorova was born in 1918 in the Kholm-Zhirkovsky District of Smolensk Region. When she was ten, her parents decided to set out in search of a better life and moved to Leningrad with their daughter. They settled in a wooden house near the Narva Gates on New Sivkov Street, now known as Ivan Chernykh Street. Yegorova finished a seven-year primary school and enrolled in the Factory Apprenticeship School, where she graduated as a men’s barber.

“Oh, what beards didn’t I trim in my time,” the Siege survivor recalls.

After acquiring a vocation, the 19-year-old woman married Alexander Vesyolov, a worker at the Kirov Factory. As soon as the war broke out, her husband volunteered for the first division of the people’s militia. Nearly the entire division fell in battle during July–September 1941 on the southern approaches to Leningrad. Vesyolov is still officially listed as missing in action.

Yegorova was drafted into the air defense brigades at the war’s outset. The young woman served in a basement, equipped with seven cots, in one wing of the Kirov Factory. It was the headquarters of the local air defense brigade.

Yegorova still remembers the war’s outbreak, her military service in the besieged Leningrad, and victory in May 1945.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Anna Yegorova as a young woman. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

“How did the war begin? We were going to the cinema, but my mother told me I should go to the factory instead. Then I got a notice stating I had been drafted to serve in the headquarters of the local air defense brigade at the Kirov Factory. I spent all nine hundred days there. I was able to come home only once a month. My parents starved to death. Dad passed away on February 3, 1942. He was a first-class carpenter. His comrades made him a wooden coffin: they could not bury a carpenter without a coffin. Mom died a month later. They just carried her off to the Volodarsky Hospital in a blanket. I don’t even know where she is buried. Maybe at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, maybe in Moskovsky Victory Park,” says Yegorova.

Her duties included running to other parts of the city to deliver dispatches, carrying the wounded, and standing on guard at the factory, armed with a rifle. The young woman would look into the sky and watch what planes were flying overhead: planes emblazoned with red stars or planes bearing black crosses. Once, during a heavy bombardment, she was shell-shocked.

“I still remember how we chopped up houses in the Kirov District. Once, a girlfriend and I were dismantling a house near a railroad bridge, and a woman called out to us, ‘Girls, girl, come here, come.’ We didn’t go: we were scared. There were all kinds of people back then, you know. Once, this girl stole my food ration cards, and my mom’s earrings were also stolen,” recalls Yegorova.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Yegorova’s collection of war medals. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

The Siege survivor recounts how she would travel to the Krasnoarmeysky Market to buy linseed cakes and oilseed meal.

“The oilseed meal was like sawdust. Oh, how I gagged on that oilseed meal! But we had nothing to sell. We were poor.”

When Victory Day arrived, her house was nearly totally destroyed. Only an ottoman was rescued from the ruins.

Yegorova remarried after the war. Her new husband was a military officer, Nikolai Yegorov, who had fought not only in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) but also the Finnish War (Winter War). In peacetime, Yevgorov became a first-class instrumentation specialist. In 1946, the Yegorovs gave birth to a daughter, Lydia. Yegorova worked as a secretary at the Kirov Factory, latter becoming head of a bread and confectionery department at a store.

In the late 1960s, Anna Yegorova wrote a letter to Leonid Brezhnev, secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The essence of the message was as follows.

“Leonid Ilyich, no one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. But it has so happened that I, a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, awarded the medal For the Defense of Leningrad, and my husband, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, have to huddle with our daughter in a sixteen-square-meter room on Lublin Alley.”

Image courtesy of slideshare.net

Yegorova does not believe her letter reached Brezhnev personally, but she does think it wound up in the hands of a “kindly” secretary who helped the family move into a one-room flat in the far southern district of Ulyanka. She lived in the neighborhood for around thirty years. She was civically engaged, working with Great Patriotic War veterans. She says she even worked as an aide to Sergei Nikeshin, currently an MP in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, who was then quite young. Nikeshin and she inspected the fields then surrounding Ulyanka.

The certificate accompanying Anna Yegorova’s medal For the Defense of Leningrad. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

In 1996, Yegorova took seriously ill. She was struck down by deep vein thrombosis. Her left leg “was like a wooden peg.” Her husband Nikolai died in 1999.

