The Good Deacon

Deacon Dmitry Bayev

Another criminal case has been opened against the Orthodox church deacon from Kirov who opposed the war, and he has been put on the federal wanted list.

On September 7, a new criminal case was opened against Deacon Dmitry Bayev, this time on charges of “exonerating Nazism” (per Article 207.3.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). The charges were occasioned by a video entitled “Thank you grandfather for the victory” and the comment to it (“The last parade in the Russian Federation is a parade of samovars”) which the deacon posted on the VK group page Kirov Online on May 9.

The investigators argued that these publications “offend[ed] the honor and dignity of veterans.” Bayev was placed on the federal wanted list.

The 33-year-old deacon of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Kirov left Russia after he was charged with disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army due to his anti-war posts on VKontakte. On March 17, by decree of the Diocesan Bishop, Metropolitan Mark of Vyatka and Sloboda, Deacon Dmitry Bayev was banned from the ROC clergy.

Source: Andrey Churakov, Facebook, 10 September 2022, who cites “@ASTRA” as his source, which I have been unable to locate. Translated by the Russian Reader


Citing sources in the agency, Newsler reports that the Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case into disseminating “fake news” about the Russian military (as defined by Article 207.3.d.2 of the Criminal Code) against Dmitry Bayev, a 33-year-old priest in the Orthodox parish of the Church of John the Baptist in Kirov.

The criminal case was opened on March 23. According to the investigation, Bayev published posts in support of Ukraine and its army on his VKontakte page. In his posts, Deacon Bayev claimed that the Ukrainian military had “dispatched 17 thousand 500 orcs to the next world.” According to him, the Russian armed forces — he called them “Russian occupiers” — have suffered significant losses of equipment every day. Bayev’s page was blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office on March 24.

After the charges were filed, the deacon did not delete the entries against the war in Ukraine from his social media page.

“The purpose of the posts is the hope that before my page is blocked, at least one person will have been able to escape the intoxication of propaganda or at least doubt it, begin to understand the real state of affairs, and put things in order in their head after reach the right conclusions,” Bayev said in a comment to Idel.Realii.

If the deacon’s guilt is proven, he faces a fine of three to five million rubles, five years of community service, and five to ten years of imprisonment.

Bayev has been banned from the priesthood since March 11, according to the website of the Vyatka Metropolia.

On Forgiveness Sunday, Priest Ioann Burdin delivered an anti-war sermon in the Orthodox church in the village of Karabanovo, Kostroma Region. After one of the parishioners filed a complaint, Burdin was summoned to the police. The Krasnoselsky District Court found Burdin guilty of “discrediting” the Russian army (per Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation) and fined him 35 thousand rubles [approx. 560 euros]. At the very outset of the war, about 300 members of the Russian clergy published an open letter condemning the war in Ukraine.

Source: “Criminal case into disseminating fake news about Russian military opened against Kirov church deacon due to posts on VKontakte,” Current Time TV (Radio Svoboda), 1 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ilya Yashin: See You Tomorrow in Court!

Ilya Yashin

Tomorrow, September 7, the court will consider the complaint filed by my lawyers in accordance with Article 125 of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedures Code. We demand that the decision to launch a criminal case itself be ruled unlawful due to the fact that there is no evidence that a crime was committed..

The hearing will take place at 2:00 p.m. in [Moscow’s] Basmanny District Court (11 Kalanchevskaya Street, Room 24). I will be plugged into the meeting via a video link from the pre-trial detention center.

Of course, I have no illusions about “Basmanny justice.” But I want to note the excellent work of my defense team of Maria Eismont, Vadim Prokhorov, and Mikhail Biryukov, as well as lawyers Natalia Sekretaryova and Natalia Morozova, who have simply torn apart the state’s “evidence” in this shameful case.

If you want to see for yourself how clumsily and unprofessionally the indictment has been concocted, I strongly advise you (especially the law students among you) to peruse the text of the complaint.

Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 6 September 2022. Photo by Alexandra Astakhova. Translated by the Russian Reader

“An Ordinary Person”: The Story of Jailed Petersburg Anti-War Protester Victoria Petrova

Victoria “Vika” Petrova. Photo courtesy of Ms. Petrova and The Village

“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.

The Case

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?

Sasha Skochilenko
artist, musician

Olga Smirnova
activist

Maria Ponomarenko
journalist (she has been transferred to Barnaul)

Boris Romanov
activist

Total number of similar criminal cases in Russia: 53 (as of May 24)


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.

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.

Pilipenko specializes in criminal law. This is the toughest branch of the legal profession: the percentage of acquittals in Russia is negligible — 0.24%.

