Over the Transom

From a friend in Leningrad:

“L. and I got our second covid shot today. There are no queues here. The majority of the population, as you know, is afraid and has no plans to be vaccinated, and no public awareness campaign is underway. L. telephoned the clinic, and they signed us up for the next day!”

Meanwhile, according to the Moscow Times, the pollocracy rolls on, scientifically confirming all our worse fears about the deplorable Russisch hoi polloi (some of which may be true if only in the sense that “independent polling” in Russia is meant to reinforce the authoritarian “mindset” it pretends to unmask by asking “ordinary people” whether they’ve stopped beating their wife):

Nearly two out of three Russians believe the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a bioweapon created by humans, a survey by the independent Levada Center polling agency said Monday.

According to Levada’s results, 64% of Russian respondents said Covid-19 was artificially created as a new form of biological weapon. That compares with 23% who said the virus emerged naturally and 13% who couldn’t answer.

[…]

Vaccine hesitancy is also on the rise, with 62% of respondents saying they don’t want to get Russia’s Sputnik V jab compared with 30% who do. Younger Russians were more skeptical of the domestically manufactured vaccine than their older counterparts by a 74-to-56 margin.

Among the most cited reasons for declining interest in Sputnik V are fears of side effects, incomplete clinical trials and the sense that “there’s no point” in a vaccine, Levada said.

Still, four out of five Russians said they or someone they know had already gotten sick with Covid-19, while 28% said they have not come across anyone who got sick.

Levada conducted the survey among 1,601 respondents from 50 regions between Feb. 18-24.

Completing this depressing picture, Masha Gessen finally admits to what I’ve long thought was the reason that she and lots of other “liberal” Russians had nothing to say about the Yuri Dmitriev case and other sketchy frame-ups of Russia’s undesirables (e.g., the Network Case defendants and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) perpetrated by the country’s insecurity services: because when the Kremlin and its info cronies “heinous” political prisoners and dissidents, it work. Proper people like Gessen don’t want to have anything to do with their solidarity campaigns. To wit:

The Russian regime has used both its vast media infrastructure and its judicial system to vilify its opponents. An army of Kremlin trolls appears to be working to keep Navalny’s old xenophobic statements in circulation, and on occasion it seems to have manufactured new ones (I am not repeating the fake here). Perhaps the most egregious example of smearing a political opponent is the case of the memory activist Yuri Dmitriev, who has been convicted of sexually abusing his adopted daughter. There is little doubt that the persecution of Dmitriev is political, but the charge is so heinous that I, for one, have refrained from writing about the case. Amnesty hasn’t named Dmitriev a prisoner of conscience, either. As the Kremlin continues to crack down on the opposition, I would expect many more opposition activists to be revealed to be indefensible, as though only morally impeccable people had the right to be free of political persecution.

David Frenkel: The Year 2020 in Pictures

David Frenkel
Facebook
December 30, 2020

I had a poor year shooting photographs: there were few events in [Petersburg], and I missed some important stories due to my arm being broken. But in the end, it seems that the photos still piled up.

January 19, 2020. Activists of the Vesna Movement say goodbye to the Russia Constitution near the Constitutional Court in Petersburg.

January 31, 2020. Authorities analyze the debris after the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg collapses.

February 1, 2020. Police detain a man for a picketing against proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution on Senate Square in Petersburg.

February 9, 2020. A solo picket in Penza before the verdict in the Network Case was announced.

February 10, 2020. Defendants in the Network Case after the verdict was announced in the Penza Regional Court.

Continue reading “David Frenkel: The Year 2020 in Pictures”

Thanks, Rashid

Rashid Alimov

Thanks, Rashid: How We Remember Rashid Alimov
Greenpeace Russia
December 18, 2020

Violetta Ryabko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s media department
“Better not open the refrigerator: I brought back radioactive mushrooms from Bryansk Region for analysis!” Rashid once said. I remember how, at the office, I had voiced my desire to go picking mushrooms, and Rashid replied, “Brilliant! We need to make a map of where the radioactive mushrooms near Petersburg are, and where it is better not to pick them.”

Rashid had so much energy and desire to solve the environmental problems he was dealing with. He could spend days and nights reading thousands of pages of reports to find the truth, as he did with the 2017 ruthenium leak, whose cause was revealed to the world by Rashid. He knew how not to give into despair and write about each new attempt to import uranium tailings into Russia. He was attentive to every detail, word, and comma in the materials that we prepared. We wrote a lot of releases together, fought against the construction of a waste incinerator, and issued a brochure that is still used by activists all over the country. It was never just a job. We supported each other, made each other laugh, and figured out how not to burn out and maintain our enthusiasm, even when things didn’t work out.

