Digging a pit?
Fell in the pit?
Down in the pit?
Need a ladder?
Wet in the pit?
How's the head?
So you are safe?
Well, okay then, I'm off!
Putin last week took part in a meeting with the mothers of soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine. The title “soldiers’ mother” carries a lot of influence in Russia — and Putin was famously humiliated by a group of soldiers’ relatives in his early years as president. Unsurprisingly, Friday’s meeting included only those trusted to meet Putin and the gathering passed off without awkward questions. Putin — who now rarely communicates with anyone outside of his inner circle — once again demonstrated a complete detachment from reality.
The Russian authorities have been nervous of organizations of soldiers’ mothers since the mid-1990s. During the first Chechen war (1994-1996), in which the Russian army was humiliated, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers was one of the country’s leading anti-war forces and held the state and the military to account.
For Putin personally, any encounter with soldiers’ mothers stirs unhappy memories of one of the most dramatic incidents of his first year in the Kremlin. In August 2000, the inexperienced president was subjected to a grilling by the wives and mothers of sailors who died in the Kursk submarine disaster. The transcript of the meeting immediately appeared in the press and a recording was played on Channel One, which was then owned by Kremlin eminence grise Boris Berezovsky. Presenter Sergei Dorenko subsequently claimed that, after the broadcast, Putin called the channel and yelled that the widows were not genuine and that Berezovsky’s colleagues “hired whores for $10.” Ever since that encounter, the Russian president has avoided in-person meetings, favoring stage-managed gatherings with hand-picked members of the public.
This time, of course, there were no surprises. The Kremlin carefully selected the soldiers’ mothers who were invited to attend. At least half of those at the meeting turned out to be activists from the ruling United Russia party and members of pro-Kremlin organizations.
The most striking speech at the event was close to parody. It was given by Nina Pshenichkina, a woman from Ukraine’s Luhansk Region whose son was killed in 2019. Pshenchkina later became a member of the Public Chamber of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and has attended almost every official funeral and official celebration. She told Putin that her son’s last words were: “Let’s go, lads, let’s crop some dill” (in this context, “dill” is an insulting nickname for Ukrainians).
Putin’s speech was also striking. First, he told the assembled mothers that Ukrainians were Nazis because they kill mobilized Russians soldiers who did not wish to serve on the front line. Then he embarked on a long, strange discussion about why we should be proud of the dead. “We are all mortal, we all live beneath God and at some point we will all leave this world. It’s inevitable. The question is how we live… after all, how some people live or don’t live, it’s not clear. How they get away from vodka, or something. And then they got away and lived, or did not live, imperceptibly. But your son lived. And he achieved something. This means he did not live his life in vain,” he said to one of the mothers.
Why the world should care
It would be an error to assume that Putin has completely abandoned rational thought. However, it is instructive to watch him at meetings like this, which provide a window onto the sort of information he consumes. At this meeting with fake soldiers’ mothers he quoted fake reports from his Defense Ministry and, seemingly, took it all seriously.
Source: The Bell & The Moscow Times email newsletter, 28 November 2022. Written by Peter Mironenko, translated by Andy Potts, and edited by Howard Amos. Photo, above, by the Russian Reader
Father Death Comes to Berlin — Silence Russian War Propaganda on Our Streets!
On November 29, the “Russian House” Berlin invites to a “festive lighting of the candles” at the Christmas tree in front of the building in Friedrichstraße. In a kitschy video, this event is also advertised by the Russian Embassy.
However, we do not feel “festive” at all! On the contrary. We are angry that such a propaganda action can take place without problems in Berlin. Because while in front of the Russian House “peaceful Christmas” are staged, Russia leads a brutal attack and conquest war in Ukraine, in which whole cities are bombed. The main target is the civilian population, which is exposed to permanent terror by Russian attacks.
The Putin regime is thus continuing a tactic that it has already been testing since 2015 in Syria, where even refugee camps are being attacked by Russian bombers. In Syria, Russian attacks have killed more than 2,000 children in the last eight years, and in Ukraine, nearly 1,000 children have been killed or injured so far as a result of the Russian war. There is no “peaceful Christmas” for these children!
The Russian House has so far refused to take a clear stand against the wars of the Putin regime. It gives itself the outward appearance of a non-political “cultural institute”. In fact, however, it is part of the regime’s propaganda machine and is supposed to convey the image of a peaceful and friendly Russia.
The right-wing Alternative for Germany is also occasionally given the opportunity to hold events in the Russian House. Thus, the Russian House also fulfills a function in the Putin regime’s strategy of promoting right-wing and far-right parties and organizations worldwide.