“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 “Vika” Petrova. Photo courtesy of Ms. Petrova and The Village

Vika

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.

The Arsenalka. Photo courtesy of Russian Behind Bars Prison Consultant

Arsenalka

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.

The Letters

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.

The Hearing

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 Case of Boris Romanov

Jenya Kulakova’s photo of the care package that she and Boris Romanov’s mother Margarita delivered to the political prisoner at Pretrial Detention Center No. 6 in Gorelovo, a distant suburb of Petersburg.

Today, Boris Romanov’s mother Margarita and I went to Pretrial Detention Center No. 6 to deliver a care package to him. Borya will finally get delicious food and basic necessities. (It is very difficult to get into the prison with care packages because of the always crowded electronic queue.)

Lawyer Luiza Magomedova is also waiting for a meeting with Borya in the pretrial detention center today. The pre-registration for lawyers [to see clients] is all booked up for the next two weeks, so in the morning she queues without any guarantee that she will get in to see him.

Gorelovo is far away, and all the way there I listened to Boris’s mother’s stories about him. How he was twice elected chairman of his housing co-op, and had tried to whip the building into shape, how he had issued paperwork to the janitor and knew all the neighbors. What an impossibly principled, thrifty and honest man he was, intolerant towards even the hint of corruption in its smallest everyday manifestations. How he would not compromise and take good-paying jobs if they were pro-government. What an attentive son and caring father he was. What an educated man he was — a good simultaneous translator from German, a graduate of the European University’s history program. (Besides electronic devices, Boris’s German-language books were seized by police during the search of his mother’s flat.) How, after studying for one and a half years in Germany, he had come back home “to build a new Russia.”

But now Russia is whipping Borya into shape instead. This Russia does not need smart, honest, principled people.

Yesterday, I received my first letter from Borya, and it contained two requests to help his cellmates. When I told this to his mother, she laughed, saying that it was just like her son: he had already found a way to be helpful to someone in prison.

Source: Jenya Kulakova, Facebook, 18 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Boris Romanov with his lawyer, Luiza Magamedova. Photo: Konstantin Lenkov for Zaks.ru

Activist Boris Romanov has been remanded in custody on charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army (punishable under Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). He is the fifth person in Petersburg remanded in custody for the duration of the investigation on these charges. Romanov is accused of making harsh statements about the “special operation” during a meeting of the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council. He faces up to ten years of imprisonment. Zaks.ru has examined this new case of “fake news” about the Armed Forces.

This time round, Petersburg oppositionist Boris Romanov, who has long been known among the city’s activists, is suspected of disseminating false information. In September 2021, as part of the Yabloko party regional group, he was nominated to run for the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly’s fifth district. In the municipal elections of 2019, he tried to run for a seat on the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council, but was refused registration. But the lack of a deputy’s mandate did not prevent him from regularly attending the council’s meetings and broadcasting them on a VKontakte community page.

There are now over 1,800 subscribers to this page. Romanov did not have good relations with the local deputies. For example, he alleged that the wife of one of them sprayed pepper spray in his face. In addition to problems in the Svetlanovskoye neighborhood, Romanov paid great attention to issues of urban development and historical preservation. In particular, he often participated in the grassroots gatherings at the Pulp and Paper Industry Research Institute building [threatened with demolition] in the city’s Vyborg district. Since the beginning of the “special military operation,” he sometimes devoted his speeches to the events in Ukraine, taking a pacifist stance. In mid-March, Romanov was detained at a protest rally near Gostiny Dvor. He was present there as a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council’s monitoring group.

The Ukrainian question at a district council meeting

On May 5, the FSB’s Petersburg regional office launched a criminal investigation into dissemination of deliberately false information about deployment of the Russian Armed Forces (per Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). According to the security forces, a man (his name is not mentioned in the Investigative Committee’s press release) posted a video on the internet containing knowingly false information about the Armed Forces. As Zaks.ru has learned, Romanov’s alleged “criminal activity” was detected in a video recording of a Svetlanovskoye municipal district council meeting. The case file mentions eyewitness testimony. According to Luiza Magomedova, an attorney with the civil rights project Apologia of Protest, the eyewitness in question was Romanov’s neighbor and district chair Yanina Yevstafieva. In conversation with Zaks.ru, Yevstafyeva said that the security forces were interested in the council’s March 29 meeting. The council chair stated that on that day, activist Romanov came to the district offices and allegedly made what she regarded as “anti-Russian” statements.

Yevstafieva alleges that Romanov indulged in rude expressions directed at Russian servicemen. She noted that he also made an invidious comparison involving the symbols of the “special operation.”