I remember how once Rashid was trying to obtain a official report from yet another Russian ministry. (I forgot which one, and there is no one else to ask.) His latest request was sent back with something like the following runaround from a ministry secretary: “Lyudmila Petrovna would be very dissatisfied were these data published.” Rashid said that he had no idea who Lyudmila Petrovna was, and could not understand why the data that the ministry was required to send by law had not been provided. He then looked at me enigmatically and asked, “What’s your middle name?” He dashed off the following email: “Violetta Vladimirovna is extremely concerned that the documents have not been sent on time and promises to take immediate action.” We had the documents the next day.

Rashid was a very principled man and a consistent opponent of nuclear energy. I knew that I would always find the answer to any question by asking him. This year alone, he made several hundred comments to media outlets that were not afraid to cover the problems with construction of the Northeast Expressway in Moscow and the importation of uranium tailings for storage in Russia.

But not everyone was so honest. I remember receiving a message from him: “Guess who might be the subject of article entitled ‘A Story of Ordinary Fascism’?” It was a disgraceful, slanderous article about Rashid on the website of pseudo-environmentalists. Later, television presenter Vladimir Solovyov took to the air to say that, while he had been unable to find any compromising material on Rashid, he had learned that Rashid had graduated from the faculty of Oriental studies at Petersburg State University. Rashid really did speak several languages perfectly, which only aided him in becoming a brilliant expert and doing research in a variety of languages.

I remember how I was angry at Rashid for something stupid and wrote a message about it to a colleague, but ultimately I accidentally sent it to Rashid himself. He read it and thanked me. I was so ashamed and amused, and later we would remember this story and laugh. He was such a wonderful, intelligent man. I don’t believe I’m writing about him in the past tense.

Alexei Kiselyov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s toxic waste program
I would start with the fact that Rashid is the person whom we have to thank for the fact that garbage is not burned in Petersburg. He also made sure that public hearings on the proposed incineration plant in Petersburg were canceled, the investor bailed, and the governor rejected the project.

Rashid Alimov (center, standing) at public hearings on the proposed construction of a solid waste incineration plant in St. Petersburg

It was Rashid who wrote the pamphlet “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia,” which is still used by thousands of activists around the country.

Rashid was one of the few people for whom the tragedy of the village of Muslyumovo was personal and who always tried to help them. As well as the city of Novozybkov in Bryansk Region, which suffered from the Chernobyl accident. It’s very hard to believe that he is gone.

Kostya Fomin, media coordinator at OVD Info, former media coordinator at Greenpeace Russia
Rashid was the person with whom I seemingly found it easiest to get along at Greenpeace. At first glance, he was calm, intelligent, and even quiet, but he was terribly in love with his work, purposeful, and assertive. He was never an anti-nuclear fanatic. On the contrary, he always advocated careful, sensitive language. But he was a staunch opponent of dangerous technologies that had misfired many times, ruined people’s lives, and poisoned everything in sight for many years to come. He was a genuine old-school Greenpeace activist.

He was irrepressible in a good way and took on seemingly doomed cases. Not always, but not so rarely, either, he got good results, and I am very glad that I was able be with him at those moments and help in any way I could. I remember how he told me about Petersburg poets and revolutionaries as we walked along the embankment, and boatloads of Greenpeace activists sailed toward a floating nuclear power plant: in the end we made sure that its reactors were not activated in Petersburg, a city of five million people. I remember how a guard at a hospital in Arkhangelsk tried to detain us as we measured the background radiation in the yard, where bags of corpses had been piled after the incident in Nenoksa. I remember how we drew a bucket of water from the radioactive Techa River, in Chelyabinsk Region, to prove that people from the surrounding villages were still in danger. I remember how we spent all day and half the night negotiating a press release reporting that Roshydromet recognized that ten of its weather stations had recorded extreme levels of ruthenium in the atmosphere, and in the morning at the airport, I heard our words repeated on REN TV.

Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that exactly a year ago, Rashid and I had been together too. Activists opposed to the import of uranium tailings to Russia set up barrels marked with radiation danger signs outside Gostiny Dvor, in downtown Petersburg, and Rashid had stood next to them holding a poster. No one was detained, and we celebrated the successful protest at a bar. But when Rashid went home, he telephoned to say that a whole squad of police had caught up with him at the front door of his house. Why the front door? Because they had tried to trick their way into his house, but Rashid’s daughter wouldn’t let them in, and the whole ridiculous “tactical team” had to freeze to death. My friends and I thought that Rashid had raised his daughter well. We’ll all miss you.

Rashid Alimov protesting the importat of radioactive waste from Germany, outside Gostiny Dvor in Petersburg, on December 17, 2029

Vladimir Chuprov, project director, Greenpeace Russia
I spent a long time forcing myself to start writing these lines. I couldn’t even imagine that I would have to do this. I don’t want to say anything trivial: Rashid, of course, deserves more. Such blows make you stop and think about how fleeting life is, and how important it is to appreciate each other here and now, in this life. Rashid knew how to do it. With a kind of incomprehensible oriental inner contemplation, he would calmly accept the most unpleasant news and difficult tasks. He would shrug, hunch his shoulders more than usual, and start listening. Being able to hear means being able to hear life, to halt its quiet elusive moments, even if they are compressed in a telephone receiver’s silence.

