Darya Apahonchich: Did The Police Have Nothing More Important to Do?

apaDarya Apahonchich is greeted by supporters outside the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
August 5, 2020

So, here is a more detailed account of my arrest and trial.

Yesterday, I was stopped by police officers on the street near work. They would not let me pass, grabbing my scooter and saying that I should go with them, because they had “material” on me. I said I wasn’t going anywhere, so they just forced me into a vehicle.

In the vehicle, they refused to tell me what the reason was for detaining me. We drove to the first police precinct for a very long time, and the car broke down along the way. All the way, I scolded them, appealing to their conscience and reason. There were four of them and a vehicle, they had spent the whole day on me (probably more than one): did they have nothing more important to do? Later, I found out that they had been waiting for me since 5:30 in the morning, but I had left the house only at 2:00 in the afternoon. (So many resources wasted on me! Whatever for?) By the way, it’s funny that they were waiting for me near my house, but they only arrested me near my work, because I when I left the house I immediately jumped on my scooter, so they probably didn’t have time to grab me there. I can imagine how annoyed they were.

Varya Mikhailova, a community public defender, came and found me at the precinct, where I was handed charge sheets, concocted on the spot, for two street performances: the vulva ballet in support of Yulia Tsvetkova, and the road to the ocean of blood in support of the Khachaturyan sisters. There were a lot of mistakes in the charge sheets, which Varya had better tell you about, and I just refused to testify against myself.

vardarVarya Mikhailova and Darya Apahonchich waiting for her hearing at the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mikhailova’s Facebook page

Around six o’clock, I was taken to court and tried on the two charges at once. It was there that I had a gander at my case files. They were quite hilarious. There was a touching insert from Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police] where you could see the photos from all my old [internal] passports, in which I was fifteen, twenty-one, and so on. Then there were screenshots of videos, and disks containing these same videos. In short, it was a cool folder, better than my pathetic portfolio. Another funny thing was that all the performances had been taken from a page on the MBKh Media Northwest website. They also wrote in my file how many likes and comments there were. There were very few likes.

The judge’s assistant showed the video and read aloud the text of the performance “this road leads to an ocean of blood.” She read very well, after which everyone fell silent. I really liked it, I would also add it to my portfolio.

I was found guilty (under Article 20.2, Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation [“violation by a participant of a public event of the established procedure for holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”] and was sentenced to pay two fines of 10,000 rubles each [approx. 230 euros]. We will appeal the fines, of course, and I think we will also file a complaint against police officers for unlawful arrest.

***

I am upset, of course. (My “joking” program clicks on in such situations, but then when I get home, the “get scared” program turns on.) I don’t like living in a world where people in uniform grab you on the street and shove you into a paddy wagon. (I told them, “Don’t touch my scooter!” They said, “We’re not touching it!”—and then they grabbed the scooter.) I’m also sorry, of course, that I said I worked at the Red Cross. In the past, I usually didn’t tell them where I worked, but I didn’t get picked up on the street like this in the past. It’s an important lesson for everyone who has a “civilian” job: don’t tell the police about it.

I’m also upset that I have to constantly be ready for violence from all directions. Today, I have again been getting messages containing insults from strangers. Thank you for only sending messages. I categorically don’t like that, in this world, I constantly have to prove I have the right to voice my opinion. You see, the system thinks that if you are a teacher, a mother, then okay, that is a normal job, a normal life, you have the right to be (a little) dissatisfied, to engage in a little activism. (Moms cannot be held overnight at police stations on administrative charges.) But employers rarely like it when you are an activist. This system is very complicated and stifling.)

But I cannot help doing what I do. My support for Yulia Tsvetkova, for Angelina, Maria, and Krestina Khachaturyan is a very important part of my life. It is my freedom, my fight for the safety of all women, and my contribution to my children’s future. (I am really, really worried that my daughter is growing up in an unsafe world, that my son is growing up in an unsafe world, that society imposes places on them in the hierarchical meat grinder.) I am still going to be involved in activism: I cannot do it any other way.