According to her, Romanov’s speech caused a negative reaction among council members. Yevstafieva argues that such statements are unacceptable. Romanov’s statements were captured on a video posted on March 29 in the Svetlanovskoye Neighbors group page in VKontakte. After studying the recording, police investigators concluded that the activist’s words could be regarded as purveying deliberately false information about deployment of the Armed Forces, motivated by political hatred or enmity.

The topic of Romanov’s speech was probably related to statements made on March 29 by Russian deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin and Russian peace negotiator Vladimir Medinsky. After the latest round of the negotiations between the two countries [sic], the Russian officials stated that they intended to curtail military operations in the Chernihiv and Kyiv areas. 

The fifth arrest in the “fake news” investigation

The police found Romanov in his apartment on the morning of May 10. The activist’s electronic devices were confiscated, as well as various informational materials. The latter, the investigators allege, may be “extremist” in nature. A couple of hours later, the security forces showed up at the apartment of Romanov’s mother, at whose address Romanov is officially registered. Her communications devices was also confiscated.

“They said that I had raised a bad son. That I should have monitored him and brought him up right,” Margarita Romanova, the defendant’s mother, said in conversation with Zaks.ru, quoting what the police had told her.

During the search, she was told that a criminal case had been opened against her son because of a speech he made during a meeting of the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council.

After the preliminary investigation, Romanov was placed in the temporary detention facility on Zakharyevskaya Street, where he spent the night awaiting his bail hearing, which took place on May 11 in Petersburg’s Vyborg District Court. Police investigators asked the court to remand the oppositionist in custody.

Judge Oksana Golovinova read out a statement by the investigators.

“The accused Romanov posted […] knowingly false information that was aimed at destabilizing the political situation in the country and arousing panic among citizens, as well as causing a negative attitude towards Russian federal authorities, thereby demonstrating his indifference to public safety.”

The prosecution argued that Romanov could attempt to destroy evidence, influence witnesses, escape from justice, and continue his alleged “criminal activities.”

Magomedova petitioned the court to impose a restraining order on her client that would ban him from doing certain things. Romanov has an underage daughter who needs her father. He is also his family’s sole breadwinner.

Judge Golovinova took Romanov’s having a child into account, but did not consider this sufficient grounds to order a milder form of pretrial restraint. But the court did not share the prosecution’s position on the likelihood of Romanov’s attempting to hide from the authorities, since his foreign travel passport had already been confiscated. After spending about an hour deliberating in her chambers, the judge remanded the activist in custody in Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 [sic] for the duration of the investigation. He will remain there at least until July 5. The activist denies any wrongdoing.

Romanov is the fifth person arrested in Petersburg on charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army (as punishable under Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). Previously, artist Alexandra [Sasha] Skochilenko, journalist Maria Ponomarenko, Peaceful Resistance member Olga Smirnova, and Victoria Petrova had been arrested. They face from five to ten years in prison. As in the case of Romanov, the criminal charges against them were most often occasioned by social media posts.

Source: Konstantin Lenkov, “From a District Council Meeting to a Pretrial Detention Center: Yet Another ‘Fake News’ about the Army Case,”  Zaks.ru, 12 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Case of Sasha Skochilenko

The case of Sasha Skochilenko is a striking example of the absurdity of today’s Russia. She faces ten years in prison for her anti-war protest at a supermarket.

Bumaga has discovered that Sasha’s protest was reported to the police by an elderly woman. The security services organized a special operation to capture Skochilenko. Today the young woman is in a pretrial detention center. She will remain there for a month and a half even though she has serious health problems.

Read the story of Sasha Skochilenko, an artist and musician from Petersburg, a former Bumaga staffer, and a person with a conscience.

Sasha Skochilenko. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

The security services mounted a special operation to capture Sasha Skochilenko. An elderly woman informed on her.

On the evening of March 31, anti-war messages were inserted into the shelf slots for price tags in the Perekrestok supermarket on the second floor of the Skipersky Mall on Vasilievsky Island.

According to two of Bumaga’s sources who are close to the investigation, the protest attracted the attention of a 75-year-old retired female shopper. According to one source, the woman went to the prosecutor’s office “to seek justice.” The second source says that she immediately went to the police.

Bumaga has learned that for over ten days, law enforcement officers, allegedly, interrogated Perekrestok employees and viewed security camera footage to determine who had replaced the price tags with the anti-war messages and where this person had gone after leaving the store.

