Children

PAZ-3205 bus. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I have spent half the day wandering around Orenburg on various errands. At a crossing, I saw a yellow PAZ bus, marked “Children” and with a flashing light. I thought, wow, how they take care of their children’s safety. But I didn’t look inside. But now I have just seen a column of three yellow “Children” buses with flashing lights — and it wasn’t children inside them, but soldiers.

Source: Jenya Kulakova, Facebook, 6 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Sometimes it seems that United Russia has reached the limits of cynicism and nothing they do can surprise you. But their functionaries hand a crippled soldier a package of buckwheat and a bottle of sunflower oil, shove the party logo in his hand, and proudly post the photo. And it becomes clear that United Russia’s cynicism is a bottomless pit.

Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 5 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


If anyone did not understand why I think that my daughter should not go to school in the Russian Federation, this is her class and homeroom teacher at a fucking Victory Day trivia competition.

Fortunately, my daughter didn’t go to school today.

Source: Leda Garina, Facebook, 6 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

This Is What You Wanted!

Dear Sir,

I’m sorry you did nothing with our message.
As you will have noticed, all Russians will be held accountable for the genocide of the Ukraine people.
We will destroy your economy and life in Russia will be set back 100 years.
Many more than the present almost 25,000 death Russian soldiers will be killed.
Russia will lose its youth.
Every Russian will be treated as a potential criminal.
This is what you wanted!

Free people in the World

Source: Email sent to avvakum (at) pm.me, 3 May 2022

Shot of a young woman using a smartphone and having coffee in the kitchen at home

I enraged this particular reader, apparently, by not “acting” on their previous letter, dated 4 March 2022, to wit:

Dear sir,

Please help to stop the genocide in Ukraine by Putin.
We know this is not the will of the ma[j]ority of the Russian people.
Ukrainian and Russian population are interrelated in many families. They should be brothers and sisters.
War should not be something of the 21st century.

In the last 30 years there was cooperation in Europe and more understanding. The Russian economy was helped by efforts of many investors, business owners and countries. By this a backlog in welfare has diminished.
The war started by Putin means that all the people in Russia will get poorer.
And travel abroad is made impossible. Nobody wants Russian people anymore.
Even if the killing is stopped. The committed war crimes and the grieve about lost ones will be in the memories for decades.
Everything you have build up in welfare, relations or future will be lost for a very long time.

Do something against the killing of civilians in Ukraine!
You are the ones that should and could do that!
What would you tell your children when they ask you why you tolerated this war?

Kind regards,

[Name withheld]

Red Flag

As of the morning of May 1, around a hundred billboards featuring the image of the iconic pensioner who gained famed after the events in Ukraine [sic] had been installed in different districts in Petersburg. Fontanka.ru has analyzed the scale of this visual statement. The news-related intrigue lies in the fact that state agencies have nothing to do with the campaign.

“Under the banner of victory!” All images courtesy of Fontanka.ru

In the early hours of May 1, identical posters bearing the image of the famous pensioner holding a Soviet banner were officially installed in about one hundred outdoor media displays in Petersburg.

News about the woman broke out back in April, when she went out with a red banner to greet servicemen in Ukraine, confusing them with Russian soldiers. Her age, her deed, the reaction of the Ukrainian soldiers, and the video that went viral on the Net immediately turned her into a symbol of victory. The old woman’s face has appeared on DPR postage stamps, graffiti artists began to draw her in different cities in Russia, and so on. Even the Russian Federation’s delegate at the UN Security Council talked about her.

Currently, the images of the heroic old woman have been installed in the Central, Admiralty, Petrograd, Vyborg, Maritime, Kalinin, and Moscow districts. These include both large billboards and typical demonstrative surfaces [sic] along the roadways.

The urban spaces chosen for this campaign can be analyzed. The images have been installed near places of authority: on Suvorov Prospekt, next to the Smolny [Petersburg city hall], the seat of the Leningrad Region government, and the Interior Ministry building; on Tapestry Street, near the FSB building; on Horse Guards Boulevard, near St. Isaac’s Cathedral; and around the monument to Alexander Nevsky, outside the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.

However, many similar phenomena [sic] have popped up on Moscow Prospekt, Pulkovo Highway, and the October and Vyborg embankments.

Fontanka.ru has learned that state (regional or federal) agencies did not pay for the campaign. Petersburg advertising market insiders, on terms of confidentiality, informed our correspondent that they had heard about the proposal from representatives of a private individual in mid-April. “It’s definitely a businessman. We are sure of this at least, since we called each other when we began receiving preliminary inquiries,” one of the insiders said.

As for the scale, according to the information we have obtained, the order received was for the placement of one hundred billboards at an approximate cost of around ten million rubles [approx. 139,000 euros]. “And that’s if they got a discount,” one source added. Several of our experts more or less agreed with this figure.

If someone in the advertising market has more accurate information, Fontanka.ru is ready to listen to it with a full guarantee of anonymity.

Source: Fontanka.ru, 1 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


A Cult of Dementia

Putin’s red-brown ideology has taken the worst of Nazism and Bolshevism and mixed it with the cartoonish oligarchy from Dunno on the Moon. The final product has no equals anywhere in the world.

Just think about it. For several months now, Russian propaganda has been chewing over the image of a traitorous old Ukrainian woman who was waiting for the invaders with a Soviet flag. Compassionate Ukrainian soldiers gave her food, but took away her flag. That’s the whole story.

But no, the story didn’t end there. In Russia, the crazy old woman was made a real hero, and her image began to appear on buildings. But the occupiers have driven themselves into an ideological trap: no one except such “young Komsomol women” was looking forward to seeing them in Ukraine. The invaders were not greeted with flowers and bread, but were treated to Molotov cocktails and poisoned pies.

If you think about this story more deeply, the old lady with the Soviet flag perfectly reflects the main watchword of Putin’s Russia, its underlying doctrine, and the true purpose of invading Ukraine: our lives have sucked and we won’t let anyone else live either.

She is thus undoubtedly a hero to Russia, as is Pavlik Morozov. Russia has nothing to offer the world. It offers a rollback to the past and endless attempts to cash in on lost “greatness” instead of progress, old age instead of youth, betrayal instead of loyalty, and humiliation instead of pride. So, an old woman holding a Soviet flag is the most accurate symbolic depiction of modern Russia.

It’s funny, because the propagandists don’t care about Russian pensioners or about veterans of the Second World War. Old people in Russia live out their days (they live them out, they don’t live) in want and humiliation, in terrible conditions and hopelessness.

Source: Andrey Churakov, Facebook, 2 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Annals of Import Substitution: Khudi Zarina, Etc.

“Our everything: a huge selection of goods from Russia! Even more goods from Russia – look! [1.] Zarina hoodie, 1,689 rubles [approx. 21 euros]. [2.] Vasilisa Botanika bedding set, 1,571 rubles. [3.] Tech Team Comfort urban scooter, 3,990 rubles.” Source: Ozon email advertising circular, 2 May 2022. Ozon is a major Russian online retailer and is sometimes referred to as “the Amazon of Russia.” When I still lived in Russia, I regularly ordered books from them. In the first weeks of the war, they were pushing the imported western goods they still had in stock. ||| TRR

Krovfeta

“It’s a Soviet-era candy bar made with cow’s blood.”
Still from “Enervo,” Season 4, Episode 20 of The Rookie (ABC)

‘Following a drive during which we learned that Agent Fox is gay and Simone herself is bi, Fox tasked Clark with rifling through screens and screens of tipline calls possibly about the Russian, but “people person” Simone instead sneaked off to talk to locked-up Zeke, her former student, asking if he remembered anything else about the bomber. This led to Zeke sketching a Russian candy bar that the guy munched on, and that in turn — thanks to some Russian musicians that Simone’s dad Cutty sometimes jams with — led Simone to a store. Not waiting for Nolan to catch up, Simone approached and tried to chat up Gurin by herself, but that led to a brief brawl, where the Russian walloped the unarmed trainee hard, and then ran off.’

Source: Matt Webb Mitovich, “The Rookie: Grade Part 2 of the Spinoff Pilot, Tell Us If You’d Watch It,” TVLine, 1 May 2022. In Russian, konfeta means “candy,” and is derived from the Italian confetto. The Russian word for “blood” is krov’ (with a so-called soft v), not krov (as here, with a so-called hard v), which, on the contrary, means “roof” and, by extension, “shelter, a place to stay” (“a roof over one’s head”). So, in their misguided effort to confect “blood candy,” the writers of The Rookie actually conjured up a “roofy.” And the Russian word for “chocolate” is shokolad, not shokold, as here. But that mistake can be put down to Zeke’s “poor” memory. UPDATE (2 May 2022). My boon companion, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union, told me earlier today that she and other children were given sweet “Hematogen” nutrition bars to raise their hemoglobin levels, as she put it. These bars were sold in pharmacies and labeled as such, not as chocolate, candy or “krovfeta.” Adults did not eat Hematogen bars, she said, adding that she stopped eating them when she realized what was in them. In 2019, Vice published a provocatively titled article about Hematogen bars that might have inspired the writers at The Rookie. I’m happy to admit that, despite having lived in Russian twenty-plus years, I’d never heard of them until today. ||| TRR

We’ll Replace You

“We’ll replace [them, you, etc.]”

An art installation about import substitution has appeared in the center of St. Petersburg today. While some are recalculating advertising budgets and monitoring news about global brands resuming operations in Russia, others are replacing [them]. 👀

Source: Sostav.ru: Advertising and Marketing in Russia, Facebook, 27 April 2022, via Five Corners community page. Translated by the Russian Reader

Canceled in Venice

In the evening, after the Biennale has closed, I meet a young woman in a nun’s costume in the square. She offers me a candle and shows me her work: an icon of the Seven Arrows Mother of God, before whose image one should pray for the reconciliation of warring parties. The artist does not want to give her name, because icon painters should remain anonymous; she says only that she came to Venice from Budapest. “Radio Svoboda?” She is surprised. “Haven’t you been shut down yet?” But so far only the Russian Pavilion and the luxurious exhibition space belonging to the Russian billionaire [Leonid] Mikhelson’s V-A-C Foundation have been shuttered in Venice. Posters calling for the complete cancelation of imperialist Russian culture hang on the walls here and there. The QR code on the posters opens a manifesto, whose authors suggest switching our attention to Ukrainian culture. This has already happened at the Biennale.

Source: Dmitry Volchek, Radio Svoboda, 26 April 2022. Photo by Dmitry Volchek for Radio Svoboda. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Denounced and Their Denouncers

This is my detailed summary — for the Russian-impaired — of Proekt’s grim but poignant short new documentary about Russians denounced to the police for their anti-war actions and statements in the last month and the people who denounced them (neighbors, relatives, pupils, etc.). It’s worth watching and reading, I think, especially because it humanizes the whole ugly business in a very moving, personal and easy to grasp way. While I wouldn’t say that it gives me hope, it is inspiring to see how such seemingly different people in terms of their backgrounds (businessman, artist, university student and blogger, district council deputy, ex-policeman and teacher) behave bravely in harrowing circumstances that have silenced many other people, or worse. It’s also to Proekt’s credit that in the case of several of the film’s protagonists they interviewed them where they live, including in public (which leads in two cases to run-ins with the powers that be). It goes to show that however frightening things have become, Russia is not yet “North Korea.”  ||| TRR

Proekt, “How the war in Ukraine has triggered a wave of denunciations in Russia,” 24 April 2022.
Published on Proekt’s website on 25 April 2022 under the title “Your denunciation is very important to us”

  1. Mikhail Zheltonozhsky, a businessman and “extreme travel” enthusiast from Bryansk, was denounced by a neighbor lady for flying Ukrainian pennants from his window. His denouncer, Elena Ruchkina, a midwife at a local outpatient clinic, wrote in her complaint to police, “[The pennants] seemed suspicious in light of recent events.” That was grounds for sending three police cruisers and a high-ranking police colonel to their apartment building to detain Zheltonozhsky.
  2. Elmira Khalitova, a university student and political blogger from Moscow, was denounced by her father, Timur, who telephoned police and demanded that they bust down the door to her flat to detain her. He claimed that his daughter had been urging her readers to “murder Russians.” His denunciation was captured on tape. Elmira claims that her father has extreme pro-Putinist views. Among them are his view that Ukraine is “one big fiction” and that it should be merged with Russia. A heavy drinker, Timur is a fan of the rabid pro-Putin TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov. Fortunately, Elmira was able to convince police (for the time being?) that she had not urged anyone to “murder Russians.”
  3. Sasha Skochilenko, an artist from Petersburg, was arrested and remanded in custody for replacing price tags with anti-war messages at a Perekrestok chain supermarket in Petersburg. Her friend Alexei shows Proekt’s film crew around the store as he talks about the circumstances of her arrest. They are confronted by a store employee, who angrily orders them to leave the premises, explaining that she doesn’t want to be “imprisoned and murdered” like Skochilenko. Alexei explains that the Perekrestok customer who reported Sasha was a woman from the neighborhood born in 1947, whom the voice-over narrator claims is the target audience of this particular anti-war campaign because, supposedly, they peruse supermarket price tags more intently than younger shoppers.
  4. Alexandra Arkhipova is an anthropologist. She explains that the authorities have three methods for ferreting out anti-war dissidents. First, so-called Center “E” (the federal “anti-extremism” police, established by the “liberal” Dmitry Medvedev during his term as president) monitor social media for “extremism” posts. Second, the authorities cook up such charges against well-known activists who are in their sights, such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, recently arrested in Moscow on the same criminal charges as Skochilenko. Third, “alert” citizens among the general public report such dissidents to the police. This segment features clips from a recent speech made on TV by President Putin in which he warned the Russian public that a “fifth column” and “national traitors,” as puppets of the west, would oppose his invasion of Ukraine.
  5. Sonya is Sasha Skochilenko’s live-in girlfriend in Petersburg. She explains that they met two and a half years on a dating website and fell in love almost immediately. They live together in Parnas, a neighborhood in Petersburg’s far north, on the border with the Leningrad Region. The voice-over narrator explains that Sonya and her friends are now focused on making sure Skochilenko survives her ordeal in remand prison, where she will be held at least until the end of May. Sonya explains that since Skochilenko is her “family” and closest friend she now feels lost and desperate. We see Sonya on an escalator in the Petersburg subway, which is festooned with Zwastikas. Sonya says that it’s strange that people pretend not to notice them, although the city is covered with them. The voice-over narrator cites the human rights organization Agora, which has recorded one hundred anti-war-related criminal cases launched by the Russian authorities between February 24 and April 20. He goes on to explain that the number of administrative cases filed during this same period would be hard to tally since over 15,000 people have been arrested at anti-war demonstrations since the war began on February 24. The anthropologist Arkhipova returns to explain that denunciations played a role in the prosecution of dissidents and demonstrators in previous years, but now the practice was been gaining more notice because everyone is paying attention.
  6. Andrei Shestakov is an ex-police officer and, now, ex-history teacher in the town of Neryungri (Sakha Republic). Shestakov was forced to quit the police after he publicly supported Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” campaign. Now he has been forced to quit his teaching position for having “anti-war conversations” during class with his pupils. He was denounced to the authorities either by one or more of them or their parents. Shestakov says that he doesn’t even want to know who informed on him. 
  7. Elena Kotenochkina is a deputy on the Krasnoselsky District Council in Moscow. Kotenochkina called Russia a “fascist state” during a recent council meeting, which was videotaped and posted on YouTube. The video came to the attention of Russian State Duma deputy Oleg Leonov, who denounced Kotenochkina to the authorities. The security forces have also included in her case file a video for draft-age young men that she made in her capacity as district council chair and co-chair of the district’s draft board. In the video, she explained that conscripts were being sent into combat in Ukraine, but by law they were not required to sign the contracts that made their combat deployment there possible. Although she has not been formally charged with any crime (an official “inquiry” into her actions is underway), loyalist politicians like Leonov are making a fuss that might be lead to her being charged, especially as she is well-known opposition politician in Moscow. The nationally known opposition stalwart Ilya Yashin, shown in the footage, is a deputy of the same district council and her ally. He has pointedly chosen to stay in Russia and speak out publicly against the war.
  8. Zheltonozhsky compares the top-down campaign of support in Russia for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to a “general psychosis.” The voice-over narrator explains that Zheltonozhsky has had trouble with the authorities since Soviet times, when he refused to join the (Communist) Party. The business he started in the nineties — a network of kiosks — was destroyed in the 2010s when Bryansk city hall carried out a “beautification” campaign that outlawed such commercial outlets. As he is explaining how one of his kiosks was torched as part of this municipal campaign, police officers approach him and Proekt’s film crew and ask him to go with them to a nearby police box (in the Bryansk city center). On their way, they pass a banner, featuring the Zwastika as its key graphic element, that reads, “For peace! For Russia! For the president!” At the police box, the officers ask Zheltonozhsky why his (blue and yellow) clothes are that color (he claims he ordered orange pants, but was sent yellow instead), and they ask to see his cellphone. The voice-over narrator explains that the authorities have placed Bryansk and other Russian cities near the Ukrainian border on high-level terrorism alert. The narrator then talks on the phone with Elena Ruchkina, the midwife and neighbor lady who denounced Zheltonozhsky to the police, asking her why she did it. She responds by asking whether the narrator thinks that Zheltonozhsky’s actions were “normal.”
  9. Khalitova says that while she had always been aware of the danger of being persecuted for her political outspokenness, she was now acutely aware of the threat. She has broken off all contact with her family after her father turned her in. She says he did it because he wanted to feel “important.” In a recorded phone conversation, Timur Khalitov claims to the narrator that he panicked when he got an “anonymous” phone call about his daughter’s alleged extremist activities. Walking through a park, Elmira tells Proekt that she has been thoroughly disappointed by the Russian public’s reaction to the invasion because she had been convinced that the widespread notion that there was a “Putinist majority” in Russia who supported the president was a “myth.” Now, she says, she understands that most people are willing to let young men die in battle as long as nothing else changes in their lives.
  10. Sonya reads aloud the first letter that Sasha Skochilenko wrote from remand prison. In the letter she says that while her accuser might get a “miserable reward” for denouncing her, Skochilenko herself will gain “immortality.” Sonya claims that none of the letters that she and other friends have sent to the remand prison have been delivered to Sasha, nor has she received the food care packages that she needs as someone who suffers from celiac disease. Her friend Alexei explains that patients with this diagnosis must not eat bread and pasta, but since the disease is not officially recognized by the authorities as a “serious” ailment, they are not obliged to meet her dietary requirements. Sonya explains that, when celiac disease is not managed properly, it can lead to cancer, osteoporosis and other life-threatening ailments. 
  11. Arkhipova argues that the practice of denunciation that has now come to the fore in Russia is “for art’s sake” in the sense that it is motivated neither by the need to protect oneself nor by the prospect of monetary gain. On the contrary, Russia’s new-model denouncers are “exercising their civic muscles” because they feel “needed.” The narrator says that the number of denunciations in wartime “civil society” will only grow, citing the United Russia party’s launching of a special bot for filing denunciations, which Rostelecom has promised to support by passing the denunciations on to the authorities. Elmira Khalitova says that she feels she is surrounded by people who, although they behave normal in everyday life, are quite willing to “condone a crime.” She says that because of this new sense of what her society has become, she feels “empty inside” and that the country has no future. Shestakov says that he has become more careful about what he says to whom. Zheltonozhsky says that he also no longer talks about political topics to certain people. Sonya says that everything has been changed by the war, but that this wasn’t clear at first. She says that Skochilenko loves Russia, is a “genuine Russian patriot,” and had hoped that things could be changed for the better. Kotenochkina says that although people are afraid, such a war in the twenty-first century is so wrong that they have no choice but to act. As she begins crying, the screen fades to black and the message “No war” appears on the screen.
“‘Your denunciation is very important to us.’ A film about how the war in Ukraine has revived the fashion of denouncing people in Russia.” A screenshot of the documentary film’s page on the Proekt website.

Going Fascist: Eight Years Ago Today

“Rolls at cost. Cucumber roll: 31 [rubles]. California: 99. Philadelphia: 147. Hookah: 58. Unfiltered beer: 88. White Russian: 132. You are charged for time [spent in the bar]: 180 rubles per hour. The bar’s entire menu is priced at cost. Stremyannaya 3 | selfcost.com.” Central Petersburg, 23 April 2018. One USD was worth approximately 62 rubles on that day. Photo by the Russian Reader


From the chronicles of the fascization of the world’s largest country, straight from a “suggested post” on Facebook:

“По шкале «Экономика» все суперэтносы распределяются на трех уровнях: High (американский суперэтнос), Middle (российский суперэтнос) и Low (китайский, латиноамериканский арабский суперэтносы). Давайте обсудим, почему именно так, а не по-другому.”

“On the scale of ‘Economics’ [sic], all superethnicities are divided into three levels: High [sic; in English in the original] (the American superethnicity), Middle (the Russian superethnicity), and Low (the Chinese, Latin-American, and Arab superethnicities). Let’s discuss why it is this way, and not otherwise.”

If you think this is some kind of quirky, meaningless nonsense, think again. Huge segments of Russian media, “culture,” “public discourse,” and “scholarship” have consisted of such proto-fascist, sub-Gumilevian drivel for years on end. It’s a wonder everyone is not completely loony, but of course that isn’t the point (and they aren’t, thank God). The point has always been to make this radical far-rightism the “background noise” and “common sense” that prevents people from escaping the Putinist cage, mentally at least, and enables them to swallow any number of “necessary measures.” ||| 23 April 2014, TRR