(I had a year in my life when I worked at a college and was quite afraid that my name would be googled at work and I would be fired. Consequently, I tried not to do performances, and then I was fired anyway, because the college was shuttered, and my students were deported to boot.)

I want to say a huge thank you for your support. Yesterday, I got calls and emails, and my wonderful friends came to the courthouse. (No one was allowed inside, but we met outside when it was all over.) I am very glad for this a world of solidarity, thank you.

***

My  public defender suggested that I should immediately announce that I was soliciting donations to pay the fines. I decided this was probably reasonable. There is hope that we will be able to get the fines reversed. In this case, I will transfer all money donated to Yulia Tsvetkova and Mediazona.

So here’s my card number. 4276 5500 7321 7849.

(This photo was taken near the courthouse. I found it on the Telegram channel  https://t.me/armageddonna.)

Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page. Translated by the Russian Reader

What the Flowers Would Say

Urodiny
Facebook
July 29, 2020

Protest Botany

What would the flowers say if they could? They would demand the release of Yulia Tsvetkova, of course! The reproductive organs of all living beings are important and worthy of respect, and disseminating information about them is not a crime. This is clear to everyone, from the youngest begonia tubers to the huge redwoods. The time has come for people to understand this. And if, instead of persecuting female activists, the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation would take up gardening, how pretty the world would be! Elect a Scotch marigold president and begonias to parliament! Grow your own gardens! Leave others alone! Free Yulia Tsvetkova!

ur-1Caution! Your children could see the sexual organs of these French marigolds!

ur-2These daisies demand an end to the persecution of Yulia Tsvetkova!

ur-3These nettles support sex education for children, adults, and police officers.

ur-4You can use the stamens and pistils of these lilies explain to children where they came from and not go to prison for it.

ur-5These smart violets know that a schematic drawing of a vulva is not pornography.

ur-6These Scotch marigolds insist that you should plant flowers, not jail female artists.

ur-7These petunias permit you to seek and disseminate information about the female reproductive system.

Yulia Tsvetkova’s surname is based on the Russian word for “flower,” tsvet. You can read more about the Putinist state’s case against her and join the international solidarity campaign that has arisen in her defense at Free Yulia Tsvetkova. Thanks to Darya Apahonchich. Translated by the Russian Reader 

Three Sisters

this road leads straight to an ocean of blood
the girls are driven down it by their father’s fists and his cries: stop! shut up! you’re going to suck me!
here are the first steps, here are the mother’s screams, here is the father, licking his lips, calling them to the bedroom. we can already hear the ocean of blood, but whose is it? his or theirs? there is no turning off.
three girls, please save yourselves from this terrible sea.

Source: Darya Apahonchich

khachaturyan

Russian Prosecutors Uphold Khachaturyan Sisters’ Murder Charges
Moscow Times
July 13, 2020

Russian prosecutors have backtracked on their position to drop murder charges against three teenage sisters accused of killing their abusive father, lawyers told news agencies Sunday.

Prosecutors late last year ordered investigators to drop the charges against Krestina, Angelina and Maria Khachaturyan, who admitted to killing their father in July 2018 after he subjected them to years of physical, mental and sexual abuse. The sisters’ lawyers had hoped that investigators would downgrade the charges of premeditated murder, which carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years, to necessary defense charges.

“The Prosecutor General’s Office has approved the Khachaturyan sisters’ indictment,” their lawyer Alexei Liptser told the state-run TASS news agency.

Liptser said the same deputy prosecutor who refused to approve the sisters’ indictment in December has “obviously changed his position.” In May, Russian investigators rejected the prosecutors’ orders to drop the murder charges.

His colleague Mari Davtyan linked the prosecutors’ reversal to “a trend” of raids and arrests of activists and journalists since Russia adopted a slew of controversial constitutional changes on July 1.

In addition to adding socially conservative and economically populist promises to the Constitution, the amendments allow President Vladimir Putin to extend his 20-year rule into 2036 by resetting sitting or former presidents’ term limits.

The Khachaturyan sisters’ other lawyer Alexei Parshin told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that he expects a closed trial.