On Monday morning, April 11, law enforcement officers conducted a special operation. They went to the apartment of the alleged suspect. His home is 900 meters away from Perekrestok. What exactly happened in the apartment is unknown. The man living there turned out to be a friend of 31-year-old Sasha Skochilenko.

That morning Sasha received a message from this friend saying that they were “looking for a body” in his apartment and asking her to come over. When she was already on her way, the friend texted her that “everything was okay.” Skochilenko’s friends believe that the security forces could have texted Sasha from her friend’s phone.

When Skochilenko arrived at the apartment, she was detained. It was around 11 a.m. Bumaga learned about her arrest at about 2 p.m. There was no news from Sasha for more than four hours, and law enforcement officials would not comment on the situation to Bumaga.

Later, Dmitry Gerasimov, Skochilenko’s lawyer, who is affiliated with the Net Freedoms Project, found out that Sasha’s apartment was being searched in her presence. She was then taken for questioning and kept in police custody until 12:30 a.m.

That same evening, Gerasimov told Bumaga that Sasha was the subject of a criminal investigation into disseminating “fake news about the Russian army” over the anti-war stickers with which she had switched the price tags at Perekrestok. According to investigators, the young woman had “publicly disseminated knowingly false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

Skochilenko was charged under the second part of Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 207.3, which means that she faces up to ten years in prison. Investigators argue that she was “motivated by political hatred” when she distributed the flyers.

How the information on the anti-war flyers could be “knowingly false” and how Skochilenko came to be “motivated by political hatred” is not mentioned in the documents provided by the investigation.

The criminal case could have been opened due to a mention of those killed in Mariupol. But the contents of the stickers are unknown.

Sasha had been actively speaking out against the war in Ukraine since its very beginning. Along with the same friend whose apartment law enforcement officers raided, she had performed at intimate “Peace Jams” and also produced pacifist postcards. For this reason, the young woman’s acquaintances thought that she could have been charged with violating the recently popular article in the administrative offenses code for “discrediting” the Russian army. But that was not what happened.

Gerasimov tried to explain to Bumaga the rationale behind the investigation.

“[An administrative charge was not filed in Skochilenko’s case], because in those price tags [for which administrative proceedings had initiated] there were only statements against the war itself, while in Sasha’s case there was information about the alleged actions of the Russian Armed Forces,” he said.

At the same time, the part of the case file that the lawyer has reviewed does not mention the specific flyers for which Sasha was charged.

The Net Freedoms Project wrote that her case file contains price tags with information about the shelling of the theater in Mariupol and the deaths of civilians. Gerasimov told Bumaga that he could neither confirm nor deny this information, since “Sasha does not remember now what the price tags were and what was written on them.”

Earlier, Sasha had drawn anti-war stickers with such messages as “Don’t be discouraged, we’ll live in peacetime one day!” and “Human life has no price.”

“There are still so many people who do not know (do not remember?) what a miracle human life is, how beautiful and precious it is, and that violence is not the solution to problems,” Sasha said in explanation of her stance.

A sampling of Sasha Skochilenko’s handmade anti-war stickers. Photo courtesy of Bumaga

Currently, Sasha’s defense is based on her admission that she did plant anti-war flyers with information about Russia’s use of military force in Ukraine and its consequences in the store. But the young woman does not think that the information in the flyers was “false,” as the criminal code article that she was charged with stipulates, her lawyer said to Bumaga.

The judge sent Sasha Skochilenko to a pretrial detention center. She has celiac disease (gluten intolerance).   

Sasha Skochilenko spent the night of April 12 in a temporary detention facility. As she later said in court, she managed to get some sleep there, but the guards did not give her water and did not bring her the food that friends had collected for her. Ultimately, the first hearing in Sasha’s case was postponed to the next day, and the young woman spent another twenty-four hours in the temporary detention facility.

Sasha’s bail hearing began at the Vasileostrovsky District Court at 9 a.m. on April 13. More than forty people had gathered at the court (where a Bumaga correspondent was present), including friends, journalists from both independent and pro-regime publications, activists, and human rights defenders. 

Skochilenko was brought into court in handcuffs and placed in a cage. The young woman looked exhausted, and she asked for something to drink. There was no water in the courtroom, however, so the visitors looked for a water bottle among themselves. Despite her subdued spirits, Sasha thanked everyone who came.

“I did not anticipate so much support, that so many people would come [to the hearing],” Skochilenko said to Bumaga before the hearing began. “Everyone here tells me that you are doing something bad if you call for peace, but people’s support for me shows this is not the case. That is the most important thing.”

The judge in Sasha’s case was Elena Vladimirovna Leonova. Appointed to the Vasileostrovsky District Court by President Boris Yeltsin in 1998, she has held this post for over twenty years.

