A Letter from Oleg Belousov

On March 29, Oleg Belousov was the first person in St. Petersburg to be convicted on charges of disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army. Judge Eva Gunter sentenced him to five and a half years in a medium-security penal colony.

Formally, Belousov was charged for comments he made on the community social media page “St. Petersburg Diggers.” The case was launched after Belousov was denounced to the authorities by Sergei Chmyhun, another person involved in the community page. The court handed down a guilty verdict despite the fact that Belousov has a third-class disability and a disabled son as a dependent.

Bumaga wrote to Oleg. We have published his slightly abridged reply below. Oleg writes about his health problems, his love for his son, and his gratitude to the people who supported him.

Oleg Belousov, amateur archaeologist, member of the MIA searchers movement, and political prisoner.
Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

Thank you so much for informing readers and following my case as it unfolded. As many people as possible should find out about this regime’s mendaciousness, about phrases taken out of context, and the trumped-up case. Before my arrest, I still had some doubts about whether I had been mistaken about something, whether I was wrong. But after seeing all the dirt and lies, my doubts were dispelled!

For health reasons. I received ointment for dermatitis of the eyelids: my sister looked for one [kind?], and a young woman from the support group (unfortunately, I don’t know her name) looked for the other one. The medical worker muttered [my] last name and asked, “Who sent it?” I replied that I was a political prisoner and anyone could have sent it, not only relatives. I get letters from all over Russia, and not only from Russia.

Would that I [had received the ointment] right away, but I had to suffer for three months—you won’t get medical help in here. My sister also sent two bottles of [eye]drops, but to get them, you have to go through a whole quest. To begin with, you get an appointment with a doctor, then the doctor has to make a note in your medical record and file an application to be allowed to send it, and then there’s the sending and receiving…

Due to numbness in my right arm and left leg, I do exercises for the cervical spine and the joints. It’s all based on the body’s internal forces, there is no osteopath in her.

Everything is alright, I can’t be broken. I’m more worried about my son. There were a lot of things that I hadn’t done for him yet, that I didn’t teach him to do. He is a disabled child: he suffers from a residual organic lesion of the central nervous system. He certainly lacks my help. He has problems with work too: it’s no so easy for him to find a job. My sister, my niece, and her husband also have health problems. So I’m more worried about them. But me, I’ll get stronger, I’ll toughen up. I’m not afraid of challenges. They won’t shut my mouth, I have a right to my own opinion.

Since I’ve been behind bars, I’ve seen my son only at the court hearings. He worries, of course. When I was arrested, he hugged me and said, “How am I going to live without you?” I will never leave him, of course, and when I get out, I will help him as long as I live.

I now see how many good, honest, decent people there are in Russia who are not afraid to express their opinions. I feel their support, and it gives me strength.

As for the verdict, it was expected, so I took it calmly. How else [could the case have ended]? You can’t expect anything else from liars. It would be smarter for them not to instigate such cases, not to disgrace themselves before the whole world, but they think with a different part of their bodies.

About the provocateur/informer. I had thought earlier that he was a fool, a narrow-minded man. After his denunciation — well, the bastard turned out to be a repeat of 1937. But for every scoundrel, there are thousands of people in Russia who are responsive and ready to help. So what can I say about my feelings for this [person]? It’s like stepping in shit. It’s better not to meet such “people.”

Thanks so much to everyone who writes letters, sends food parcels, and worries about me, my son, and my loved ones! Don’t be afraid to speak the truth, to voice your stance publicly! What kind of freedom is it if you are forced to remain silent? All my cellmates and all the prison employees see and understand the whole situation and what is happening.

Nothing’s gone to change me. I have been an honest, decent person, and I will come out one too! Be kind! May the skies above your head be peaceful!

Source: “‘I have been an honest, decent person, and I will come out one too’: a letter from Petersburger Oleg Belousov, sentenced to five and half years in a penal colony for ‘fake news about the army,'” Bumaga, 27 April 2023. The emphasis (in bold) was in the original article. Translated by the Russian Reader

Enslaved by History

Enslaved by History
Vasily Zharkov
October 1, 2014

Constantly debating history and daydreaming of the past’s return, we shut ourselves off from the present and the possible future. By and large, we simply do not want to do anything, because everything is going to happen by itself at the next “stage of history,” in whose endless repetition we for some reason have come to sincerely believe.