The sisters’ high-profile case has divided Russian society. Supporters blame Russia’s legal system — which critics say turns a blind eye to domestic abuse — for forcing the teenagers to defend themselves, while opponents view them as murderers.

Their case has also fueled calls for the repeal of a 2017 law that decriminalized first-time domestic abuse offenses.

Photo by Alexander Avilov for Moskva News Agency. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

Two Fairytales

Alexander Skidan
Facebook
May 25, 2020

Yesterday, with my own eyes, I saw a crow escorting a hedgehog across the highway, pushing him along with his beak. I was so dumbstruck, the thought never even occurred to me to get out my phone. The most touching thing happened at the curbside. The hedgehog couldn’t overcome it right away, the crow was very upset, and she* jumped onto the curb and tried tried tried tried tried while the cars** were going going going going past, and then she jumped down and again tried tried tried, but the hedgehog found a spot a bit lower and all by himself himself himself himself himself jumped up, and off he went.***

________________

*The word for car in Russian, mashina, is equivalent to the word for “machines,” which I believe is significant for the allegorical reading of the tale.

**The word for crow in Russian, vorona, is grammatically gendered feminine. This does not necessarily mean the crow was anatomically female. Hedgehog, yozhik, is gendered masculine.

***I consulted with Skidan, and we translated the folkloric formula i byl takov as “and off he went.” However, another variant would be “and that was the last anyone ever saw of him.” The word-for-word rendition of the idiom is: “and he was such.”

Solidarity and mutualism are the only future we have. But hedgehogs need to let the crows get on with things, I reckon. They just need to lower their expectations and get up and go on their own.

hedgehog in fogA still from Yuri Nornstein’s animated film Hedgehog in the Fog (1975). Courtesy of Pikabu.ru

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
July 1, 2020

Once there was a certain dictator who had prepared everything for annulling himself: a new armchair, a festive cigar, a little cognac, and lots and lots of medals to sprinkle over his generals (he had also stored up some smackdowns for other people).

He sat down at his favorite desk, and, at exactly 11:59 PM, he closed his eyes tight and hit the main annulment button. And at that very second he turned into a newborn baby. He plopped down in the chair and started screaming (well, that’s what babies are supposed to do), and all his bodyguards rushed in to see who was screaming and then bang! They were also annulled and turned into babies. What horror!

It was a good thing that the carpet was soft and they didn’t hurt themselves when they fell. And, after them, the senators, the ministers, and all the members of the government were annulled back into babies. This would have been the end of all of them, but the cleaning lady came into the office and gasped: what a calamity! And she set all the little ones down carefully in a line and called for help. But curses! If any deputy ran into the office, he was immediately annulled, so they all ended up that way in one day. Only a few survived because they had skived off work that day, but now they said they were giving up their powers. Times were tough, and the succession of power all the more so—it was time to give up their seats in parliament to young people.

By evening the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady had taken all the deputies back to their families. These women weren’t very young, but they were strong and experienced. They remembered how to change a diaper, how to rock a baby, and after one day they were terribly tired. Then, in the morning, when they arrived at work, there were new babies in the office. Apparently, some other people had snuck in at night, hoping to become president, and they were also annulled.

The worker-women sighed and returned these little ones to their homes as well.

And so (not right away, of course!), all the remaining deputies and politicians decided they didn’t really want to be presidents, and, since someone still had to do this work, the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady shared it between themselves. They came to an agreement about the schedule and vacation days.

And life slowly went on. It was like the old life but better. No one waged war anymore or acted like a dictator. Of course! Who wanted to crank the old barrel organ of diapers, kindergarten, and school all over again? No, people were sick of being annulled. It was time to just live a quiet life.

________________

I don’t think this remarkable tale about the constitutional amendments and the annulment of Putin’s term limits needs any commentary.

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

Donate Button

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.