Reproaches and complaints to others were all things that Rashid somehow knew how to avoid. Or they bypassed him. Sometimes, I would get mad at something or someone, then I would look at how Rashid reacted to it, and realize that it was all a passing trifle. The nuclear power issue has always been difficult and in many ways thankless, since it is almost impossible to help people affected by radiation: the forces are too unequal, and the inhuman system that Rashid struggled with is too clumsy. But it was Rashid who managed to work calmly in the face of this abyss of grief and powerlessness and give people hope.

I am grateful that I was able to work with Rashid for many years and, most importantly, that I was able to communicate with him in his final days. He conversed with me cheerfully and humorously as always, the way he knew how. It is a pity that Rashid did not live to see what he fought for: a harmonious green world without landfills and smog. May the atheists forgive me when I say this, but although we shall not see Rashid, Rashid will listen to us just as calmly tomorrow and the day after. One day I will tell him how he did it. Just wait, Rashid.

Yevgeny Usov, investigative research and expertise specialist, Greenpeace Russia
Rashid and I first became closely acquainted many years ago while inspecting an illegal landfill in the Kingisepp District, where I filmed an interview with him for television. Then there were trips with him to attend a rally in Pushkin and sample radioactivity in Bryansk Region, expert work for the Presidential Human Rights Council and air quality research in Petersburg, long conversations about various matters and editing international reports.

Calm, reasonable, and interested in many different and surprising subjects—that was Rashid. He did many extremely important things for Russia.

Rashid measured the concentration of solid particles outside the window, the level of radiation in the mushrooms picked by his grandmother, was involved in the blockade of a German train, loaded with radioactive waste, going to Russia, investigated the true size of the country’s mountains of industrial waste, and dug up the truth and helped the truth make its way to people.

Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair, Ecodefense
I met Rashid about fifteen years ago when Ecodefense organized a campaign against the importation of uranium tailings. He was a journalist. In 2007, he joined the campaign and organized protests in Petersburg, where uranium waste was delivered by sea. By 2009, we had managed to stop the import of tailings from Germany, and Rashid made a huge contribution to this victory. Later, we interacted a lot in various campaigns against dangerous nuclear projects.

Rashid was one of the most important people in the Russian anti-nuclear movement. An uncompromising activist, he always adhered to the principle of protecting the public interest come what may. Last year and this year, we corroborated a lot as part of a new campaign against the import of uranium tailings from Germany: we organized a number of protests in Russia and Germany, and, in the end, Germany decided to temporarily suspend this activity. I am certain that Ecodefense and other organizations that were involved in the campaign will continue to fight if the imports are resumed—not only for the sake of preventing harm, but also in memory of Rashid. He would have liked that.

Rashid’s family, as well as the environmental movement in Russia, have suffered an irreparable loss. There is no way to compensate for it. We will remember Rashid as a man who made a huge contribution to the fight against dangerous nuclear projects in Russia and other countries, as a great friend and knowledgeable colleague. It is impossible to repair what has happened, but the memory of our beloved friend Rashid will live on, and we will continue to do what we did with him and in his memory.

Elena Sakirko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department
When I became part of the Greenpeace team, Rashid was almost the first person I met. That was when thirty of our colleagues were in the Murmansk pre-trial detention center and a support group was organized in the city. We had to work with lawyers and journalists, and also get letters, food, and clothes (everything they needed) to the detained activists . I was the translator, and Rashid organized the deliveries. Working almost around the clock, we still found time to communicate. Rashid talked about Greenpeace and environmental protection in Russia: it seemed that he knew everything and was acquainted with all the activists and experts.

From the very first day, Rashid radiation so much warmth and attention, so much patience and endurance, that I just wanted to be as brave and calm, as well-versed in environmental issues as him. Another quality of his that saved me was his amazing sense of humor, his ability in the most difficult situations to look deeply and see what mattered the most. And there was his constant willingness to help. The Murmansk period and the case of the so-called Arctic 30 came to an end—all the activists were released and returned to their homes—but the most important thing about Greenpeace for me seems to reside in the calmness, kindness and courage of Rashid, something that put me in touch then with environmental protection.

Then there was my first picket, in which I stood with Rashid on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. There were also collaborations and projects where we did not intersect, but every time I went to Petersburg, I knew exactly who I wanted to see and with whom I could discuss all my difficulties and problems, who could take me on interesting walks in the city and tell me so much. I think people like Rashid just cannot disappear, they have so much energy and goodness that they shared with us—a whole world.

Rashid had his life’s work to do: regardless of the projects he was involved in, the most important thing for him was always radiation safety. I think it’s very important to continue this work.