Constitutional Court chief judge Valery Zorkin has caused the latest scandal in the blogosphere and the media by writing, “Despite all serfdom’s shortcomings, it was the main tie binding the nation together internally.” Even psychologists got involved in the ensuing commentary. I have the impression everyone was waiting for someone to say this. Chatting about serfdom’s possible return is timelier, after all, than discussing whether our country can develop modern technologies and a modern society.

If somewhere in America someone is talking today about the possible return of slavery, there is a good chance this person is a Russian immigrant. No one else is obliged to remember such things.

Of course, we all have good educations. We know lots of things. Unlike Barak Obama, we know for sure that Crimea was given to Ukraine not in the nineteenth century but in 1954. And we are, allegedly, the country that reads the most in the world. If the country’s president or a jailed oligarch finds himself with a free minute, the first thing either of them does is take a tome by nineteenth-century Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky from off the shelf. Because we need to learn, after all, and, that’s right, history the best teacher. And yet we do this without noticing that Klyuchevsky himself has long been history.

 But there are no other historians for us nowadays, just as there is no nowadays.

Learning from history is easy and pleasant. The point is we don’t have to do almost anything: someone has done everything already. Saint Vladimir adopted Christianity from Byzantium. Let’s argue whether this was good or bad. It’s a debate with no strings attached, because Christianity was adopted long ago. It is what it is, and many folks have since then even managed to do stints as atheists. But arguing about the “right” Christianity or the “wrong” Christianity is definitely easier than fasting or attending midnight mass. And it’s all the more easier than comprehending the basics of rational philosophy.

We can argue about reforms that we ourselves had nothing to do with. All reforms were handled wrongly, of course. In some cases, they were hurried; in some other cases, they were confused; in still other cases, they were not followed through to the end. How nice it is to talk about it! As we criticize other people’s mistakes, we grow smarter right before our own eyes. It’s not just that we can explain to the late Alexander III or Count Sergei Witte in layman’s terms where and how they went wrong, but also that we are not going to repeat their mistakes in the sense that there are not going to be any more reforms. Otherwise, God forbid, everything will happen all over again.

Our principal horror also resides in the past: Russian revolts, times of trouble. Unlike Hobbes’s war of all against all, they have a habit of repeating themselves. That is what we believe.

17 and 37 are not just bus route numbers to us. The worst Russian revolt and time of trouble occurred in 1917, and the horseman that gallops alongside it, like melancholy and calm in the Brodsky poem, is “another 1937.”

To a large extent, our entire society can be divided into those hoping for another 1917 while fearing a repeat of 1937, and, vice versa, those sadistically and lustfully looking forward to a another 1937 while also realizing with horror that 1917 is inevitable.

What the heck, the twentieth century traumatized us badly. The past thus consists of wall-to-wall demotivators. Unsuccessful reforms and bloody revolution, followed by what an émigré writer of the 1920s described as “everything as it had been, only worse.”

And then “the revolution devours its heroes” altogether. By contrast, World War Two is the main justification of our existence. Victory in the war was our country’s only success, while the Brezhnev Stagnation was a brief blessed moment when we could reread Klyuchevsky again. The Stagnation has already been reprised again and has even ended. Our Russian wit tells us that everything else is now going to happen again, too.

“What is to be done?”: the question itself has long been a part of history. Diluting luminous Klyuchevsky with dark Ilovaisky, wholesome, ruddy conservatives-cum-historical reenactment fans suggest bringing back “the Russia we lost.” Would that things were like they were under Alexander III or Nicholas I: candies and baranki manufactured in Belarus, golden-domed Moscow, the peal of church bells, rosy-cheeked schoolgirls and muzhiks in sheepskin coats carrying portraits of the tsar, a sputnik for all people of good will, a pogrom and the Pale of Settlement for all liberals, and a big fat middle finger for Europe.