Dreaming

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
June 20, 2020

(just dreaming a little)

I look at how everyone is tired after twenty years of putin’s rule—tired of cursing, tired of fighting, tired of resisting, tired even of taking toll of the damage.

the alleged referendum is a three-ring circus, but (speaking for myself) my lack of surprise and faith in the success of resistance are such that I listlessly repost things and make sarcastic jokes, but don’t think seriously at all about acts of resistance.

but i believe in acts of feminist resistance: they work, albeit slowly, albeit surgically. no, there is no law against domestic violence, but individual rapists have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs, new codes of ethics are being written, and so on. all of you are watching this happen. i see how women’s self-esteem has been growing, i see that what was the norm for my parents’ generation is no longer the norm for my generation. women have become more active, they are increasingly choosing not to be silent when they encounter injustice.

Vladimir_Putin_with_Lyudmila_Putin-1

and so i am thinking: what if we suddenly stopped tolerating a “home boxer” and tyrant as president?

we know that putin is an abuser. we know he beat his wife, that he tortured her. even lyudmila putina’s memoir, chockablock with self-accusation and meekness, makes it clear that he treated his loved ones terribly. his wife published a memoir, which was quickly withdrawn from sale. but it’s all on the internet.

just dreaming a little: what if we stopped putting up with this scoundrel? (yes, we are used to putting up with him, but what if it’s reversible?)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: #outdoorwallpaper

darya-wallpaper-2b

[darya apahonchich]

our private life has been invaded by the public, by the state. our borders are not where they used to be.

but you cannot order people not to be poor, you cannot order them to keep their distance if they have nowhere to hide or stand apart.

i have turned my house inside out with wallpaper.

#outdoorwallpaper
a tiny city apartment poem

darya-wallpaper-1a

1.
we
urge you
not to drink
from the common
cup
of poverty

darya-wallpaper-1b

darya-wallpaper-2a

2.
we have wallpaper and you have wallpaper
and the virus flies freely
in dwellings
only you come to us
with fines and billy clubs,
but you don’t invite us to your house

darya-wallpaper-2aa

darya-wallpaper-3a

3.
what if
what if
my body has become
home to the virus
I think
I am caring
for my loved ones,
but in fact
I am destroying them.
what if
what if
my heart has become
home to
the virus of violence?

darya-wallpaper-3b

Darya Apahonchich has been posting the texts and photographs of her outdoor wallpaper poems on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to her for her permission and her assistance in republishing them here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Solo Picket: At Home Edition (Darya Apahonchich)

I’m in self-isolation, but if I could . . .

. . . I would go out on a solo picket and make these demands.

Urgently take measures to stop domestic violence.

Release political prisoners immediately.

Give financial assistance to everyone who has lost their source of livelihood due to the virus.

Announce an amnesty for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Stop fighting wars and supporting dictatorial regimes.

Or buzz off.

Translated by the Russian Reader. See more by and about Darya Apahonchich here. And check out my coronavirus coverage while you’re at it.

darya

Making Women Visible: Russian Language Classes for Immigrants and Refugees in Petersburg

apa-1
Darya Apahonchich with students during class. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“Making Women Visible”: Why Female Immigrants Stay at Home for Seven Years
Karina Merkurieva
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
March 7, 2020

“My husband and children and I came to Russia from Afghanistan over eight years ago. At first, I had no time to learn the language: I had to help the children and work at home, and then I was unable to find suitable courses. So this is only my second year studying Russian,” says Suraya.

Since she is shy about speaking Russian, she agrees only to a written interview. She has been studying Russian for a second year at courses for female immigrants and refugees in Petersburg. Classes are held at Open Space, a co-working space for social activists, and at two libraries. Groups are divided into several levels according to how well the students speak Russian.

In February, project organizer Darya Apahonchich announced the launch of a new group for beginners. According to her, she saw the need for such courses in 2018, when she worked for a similar project run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“There were classes for children and adults. I taught Russian as a foreign language. The only problem was that only those who had official immigrant or refugee status could attend. In Russia, not everyone obtains this status. Another thing was that the course was limited in time. Not everyone was able to get the necessary minimum of Russian under their belt in this time,” Apahonchich says.

The group she led mostly consisted of women over the age of thirty.

“Young women who come to Russia at an earlier age and go to university have one set of opportunities. As soon as a woman becomes a mother, her set of opportunities decreases dramatically,” Apahonchich adds.