According to research by Tagesspiegel, the Russian House is “run by the Rossotrudnichestvo organization, whose head, Yevgenii Primakov, is a Putin confidant.” The organization is directly under the jurisdiction of the Russian Foreign Ministry and has been subject to European Union sanctions since July.
We ask ourselves: Why is the Russian House in Berlin allowed to continue to act unchallenged and to spread the “soft propaganda” of the Putin regime?
Join us on 29.11.2022 at the Russian House in Friedrichstraße and show your protest against the unspeakably hypocritical event “Father Frost comes to Berlin”!
We demand the immediate closure of the Russian House! Against the propaganda of the Putin regime in Berlin and everywhere!
Source: Facebook. Thanks to Harald Etzbach for the heads-up. I took the liberty of inserting the YouTube video and the photo, above, as well as incorporating the links to articles in the German press into the text. God knows that if I were still living in Berlin, I would be attending this protest. ||| TRR
We have begun supporting Vladlen Menshikov, accused of anti-war sabotage on the railways.
On September 30, pro-government mediareported the arrest of 29-year-old Vladlen Menshikov by the FSB in the Sverdlovsk Region. Investigators claim that Menshikov installed short-circuiting devices on the railway at the eightieth kilometer of the stretch between Rezh and Striganovo, along which trains carrying Russian military equipment run.
During an interrogation, which FSB field agents recorded on video, Menshikov said that he opposes the war and supports overthrowing the current government. He also discusses methods of sabotaging the Russian army’s railway supply lines.
Solidarity Zone was able to establish Menshikov’s identity and locate the pretrial detention center in which he is detained. When we contacted him and offered our support, he responded positively. He asked for legal assistance, and also said he would be glad to receive letters.
We are currently working to start providing full-fledged legal assistance to Menshikov.
We would note that Vladlen is currently being held in solitary confinement, so letters are especially important for him.
Address for letters and parcels:
Menshikov Vladlen Alexeyevich (born 1993)
4 Repin Street
Pretrial Detention Center No. 1
Ekaterinburg 620019 Russian Federation
(It is possible to send letters through the FSIN-Pismo service and Zonatelecom, as well as throughRosUznik, a volunteer-run resource.)
To support Solidarity Zone financially, so that we can continue to pay lawyers, send parcels to prisoners, and help cover other expenses, you can use the follow payment methods:
Source: Solidarity Zone, Facebook, 21 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. People living outside Russia will not be able to use the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s FSIN-Pismo service or the privately run Zonatelecom. It is also probably impossible or nearly impossible to send parcels to Russian detention facilities from abroad. But you can send letters — translated into Russian (if you don’t know a competent translator, you can use a free online translation service such as Google Translate) — to Vladlen Menshikov (and many other Russian political prisoners) via RosUznik. You can also ask me (email@example.com) for assistance and advice in sending letters.
What are we fighting for? Russia is a huge, rich country. We don’t need foreign territories; we have plenty of everything. But there is our land, which is sacred to us, on which our ancestors lived and on which our people live today. And which we will not surrender to anyone. We are defending our people. We are fighting for all of our own people, for our land, for our thousand-year history.
Who is fighting against us? We are fighting against those who hate us, who ban our language, our values, and even our faith, who spread hatred towards the history of our Fatherland.
A part of the dying world is against us today. It consists of a bunch of crazy Nazi drug addicts, the common people they have drugged and intimidated, and a large pack of barking dogs from the western kennel. They are joined by motley pack of grunting piggies and narrow-minded philistines from the disintegrated western empire with saliva running down their chins due to degeneration. They have no faith and ideals, except for the harmful vices they have contrived and the standards of doublethink they impose, which deny the morality bestowed on normal people. Therefore, by rising up against them, we have gained sacred power.
Where are our former friends? We have been abandoned by some frightened partners — and I could not give a flying crap about them. That means they were not our friends, but just random fellow travelers, clingers, and hangers-on.
Cowardly traitors and greedy defectors have bugged out for the back of beyond — may their bones rot in a foreign land. They are not among us, but we have become stronger and purer.
Why were we silent for a long time? We were weak and devastated by hard times. And now we have shaken off the sticky sleep and dreary gloom of the last decades, into which the death of the former Fatherland had plunged us. Other countries have been waiting for our awakening, countries raped by the lords of darkness, slaveholders and oppressors who dream of their monstrous colonial past and long to preserve their power over the world. Many countries have long disbelieved their nonsense but are still afraid of them. Soon they will wake up once and for all. And when the rotten world order collapses, it will bury all its arrogant priests, bloodthirsty adepts, mocking henchmen, and tongue-tied mankurts under the multi-ton pile of its own debris.
What is our weapon? There are various weapons. We have the capacity to dispatch all our enemies to a fiery hell, but that is not our mission. We listen to the Creator’s words in our hearts and obey them. These words give us a sacred purpose. The goal is to stop the supreme ruler of hell, no matter what name he uses – Satan, Lucifer, or Iblis. For his goal is destruction. Our goal is life.
This bulletin is put together by labour movement activists in solidarity with Ukrainian resistance. More information at https://ukraine-solidarity.org/. We are also on Twitter. Our aim is to circulate information in English that to the best of our knowledge is reliable. If you have something you think we should include, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On November 3, a court in Moscow will consider whether to extend the remand in pretrial custody of Anton Zhuchkov and Vladimir Sergeyev, defendants in the so-called Anti-War Case
Zhuchkov and Sergeyev were detained on March 6 of this year on Pushkin Square in Moscow during an anti-war demonstration. Molotov cocktails were found in Sergeyev’s backpack, which later served as grounds for launching a criminal case: the friends were accused of preparing to set fire to empty paddy wagons.
They were initially charged with “attempted disorderly conduct involving the use of weapons” (per Articles 30.1 and 213.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), but the charge was later amended to “preparation for a terrorist attack” (per Articles 30.1 and 205.2.a of the Criminal Code). Zhuchkov and Sergeyev now face up to 10 years in prison.
Today, it transpired that the court hearing, at which the case investigator’s petition to extend Sergeyev and Zhuchkov’s term in the pretrial detention center will be considered, is scheduled for November 3.
You can support the prisoners by being present in court. If you do intend to go to court, do not forget to take your internal passport and to leave your sharp objects and means of self-defense at home.
On October 28, the trial of Igor Paskar began in the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don. He is accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the FSB’s offices in Krasnodar, and also of setting fire to a [pro-war] “Z” banner. Paskar explains his actions as a protest against the war: after the alleged attempted arson at the FSB, he painted his face in the colors of the Ukrainian flag of Ukraine. The FSB has classified the protest as “terrorism,” and the burning of the banner as “vandalism.” Paskar faces ten to fifteen years in prison if convicted.
To Moscow and Back
Igor Paskar was born and lived until the age of thirty-five in a workers settlement in the Volgograd Region. He came of age in the 1990s, turning eighteen in 1994. After school, he enrolled in the administrative and industrial buildings maintenance program at the Volgograd Institute of Architecture and Civil Engineering, but had to quit his studies in his first year after he was drafted into the army. After two years in a construction battalion, Paskar returned to his native village and immediately began working odd jobs — on construction sites, as a loader, and as a courier.
In 1998, when Paskar was twenty-two, he was first sentenced to five years probation on charges related to drug trafficking. In 2001, he received two years of actual prison time for theft and possession of hashish. He was last convicted of a criminal offense — one and a half years probation for possession of marijuana — in 2006. The last ten years, Paskar told Vot Tak, he has been clean — he completely gave up using light drugs.
In 2013, Paskar moved to Moscow. At various times in the capital, he worked as a courier at Samokat, as a loader, and as a furniture assembler. He also sold rare items on Amazon.
He became interested in politics in 2018 — as his case investigator would later write, he became an “adherent of radical liberal opposition ideas.” In 2021, Paskar was detained in Moscow for taking part in a protest rally called by Team Navalny after the politician’s arrest.
In the summer of 2021, the activist returned to Volgograd, where he got a job as a courier. During one of the interrogations about this period, he said: “I was still interested in the work of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and I supported Alexei Navalny. I publicly voiced my opinions among people I know, including at work, and I posted my opinions in messengers and chats.”
The FSB on Fire
In February of this year, before the start of the Russian invasion, Paskar responded to an ad and took in a lost dachshund. According to the activist, stray dogs tried to attack the pooch several times, so he bought a flare gun to scare them away. He soon left his village in the Volgograd Region with his dog for work: he had found an unusual vacancy on the internet — picking strawberries in Adygea. Paskar was unable to start the job, however. There was a conflict in the workers’ accommodations over the dachshund, and he fired the flare gun at the ceiling. Paskar himself called the police, and the court sentenced him to five days in jail. After his release from a special detention center, Paskar left for Krasnodar.
In a letter, he describes this period as follows: “I have had a whole series of failures in life over the last three months. When the special operation began, I was unable to transfer money from abroad after the SWIFT system was switched off. I had an Amazon account on which I traded rare items. After the start of the special operation, I lost my earnings. I could not get a job in Volgograd and decided to go to Krasnodar for seasonal work, but there were a number of failures. I was angry at my plight and decided to sacrifice myself for what I believe in — peace.”
Paskar held his first anti-war protest in downtown Krasnodar on June 12, Russia Day. It was then that he threw a lighted bottle of gasoline at a banner featuring the letter Z and the slogan “We do not abandon our own.” No one paid attention to his actions, the banner quickly went out, and Paskar was not detained.
Paskar then decided to carry out a protest action at the FSB’s Krasnodar offices. He did not plan to go into hiding and prepared for his arrest by selling his phone and packing a bag for the pretrial detention center. “My criminal experience has left its mark on me. When a person has [this experience], they are no longer afraid to go to prison. They already know that you can live there too — not very well, but you can do it. It is not hell. This has an impact not so much on radical decisions as on accepting one’s fate,” Paskar noted in a letter to your correspondent.
On June 14, Paskar went to the FSB’s offices on ulitsa Mira [“Peace Street”] in Krasnodar. A Molotov cocktail flew [sic] onto the building’s stone porch. The activist then painted his cheeks yellow and blue and waited for passersby to react and for the authorities to detain him. He hoped that someone would record the protest on their phone and post the video on the internet. Passersby avoided the scene, however. FSB officers came out of the building after a few minutes and detained the activist.
A Burnt Rug
Paskar calls his protest symbolic, emphasizing that his actions could not have caused serious damage — only a rug was burned on the stone porch. Despite this, a criminal case was immediately launched against Paskar under Article 205 (“Terrorism”) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, which stipulates a penalty of ten to fifteen years in prison.
On October 28, the Southern District Military Court began considering the case — according to the amendments to the law adopted in 2014, only four district military courts [in Russia] can try terrorism cases. The court extended Paskar’s term in the pretrial detention center for six months, and ruled that the trial would be open to the public. The first hearing on the merits in the case was scheduled for November 10.
In 2016, for setting fire to the door of the FSB headquarters in Lubyanka Square [in Moscow], the performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky was sentenced to pay a fine of 500 thousand rubles under Article 243 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Destruction or damage to objects of cultural heritage or cultural artefacts”). And yet, at the trial, the artist demanded that his actions be reclassified as terrorism.
Earlier, the [exiled opposition] politician Gennady Gudkov said that Paskar’s actions could be deemed disorderly conduct: “In any civilized country, such a thing is regarded as disorderly conduct and is punished with a warning or a fine.” And gallery owner Marat Guelman called Paskar’s act activism.
Paskar is being aided by the human rights initiative Solidarity Zone, which previously announced a fundraiser to pay for Paskar’s lawyer.
Vot Tak has published an article about Igor Paskar, who is accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the FSB offices in Krasnodar and setting fire to a “Z” banner. He did this to drawn attention to the war and voice support for the people of Ukraine.
On October 28, the Southern District Military Court began trying Paskar’s case.
Solidarity Zone has been providing comprehensive assistance to Paskar.
We are now raising funds to pay for Igor’s lawyer.
This is a post for Russian citizens. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party held a press conference in the National Assembly, where the floor was given to three Russians. The names are familiar to you: Alexei Sakhnin, Andrei Rudoy, and Elizaveta Smirnova, who were presented as members of a “coalition of Russian socialists against the war.” The moderator of the discussion was His Majesty “La République, c’est moi!” Oh, sorry, Mélenchon. I can only congratulate him on this successful PR operation. One of Putin’s main underlings in French politics shall now be able to say not only something like “Look, I’m not a racist a defender of the Putin regime’s interests. I even have friends who are Negroes Russian anti-war activists.”
I don’t know whether the featured activists fully understand what they got themselves tangled up in, but hey, that’s not my problem. In any case, I can only be glad for them, and happy that they managed to leave Russia, albeit with JLM’s help. I can put myself in their shoes and understand their choice. But that’s not the problem. What does their “anti-war discourse” amount to now that they can speak freely on French soil?
Suffice it to say that the anti-war activists roundly ignored Ukraine and Ukrainians. But they were able to discuss with the French exactly how they would like to build a new democratic world after the war. They could have even shown the audience a map, for greater clarity, but for some reason it didn’t dawn on them to do that.
Thirty-five minutes into the news conference, a journalist asked a question, and it even seemed that he was perturbed: “Do you have anything to say to Ukrainians?” Rudoy replied: “The working-class majority of Russia and Ukraine have nothing to fight over. Our regimes are our principal enemies. The working-class majority of Russia and Ukraine must unite against the bourgeois authorities. “
Need I explain what the problem is with this museum-quality specimen of pseudo-internationalist Russian jingoism? If it is still not obvious to anyone, I can explain it to them one on one.
I don’t know this person. If you do happen to know him, let him know that Ukrainian socialists are already quite tired of watching Russian socialists perform their traditional dance on the same rake.
No, the fucking Ukrainian authorities are not our principal enemies. Our principal enemies are the Russian authorities, who are waging an aggressive war on our territory. We would sincerely like to help you worm your way out of your imperialist cocoon and help you realize, finally, a simple truth that would enable you to exit your political impasse. Ukraine’s victory, the liquidation of Russia’s colonial empire, and the liberation of the peoples enslaved by the empire are the first and only conditions for the Russian people’s liberation. And it is impossible to jump over this step into your “socialist Russia of the future.”
But if, during the past nine months of a war of conquest, you have not yet figured out that you are not the French in 1914, but the Germans in 1939, then I can only pity you that you have such gaps in your historical education. If you want to continue playing at awakening class consciousness among proletarians living in a fascist state, no one has the right to stop you. But do not be surprised when the steamroller of a reality that you painstakingly avoid comprehending runs over you. Russian society is permeated through and through with a colonialist mindset, jingoism, and messianic imperialism. This ideology has poisoned people on all floors of your caste-based state and until you directly stand up and fight it, you will be able to do nothing but lead the Russian socialist movement to another round of failures.
Ukrainian socialists are ready to extend their hand to you and invite you to join us in our struggle against Russian expansionism and imperialism, the victory over which is the first prerequisite for any struggle for a just society, both in Russia and in Ukraine. We Ukrainians are now losing our best people, including leftists. These people have taken up arms, among other things, to save you from your principal perennial misfortune — an empire that imagines itself to be a nation-state. But what are you doing for this cause?
It’s sad, but it seems we will again have to wistfully watch you making a disgrace of yourselves and solve the problem of the crazy empire ourselves. I would like to be wrong, of course.
The leader of La France Insoumise Jean-Luc Mélenchon and several dozen Insoumise deputies welcomed three Russian opponents of Vladimir Putin, members of a “coalition of Russian socialists against the war,” to the Assembly on Tuesday evening.
Mélenchon expressed his “emotion” in welcoming Alexei Sakhnin, Andrei Rudoy, and Elizaveta Smirnova, Russian radical left activists who had arrived in France the same day.
“Those who are here are those who resist,” said Mélenchon. “They say to themselves, fortunately there are French people like us. And we say to ourselves, fortunately there are Russians like them,” he added.
Mélenchon thanks Macron
“It is Putin and his oligarchy, they alone, who bear the responsibility for the war in Ukraine,” reminded Mathilde Panot leader of the LFI group in the Assembly, calling on [whom?] “to work to isolate the Russian regime. Welcoming and supporting its opponents is part of it.”
“It is a great joy to have them in our midst safe and sound,” added Mélenchon, assuring the audience that “the struggle would continue for them, and we are committed to their side.”
“Once doesn’t count,” the Insoumise leader said, thanking President Macron “for helping us, from beginning to end,” to bring the Russian opposition activists to France.
“The fear of talking about politics” in Russia
“You cannot imagine the atmosphere that reigns in our country,” said Sakhnin, via a translator, referring to “the fear of talking about politics,” and the fear of being mobilized for the war in Ukraine.
“The news that we are in Paris will cause a sensation in Russia,” explained Rudoy, an activist and blogger, who hopes to “create a new International that could unify the leftists of different countries.”
Elizaveta Smirnova added that “all the work we can do is to enable all the Russian people, who live in fear, to have a voice.”
All three indicated that the international economic sanctions had had “consequences” for the lives of Russians. “The standard of living has collapsed by ten percent,” said Rudoy.
Minus one:Yan Sidorov, a former political prisoner in the Rostov Case, has volunteered for the war.
Sidorov served four years in prison in the Rostov Case, in which the court decided that two posters and thirty leaflets were evidence of “attempted organization of mass disturbances.” The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized him as a political prisoner.
Yan was released from prison a year ago, and he had planned to work in human rights protection. There were no vacancies in human rights organizations, however, and so he had to get a job as a food delivery courier.
Yan socialized with many leftist and liberal activists, but he also maintained relations with the red-brown National Bolsheviks.
Apparently, the latter were nicer to him. Several mutual friends have informed me that Yan Sidorov has joined the ranks of Eduard Limonov’s Other Russia and gone to the front.
I still don’t get how the National Bolsheviks degenerated from a flamboyant opposition party into the vanguard of the Kremlin regime. The late Limonov was always an imperialist, however.
But how — how?! — former political prisoners become defenders of Putin’s dictatorship, no one seems to understand. As one of my cellmates used to say, “Everyone has gone off their fucking gourd!”
Well, before he starts shooting, it’s not too late for him to change his mind. Maybe he will shake himself free of this delusion after all.
Russian human rights activist Yan Sidorov is facing the prospect of three years under harsh probation conditions, when he is released next week from the penal colony where he has spent the last two years, Amnesty International said today.
Yan Sidorov is a prisoner of conscience, whose attempts to hold a peaceful protest in 2017 resulted in an imprisonment at a Dimitrovgrad penal colony after he had spent two years in pre-trial detention. He is set to be released on 3 November, but on 29 October Dimitrovgrad City Court will hear a request by the authorities to impose a severely restrictive probation period.
“Russian authorities are sending a clear signal to all young activists that participation in peaceful protests can come at huge personal cost. Yan Sidorov has already served four years in prison; he may now have to spend three more under strict police surveillance, forbidden to go out after 10 pm and banned from travelling outside the Krasnodar region,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.
“The Russian penitentiary authorities must immediately withdraw their request to impose additional arbitrary restrictions on Yan Sidorov and release him unconditionally. Yan Sidorov has done nothing but exercise his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and this outrageous campaign of punishment must end.”
Two weeks ahead of Yan Sidorov’s release from penal colony IK-10 in Dimitrovgrad (Central Russia), the penitentiary administration requested that the court impose a three-year probation period on him. Conditions include obligatory biweekly registration at the local police station and a curfew between 10 pm and 6 am; Sidorov would also be banned from leaving his native Krasnodar region, and banned from attending or participating in any mass events. The Dimitrovgrad City Court will hear this case on 29 October. On 15 October, the penal colony authorities accused Yan Sidorov of violation of the prison regime regulations – allegedly for not attending morning workout – and placed him in a punishment cell for seven days.
In October 2019, Yan Sidorov and his friend Vladislav Mordasov, who spent almost two years in pre-trial detention, were found guilty of “attempted organization of mass disturbances”, and each sentenced to more than six years imprisonment for organizing a peaceful protest in November 2017. The protest was in support of dozens of people in Rostov-on-Don (Southern Russia) who had lost their homes in mass fires. Their sentences were subsequently reduced to four years on cassation. Vladislav Mordasov serving his sentence in IK-9 penal colony in Shakhty (Rostov-on-Don region) is due to be released on 3 November as well.
The movement was born underground, on February 25, the day after Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory, but as its co-founder, Darja Serenko, immediately clarifies, “We were not starting from scratch.” Feminist Anti-War Resistance (Feministskoe antivoennoe soprotivlenie, or FAS) unites 45 organizations that already existed in different sectors, to which dozens of anonymous activists in sixty cities in Russia have been added, not counting those who had to go into exile. It is a network that is increasingly determined to take action and make itself heard.
Her hair short and asymmetric, her gaze direct, Serenko, who was in Paris in early October, is categorical: the violence in Ukraine fuels domestic violence, and vice versa. “War and women’s rights are closely linked,” she explains, “because on the one hand, men, who come back with their traumas, constitute a real danger to them. On the other hand, those who commit the worst crimes [on the battlefield] are often the same ones who are the most brutal at home.” The 29-year-old activist, one of the movement’s few public figures, does not forget to mention the driving force behind the violence — the regime. “Vladimir Putin is the stupidest representation of Russian masculinity,” she says. “He serves, alas, as a model for some Russian men, but he does not represent us. We laugh about it, even if it’s hard to laugh under a dictatorship.”
A poet and literature teacher who had been “fired from everywhere,” the young woman fled Russia to take refuge in Georgia two weeks after the FAS’s creation and her last stint in jail, from February 7 to 23, just before the start of the war. Prosecuted for “extremism” — the presence of the logo of opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation on her Instagram account was enough to merit that charge — she was arrested at the same time as her friend Maria Alyokhina, a member of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot. Placed under house arrest, the latter managed to escape in April, disguised as a food delivery courier.
“The time for peaceful resistance is over”
In Russia, the feminist movement has continued to grow as the crackdown on society has expanded, especially in the wake of a law decriminalizing domestic violence, adopted in 2017, with the strong support of the Orthodox Church. But it was indeed the war that united their efforts. Born in Siberia and transplanted to Moscow, Serenko, who is also an LGBT activist, committed herself in 2014, after Russia’s first aggression against Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and the start of the armed conflict in Donbas. “War is a backlash, a crucible of conservatism,” she emphasizes. “During the Second World War, women took the place of men in the rear, before being again excluded from important positions. And voila! They were then sent back to the reproductive front.”
On October 7, in Paris, the activist, invited to testify at a forum organized by Russie-Libertés, bluntly outlined her vision of things today: “The time for peaceful resistance is over. I’ve always been in favor of peaceful protests, but now I’m not.” In fact, FAS activists, linked by a permanently powered Telegram channel that keeps “beeping,” have gone on the offensive with the meager means at their disposal.
In Russia, they produce Zhenskaia Pravda (“Women’s Truth”), an underground newspaper printed on personal printers and distributed surreptitiously, like the samizdat of the Soviet dissidents, in order to “break the information blockade.” They organize, at their own peril, commando operations [sic] such as the one that consisted in installing, overnight, 2,000 memorials in Russia in tribute to the dead of the martyred Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Crosses, sometimes even bearing names, were planted in courtyards “in the same way as Ukrainians were forced to bury their loved ones at the foot of their residential buildings.” They are also involved in the sabotage actions of Russian “partisans” against strategic sites.
More than 200 activists are currently being prosecuted [sic]. On October 21, a court in St. Petersburg sentenced Alisa Druzhina to five days in prison for putting up a banner in the city that read, “The zinc coffin on wheels is already on your street.” According to the prosecution, the young woman is part of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance and her banner must have been posted on their Telegram channel to be taken up by others. This channel, which has 42,000 subscribers, is chockablock with drawings, stickers, and slogans ready to be disseminated. One of them shows Vladimir Putin immersed in a bathtub of blood filled by defense minister Sergei Shoigu.
The “partial” mobilization has increased determination tenfold
Most of the arrested feminists have been sentenced to administrative penalties, but several are still in detention. This is the case, in particular, of Alexandra Skochilenko. Incarcerated since her arrest on March 31, the 32-year-old musician, accused of being part of a “radical feminist group,” faces ten years in prison under a law, adopted at the beginning of the war, on “fake news,” for having switched price tags in a supermarket with anti-war slogans. “By replacing something quite mundane with something different, something unusual, we are showing that there is not a single place in our country that is not affected by the war, and we are not letting people just turn a blind eye to what is happening,” the FAS channel recommends. “We document the war with quotes from Ukrainian women,” says Serenko.
The “partial” mobilization, decreed at the end of September by Vladimir Putin, has increased the determination of feminists tenfold. The volunteers, who are already helping deported Ukrainians seeking to leave Russia, as well as opposition activists facing threats of prosecution, have also mobilized on behalf of men threatened with being drafted. “Women in Dagestan came out to protest against the mobilization, but also in Chechnya where, for the first time in a long time, one hundred and twenty [women[ dared to demonstrate. [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov brought their husbands [to the protest], telling them, ‘Either you beat them, or we’ll take care of it,'” reports Serenko.
“We also take care of homosexuals and trans people who have not had time to change their papers and have been mobilized,” she adds. (Although often attacked, registering gender change as part of one’s civil status is still possible in Russia.) From their countries of asylum, the activists, who have regrouped abroad, act as relays, “even if it has become more and more difficult with the closing of the borders.” Several of them, lawyers or psychologists by training, offer their services online under the guise of anonymity on both sides. The introduction of martial law in the border regions, on October 19, has caused additional concern. And it’s not a question of generations. “Recently, a babushka threw a Molotov cocktail into a branch of Sberbank in Moscow shouting ‘No war!'” laughs Serenko.
The latter highlights a completely different phenomenon likely to increase the number of women mobilized in the ranks of the FAS. “A lot of ‘cargo 200s’ have been arriving,” she says, thus using the code word, well known in Russia since the Soviet war against Afghanistan, denoting dead soldiers evacuated from the battlefield. For the feminist leader, “war has entered [people’s] homes,” and it is no coincidence, she says, that the most vehement reactions have come from areas such as Dagestan, from which part of the troops sent to the front have left and which have paid a heavy price in terms of casualties. “Many women also understand that there is discrimination. The anti-war movement,” continues Serenko, enthusiastic, “will play an important role because the state is trying to silence the bereaved families, but women, partisans, and minorities have formed a collective that is growing rapidly.”
However, the activist remains lucid: “We have studied several wars, such as Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, and, on average, anti-war campaigns do not make a name for themselves for three years… This was the case with the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers for Chechnya.” Emerging in 1989 in response to the treatment of conscripts in the Russian army, this human rights organization did indeed grown to more than 200 active committees throughout Russia in 1997, three years after the start of the first Russian-Chechen War (1994–1999). In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky, who never ceases to appeal to the mothers and wives of Russian soldiers, often invokes this memory.
In March, Iraq War veteran Carl Larson took a leave from his digital marketing job in the Puget Sound region to join in the Ukrainian struggle against the Russian invasion of their country.
He spent his toughest weeks in the front-line trenches of northeast Ukraine.
Artillery fire kept him awake through most of the nights, and it was easy to confuse stray dogs walking nearby with Russian soldiers who might be scouting the position of his unit of the International Legion of the Defense of Ukraine.
The risks of exiting the trenches were brutally demonstrated on the afternoon of May 31. Larson and several other soldiers gathered by a command post in a nearby house. A Russian shell hit a tree, then shrapnel fragments struck the head and groin of German legionnaire Bjorn Clavis.
The soldiers lacked a generator to charge their radio, and also a vehicle. So they had to use a runner to summon medics.
Some 40 minutes later, this aid arrived. But Clavis died in an ambulance.
“He lost too much blood,” Larson said.
Larson is convinced Clavis could have been saved if the unit had been able to charge their radios. And since his July return to his home in Snohomish County, he has been raising money to buy generators and other supplies for the legion soldiers, who amid the fall chill have shifted from defensive positions in trenches to joining Ukraine’s fast-moving offensive to reclaim territory held by Russians.
On Thursdays, Larson gathers with a group of legion supporters in a banquet room at European Foods, a grocery and restaurant in north Seattle. Over bowls of borscht and plates of cutlets they share news about the legion and what equipment is needed.
Larson says Ukrainian as well as legion units suffer from supply shortages despite international aid that includes more than $18.2 billion in U.S. government security assistance since 2021.
The legion’s current list of needs includes more cold-weather equipment, drones, communications and vehicles. And some who have served in the legion say that their units, when compared with other front-line forces, have had more serious shortfalls.
“We’re a great PR stunt because ‘Wow, look at all these foreign soldiers who are willing to put their lives on the line for Ukraine,’ ” said Stuart Burnside, a British veteran from Yorkshire who has been in Ukraine since February. “But we’re fed on scraps — to be fair.”
Others say shortages are a shared hardship.
“Unfortunately, right now, the reality is there’s not enough supplies,” said Evelyn Aschenbrenner, an American who left a teaching job in Poland to staff an International Legion administrative job.
Ukraine ‘way more stressful’
The legion was formed by the Ukrainian government to organize combat units of foreigners to fight in the war. The Russian government declared that they would be seen as mercenaries — and if captured, lack the standing of regular-duty troops. But that did not deter a surge of people, many from North America, Great Britain and Europe, but also some from Latin America and the former Soviet Republic, from making their way to Ukraine, where they receive training and are paid for their service.
Larson, 48, had joined the U.S. Army four months after 9/11 and worked as a combat engineer in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As he settled into middle age, he was inspired to take up arms again by what he viewed as the moral imperative of preventing the slaughter of civilians and thwarting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal of military conquest.
He said his experiences in Ukraine where “way more stressful and frustrating” than his service in Iraq.
Early on, Larson was dismayed by some of the would-be recruits who had no military experience, or appeared unstable. And Larson initially balked at joining the International Legion, concerned by where he might be sent, what he would be tasked to do and whom he might serve with.
But after discussions with Ukrainian officials, he took a job helping to screen new recruits to the legion and prepare them for service. Then, he joined a legion battalion and spent five weeks in training, much of it as a platoon leader, before deploying to the front.
Larson said his unit took up position in zigzagged trenches, some of which were initially made by German soldiers during World II then reoccupied some eight decades later.
“We just dug them out. They were quite well made,” Larson said.
In the hours before dawn, he sometimes had to deal with business back home — calling contractors to fix a house that he and his wife had purchased in Snohomish County.
Some of the legion soldiers Larson encountered served for a few months and left, others had been in Ukraine since late winter. Most get a code name that can be easily remembered and spoken over the radio. Larson was told his would be Grinch.
Through the course of his service, Larson said the legion evolved, emerging as a more cohesive, fighting force composed largely of a more professional mix of hundreds of military veterans. (Detailed legion troop numbers are not publicly released.)
Larson concluded his military career in Ukraine had dead-ended after clashes with a Ukrainian officer whom he alleged stole money from the unit. The officer was reprimanded but stayed in command, and Larson was assigned a new job digging ditches.
A legion spokeswoman said she could not comment on “individual allegations and individual situations. But she said that “we have firsthand experience standing up against corruption and problematic people. It can be done, and it is done.”
With his wife eager for his return, Larson decided to fly back home to Washington a few weeks earlier than he had planned.
Return to Washington
Back in Washington, Larson has stayed in touch with some of the legion soldiers as they have advanced to towns once held by the Russians. The legion casualty count has climbed.
“Now, we have soldiers who engage in combat, and they are more direct targets for tanks and grenades,” Aschenbrenner said.