And would that Stalin were with us again, as in a happy childhood. Those who don’t agree with that picture choose between the Banquet Campaign of the liberals and the harsh underground of the Bolsheviks. But neither “conservatives” nor “liberals” nor “leftists” really have any doubt that 1917 is on its way, followed by 1937. Whatever you do! Because for a long while no one in Russia has done anything.

Of course, you can try and run away from it all, if you have money, to the Europe of our dreams, to the kapstrany (capitalist countries) dear to the Soviet individual’s heart, to the places we were not allowed to go, but about which we know so much thanks to books and films. This is the Europe of Poirot and La Dolce Vita: the Europe of corner cafes, tasty beer, Martini on ice, chrome-plated old cars, and gentlemen in bowler hats. Hang on a second! Tolerance, you say? Where did all the blacks and Arabs come from? Why are the jeans made in China? Where is the Paris that, in Soviet movies, was shot in Tallinn? Alas, disappointment awaits most of us in Europe. 1930s Europe is long gone, 1960s Europe is, too, and the 1970s have disappeared over the horizon. Even old man Depardieu is now an official resident of Mordovia.

The present, the real, holds no interest for us, wherever it is. Because only what we can buy at an antiques market is “genuine” and “real” to us.

Well, until the oil money runs out, we can indulge ourselves in antiques, domestic and foreign.

According to one commonplace, Russia is a literature-centric country. However, all the literature we studied at school and of which we used to be proud has long been history. History is now our everything. And the more everything revolves round history, the less we notice the present, while no one at all wants to see the future. Why, pardon me, should we, since history always repeats itself? But the question is, ladies and gentlemen, what if, suddenly, our future is not necessarily a repetition of our past? What then?

To paraphrase a famous historical metaphor from the century before last, after all the storms and disasters that have befallen it, Russia looks like the “sick man of Eurasia.” Тhose who were appointed to take care of Russia have immobilized the wounded patient without thinking twice and put it on a drip. And while the exhausted country sleeps its drug-induced sleep, its history drips down the tube.


Vladimir Putin excoriated the West in a speech on Thursday, comparing his foreign opponents to Adolf Hitler in their desire to destroy Russia while reminding foes that his armed forces were “polite but menacing”.

Speaking at the Kremlin in his annual address to parliament, Russia’s president defended his decision to annexe Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in the spring, saying that it was a place as sacred to Russians as holy sites in Jerusalem for Jews or Muslims.

He said that Russia faced a threat to its very existence from western states and accused the United States of manipulating Russia’s neighbours – in particular, Ukraine – in an attempt to subordinate Moscow to Washington’s will.

“If for many European countries, sovereignty and national pride are forgotten concepts and a luxury, then for the Russian Federation a true sovereignty is an absolutely necessary condition of its existence,” Mr Putin told MPs, ministers and regional leaders. “I want to stress: either we will be sovereign, or we will dissolve in the world. And, of course, other nations must understand this as well.”


Mr Putin said foreign foes of Russia had supported similar separatists “up to their elbows in blood” in the 1990s and early 2000s, but without success. “They would have been delighted to let us go the way of Yugoslavia and the dismemberment of the Russian peoples, with all the tragic consequences. But it did not happen. We did not allow it to happen.”

He added: “It also didn’t work out for Hitler, who with his man-hating ideas wanted to destroy Russia and throw us beyond the Urals. It would be good to remind everyone of how that ended.”

The Russian leader opened his speech by praising Russians for “going through an ordeal that only a united nation, a truly strong and sovereign state, could shoulder”.

In a clear reference to Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in the east of the country, he said: “Russia has proved in deed that it is capable of defending its compatriots, of honourably defending truth and fairness.”

Mr Putin justified the takeover of Crimea by saying that it was “where our people live, and the peninsula is of strategic importance for Russia” as well as it being the setting for the baptism of the medieval prince Vladimir the Great in the 10th century.

Crimea had “invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism”, he added.


—Tom Parfitt, “Putin compares West with Adolf Hitler in desire to subjugate Russia,” The Telegraph, December 4, 2014