At one of the classes, a new student from Syria decided to join the group. In order for the students to get acquainted, Apahonchich suggested that everyone introduce themselves by telling what country they had come from, how long they had lived in Russia, and how long they had been studying Russian. It transpired that nearly all the women in the class had lived in Russia around seven years, but had only begun to study the language. According to them, they had no opportunity to study Russian before: they had to raise children. Working outside the home was not the custom in their native countries, so their husbands had not allowed them to take language classes.

apa-2A lesson in Darya Apahonchich’s group. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“I was very shocked at the time. These women’s children have basically grown up in Russia: they know Russia on the level of native speakers, and make jokes more easily in Russian than in their native languages. The women have found themselves linguistically and culturally isolated, however. They stayed at home all those years. They didn’t even have a place to learn the language,” says Apahonchich.

When the Red Cross courses were coming to an end, Apahonchich suggested to the women that they should not quit their studies, but continue studying Russian elsewhere. They leapt at the suggestion.

“I realized that those woman would go back to their families, and that would be the end of their introduction to the Russian language. I didn’t want to let that happen,” she recalls.

Other groups and new teachers have subsequently emerged. The project currently encompasses four groups at different levels of proficiency. Classes are taught by eight volunteer teachers. Some of them, like Apahonchich, majored in Russian language pedagogy at university, while others are native Russian speakers with humanities backgrounds and experience teaching history or Spanish, for example.

“I wanted to create a horizontal structure in which each teacher could organize their own groups and take responsibility for the learning process,” says Apahonchich.

As a result, the teachers work autonomously: they find venues for holding classes on their own, and decide with their groups what topics would be interesting to discuss in class.

In her group, for example, Apahonchich focuses not only on teaching the Russian language, but also on the legal aspects of life as an immigrant in Russia. During classes, her students read brochures on how to behave if you are faced with aggression from the police, how to get a job, and how to rent an apartment without falling victim to fraud.

“Our all-female collective discusses issues related to health and doctor visits,” says Apahonchich.

According to Suraya from Afghanistan, this is one of her favorite topics.

“I also like to read texts about Russia and Petersburg, and discuss the weather and family. I really need this vocabulary when I pick up my daughter from kindergarten or go to the clinic. In the clinic, however, I often encounter aggression. The people at reception shout at me if I don’t immediately know what to say,” Suraya explains.

While the courses are more aimed at teaching Russian, the instructors sometimes also talk to the female immigrants about women’s rights.

“Right now, the easiest way, I think, to get women out of linguistic and cultural isolation is to get them into the world of work. That way they could learn Russian more quickly, adapt socially, and make new friends. At the same time, we have before our very eyes the example of women from Central Asia who come to Russia to work and eventually find themselves separated from their families. That is the other extreme. For the time being, I just want these women to stop being invisible. Currently, the majority of the Russian populace doesn’t even suspect how many female immigrants live in cultural isolation in their country,” says Apahonchich.

According to the UNHCR, about 220,000 refugees and persons with temporary asylum status were registered in Russia in 2019. Most of those people came from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: Closing Doors

DSCN4389

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
August 13, 2019

Things are so sad I will tell you something sort of funny.

I am an imported Petersburger. I was born in a tiny town, almost a village. It was not the custom there to lock doors. People would close doors to keep out the wind and snow, but not random passersby because we should not hide from other people. On the contrary, we should be ready to help them.

So, people left the doors to their houses open.

Out of provincial habit, I kept my door in Petersburg unlocked up until this year. I have never owned anything valuable. We have always been fairly poor and, sometimes, really poor.

You wonder whether I have been robbed blind or had something stolen? I have been robbed at the hospital, in the library, and at the pediatric clinic, but I have never been robbed at home.

And so, this past spring, when the cops came to our house, beating on the door and yelling, the door was not locked. Can you imagine?

Because it did not occur to us to lock it, just as it did not occur to the cops to turn the doorknob.

So, they banged on the door, but they did not turn the knob.

I have locked the door ever since then. I am not afraid of mosquitoes, people or thieves, but I do not want the police to get in.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader