On the evening of November 24, masked security forces officers broke into Open Space in Moscow, where fifty people had gathered to support the anarchists arrested in the Tyumen Case and write postcards to political prisoners. The security forces, who were probably commanded by a colonel from Center “E”, made the visitors lie down on the floor or stood them facing the wall and held them for several hours, beating some of them. They didn’t let a lawyer inside.
On November 24, an evening of solidarity for the defendants in the Tyumen Case took place in Open Space, a co-working space for activists in Moscow’s Basmanny District. Six anarchists from Tyumen, Surgut and Yekaterinburg have been arrested and charged with organizing a “terrorist community,” and all of them have said they were tortured.
The event was open to the public and had been advertised, for example, by the online magazine DOXA. (Recently, State Duma deputies demanded that the magazine be designated an “extremist organization.”)
The event started around six o’clock, and about forty to fifty people were in attendance, says one of the participants. Some eyewitnesses say that before the security forces arrived, they signed postcards in support of political prisoners, while others said that they recited or listened to poetry. In any case, when an intermission was announced, the guests went outside to smoke — and at that moment a paddy wagon drove up to the building, and masked security forces officers stormed the venue.
Video footage of the beginning of the raid, which the SOTAvision journalist Ksenia Tamurka managed to shoot before she was detained, shows that the masked security forces officers behaved in a demonstratively rough manner. They shouted, kicked over furniture, and knocked the phone out of the correspondent’s hands. After the phone falls, the sounds of blows and shouts are audible in the footage: “Hands behind your head!”, “Legs wider!”, “Face the wall, don’t look down!”
The security forces officers forced some of the young people to lie down on the floor, while they made the rest of them, including the young women, stand facing the wall, forbidding them to move. A young woman who had left the event during the break and unhappily returned to retrieve a tote bag she had forgotten toldSOTA that she stood facing the wall for about an hour.
“When I turned my head, I was told to keep facing the wall. An hour later, they apparently took out my passport from my tote bag and summoned me to another room, where most everyone was lying face down on the floor. I sat down and we waited further. Then after, I don’t know, thirty minutes, I was summoned by other Russian National Guard officers. They asked me where my phone was, and I showed them. They asked me to unlock it, but I said no, citing Article 23 [of the Russian Constitution, which enshrines the right to privacy]. They were like no, you’re going to unlock it. And when I had already sat down, there was already a young female journalist after me, and she refused to show them her phone. They dragged her by the hair and she screamed,” the young woman said.
After what she saw, the young woman agreed to unlock the phone, and the security forces wrote down its IMEI. Another woman, who attended event with a child, said that the security forces officers demanded that she show them her Telegram chats and latest bank transfers to find out “whether she sponsored terrorism.”
The young woman who was screaming was SOTA journalist Ksenia Tamurka. The media outlet has not yet published the commentary of the journalist herself. One of the detainees recounted the assault on Tamurka as told by another eyewitness; another young man heard the journalist screaming, although he was in another room.
He said that the security forces treated the young men in various ways: in his opinion, it largely depended on the length of their hair. The young man pointed out that the security forces also detained members of Narcotics Anonymous, whose meeting was going on in the next room. “And when they were asked what they were doing there, they said, We are drug addicts, we don’t know anyone here! Then they were taken away from where we were, and [the police] talked to them separately,” he recalled.
At some point, the security forces perhaps began to behave a little less harshly. In video footage recorded a few hours after the start of the search, it is clear that the detainees were no longer pressed against the wall, but were simply looking at it. The security forces did not detain the journalists who shot the video, but, according to a Sota correspondent, they did drag a passerby inside the building after he looked in the window.
The detainees were loaded into the paddy wagon only a few hours later, and the minors among them were released along the way. The rest were brought to the Basmanny police department.
One of them said that she and four young men were beaten at the station. According to the young woman, the security forces officers “struck her when she was lying on the floor.” One detainee was “beaten with a baton and a book,” and another young man was “thrown on a chair and kicked.” According to her, the police found a balaclava, an emergency hammer from a bus, and a traumatic pistol, which he had a permit to carry, on one of the men who was beaten.
Another young woman could not recall beatings and said only that the detainees wrote statements at the police department “about what they actually did.” Alexei Melnikov, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission who was recently appointed to the Presidential Human Rights Council, went inside the department and saw the detainees while they were making their statements, but also made no mention of possible violence.
The detainees were released from the department around two o’clock in the morning. None of them reported that they were forced to sign any documents other than their statements. Tamurka left the department last, around four in the morning.
Golos coordinator Vladimir Yegorov identified the colonel from Center “E” in video footage of the security forces escorting the detainees to the paddy wagon. According to Yegorov, he was beaten during a search of the Golos office on October 5 on the colonel’s orders. Yegorov does not know the policeman’s name, because it was not listed in the search report. According to SOTA, the masked security officers accompanying the colonel at Open Space serve in the second field regiment of the Interior Ministry’s Moscow Main Directorate.
Correction (7 p.m., November 25): The article originally stated that the journalist Ksenia Tamurka left the police department along with the other detainees around two o’clock in the morning. SOTAvision later clarified that she came out last, around four o’clock in the morning.
Shops are full of food, but no Nespresso capsules (I still have some for a couple of months).
Stores are still selling printers, but not ink cartridges (I had to re-fill the used one last week).
There is clothes in shopping centers, but stores I used to go to are closed.
European countries still formally issue visas, but not really, although they might, but probably not, and getting there by air costs the same as becoming a space tourist.
Some countries are still open, but flights abroad are few and expensive and airbnb doesn’t accept payments from Russia, so I have to ask my son living in Germany to pay for our Summer trip.
Speaking of my son, I still can transfer money to him, but sometimes it takes weeks and sometimes they never get through, though sometimes they do, and you never know.
Speaking of the money, I still get my salary, but sometimes it is delayed because transferring money to the right bank account in the right currency in time makes our financial team prematurely gray-haired.
Speaking of the salary, our high-tech company is still working, but neither electronic components, nor equipment, nor people can cross borders, although sometimes they can, and then they don’t, and you never know when and why, and nobody knows it.
I keep reading and watching Youtube videos about the war every day, although it has all become a routine, and I hate myself for that, and I did protest but stopped because it’s all pointless and dangerous, though it isn’t, but it is, and we are all cowards, but it doesn’t matter, though it does.
I want Ukraine to win this war, and I don’t feel as if I am betraying my country but rather that my country is betraying me and itself, and this is probably the only crystal-clear thing in my life.
Yes, life is still normal in Russia.
91.7K views • 6,390 upvotes • 32 shares • Answer requested by Emirey Jackson
SOTA correspondent Ksenia Tamurka was detained along with the other attendees of a solidarity event for the defendants in the so-called Tyumen Case. The event was held at Open Space, an activist co-working space in Moscow The journalist was beaten when she refused to show her phone to men who had their faces covered. Despite this, Tamurka did not succumb to pressure and for several hours defended her rights to police officers. We publish this monologue by our correspondent, from which you can learn how to talk to the security forces and what you must do for your own safety.
Masked security forces officers [siloviki] burst into Open Space, and I started filming. I was either knocked down with a chair, or I tripped over it when I was pushed. I dropped my phone, and they put me face to the wall — they told me to stand like that. People around me were knocked down and thrown on the floor. They were not allowed to turn their heads; they could only look at the floor or at the wall. A Narcotics Anonymous meeting was being held in the basement of the premises, and one of the [recovering drug addicts] was asked what he used and how long he had been going there. They found some kind of book on LGBT topics in his possession and the siloviki read it aloud. In the process, they made nasty jokes about the guy. They said that there was no such thing as a former drug addict, and reproached him for being so young and already hooked. They collected everyone’s phone and papers, including mine and my press pass.
One guy begged them to let him call his mom. When these masked me with no insignia on their black uniforms had broken in, he thought it was a terrorist attack and had written to his family about it. The boy was very afraid that his mother would be worried, but the siloviki laughed, saying, Come on, how could you confuse us with terrorists? Why are you scaring your mother?
Then one of the Center “E” officers [eshnik] — the nastiest, most weaselly one — called me over because he thought I was hiding something when I was tucking in my sweater. He asked me to be a good girl and give him what I had allegedly hid; otherwise they would search me and stick their hands in my underpants. I said that I hadn’t hidden anything, that I was a journalist and had come there on assignment. He asked me strange questions, but I answered reluctantly. I said that I would only answer an investigator’s questions. For this, I was “punished” — I was made to stand with my face to the wall, although the others were sitting. When the siloviki nearby suggested that I sit down too, this eshnik said, “No, she’s being punished. She will stand.”
A couple of hours later I was summoned again. “Point your finger at your phone. Come on, unlock it,” they said. I refused because the request was illegal. Those men in uniform saw that I had Face ID, and they brought my phone close to my face, but I closed my eyes and looked away. The eshnik said all sorts of nasty things to me, getting angry and shouting. One of the masked siloviki, a man with blue eyes, grabbed me by the hair. Someone else hit me in the face and tried to open my eyes with his fingers. I was surrounded by five masked men. I screamed and cried and screwed up my face. I was very afraid to glance lest my phone be unlocked, god forbid. They dragged me back and forth by the hair. They shouted, “A drama queen! Ah, what a drama queen!” The police officers threatened to take me to the Moscow Region and talk to me in a basement.
At Open Space there is a mailbox for postcards designed to look like the bars in a jail. They punished me again by forcing me to stand looking at this box, like I was serving a prison sentence. Every police offer who walked by me thought I was backing away from it and pushed me closer. When one policeman passed by, he snapped his fingers before my eyes. When he was passing by, another policeman inserted a postcard with a beautiful picture in the box and said, “Let’s change the view — gaze at this.” Almost everyone passing by noted the pulled out hair on my clothes. Then that eshnik came up to me and tried to persuade me to unlock my phone. He asked whether I was tired, offered to deal with me “the normal way,” and said that I was delaying everything and would be the last to leave. “Just say the password, just enter it,” he said, but I wouldn’t enter it. They offered to give me a chair, to which I replied, “I’m not going to bargain with you. And bring a high chair.” They brought it. I sat down: I was comfortable, it was great, I looked at the wall. The blue-eyed man who had pulled my hair came up to me. I told him, “You beat me,” and pointed out that it was illegal, but he was like, “I don’t care.” The siloviki also tried to scare me by saying that my mobile phone would be entered into evidence and returned a year later, at the earliest, if we didn’t resolve everything on the spot.
The men in uniform constantly asked the organizers and participants why they supported terrorists and wrote postcards to them, and why the slogans on their walls were so filthy.
The siloviki asked everyone to tell them the PINs to their phones first, and then, if the person refused, they put the device in their hands and told them to enter it personally. They asked them to show their Telegram chats and film rolls and enter some other commands, like they were checking whether the mobile phone was stolen. When I asked what it all meant and why they needed my phone, they replied that they suspected me of theft, that there was a criminal complaint and even an APB out on me. I asked them to show them me and asked whether all those lying and sitting at Open Space had APBs out on them too. The siloviki replied that they would not show me anything because it was official information, and they stopped talking to me.
Everyone was photographed and searched, and their documents were photographed too — illegally, of course. They also took a picture of my father’s library card and public transport pass, although I didn’t consent to this. I was told that I was not in a position to forbid them to do anything. All the time I heard the same conversation: “We are checking your phone for theft, we are checking your phone for theft, enter the IMEI.” And almost everyone agreed to do it! Very few refused — and they were beaten, in my opinion. In any case, they were not treated very pleasantly. The eshnik asked me who I worked with at SOTA, who gave me the assignment, who I knew. He asked me about books and suggested that I read 1984. I told him to read Zamyatin’s We.
Th eshnik tried to make friends with me. He kept asking how I was feeling and complimented me, calling me a “persistent lady.” He even took my number and suggested that we discuss books later. He was constantly trying to get me to talk about “opposition” literature, bragging about his knowledge and telling me about Orwell. This man then invited me to take a stroll with him, but when he saw my face, he wimped out himself. “Well, you don’t want to walk with such scum, do you?” he said.
When I had already lost track of time, the intercessions on my behalf were conveyed to me. I was so glad when I found out that journalists had already gathered [outside], that my colleagues were there too! I was relieved because I had been very worried that I couldn’t contact anyone.
A man who did not agree to unblock his phone was beaten quite hard, judging by the sounds. We were forbidden to turn and look. One boy was whipped on his legs — the police officer made him spread his legs wider and thrashed him with all his might. It was so loud and scary.
They also promised that they would talk to me separately — I was afraid that they would just start torturing me, because I asked the policemen about it, and they either jokingly or seriously answered that yes, they would. There was a moment when everyone was really led away, and I thought, Well, that’s it — it’s about to start. But no, I was just sent to a paddy wagon.
At the station, I realized that everyone was pretty sick of me, judging by the comments that came my way. They called me a dumb broad and a pest. They said that I should be beaten with a rod. Later, in the department, they suggested that I should be “whipped with an officer’s belt in a dark room.” It also transpired that I was a dumb broad because no one was fucking me. They said disgusting things about me. I wrote down everything they said and all sorts of atmospheric details in the blank spaces in the book I had with me, [Vladimir] Sorokin’s Sugar Kremlin. The police saw it and tried to take a peek. Then the blue-eyed duded just stole it from me. They read all my notes in front of me and laughed in my face: “What? Who beat you? No one touched you. Why are you making things up?” But one of them added that I could still be beaten, because there was no other way to make me understand.
I was held separately and constantly harassed. And yet, when I asked to make a phone call, they said that it was specifically forbidden to me. When I asked to let a lawyer in to see me, that was also forbidden to me. I wanted to go to the toilet, but that too was specifically forbidden to me, while everyone else was allowed to go. They lied to me that there was no one waiting for me outside, that no one had any use for me and no one was waiting for me, although I knew that a crowd had already gathered at the station. The policemen discussed my breasts in front of me. Then they asked me my size — I cited Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution] and refused to testify.
When everyone else had already been released, they continued to drag their feet with me. The policemen kept their promise. I had to prove to them that the phone was mine for some reason. But if they had confiscated it from me, they should have known whose phone it was! It was their problem that they didn’t follow the legal procedures and forced me to deal with the consequences of their negligence! Moreover, my phone was the last one. The cunning eshnik and the blue-eyed devil finally decided to punish me too for my perseverance and entered the wrong password many times so that my phone would be blocked.
While we were waiting for the on-duty officer, the fool who dragged me by the hair ran out through another exit. Today I will file a complaint regarding the theft of my book and the actions of those police officers. I also went to the emergency room — I feel that it hurts me to touch it [sic]. I had the assault and battery documented there. The trauma specialist told me that it was an “industrial” injury because I had been on the job.
By the way, the slogan “The people’s trust is the police’s strength” was written on the wall of the police department.
Olga Nazarenko, a university lecturer in Ivanovo, risks going to prison for simply hanging the Ukrainian flag in the window of her own flat. Neighbors from the building opposite regularly complain about her. Nazarenko goes on anti-war pickets, where aggressive fellow citizens attack her. And the pickets have already triggered a criminal case against her. Repeated visits and searches by police officers at night and early in the morning have become routine for her children. Nazarenko sees the situation in Russia as nearly hopeless. She is amazed at how the country’s maternal instinct has even been destroyed: Russians dutifully send their children off to die for nothing. Despite all this, she considers it her duty to talk to people. She remains in Russia, and has no plans to emigrate.
Recently, the police rang at Nazarenko’s door at three o’clock in the morning. They demanded to be let in so that they could remove the Ukrainian flag. It has been hanging for six months on the balcony of the activist’s flat in an ordinary multi-storey residential building in the city of Ivanovo. Nazarenko refused to let the police in without a search warrant. Through the door, the night visitors informed her that neighbors had filed another complaint about the Ukrainian flag. The law enforcement officers left, only to return at seven in the morning and knock on the door for a long time. Nazarenko did not unlock the door, but wrote a complaint against the police to the prosecutor’s office.
Over the past two months, the police have visited the well-known anti-war protester at least four times. In the autumn, two criminal cases were opened against Nazarenko, one of them under the so-called Dadin article of the Russian criminal code. The medical school at which the activist has worked for almost twenty-four years has suspended her employment. The university lecturer is currently listed as a “suspect” by the authorities. Despite the fact that term of her undertaking not to leave the country, which went into effect after the criminal case was launched, has recently expired, she has no plans to leave Russia. She talked to Radio Svoboda about her principled choice.
— How did you find out that you had been identified as a suspect in a criminal case?
— I learned that a criminal case had been launched against me under Article 280.3 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Public actions aimed at discrediting the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”) from the Center “E” officers who came to my workplace at around eleven a.m. on September 20. They obliged my colleagues to to serve as witnesses, searched my desk, and found two placards. Before that, my laptop was seized without my knowledge. The bigwigs at the medical school wanted to conceal it at first, but I made a fuss. It transpired that the Center “E” officers did not even give our management rep a copy of the report for the seizure of the laptop, nor did he demand one from them. Then we went to my house; fortunately, there were no handcuffs on me. There they carefully rummaged for a long time: they took our phones (even the phone of my young son), a computer, old leaflets, our personal money, and the savings of our daughter, who is a university student. The money was returned to her, but the police kept our funds for themselves, and they are not planning to give them back to us, apparently.
— How did your children react to the search of your home?
— My son was in a little shock, especially since they took something that belonged to him. My daughter behaved calmly. She talked to the police a little. She asked whether their “assistant” was an adult: the computer technician they brought with them looked quite young. A Center “E” officer replied tersely that they were all adults and all officers. My daughter is already an adult, and she understands everything and supports me. My family took the search well, because this was not my first encounter with the relevant authorities due to politics. In the spring, at seven a.m., the riot police came to search the flat since I had been identified as a witness in a vandalism cased launched against another activist. Then they tried to prevent me from calling a lawyer, seized my phone, my computer, 138 posters, and the Ukrainian flag from the window. The law enforcement agencies’ interest in me had already become something routine.
— How long has the Ukrainian flag been hanging in the window of your flat?
— Every year since 2014, I had hung up the flag of Ukraine on the country’s Independence Day. Last year, I put it in the window and decided not to take it down. Police officers visited me after complaints were made, and they demanded explanations about the flag. I refused to explain anything to them. In the spring, after my apartment was searched, and they took the Ukrainian flag with them. I sewed a new one and hung it in the window again. I did the same thing after the search in the autumn.
— Why did you do that?
— For reasons of principle: if I support Ukraine, then I support it. And most importantly: no one in uniform and flashing a badge gets to decide what hangs in my window.
— What was the first criminal case brought against you for?
— Were you not intimidated when they launched a criminal case and searched your flat?
— All this was to be expected. And no, it didn’t intimidate me. I continued going to anti-war pickets and rallies in support of those who have been persecuted for making anti-war statements, and I talked to people on the streets. A second criminal case was soon launched against me under the so-called Dadin article (i.e., Article 212.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code: “repeated violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march, or picket”). In October, Center “E” officers and the investigator who was running the first criminal case against me came again to search my flat. They were accompanied by several people in black masks and bulletproof vests. It’s hot in our flat, and I saw sweat on their faces, probably from overexertion. I even felt sorry for them. The search was superficial; they didn’t see anything new, apparently. They again seized our phones and a couple of posters. Once they got into the flat, they immediately rushed to the balcony and again pulled down the Ukrainian flag. I told them that I hadn’t violated the law when I hung up the flag, since I wasn’t infringing on the building’s communal property. The Center “E” guys replied that I should understand how turbulent the situation was now. They asked me why I was hanging the flag up. I said that it reflected my position and my aesthetic tastes.
— Do you like the colors yellow and blue?
— Yes, they are my favorite colors: the sky and the sun. The next day I sewed another Ukrainian flag and hung it out.
— Do you usually sew Ukrainian flags on a sewing machine?
— Yes. There are many shops in Ivanovo where you can buy fabric. I found a good one and bought three sets at once. It will last for a long time.
— Why do you think that it is the neighbors who filed complaints against over the flag?
— Only residents of the house located opposite mine can see the flag all the time. The denunciations are probably written by neighbors and residents of the neighboring house. I saw one complaint. The poor lady wrote: “I see the Ukrainian flag every morning and I consider it unacceptable in such a situation as we have now.” I even felt sorry for her. After I hung out the Ukrainian flag, the neighbors living in the apartments below and above mine hung out Russian flags. After the search, a “Z” was again written on my apartment’s mailbox and a note was tossed in it that said, “Ukraine is no more. Take down your rag and dry yourself with it.”
– How did the medical school react to the criminal cases against you?
– The management suspended me on the grounds that the articles of the Criminal Code brought against me hinder my work as a lecturer. My colleagues were upset. We have worked together for many years. Besides, now they have to do my duties. My colleagues do not talk about politics. Most of my colleagues are apolitical. But they have voiced their support to me and hope that everything will be resolved somehow. I studied at the medical school for six years, and after graduation I stayed on there to work. That is, my entire adult life, almost thirty years, has been connected with the medical school.
— Have you been able to get another job?
— Due to the criminal cases, I cannot tell an employer how long I would be able to work for them. So, I will look for something temporary, and then my professional career will depend on the court’s decision.
— How many pickets did you hold in the autumn?
— In September and October, I held four or five pickets. Since the second criminal case was launched, I have not yet gone out to protest, but I’m going to continue to voice my civic stance.
— Why are you going to continue to hold anti-war pickets, despite the serious risks of ending up in a Russian prison?
– I have beliefs, and I will act in keeping with them. As long as I can talk, I’ll keep doing it. What is the point of having principles if you don’t act on them, regardless of the risks?
— Do you have the support of friends, family, and associates?
— I have moral support from friends, and there are also simple acquaintances who support me and help me raise the money for fines. I am being defended by attorney Oskar Cherdzhiyev.
— Aren’t you annoyed by like-minded people who emigrated instead of getting involved in anti-war protests with you?
— If the question is about ordinary Russian citizens, and not about protest leaders, then I’m not annoyed. I understand that nothing will change in the near future. People in difficult circumstances choose the best option for themselves. We have one life, and everyone has the right to live it as they please. Besides, emigration is now a rational, appropriate solution. Many of those who have gone abroad continue their protest activities: they go to anti-war protests at Russian embassies, help refugees from Ukraine and Russia, and work on publicity.
— But why is it the best option for you to stay in Russia and go to anti-war pickets, rather than worry about your own safety?
— My choice is based on the fact that I can do more in terms of working with people in Russia than I could in emigration. I’m rubbish at information technology. It’s easier for me to talk to passersby at street protests in the hope of getting my message to them. Russia is my country, and I won’t let them kick me out. I have the right to my own country and I don’t want to leave Russia for anywhere else. I will stay here and do what I think is necessary, voice my position. If I left, I would feel bad because I got scared and ran away.
— Do you think your long-term street activism has produced any results?
— If we’re talking about changing people’s minds, I don’t see any particular results. The war is so propagandized that a few people who publicly voice a different viewpoint cannot shift the minds of the majority in the other direction. My protests are meant to have an effect on the people who are having doubts. I have succeeded in making such people think. But the main purpose of my protests is to support like-minded people among Russians and Ukrainians. Thanks to my actions, among other things, friends in Ukraine know that not everyone in Russia is an “orc.”
— How has the reaction of passersby to your pickets changed since the war with Ukraine began?
— I’ve observed that people have become more guarded and scared. They usually dash past me quickly, averting their eyes. The reactions of those who do not hide them have become quite polarized. Either passersby are emotionally grateful, or they almost pounce on me, fists flying, and call me a Banderite. At the last picket, a man grabbed my placard and tore it up. There have been more negative reactions to my pickets than friendly ones, but this is not surprising. It is amazing how, with such propaganda, one hundred percent of people don’t react negatively to anti-war protests.
— How do you manage to be so tolerant towards people whose views differ from yours?
— I would not call my attitude towards them tolerant. I just understand what motivates their behavior: a lack of critical thinking skills, plus the fear and the reverence for the authorities that is inscribed in their subcortex. Powerful state propaganda combines with excessive loyalty to those in power. Thus, Russian citizens support all decisions by high-ranking officials.
– Are you able to understand why the parents of conscripts did not come out in droves to protests after the mobilization was announced?
— It’s beyond my comprehension. The maternal instinct is a powerful biological mechanism. As conceived by nature, it should be stronger than any propaganda. Apparently, there has been a real degradation in our society over the past twenty years. Total state propaganda, which includes not only the media, but also the education system, has aimed to completely distort values. Fear and reverence for power, submission to it, which never disappeared in many Russians, have now resurfaced especially strongly. Unfortunately, learned helplessness has overcome the maternal instinct. I do not know if such people can change anything.
— This is not the first year that you have been constantly going out to protest. Perhaps you have a hope that Russia will become a free country?
— It’s hard to say. Historically, Russia has been going in circles all the time, rather than developing in a spiral. But I still want to hope that Russia will become a developed and free country. However, this won’t happen soon, perhaps in one hundred years.
“I demand an immediate cessation of all hostilities and an international investigation of all crimes committed. […] I call on all Russians to fight for their rights and against the dictatorship, and do everything to stop this monstrous [war],” a young woman named Victoria Petrova says confidently and clearly on the screen in courtroom 36 at the St. Petersburg City Court. The members of the public attending the hearing — they are thirty-three of them — applaud.
A month ago, Petrova was an “ordinary person,” a manager in a small family-owned company. Now she is a defendant in a criminal case, charged with disseminating “fake news about the army,” and has been remanded in custody in the so-called Arsenalka, the women’s pretrial detention center on Arsenalnaya Street in Petersburg. The case against her was launched after she posted an anti-war message on the Russian social media network VKontakte. If convicted, she could face up to ten years in prison. In the following article, The Village explains how, thanks to Petrova’s lawyer, the case of this unknown “ordinary person” has resonated with the public, why Petrova’s mother is not allowed to visit her, and what the prisoner herself has to say.
On the sixth of May, at seven in the morning, Center “E” and SOBR officers came to Petrova’s rented apartment on Butlerov Street with a search warrant. They seized phones, laptops, and seven placards on the spot. The next day, the Kalinin District Court remanded Petrova in custody in Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 for a month and twenty-five days.
“The investigator said that, if he had his way, he would have released Vika on his own recognizance. But he was instructed to petition the court to place her under arrest,” Anastasia Pilipenko, Petrova’s lawyer, told The Village.
A case was opened against Petrova under the new criminal article on “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” According to the new law, any information on the so-called special operation in Ukraine that does not come from official Russian sources can be deemed “fake.” In Petrova’s case, the grounds for the criminal charges were a post on VKontakte, dated 23 March 2022, and the nine videos that she attached to it, featuring journalists Dmitry Gordon and Alexander Nevzorov, and grassroots activist and blogger Maxim Katz.
Who else has been arrested in Petersburg on criminal charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army?
Nearly 32,000 Victoria Petrovas are registered on VKontakte, and more than 1,800 of them live in Petersburg. The Victoria Petrova in question is depicted on her VKontakte pages as a woman wearing a light beanie, glasses, and makeup in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. She has 247 friends and eighty-nine followers.
Her post dated March 23 was deleted by VKontakte at the request of Roskomnadzor two days after it was published. But she made other anti-war posts, in which, among other things, Petrova recounts how she was jailed for ten days for taking part in a protest at Gostiny Dvor. In total, since the start of the “special operation,” she was detained twice on administrative charges.
When Center “E” [Center for Extremism Prevention] and SOBR [Special Rapid Deployment Force] came for Petrova on May 6, she thought at first that she would be charged once more under the Administrative Offenses Code. Realizing that now it was a matter for the Criminal Code, Petrova wrote her mother a detailed note explaining what to do with her apartment and her cat, and what things to send to the pretrial detention center, said Petrova’s attorney Pilipenko.
Pilipenko is now the only link between Petrova and the world: no one is allowed to see the prisoner except the lawyer.
Pilipenko’s mother has her birthday on February 24. On the evening of the 24th this year, she and her daughter were going to drink tea and eat cake. But [the war] started early that morning.
“People who are also opposed to [the war] are taking to the streets. The police are putting them in paddy wagons. They face fines and arrests. Cake is canceled — I have work to do […] I am spending the night at a police station,” the lawyer wrote in her Telegram channel. She spent a month and a half working this way.
Pilipenko is thirty-five years old. She graduated from the Northwestern Branch of the Russian State University of Justice. For a year she worked as a clerk in the Leningrad Regional Court. “It was like going into the army,” she says. Usually clerks eventually become judges, but Pilipenko first became a lecturer, then a barrister. “I would never have become a judge, I would not have been able to make decisions that changed people’s lives,” she says.
“But it happens that you can get a case dropped at the investigation stage. Or get the charges reduced to less serious ones. By today’s standards, that is tantamount to success for a defense lawyer,” says Pilipenko.
Pilipenko was not acquainted with Petrova until May 6, when the woman’s apartment was searched. The lawyer was asked to take the case by the Net Freedoms Project. The case is being handled by the Russian Investigative Committee’s central office.
“This means that there is no one investigator, that the entire investigative department is working on the case,” Pilipenko explains.
It was the lawyer who drew public attention to Petrova’s case by writing the following on May 11 on social media:
“Vika is an ordinary young woman. […] She has an ordinary life, goes to an ordinary gym, and has an ordinary cat. She has an ordinary job in an unremarkable company. […] Perhaps the only unusual thing about Vika’s case so far is just her ordinariness. She’s just like us. She’s not an activist, not a journalist, and not the voice of a generation.”
Victoria Petrova is twenty-eight years old. She was born in Petersburg, where she graduated from St. Petersburg State University’s Higher School of Management.
“Vika had a long braid, was very serious, gave the impression of an intelligent person, and got good grades. Intuitively, I feel that Vika is childish in a good sense, unspoiled,” Sofia, a classmate of Victoria Petrova’s, told The Village.
Another friend from school, Daria, in a comment to Mediazona, described Vika as a “born A student,” a “battler in life,” and a person who “was the most organized of all.”
“And her heart always aches over any injustice,” Daria said.
Pilipenko says that Petrova is “a very calm and organized person.”
“I was amazed by this at [the May 7 bail] hearing. People behave differently when they are arrested for the first time. Vika behaved with great dignity,” Pilipenko says.
Before her arrest, Petrova lived alone with her cat Marusya. The animal is now living with the heroine’s mother, while Maruysa’s owner is now at Pretrial Detention Center No. 5.
Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 is located on Arsenalnaya Street, which is a deserted place dotted with small manufacturing facilities and the premises of the shuttered Krasnyi Vyborzhets plant, which was going to be redeveloped as a housing estate. A banner sporting the prison’s name and an image of the Bronze Horseman is stretched above the entrance to the Arsenalka. From the street side, the complex consists of a typical rhombus-shaped concrete fence, reinforced with mesh and barbed wire. A tower sheathed in corrugated iron juts out above it. On the right, behind an old brick wall, there is a a building in the shape of a cross — a psychiatric hospital “for persons who have committed socially dangerous acts in a state of insanity.” The old Crosses Prison itself, a remand prison for men, is about a kilometer away. Five years ago, all the prisoners were transferred from there to a new facility in Kolpino. The women remained in the pre-revolutionary red-brick Arsenalka complex.
Businesswoman Natalia Verkhova has described life at Pretrial Detention Center No. 5.
“The meter-thick walls and the thick iron doors outfitted with peepholes and bolts. The mattresses a couple of centimeters thick. The prison-baked loaves of bread, often burnt. The broken toilets. The concrete floors in basements where the ladies wait for many hours to be shipped out [to interrogations, court hearings, and other prisons]. The queues at the care packages office and for visiting inmates. The duffel bags chockablock with romance novels in the corridors.”
Former inmate Elizaveta Ivanchikova describes the largest cell in the Arsenalka (for eighteen inmates), to which Petrova, like all newcomers, was first assigned.
“There were nine bunk beds in [the cell]. There were bedside tables next to the beds. In the middle of the cell there was a large iron table with wooden benches. All of this was bolted to the floor. There was also a refrigerator, a TV, a sink next to the toilet, and the toilet itself, behind an ordinary door, without a lock.”
Pilipenko says that Channel One is constantly turned on in this cell and there are many unspoken rules for maintaining cleanliness.
“For example, you can only comb your hair in one place, because if eighteen ladies do it in different places, the hair would be everywhere,” says Pilipenko.
A head inmate keeps order, and at first Vika did not get on well with her. The head inmate did not like that the new girl did not know how to behave in the detention center.
“For example, when the guards come to toss the cell, you need to stand up and lock your hands behind your back,” says Pilipenko.
The conflicts were quickly settled, however, and Petrova was subsequently transferred to another cell.
This, according to Pilipenko, was preceded by an incident in the second part of May, during which plaster fell directly on the imprisoned women.
“Vika said that the girls were sitting and drinking tea when part of the ceiling collapsed on the table. Vika was not injured, but one inmate suffered bruises,” Pilipenko says.
The Telegram channel Free Sasha Skochilenko! reported that the plaster collapsed due to severe leaks: “The residents of the cell gathered the pieces of the ceiling, the largest of which weighed about three kilograms. The pieces were wrapped in sheets and the floor was swept.”
Petrova is currently in a cell for six inmates. During their last visit, when Pilipenko asked her how she was doing, Petrova replied, “You know, okay.” Petrova was surprised by her own answer.
“The letters she receives play a big role. Without them, she would not have any way to keep herself busy. This is the biggest problem in remand prison,” says Pilipenko.
Petrova has received hundreds of letters, mostly from strangers, including from other countries. Petrova has told Pilipenko that she received a letter from a person who works in management at VKontakte. “He is upset that the social network played a role in my criminal case,” she told her.
“Vika definitely replies to all the letters. Except for those whose senders marked them with Z-symbols,” Pilipenko promises.
Petrova can correspond with other “ordinary people,” but it seems she cannot correspond with journalists. The Village sent her questions through her lawyer, but the sheet of paper with the answers was confiscated from Petrova right in her cell. Our correspondent then wrote to Petrova through the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s online FSIN-Pismo system. All three attempts that the The Village made to communicate with Petrova were not approved by the censor, and the negative responses came within a few hours, although the standard processing time is three days. Then, on the advice of Petrova’s lawyer, our correspondent sent all the same questions via FSIN-Pismo, but did not indicate that they were from the media. On the day this article went to press they were delivered to Petrova, but there has been no response from her yet. According to our information, other journalists have also failed to make contact with Petrova.
Petrova’s mother is also not allowed to see her daughter. According to the lawyer, one of the investigators said that “permission to meet with Mom will depend on the results of Vika’s interrogation as the accused party.” The investigators want Petrova to admit wrongdoing.
Victoria’s mother Marina Petrova lives in a three-room flat on Lunacharsky Avenue. Pilipenko filed an appeal against the order to remand her client in custody, hoping that “on grounds of reasonableness, legality, and humaneness” Petrova would be transferred to house arrest at her mother’s residence.
On the eighth of June, a hearing on the matter was held in the City Court. During the hearing, Pilipenko stated that her client was “actually being persecuted for voicing her opinion about the special military operation.” She also said that Petrova does not have a international travel passport and presents no flight risk, that there are no victims or witnesses in the case [whom the defendant theoretically thus might attempt to pressure or intimidate if she were at liberty], and that she had been charged with a nonviolent offense.
The defendant participated in the court hearing via video link from the Arsenalka. In her seven-minute closing statement, she explained what, in her opinion, had been happening for the last three and a half months in Ukraine.
Among other things, she said, “As a result of eight years of brainwashing by propaganda, Russians for the most part did not understand that [a war] had begun. Meanwhile, the completely immoral Z movement, ‘zedification,’ has been spreading across the country that once defeated Nazism. […] I do not feel any ideological, political, religious or other enmity towards the state authorities and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation as institutions. In my anti-war posts, I said that people who gave and carried out criminal orders and committed war crimes should be punished for it.”
Judge Tatiana Yaltsevich denied the defense’s appeal. Petrova will remain in jail at least until the end of June.
On the evening of June 8, subscribers to the Telegram channel Free Vika Petrova! were warned that reposting her speech in court “could lead to criminal prosecution” — probably also under the article on “fake news” about the army.
The next day, Petrova commented on her speech to her lawyer.
“She says that since she has already become a political prisoner, she cannot help but use the court hearings as a means to talk about what is happening. She has not remained silent before, and she has even less desire to be silent now that many people will hear what she has to say,” reports Pilipenko.
Source: “‘An ordinary person’: the story of Vika Petrova, who wrote a post on VKontakte and has been charged with spreading ‘fake news,’ but refuses to give up,” The Village, 9 June 2022. Thanks to JG for the story and the heads-up. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell. Ms. Petrova’s support group has a Telegram channel and is circulating an online petition demanding her release.
The homes of FemKyzlar activists Dina Nurm, Taisiya Albarinho and Aigul Akhmetova were searched by Kazan police as part of an investigation into “calls for mass riots.” Searches in the same criminal case, launched on March 14, took place earlier at the homes of members of the Yabloko party, a Kazan Federal University lecturer, university students and activists. Idel.Realii talked with one of the founders of FemKyzlar, Dina Nurm, about how and why the police homed in on them.
FemKyzlar is a community for the protection of women’s rights in Tatarstan, established in 2019. Its activists are involved in educational outreach. They hold public lectures, advise women on legal issues, and help victims of domestic violence.
On March 14, the Major Case Squad of the Russian Investigative Committee’s Tatarstan Bureau opened a criminal investigation into the “inciting of mass riots” (per Article 212.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) over a post in the Telegram chat Protest Chat: Kazan. According to investigators, “on 3 March 2022, an unidentified person, located in Kazan, published a message in the Telegram messenger in an open chat while discussing the upcoming unsanctioned ‘No War’ protest rally in Kazan” in which he offered to “buy megaphones,” a mixture prohibited for distribution [sic], and batons, “that is, [he called] for armed resistance to the authorities.”
— How did the searches go? What were the police interested in?
— They came to see Taisiya and Aigul on April 27, and they came to my apartment on Saturday the 30th. We just hadn’t been at home before then: a friend had asked us to look after her cats while she was away. In the morning, around 9:30, there was an insistent knock on the door. There were two plainclothes policemen outside the door and our neighbors were present as witnesses [as required by Russian law during a police search]. They were interested in our office equipment, and we immediately gave them everything they asked for. I was interrogated as a witness in the case (as written on my interrogation report). I told the truth — that I had seen the message with calls to buy incendiary mixtures only in the press. I am not a member of the chat, and I do not know who wrote the message. The police were at our place for about two hours. An “expert” arrived, inventoried the equipment, and packed it into an opaque bag. We signed warnings that protest actions had to be authorized.
On the morning of May 2, my girlfriend Nastya, who was present during the search, was summoned by Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police]. They said she also had to be questioned since she lives with me. Indeed, she was questioned as part of the same investigation. They also asked her about the work of FemKyzlar and what was wrong with women’s rights, why they had to be protected. Nastya told them about how she advises women on custody and alimony issues.
— Why do you think the police came to your house if you have nothing to do with Protest Kazan? Have you ever had problems with the police before?
— I think they came to our apartments as part of such a precautionary campaign. Just like they visited many other Kazan activists, just to say, “In case you were wondering, we know about you, we monitor your work and understand that you could organize some kind of protest action, so we ask you not to to do it.”
— How have these searches impacted your lives and FemKyzlar’s work?
— The fact that they confiscated our equipment makes it difficult to work. I am a designer, I need certain capacities. Taisiya is a singer, and all her arrangements are now gathering dust at the Investigative Committee. Of course, it slows down the maintenance of FemKyzlar’s social media pages. It has involved a lot of extra logistics. Friends have been lending their equipment, which needs to be brought to Kazan from other cities. You have to ask loads of people to help, and you have to warn them that their equipment can sink into oblivion. We have been fundraising to get back on our feet, but our subscribers are mostly poor women. We are very grateful for their help, but they could have spent this money on themselves if this situation had not happened. Women are already an economically vulnerable group, and now both we and our subscribers are incurring unnecessary expenses. As for my psychological state, there is paranoia, the feeling that I am guilty of something, although I understand perfectly well that I am not doing anything illegal. I just want to improve women’s lives.
Center “E” sifts through Petersburger’s social network posts: they’ve already found one that merited a criminal charge Fontanka.ru
December 10, 2021
Center “E” field officers have detained a 40-year-old Petersburg man on suspicion of whitewashing Nazism. A post that the man published a year ago on the social network VKontakte (VK) triggered the criminal investigation.
As Fontanka.ru learned on December 10, the text denied the crimes of the Nazis and also contained lies about what the USSR did during the Second World War.
In late November 2021, the investigative department for the city’s Krasnoe Selo district launched a criminal case under Article 354.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. On December 8, the author of the post was detained. Investigators are currently trying to establish whether there were other violations by scrutinizing the social media posts of the Petersburger, who, judging by his VK page, is an ordinary working stiff [rabotyaga].
Dec 10, 2021 at 5:36 p.m.
When will people realize that “Kontakt” [VKontakte] and “Telega” [Telegram] are the Okhrana’s mousetraps? They can fill a lot of quotas this way. What matters is that it’s all safe: it doesn’t involve chasing down armed bearded men.
Dec 10, 2021 at 1:32 p.m.
History is going in circles. We’ve gone back to telling political jokes in the kitchen. But soon we’ll have to think about whether even that is safe…
At a local Communist Party meeting in 1937 a parrot suddenly flies in the window and shouts, “Down with the Communists, down with the Soviet government!” before flying away.
The local NKVD freaks out. They go on an apartment-by-apartment hunt for the talking parrot.
Entering yet another apartment, they ask the man who lives there whether he has a parrot.
“Yes!” he says.
“Does it talk?”
“Yes,” the man answers.
The man opens the refrigerator, whence they hear a parrot shout, “Long live Comrade Stalin! Long live the Communist Party!”
The NKVD officers see they have the wrong parrot and leave.
The man opens the refrigerator door again and says, “Well, bitch, do you understand now what Siberia is like?!”
PETERSBURG MAN DETAINED FOR SOCIAL NETWORK POST He was released on his own recognizance
Darya Medvedeva 78.ru
December 9, 2021
A Petersburg man was detained for a post on the social network VKontakte, a source in law enforcement has told 78.ru.
As the police found out, no later than May of this year the man posted in the public domain a text denying the criminal wrongdoing of the Nazis and misinformation about what the USSR did during the Second World War.
The 50-year-old “blogger” was detained on 2nd Komsomol Street on December 8. A criminal case has been launched against him on suspicion that he tried to rehabilitate Nazism. The police assume that he was involved in other crimes. He has been released on his own recognizance.
The emphasis is mine. Translated by the Russian Reader
“It’s kind of a dystopia. In some respects. Of course, it has nothing to do with reality. The world is shrinking and becoming cramped. Something or someone is always offended in close quarters. And there’s always someone pointing a gun at your head. Sometimes it’s you.”
Masyanya, Episode 152: “Doppelganger.” (Toggle the “CC” button for English subtitles)
The caste of those deprived of their civil rights — foreign agents, undesirable organizations, extremists of all stripes — will constantly expand. Social stigmatization will be strongly encouraged. The number of persons on different registries and lists, and under police watch will grow exponentially. Legal restrictions — bans on participating in elections, serving on various public councils, founding mass media, attending football matches, working in certain areas, and so on — will be supplemented by defamation campaigns. The separation of the estates in terms of legal and social status will be vigorously encouraged by the authorities.
Source: Pavel Chikov, “Not a Tyranny Yet: A Prognosis for the Rest of Putin’s Fourth Term,” Republic, 19 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader
Artist unknown, Russian National Guardsmen in Their Free Time. Posted by Dmitry Vrubel on Facebook. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up
Security forces raided a gathering to write letters to political prisoners at the Vogel Bar. They showed up along with Rospotrebnadzor officials for a surprise inspection on the evening of October 24. After managing to tally forty-five people on the premises and not find markings on the floor mats, the officials sealed the establishment prior to a court hearing. The bar’s management fears bankruptcy and plans to open a new bar in a new location.
The latest gathering to letters to political prisoners at the Vogel this time ended with a visit by regulatory authorities. The police officers who arrived twenty minutes after the event started immediately stated that the 76th police precinct had received a complaint alleging that the bar was not in compliance with the mask mandate. At that moment, the gathering, at which attendees were to write letters to the performance artist Pavel Krisevich, jailed on charges of disorderly conduct after a performance on Red Square in which he pretended to shoot himself, had just begun. That evening, Krisevich’s friends and acquaintances, as well as former political prisoners, were to speak to the guests. One of the bar’s co-founders, Valentin Khoroshenin, told Zaks.Ru that the complaint claimed that a “meeting of anti-covidniks” was planned for that evening at the Vogel. He believes that this was just an excuse to find non-existent violations and close the bar.
The inspection report indicated that more than forty-five people were present in the room at the time. The bar’s management are adamant that this was not the case. The Vogel’s owners have already studied surveillance camera tapes and counted less than forty people on the premises, including the police officers.
Other violations included the absence of markings on floor mats and an insufficient supply of medical masks. According to regulations, such establishments should have a five days’ supply of personal protective equipment. The available supply was only enough for one day. Rospotrebnadzor officials did not enter the kitchen. According to Khoroshenin, they claimed they were too tired to do so.
Vogel Bar has been in business since March 2021. From the very beginning it advertised itself as a venue for activists: political lectures, discussions and debates were held there. During this entire time, Rospotrebnadzor never carried out inspections. But the Interior Ministry regularly sent its people there. For example, Center “E” officers attended the debates. The security forces showed up for other letter-writing gatherings, but everything had ended without trouble.
Text & photos: Konstantin Lenkov, Zaks.ru, 25 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader
We have been preparing an investigation into torture in Russian prisons for almost a year. It took a lot of time to track down, earn the trust of, and obtain testimonies from former inmates of the penal colony in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, thousands of kilometers from central Russia. Simultaneously with The Insider’s investigation, Russian human rights activists published an archive of video footage depicting torture being inflicted on prisoners across Russia. The clips, obtained from the FSB and FSIN secret archive, show prisoners from Irkutsk, Saratov, Belgorod, Rostov and other Russian regions being raped, beaten and humiliated. Torture victims explain their torturers’ motives by their desire to break their will in order to obtain material for blackmailing other prisoners, make them confess to crimes, pay tribute, or even to start torturing other prisoners themselves. This all takes place in the modern world, in a country where there is no war, where torturers are not tasked with extracting valuable military information from prisoners at any cost. Torture is rampant in Russia, a country that has signed a number of human rights and anti-torture conventions and seems to enjoy a peaceful life. We have long known that in Russia, prison is not a place of correction, but rather a strange world separate from everything else, where guards and inmates resurrect on a daily basis the practices of the Stalinist Gulag. This has not always been the case. As early as ten years ago there was serious talk in Russia about the need to reform and humanize the penitentiary system. Now things are different. The authorities have been clearly and unambiguously showing how they prefer to rule the country. That is mainly by fear. Investigations into torture have hardly been a revelation, but in a split instant, they made it impossible to ignore torture and pretend it only concerns those behind bars. Of course, the situation will not change overnight, but one thing is certain – this knowledge has now become an integral part of our society. In the following article, we bring you the raw testimony of people who have experienced torture in Russian prisons. They share their thoughts on why it is used, the impact on them, and recount the involvement even of doctors in their ordeal.
Source: The Insider, 19 October 2021. Thanks to Antti Rautiainen for the heads-up
The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
Kseniia Sonnaya OVD Info
September 2, 2021
Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.
On January 31, 2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.
“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.
She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St. Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.
“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.
According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.
According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.
When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.
At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”
There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.
When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.
In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”
Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.
Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.
Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.
In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.
On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”
Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.
“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”
At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.
Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”
Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.
25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.
26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.
27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.
28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.
29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.
30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.
31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD
1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.
2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.
3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.
5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.
10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!
You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:
Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994
Government of Saint Petersburg
8 Antonenko Lane
190031 Saint Petersburg
Tel.: (812) 417-3454
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.k-obr.spb.ru
To: Directors of educational organizations under the Committee’s jurisdiction
Re: Action Plan
In September 2020, as instructed by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, specialists at Center “E” of the Russian Interior Ministry’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate, together with the Education Committee, developed an “Action Plan for homeroom teachers and school counselors in notifying law enforcement agencies when information is found on the Internet and other sources about the involvement by pupils of educational institutions in informal youth associations and extremist movements” (hereinafter, “Action Plan”).
We are sending the Action Plan, as approved by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, to your address.
We ask you to familiarize homeroom teachers and other interested specialists with this Action Plan in order to organize monitoring of the Internet, including the social networks, of [sic] pupils of educational institutions for possible involvement in informal youth associations and extremist movements.
Enclosure: 4 pages in 1 copy
Deputy Chairman of the Committee
This letter was made public by Maxim Reznik, an independent member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
“There are cops and Center ‘E’ officers at the filming of our video at Lenfilm. First, they came and made us sign an obligation not to promote ‘homosexualism’ and ‘extremism,” and then left to talk with Lenfilm management. Half an hour later, the lights were turned off throughout the building. The shoot was scheduled to run from noon to six in the morning. So, the whole thing’s a bust,” Tolokonnikova said.
Police at Lenfilm in Petersburg. Photo by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Courtesy of Mediazona
The producers tried to rent a generator, but they were not permitted to bring it on the premises of the studio.
“Two days before the shoot, plainclothes officers visited Lenfilm and insisted they cancel the shoot. Surprisingly, Lenfilm refused to heed their request, telling them that we had paid and all the paperwork was in order,” the performance artist added.
“There were supposed to be riot cops [OMON] in the video, but a real patrol showed up instead. The song is about resisting the authorities,” Tolokonnikova told Mediazona.
In an interview with Znak.com, Inessa Yurchenko, who was appointed Lenfilm’s new director general two days ago, called Tolokonnikov’s story a provocation.
“The guys were supposed to have actors in police uniforms, so they cannot pass that off as there being police officers there. There are no police officers on the premises of Lenfilm. It’s not nice to show pictures of actors and provoke the public,” she said.
Yurchenko threatened to call the police.
“I won’t be surprised if there are more provocations on their part—then I will be forced to call the police,” she said.
Yurchenko explained that the blackout in the studio had been caused by an accident on the power grid.
“The head of security will now have to follow regulations while the cause of the accident is established, and so he will have to ask [people] to evacuate Lenfilm because it’s a [secure] facility,” she said.
She added that the activists could return to the film studio when the power was restored.