“After that, Mom stayed at home. I took care of her. This is my cross. We would take her to the dacha only in the summer. Otherwise, she would move about only in the apartment. She would get up in the morning and make her bed, come into the kitchen and sit down on the couch. She would turn on  and call the station to request a song. She loved Boris Shtokolov’s “Dove.” Or she would request “A White Birch Weeps,” or something by Nikolai Baskov. But a month ago she took to her bed. Now all she does is lie in bed,” recounts her daughter Lydia Kolpashnikova.

Boris Shtolokov, “Dove” (a Russian adaptation of “La Paloma”)

Kolpashnikova is herself a pensioner. She has a third-degree disability. According to her, Petersburg authorities have practically forgotten her mother. True, three years ago, the Moscow District Administration called and said she could get a wheelchair. The women’s joy was short-lived. It transpired that the wheelchairs were used: they had been brought to Petersburg from Holland. To make use of the chair, they would have had to pay to have it repaired. The women decided to turn the gift down the gift.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Congratulatory cards and other memorabilia sent to Anna Yegorova over the years as a Siege survivor. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

Yegorova has received no substantial help from the local Siege survivors society. The organization can only offer trips to museums and theater tickets. This is not an option for Anna Yegorova, who is in no condition to leave her apartment. On memorial days—the Day of the Lifting of the Siege and Victory Day—however, cakes used to be brought to her. But this time around, however, she was completely neglected. According to the pensioner, the city did not even congratulate her.

Yegorova’s daughter Lydia decided to remind the authorities of her mother’s existence after hearing President Putin’s speech on TV. The president demanded that the heads of the country’s regions do a better job of caring for Great Patriotic War veterans.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин

“I clung to Putin’s words that veterans needed help, for example, if they needed help with home repairs. I called the district administration and asked them to repair our bathroom,” says Kolpashnikova. “Mom is completely ill. She is almost completely out of it. She has gallstones, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation. She is classified as a first-class disabled person. She survives only on sheer willpower. But now she cannot make it to the bathroom. I wipe her off in bed. She talks to me about the bathroom all the time, however. She wants to take a bath, but wants the bathroom repaired. The tile has crumbled in there. I called the Moscow District Administration and asked them to repair the bathroom, but I was told that ‘sponsors’ deal with these issues. Now, however, there is a crisis, and there are no sponsors. What sponsors were they talking about? Mom also needs medicines and diapers. There are social workers willing to run from one office to the next to get hold of diapers for free, but they also need to be paid to run around. The local Siege survivors organizations cannot do anything: they are the weakest link. I have no complaints against them.”

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин

Anna Yegorova gets gifts from the authorities only on round dates. When she turned ninety, they gave her a towel, and they presented her with bed linens when she turned ninety-five.

“I called them in the autumn. I said that Mom would be turning ninety-eight on November 25. I suggested they come and congratulate her. They said to me, ‘We don’t have the right. When she turns one hundred, we’ll congratulate her,” recounts the Siege survivor’s daughter.

Anna Yegorova does not want to ask the authorities for anything.

“I have no strength. What should I do? I cannot stand up straight. I fall. I just want them to fix the bathroom. I want to take a bath. That’s it.”

All photos courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

A Rainbow May Day in Petersburg vs. The Dead in Chechnya

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 1, 2017

I don’t know what else to on May 1 when LGBT people in Chechnya are facing flagrant genocide, so today this was how it went down. Now we have been detained and taken to the 43rd police precinct. A man who came out bearing a placard that read, “Putin, go away. Putin is evil” was detained with us. It’s forbidden to say that now, too.

Chechen Mothers Mourned Their Bloodied Children on Nevsky

On May 1, 2017, activists staged a performed on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main boulevard, during which Chechen mothers mourned and sprinkled their children with earth. Prone on the ground, the bodies of the LGBT people were covered with rainbow and Chechen flags. The performance was meant to express solidarity with the people of the Republic of Chechnya as well as draw attention to the horrifying events occurring there now.

Since the beginning of the year in Chechnya, which is part of Russia, there have been numerous illegal detentions, torture, and executions of homosexual men, including men deemed homosexual. We know of hundred of victims, dozens of them murdered. Even as they deny the occurrence of genocide, local officials have publicly justified these atrocities by citing medieval “ethnic traditions” and “Muslim values.”

The persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is nothing new. The region has long been plagued by rampant corruption, violence, and murder, affecting everyone who lives there. However, targeted mass killings are a new phenomenon. Both local and federal authorities are to blame for the state terror. On the one hand, they have vigorously popularized “traditional religious values.” On the other, they have proved incapable of opposing the spread of radical Islam and ensuring the enforcement of the Russian Constitution and human rights. Impunity on the ground encourages terrorism and radicalization, leading to the deaths of civilians not only in Chechnya but outside it. Consequently, terrorists  exploded a bomb in the St. Petersburg subway for the first time in the city’s history.*

“Cruelty is a severe infection that is prone to pandemic. It is not a one-off event. They started with the people of Chechnya and, although many imagined that would be the end  of it, they continued with ‘their own kind,’ as is now the ‘patriotic’ expression,” wrote Anna Politkovskaya.

The escalation of terror is a vivid example of how the violation of human rights and violence against a particular group can quickly balloon into violence against everyone.

We demand the strict observance of Russian federal laws in Chechnya and preservation of the Russian state’s secular nature. We demand that religious fanatics who are calling for violence be punished according to the law. We demand an investigation of allegations of widespread torture and executions of gays in Chechnya and severe punishment for the guilty parties, including government officials.

#MayDay #Chechnya #MayDayLGBT  #RainbowMayday #LGBT

Photographs by David Frenkel, Alexandra Polukeyeva, and Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

* NB. I have translated and posted the above out of a sense of solidarity and friendship with the people who staged this action during today’s May Day marches on the Nevsky in Petersburg.

However, I would be remiss not to note the striking Alexei Navalny-like anti-Caucasus/anti-Muslim rhetoric in the protesters’ communique, which, of course, is not unique to the otherwise admirable anti-corruption fighter, but is a commonplace in the non-thinking of many “ethnic” Russians. As thoroughly deplorable and despicable as the persecution of gay men in Chechnya and anywhere else is (what, are gay men not persecuted in “Russia proper”?), the activists quote the slain journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya while seemingly forgetting why she was assassinated: because she wrote truthfully about what Russian federal armed forces and police were doing in Chechnya. Moscow’s successive bloody invasions of Chechnya in the 1990s and the 2000s, involving the torture and rape of non-combatants, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, and mass displacement of the local population might seem to be more appropriately qualified by the word “genocide” than what has been happening recently to the republic’s gay men, however horrifying. Not to put too fine a point on it, “Russians proper,” with the notable exception of Politkovskaya and a brave but tiny minority of others, have never been able to assign the responsibility for what happened in Chechnya where it belongs, and they have been aided and abetted by the other “world powers” (i.e., the “former” colonial and imperial powers), who were only too happy to turn a blind eye to what first Yeltsin and then Putin were up to in their own backyard, so to speak. If Chechnya is now an out-of-control autocracy, run by an “Islamist” strongman-cum-madman, Russians have only to look in the mirror to find out who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs.

Nor, finally, is it a given that the recent bombing in the Petersburg subway (which wasn’t even the first such bombing, in fact) was the work of “radicalized Islamists.” Of course, that is one possibility. But there are other possibilities, as any “Russian proper” who hasn’t had his or her memory erased would realize.

When the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed its infamous homophobic law several years ago, there was no popular outcry against the law on the part of Petersburgers, the vast majority of whom are not Muslim and thus cannot be suspected of adhering to “medieval Muslim values.” Nobody but a handful of people “rioted” in the streets, and as far as I can tell, Petersburgers still, inexplicably, regard themselves proudly as “Europeans,” although they have this disgusting “medieval” law on the books, and many of the same local Petersburg riot cops (OMON) who wearily drag them into paddy wagons and kettle them when they occasionally want to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly were, as is well known, on active combat duty in Chechnya during the First and Second Chechen Wars and are, possibly, guilty of God knows what war crimes against the “uncivilized” Chechens, whose tiny, beautiful corner of the world has been ravaged at least three times in living memory by their Great Russian rulers. TRR

The Singer Not the Song

Yakovlev
Boris Yakovlev. Screenshot from YouTube video

Pskov Region Singer-Songwriter Boris Yakovlev Charged with Calls for Extremism
Grani.ru
April 20, 2017

The FSB’s Pskov Region office has charged Boris Yakovlev, a 44-year-old resident of Dno, under Article 280.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (public calls for extremism using the internet). Grani.ru was informed about the case by lawyer Dmitry Dinze, who is representing the musician.

Yakovlev is known for his original songs, which he posts on his YouTube channel.

“Yakovlev has denied his guilt and refused to testify, since the defense needs to analyze the evidence on which the charges are based,” said Dinze. “In addition, a forensic examination of the digital media seized from Yakovlev’s home has now been ordered, and in the near future, the court will order and perform a linguistic forensic examination. The forensic experts are being chosen. The defendant has been released on his own recognizance.”

Besides the recorded songs posted on YouTube, the FSB alleges that between June 20 and June 29, 2016, Yakovlev posted on his personal page on the social network Vkontakte five pieces of writing in which he outlined his ideas about the situation and events in Russia. The texts in question begin with the words “About elections,” “We have already gone over our limit on revolutions,” “Above the dwarf’s head,” “I find it curious,” and “Reading the newswire.”

On March 20, 2017, Senior Lieutenant A. Filippov, a detective in the First Branch of the Department for Protecting the Constitutional Order and Combating Terrorism in the FSB’s Pskov Region office, filed a crime report. He claimed there was evidence of a crime in Yakovlev’s published texts: public calls for extremism on the internet.

In a specially conducted study, Andrei Pominov, an associate professor in education and psychology at Bashkir State University’s Sibai Institute, wrote that Yakovlev’s texts “contain psychological and linguistic means aimed at inducing an unspecified group of persons to carry out extremist actions aimed at forcibly changing the existing state system or seizing power.”

Consequently, Captain of Justice I. Karpenkov, senior investigator in the Investigative Department of the FSB’s Pskov Region office, filed criminal charges against Yakovlev.

Boris Yakovlev, “Confession of an Enemy of the People”

On March 16, Judge Yevgeny Naydenov of Moscow’s Presna District Court fined rapper David Nuriyev (aka Ptakha) 200,000 rubles [approx. 3,300 euros] in an extremism case. Ptakha was found guilty of violating Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code  (inciting hatred or enmity toward a group of people united on the grounds that they “assisted law enforcement agencies in locating and apprehending criminals”). The “social group” in the case was the Anti-Dealer Movement, founded by Dmitry Nosov, an ex-LDPR MP and former professional judoka.

The prosecutor had asked the defendant be given a suspended sentence of one and a half years. The musician fully acknowledged his guilt and apologized to Anti-Dealer. The case was tried under a special procedure. The trial consisted of a single hearing.

_______________________________

Boris Yakovlev, “I Want to Be There at the Hour”

I want to be there at the hour
When the millions of nationalist riffraff
Howl as one:
We were opposed! We knew everything!

We pretended deliberately.
You understand: work and kids.
But deep down we resisted.
We don’t want Crimea, please note.

We realized he was a murderer.
We don’t want war and death.
We really love Ukrainians.
We’re innocent, believe us!

We don’t want Lugansk and Donbass.
It’s the first we’ve heard about the “Russian world.”
Standing in line for rotten meat,
That’s what the mouse people will whisper.

I want to look in the eyes of the followers,
Those Pharisees of the mob,
In whom honor and conscience are vestiges,
And who have an ass instead of a head.

Translated by the Russian Reader. A huge thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea

Elena Lysenko
A picket for the release of Crimean lawyer Emil Kurbedinov on 31 January 2017 in Simferopol, Ukraine. Photo by Elena Lysenko

Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea
Madeline Roache
Special to The Russian Reader
April 9, 2017

Lawyers and human rights activists claim the Russian authorities in annexed Crimea have been persecuting human rights activists, most of whom belong to the Muslim Crimean Tatar community. The Crimean Tatars, who make up about 15% of Crimea’s population, have vocally opposed Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula since February 2014. As a result, the group has been specially targeted by Russian authorities. Many Crimean Tatars have been forced to leave the region to avoid harassment and arbitrary arrest.

According to a new report, presented on March 23 by Ukrainian advocacy group Crimea SOS, a total of 43 local activists have been abducted since Russian troops occupied Crimea in February 2014—allegedly, by the Russian authorities and their accomplices. Eighteen of those who were abducted are still missing and six have been found dead.

Robert van Voren, a Dutch human rights activist and political scientist, said that, since the annexation, many Crimean Tatar activists who oppose the occupation have been arrested and subjected to abuse and imprisonment in psychiatric institutions.

“Since the annexation of Crimea, Russian authorities have prosecuted and forced into exile virtually all those who oppose the Russian occupation, including key leaders and activists within the Crimean Tatar community”, he said.

Emil Kurbedinov, a prominent Crimean lawyer, told the Guardian that, between December 2016 and March 2017, twelve Crimean activists were forcibly admitted to psychiatric hospitals in Crimea. Four of them remain in hospital, while the rest have either been transferred to prison or discharged.

According to Kurbedinov, Crimean activists are treated in a degrading way and face appalling conditions in psychiatric hospitals.

“Some are placed in isolation and are denied their basic needs, such as access to a toilet. Others are housed with numerous people suffering from severe mental illnesses. The activists are interrogated about their alleged involvement in ‘extremism’ and their views of the government. They are also deprived of the right to speak with their families or meet their lawyers on a one-to-one basis without a guard being present. All of this violates international law,” he said.

All of the Crimean activists were arrested on suspicion of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which Russia, unlike Ukraine and other countries, has declared a terrorist group. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) asserts there is no evidence to suggest the organisation has anything to do with terrorism, nor is there any proof the men were even involved in the group.

Kurbedinov says their arrest was illegal and a breach of protocol, as it was not sanctioned by a judge but ordered by a police investigator.

According to KHPG, a further 19 Crimean activists are currently in custody, accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, has declared all the activists in custody political prisoners. KHPG claims that one of the detainees, Emir Kuku, was most likely arrested due to his work for the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, which provides legal assistance and support to members of Muslim groups.

Last year, Kurbedinov defended Ilmi Umerov, a Crimean Tatar activist who openly opposed the Russian occupation. Umerov was sent against his will to a psychiatric hospital in August 2016. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Umerov in May 2016 in the Bakhchysarai District and charged him with separatism. Umerov is also a representative in the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, an elected body that was suspended by Moscow after it annexed Crimea. Human Rights Watch heavily criticized the case, calling it “a shameful attempt to use psychiatry to silence [Umerov] and tarnish his reputation.” Umerov was released twenty days after his confinement.

Kurbedinov argues that these cases have “acutely raised the issue of the vulnerability of ordinary citizens who have no civil rights whatsoever before the legal and judicial monolith.”

Soviet Psychiatry
The practice of punitive psychiatry in the present day is particularly disturbing given its historical use as a tool of rampant political repression the in the later decades of the Soviet era. Psychiatry was used to systematically confine and punish Soviet dissidents. However, under President Vladimir Putin, cases of the alleged political abuse of psychiatry have resurfaced, leading many to believe that the Soviet-era practice has returned.

The involuntary hospitalization of protestor Mikhail Kosenko in Russia in 2012, is just one of many modern-day cases that has been widely held up as an example of the political abuse of psychiatry. Kosenko was convicted on charges of rioting and assaulting a police officer during the Bolotnaya Square anti-Putin protests in Moscow on May 6, 2012. The case sparked international attention from human rights activists, who asserted the charges were fabricated and that Kosenko’s hospitalization was unnecessary.

The abuse of psychiatry in Russian criminal trials is not uncommon, according to Yuri Savenko, psychiatrist and head of the Independent Psychiatric Association (IPA) in Russia.

“Psychiatry is now frequently part of the procedure in criminal trials where there is no concrete evidence: it is more economical in terms of time and effort just to obtain a psychiatric diagnosis,” he says.

This disturbing phenomenon is of particular concern to the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP), a human rights organization that protects human rights in mental healthcare. FGIP closely monitors the practice and is currently compiling a report about cases of psychiatric abuse in the post-Soviet states, to be published later this month.

Madeline Roache is a London-based freelance journalist focusing on human rights conditions in the former Soviet Union. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Times of Central Asia, and Euromaidan Press.