Environmentalist and Activist Rashid Alimov Has Died
Activatica
December 18, 2020

Rashid Alimov, an environmentalist, anti-nuclear and climate activist, and project manager of Greenpeace Russia’s energy program, died last night. His death was reported to his wife Olga Krivonos by the doctor on duty at the intensive care unit of the hospital in St. Petersburg where Rashid was being treated for complications of the coronavirus.

Exactly a year ago, on December 17, 20198, Rashid Alimov held a protest action entitled “Russia Is Not a Nuclear Dump” on Nevsky Prospekt outside of Gostiny Dvor. Alimov stood with a banner reading “Russia is not a nuclear dump” at the central entrance to the Gostiny Dvor shopping center. Behind him were activists eleven metal barrels painted with the radioactive danger sign and letters forming inscription “Happy New Year.”

Alimov had worked in environmental organizations since 2001. He was the author and editor of numerous publications on environmental issues, including radiation safety. From 2005 to 2011, he led a campaign in Petersburg against the import of depleted uranium hexafluoride into Russia, as well as the construction of new nuclear power plants. He was involved in Below Two Degrees, a bulletin issued by Russian observers at the UN climate talks.

“Rashid was involved in dealing with issues of waste management, air pollution and nuclear energy. He helped close several landfills, and thanks to Rashid’s work, public hearings on a planned trash incinerator in St. Petersburg were canceled and the governor abandoned the project. Rashid wrote a pamphlet, “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia”, which is still used by thousands of activists throughout the country,” Greenpeace Russia wrote in its obituary.

Two pages from What to Do with the Garbage in Russia, a Greenpeace pamphlet written by Rashid Alimov

Alimov was one of the leading experts in Russia on the problems of toxic environmental pollution. He was a very kind, honest and humble man.

Rashid is survived by his wife, parents, daughter, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

Photos courtesy of Greenpeace Russia and Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader

Once Upon a Time

Tatiana Kosinova
Facebook
October 23, 2020

Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman. There were ninety and ninety-one. They were in love and living as well as was possible at their age, but they really were in love with each other: you could see and hear it immediately. And everything would have been fine, but then the old man suddenly decided to get a supplemental intravenous iron infusion at the local outpatient clinic. He brought the coronavirus home from there. Soon both arrived at the covid hospital. At first, the old man recited by heart whole volumes of Pushkin to the nurses, including the bits in French. However, very quickly, right before our eyes, both he and his wife began to deteriorate.

The old woman died first . . .

(If you can’t stop old people from going to the clinic, buy them a filtering mask and teach them how to use it.)

Image courtesy of wday.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader and republished with the author’s kind permission. Known throughout Petersburg for her long years of service in various capacities at the Memorial Research and Information Centre and her work as founder and editor of the civil society news website and publishing imprint Cogita, earlier this year Ms. Kosinova retrained as a nurse and has been working in one of the city’s dedicated covid-19 hospitals.

Jenya Kulakova: A Sunny Downpour

sunny downpour

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
July 28, 2020

I exit the remand prison on Shpalernaya Street—and find myself in a sunny downpour. From inside, the storm seemed much darker. (Many things probably seem much darker inside the prison.). I stand under the awning of Center “E” and look across the road at the prison, dazzling in silver drops from the sky, in the spray made by the wheels of passing cars. I’m under the awning and safe, but my feet are getting a little wet. For a short time the street is quiet, there are no people or cars. A small rainbow falls directly on Shpalernaya from the sky, vanishing in a few minutes.

I will tell Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] about this when we meet, just I told him about the bat that flies at night in the courtyard near the prison. And he told me how a pigeon had flown into their prison cell and landed on his trousers, and how he and his cellmate had caught it by donning plastic bags. They had chased it out of the window and fed it prison bread.

About the verdict.* Vitya had received it on Thursday and immediately read it, but he hadn’t looked at it again. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, he plans to write and send an appeal. When I asked him to comment on the verdict, he could not say anything printable—he cursed loudly and waved his hands. When I asked him one more time to make a publishable statement on the matter, he slumped his head on the table. That was when I realized that it was his verdict and his seven years in prison, and he could comment or not comment on them as he wished.

He will write an appeal, of course, there is no doubt about it. Although he doesn’t feel like doing it at all: he says that he is always busy with something, and there is not enough time. He reads a lot about math (I only remember something about graph theory, but there are a lot of other topics), devises assignments for a training course on “pogromming,” and studies English. He’s apparently in good health, and his mood is also cheerful. However, the last couple of weeks he has had increased problems with sleep. He falls asleep in the morning, when it is already time to get up. (And this is despite the fact that since February, he has been taking drugs that should also level out his sleep.)

The censor is on vacation, and for three weeks, Vitya has received no letters from the outside world. (I don’t think he is able to send letters, either). But he gets Novaya Gazeta once a week, so Vitya is more or less aware of all the news. The library has been undergoing repairs of some kind, so a month ago, Vitya and his cellmate had to return all their library books, but they cannot take out new ones yet.

Update (added here from the comments). The coronavirus restrictions, imposed in early April, have almost all been lifted: the receipt of care packages and parcels has resumed, as well as visits with relatives. Meetings with lawyers no longer take place through glass, but all visitors must still wear masks and gloves. The mysterious “cleaning day” on Friday, when lawyers cannot visit clients, is also still in place.

*The verdict has been mailed to Vitaly [Cherkasov] and me by mail, and is still on its way, but Olga Krivonos has posted it here, so you can read it.

Photo by and courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on Viktor Filinkov and the Network Case (see below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with him and the other defendants in the case. All of them now face long terms in prison unless their guilty verdicts are reversed on appeal, which is not going to happen as long as the current regime remains in power, unfortunately.

#NetworkCase 

Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging

A Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging: The Russian National Referendum Through the Eyes of Observers of Petersburg 
July 16, 2020

This film by Observers of Petersburg shows how such how a high turnout (74.7%) and outcome (77.7% “yes” votes) were attained in Petersburg during the 2020 Russian national referendum.

Spoiler alert! All this was made possible by six days of early voting, which were impossible to monitor.

Time codes:
00:00 Opening
00:59 How will the 2020 vote be remembered?
02:44 Coronavirus: voting in a pandemic
06:12 Early voting
09:28 Voting at workplaces
13:20 Voting rolls
17:49 David Frenkel’s story: how a journalist’s arm was broken at a polling station
21:35 Observers from the Public Chamber
26:09 Vote counting
31:42 Honest polling station commissions
35:24 What will happen next? The Russian national referendum’s impact on future elections

Featuring:
Anastasia Romanova
Maria Moldavskaya
Dmitry Neuymin
Konstantin Korolyov
Olga Dmitrieva
Galina Kultiasova
Mikhail Molochnikov
Polina Kostyleva
Olga Khmelevskaya
Maria Chebykina
Natalia Yegorushkina
David Frenkel
Ivan Kvasov

The film was produced by Yulia and Yevgeny Selikhov.
Thanks to iz0 for doing the animation.

Sign a petition against multi-day voting.

Sign up to be a polling station commission member in Petersburg: https://airtable.com/shrHdcpxEuKq9f9o2

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the link. The video’s title is an allusion to the Soviet-era samizdat periodical Chronicle of Current Events. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

УИК 40 СПбCounting the votes at Polling Station No. 40 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Stanislava Mogileva: Doing Perfectly Nothing Imperfectly

mogileva
Stanislava Mogileva

This text about quarantine life by the poet Stanislava Mogileva made me weep with spiritual feeling (umilenie).

[24.05.20 17:42]

how to do nothing imperfectly and, what is most important, perfectly nothing,* nothing faster, better, with higher quality, more effectively or interestingly. nothing is the only important thing, besides nothing there is nothing else. the lurid blood of festivals and the tough meat of days of the week have ended, but there remain the sugary pits of dates, numbers. what remains, as usual, is what there was before the imagined excess. the flow, become invisible and insensible, hasn’t been interrupted so long as to stop completely. beyond the limit it’s clean, empty, and not lonely at all, me alone,* it turns out, is completely enough. not too much and not too little—just right, just as much as possible so as not to carry off, not take, not grab, and not saddle. I am lying on the couch, I can’t get up from the couch, and I don’t get up, and this is wonderful. bring me a coffee and a sandwich, my little son. do you know how to make coffee? there’s no cheese and sausage in the house? then give me bread and water. you’ve already learned how to turn on the faucet and open the breadbox, right? excellent, bring it then. good morning.

* “как можно быстрее […] не делать и, главное, не сделать ничего.” I have added the words “imperfectly” and “perfectly” to compensate for the lack of verbal aspect (imperfective and perfective) in English. This is a word-by-word rendition: “how possible faster, better, higher quality, more effectively and interestingly not do [imp.] and, important [nom. adj.], not do [perf.] nothing.” The best (indeed, sublime) discussion of Russian verbal aspect is Boris Gasparov, “Notes on the ‘Metaphysics’ of Russian Aspect,” which tragically doesn’t seem to be online.

* This is the only place in the text that indicates the speaker’s gender as feminine. Since Russian is typically swimming in gendered inflections, this is worth noting.

My readerly associations with this text are overflowing, but let me just say that Mogileva has two sons (4 and 6), as do I (8 and 14), and her text really captured something for me about how, amid all the horrors and traumatizing effects of the corona crisis, my boys are adapting to (evolving/devolving through) the new “idleness” and, I think, doing very well. Suddenly, I see the release of a blocked emergence and independence. And it is helping me unlearn everything I was ever taught about parenting.

Fetch your mom a coffee, my little son. She’s writing a text.

For the original text in Russian and more, see Mogileva’s Telegram channel.

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks. If you would like to support Stanislava Mogileva’s work, please consider donating. Any amount helps. Please include “stanislava mogileva” in the memo line of your contribution.

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Election Observers

election observerArtist, activist and teacher Darya Apahonchich found this “polling place” in the courtyard of her building in downtown Petersburg, across the street from the city’s Dostoevsky Museum. Early voting is under way in a nationwide referendum on 206 proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution. Courtesy of Darya Apahonich’s Facebook page

approvalFilmmaker Andrey Silvestrov took this selfie with his ballot paper at his polling place in Moscow. The question reads, “Do you approve [the] changes to the Russian Constitution?” Silvestrov voted no, of course. Note the fact that none of the amendments in question is listed on the ballot paper. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

prizesFortunately, Silvestrov’s “no” vote will not, one hopes, disqualify him from entering the “Million Prizes” program, as outlined on a flyer he was given by polling place officials along with his ballot paper. Voters are asked to send a “unique code” in a text message to the number 7377. Winners are promised “gift certificates” redeemable for groceries, sporting goods, and household goods, and for unspecified goods at pharmacies, cafes, museums, theaters, and cinemas. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the “gift certificates” (if any Russian voters actually receive them) will prove worthless. Photo courtesy of Silvestrov’s Facebook page

lurie precinctPhotographer Vadim F. Lurie took a snapshot of the referendum polling place in the courtyard in a town in the Moscow Region. Courtesy of his Facebook page. While the purported reason for such bizarre ad hoc polling places is ensuring health of voters during the coronavirus pandemic, still raging in many parts of Russia, they provide the added benefit of making it much harder for election observers to ascertain whether the referendum was conducted freely and fairly. Needless to say, “free and fair” is a meaningless concept to the Putin regime.

dictatorship of zerosJournalist and political activist Ivan Ovsyannikov took this snapshot outside Polling Station No. 1641, located on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg. The placard reads, “Our country, our constitution, our decision.” Someone has pasted a sticker on the placard, which reads, “The solidarity of ones will end the dictatorship of zeroes.” This is reference to the fact that one of the proposed amendments, if ratified, will “zero out” Vladimir Putin’s previous terms as Russian president, thus allowing him to run for two more consecutive terms of six years. If this scenario comes to pass, Putin would be able to rule until 2036. His current presidential term ends in 2024.

Konstantin Yankauskas and Alexander Zamyatin, popularly elected municipal councilors in the Zyuzino District of Moscow, discuss what their constituents can do to oppose the referendum under near impossible circumstances (the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on public campaigning against the amendments, evidence that thousands of state sector employees are either being forced to vote yes or hand over their passwords for electronic voting to their supervisors, etc.) They also reflect on why the Russian opposition has been unable to run a nationwide “no” campaign despite the fact that formal and informal barometers of public opinion have shown that Putin’s popularity has been falling and that many Russians are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The discussion was broadcast live on YouTube on June 24, 2020.

Coat Hangers for the Health Ministry

chelyab“#Hangers for the Health Ministry,” “Give us a choice,” “Without state-funded abortions there will be backroom abortions,” “The Health Ministry violates human rights,” “Banning abortions is no solution”: a protest installation set up by feminists outside of Hospital No. 1 in Chelyabinsk. Photo by Anastasia Zelentsova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“Go Find a Place That Will Give You an Abortion When You Have a Cough like That”: The Challenges Women Face During the Pandemic
Alla Konstantinova
Mediazona
June 4, 2020

Since early April, most hospitals in Russia have been focused on battling the coronavirus pandemic, and the Russian Health Ministry has recommended postponing routine surgeries. Under this pretext some medical facilities have begun refusing to perform abortions and other gynecological operations. Consequently, unemployed women have been forced to take out loans for abortions at private clinics or give birth to children they may not be able to feed.

In April 29-year-old Tatyana Shapovalova, from the village of Solomenny, which is part of Petrozavodsk but is physically separated from the city, found out that she was eight weeks’ pregnant. Shapovalova already has four children, but only the youngest lives with her and her common-law spouse. Her parental rights have been restricted, so one child is being raised by Shapovalova’s sister, and the other two by foster parents.

“Our living conditions are very bad,” Shapovalova says, explaining the decision.

She and her husband decided to end the pregnancy: the village obstetrician-gynecologist sent Shapovalova off for tests, an ultrasound, and a consultation with a psychologist. The trips to the psychologist and doctors and waiting for the test results took a month.

“It took a week for the blood panels to arrive, and a week for everything else,” she says.

The fact that she would have to pass a Covid-19 test before the surgery was something Shapovalova learned from the village gynecologist one week before her appointment at the perinatal center in Petrozavodsk—ending a pregnancy as covered by compulsory health insurance is currently done only at this facility. One building at the Gutkin Municipal Maternity Hospital has been turned into a coronavirus observation ward, while the other has been converted into a coronavirus treatment facility. Tatyana caught a cold and had a strong cough, but she had the Covid-19 test smear.

“Six days later, I got a negative result for the coronavirus. The next day, I traveled to Petrozavodsk to the perinatal center,” Shapovalova continues. “I was already at twelve weeks. But in the reception area they heard my cough and went to consult with the head physician. I sat there for about forty minutes. Then the nurse came out and said, ‘You’re denied hospitalization.’ I said, ‘I have a negative test result for the coronavirus.’ And she replied, ‘Go find a place that will give you an abortion when you have a cough like that.’”

Petrozavodsk residents have at times had to wait even longer—sometimes two weeks—for the results of Covid-19 tests, says Irina Koroleva, the director of Women’s Clinic No. 1.

“For example, on June 1 we received the test results only for May 14. All of the labs in the city have had problems with the reactive agents for the swabs. If check-up results are not provided in time, the perinatal center has the right to refuse a woman service. It is the same with childbirth: if a woman is in labor, she’s sent to the maternity hospital, which has been converted into a coronavirus observation ward. Or the baby will be delivered in a single-bed ward in the perinatal center’s emergency room.”

The head doctor of the perinatal center, Yevgeny Tuchin, explained that Shapovalova had been denied treatment on the basis of a Health Ministry order.

“An artificial termination of pregnancy is not performed when acute infectious diseases and acute inflammatory processes are present in any location, including a woman’s reproductive organs,” he wrote in response to a query from Mediazona. “The abortion is performed after the patient recovers from these illnesses.”

Shapovalova insists that they did not even examine her at the perinatal center, and the only person with whom she spoke was the nurse, who merely heard her cough.

In Russia, an abortion is performed at a woman’s request only within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy; abortions are provided to rape victims “according to social indicators” for up to twenty-two weeks. Because of the delays with tests and the unexpected refusal at the perinatal center, Shapovalova missed this deadline.

Now Shapovalova, who is currently unemployed, lives in an unfinished wooden house, and was already restricted in her parental rights, has to give birth to a fifth child.

[In early April, the Health Ministry recommended that the heads of Russian hospitals “consider postponing” routine surgeries, citing as a reason for the decision the complicated epidemiological conditions in the country. At the same time, the ministry recommended not reducing routine treatment for patients with renal, cardiovascular, or endocrine diseases, or cancer. The Ministry of Health did not mention gynecological diseases or abortions, thereby creating additional problems for Russian women.]

Not Only Karelia
Shapovalova did not demand a written refusal of an abortion from the doctors. Medical lawyer Anna Kryukova says that now it will not be easy to prove the illegality of the doctors’ actions.

“A written refusal is provided after a written inquiry,” says Kryukova. “She didn’t insist on it, and the powers that be took advantage of it.”

In April, a female employee at the No to Violence Center (nasiliu.net) telephoned forty-four Moscow hospitals: only three of them agreed to schedule her for an abortion as paid for by compulsory health insurance. The Moscow Department of Public Health told us that, during the pandemic, many hospitals had classified elective abortions as routine or non-urgent surgeries. Later, the Department of Public Health reported that hospitals that had not been repurposed for treating Covid-19 are performing abortions, as before.

In an interview with Mediazona, Karina Denisova, a spokesperson for Hospital No. 1 in Chelyabinsk, called a social media announcement that they would no longer be performing abortions in their outpatient clinic a “misprint.” After protests by Chelyabinsk feminists, who set up an installation featuring clothes hangers next to the hospital entrance (in Soviet times, some women performed abortions on themselves using hooks made out of hangers) the hospital admitted that the published information had been “incorrect.”

Like Shapovalova, a resident of Kovrov in the Vladimir Region will also have to give birth. Obstetrician-gynecologist Alexander Rusin says that the woman was also denied an abortion.

“At Kovrov Central Municipal Hospital,” Rusin says. “They said, ‘It’s the coronavirus: we are closed for routine surgeries.’ What did the woman do? Nothing, as far as I know. Well, deadline was nearing, she was at eleven weeks. She left. Of course, I consider [the hospital’s actions] illegal, a violation of the law.”

“I Eat Macaroni to Save Money”
Irina Drozdova of Vsevolozhsk was supposed to have her tubes tied on April 13. Twenty-five-year-old Irina decided on the operation after an exceedingly difficult childbirth.

“The anesthesia for the C-section and the post-natal stress triggered cardiomyopathy,” she says. “Now I take pills that are incompatible with pregnancy, and I’ll be taking them for the rest of my life. Plus, they put me on a defibrillator, and it is just one of the indications for sterilization under compulsory health insurance.”

Getting ready for the operation, Irina underwent dozens of tests, but it was suddenly canceled.

“They refused because of the situation with the coronavirus, but I had spent three months doing the paperwork, consulting with a cardiologist, and undergoing an ultrasound—everything was ready. In order to reschedule, I have to go through another complete workup,” Irina says.

In April, dozens of maternity hospitals across Russia were repurposed to treat the coronavirus, and the Health Ministry recommended that facilities that did not close should do consultations with pregnant women online.

Twenty-nine-year-old Muscovite Anastasia Kirsh, who gave birth to a daughter in May, connected via WhatsApp with her gynecologist in the women’s clinic at the Yeramishantsev Maternity Hospital.

“If I needed to find out test results, get a referral to the infant feeding center, renew a prescription, or had an urgent question, it was possible to resolve that online, which was very convenient. Other services—gynecological exams, measurements, ultrasounds—were performed in the clinic as usual.”

Coda Story has told the tale of a Moscow woman who had to take out a loan for an abortion, because her husband had lost his job when the quarantine started, and the family had no means of support left. At Moscow Hospital No. 40, she was denied a free abortion under compulsory health insurance.

“You should not even count on a surgical abortion under compulsory health insurance. Routine surgeries, except in emergency cases, are currently not being performed,” a doctor told the woman. “Your case is not an emergency: there is no reason to hospitalize you. […] If you want to fight for your rights, you will miss all the deadlines.”

Unemployed single mother Anna Kazakova, from the Moscow suburb of Yegoryevsk, where the maternity hospital had been turned over to battling the pandemic, was faced with a choice: schedule an abortion under compulsory health insurance in Kolomna, fifty kilometers from home, and make numerous trips back and forth, first for tests and then for the operation, or pay to terminate the pregnancy at a private Moscow clinic, which would take a single day.

“They were sending everyone off to give birth fifty kilometers away at the Kolomna perinatal center,” she explains. “But what was I supposed to do with my four-year-old daughter? Drag her back and forth with me? They would start ‘losing’ the tests and making lots of referrals to psychologists, as is usually the case. There is all this hubbub in Russia about supporting families and mothers. But in fact, you have nothing coming to you. And an existing child doesn’t count either. If I tell them I won’t be able to support a second one in such conditions, I won’t get anything but condemnation,” says Anna.

After borrowing 15,000 rubles from a friend, Anna had a medical abortion at a private clinic in Moscow. Now she thinks about how to repay the debt.

“I eat macaroni to save money on food,” she says. “I applied for social security, but they said that I was not eligible for any benefits.”

“They Were Turned Down—and They Left, Sadly Wiping Away Tears”
Medical lawyer Anna Kryukova believes that “no one has directly prohibited” abortions in Russia, but that all the instances of refusal are the consequence of fear and ignorance on the part both of doctors and patients.

“The battle against Covid-19 has been farmed out by the federal government to the regions, but they all still look to Moscow,” Kryukova argues. “Doctors are used to saluting at every turn—god forbid they do something wrong, or they will be dismissed from their posts. This is due to fear: it is easier to follow orders now than to get whacked upside the head for these violations later. The outreach work has also been done very poorly: people are already so frightened of the virus, and nobody is explaining anything to them.”

Many patients need surgical help now, but they are afraid to go to the doctor because of the coronavirus, says Ph.D. in medicine and obstetrician-gynecologist Kamil Bakhtiyarov. He works in a private clinic in Moscow where paid medical and surgical abortions are performed.

“Women are so frightened that they come in for termination of pregnancy practically wearing spacesuits,” he says. “They’re terrified, deeply terrified. The first question they ask is, ‘Are you working with Covid patients?’ For patients who need surgical treatment the problem of hospitalization comes up: in the first place, many clinics have been repurposed to threat Covid cases, and secondly, people themselves are very much afraid. A person doesn’t want to go to an ordinary hospital because there it’s six people to a room.”

Despite the pandemic, patients should insist on their right to medical care, argues Kryukova.

“People should still seek medical care and exercise their rights. The problem is that the victims [mentioned in this article] apparently did not do that,” she says. “Unfortunately, the patient community does not know its rights very well. These women were simply turned down verbally—and they left, sadly wiping away tears. Nobody chases after patients nowadays: for something to change, the person who needs the medical treatment has to take the first step.”

Translated by Mary Rees

Come As You Are

jenya viktor yuliPublic defender Jenya Kulakova (left) photographs Network Case defendants Viktor Filinkov (center) and Yuli Boyarshinov. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 21, 2020

The verdict is tomorrow June 22 at 12:00 p.m.

This is not the end, of course—neither of the struggle nor of this hell. In a sense, it is just the beginning. I really want the guys to feel tomorrow that all of us are behind them and in front of them as they head off on this stage of their lives.

Come to court if you can. The address is Kirochnaya, 35A.

(Of course, come only if your health permits, wear personal protective equipment, try to keep a distance from each other outside and inside the courthouse, and avoid coming into contact with people at risk. Damn covid!)

#NetworkCase

Translated by the Russian Reader. Learn all about the Network Case here.