The media has mostly mentioned Judge Leonova in a positive light, and she was given high marks from the Petersburg qualification board of judges in the past. In particular, Leonova has often declined requests by prosecutors to jail activists and protestors, unlike her colleagues. There are also some ambiguous cases and decisions in her case history, however. 

In the case of Sasha Skochilenko, the judge sided with the prosecution. Leonova began the trial by forbidding the taking of photographs in court. She then granted the prosecutor’s request to close the proceedings to the public because, allegedly, the state’s case was based on the interview records of witnesses. When members of the public were still present, the defense lawyer only managed to request the judge to release Skochilenko on bail, or prohibit her from certain actions, or at most, place her under house arrest.

The hearing, which took place behind closed doors, lasted almost five hours. When she delivered her ruling, Judge Leonova permitted several journalists, including the correspondent from Bumaga, to enter the courtroom. She began as follows: “It has been established that Skochilenko, acting deliberately, placed fragments of paper containing deliberately false information [about the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation] in the premises of a trading hall.”

The judge read out the verdict quickly, not distinguishing between the arguments of investigators and her own words. “Misleading citizens about the actions carried out by the armed forces of the Russian Federation creates tension in society [and] conducts subversive activities [sic],” she said.

Among the arguments for Sasha’s being remanded in custody, Judge Leonova mentioned that Sasha:

  • had been accused of committing a serious breach of public safety.
  • “could exert pressure” (on investigators).
  • refused to reveal the password to her telephone.
  • “might destroy evidence” if she were at large.
  • “has a sister in France.”
  • “has friends in Ukraine.”
  • “has the ability to hinder the collection of evidence and hide in Ukraine.”
  • Is registered to reside in Petersburg but resides with a female acquaintance in a rented apartment, and the female friend does not have documents proving the residence’s lawfulness for serving as a place of house arrest, and the landlady might change her mind.

The judge emphasized that Skochilenko had “visited acquaintances in Ukraine.” In fact, a friend of hers told Bumaga, Sasha had gone to Ukraine in 2020 for work at a children’s camp, where she taught animation to the children.

Sasha Skachilenko being led out of the courtroom. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

Furthermore, Leonova brought up as an argument the fact that Skochilenko had “an administrative arrest for organizing a mass gathering of citizens during the pandemic.” Indeed, Sasha had been detained at an anti-war protest on March 3, her friend told Bumaga. Skochilenko was released after a night in the police station, and a court sentenced her to a fine of ten thousand rubles. Sasha had challenged the decision, but on appeal the court upheld the verdict.

The judge did not consider the fact that the artist had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and celiac disease, a genetic gluten intolerance requiring a strict diet, to be a valid reason for declining to send Sasha to a pretrial detention center.

Leonova noted separately that Skochilenko had not been diagnosed with serious illnesses and that there was no evidence that she needed emergency medical care. When the defense lawyer provided the court with a doctor’s note about Sasha’s health, the judge stated that the document could not be accepted because it did not mention the source of the information.

Judge Leonova ultimately decided to remand Sasha in custody to Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 until May 31. In response, the people in the courtroom cried and told Sasha that everything would be okay, while people in the hallway shouted, “Shame on you!” to the judge. As people left the courtroom, Skochilenko smiled and waved to her friends.

“The war will end, and I will be amnestied,” Sasha managed to tell a friend before the bailiffs forced him to leave the courtroom.

Sasha is an artist and a musician. She wrote A Book on Depression and filmed protest rallies for Bumaga. Many people support her, but they are pessimistic.

“Sasha is one of my most talented acquaintances,” journalist Arseniy Vesnin, a friend of Skochilenko’s, told Bumaga. “We met around fifteen years ago. We used to play Mind Games—it was this project on Channel 5 where schoolchildren would debate. Sasha was always—or rather she is (we’re almost talking like obituaries now)—very smart, talented, and well-read.”

Sasha was born on September 13, 1990, in Leningrad. At the age of seventeen she enrolled at the Theater Academy to study directing but withdrew during her final year, transferring to St. Petersburg State University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences where she studied anthropology and graduated with honors.

From 2013-2015, Sasha made video reports of rallies and protests for Bumaga.

“Sasha is the ‘good person’ from Andrei Platonov’s works,” says Kirill Artemenko, general director of Bumaga. “Platonov’s heroes do good without fully realizing that they are good, without expecting kindness from anyone and without being offended by evil. They are hardworking, patient people. They might look weak, but in reality, they are very strong. Their strength is in their principles and natural, effortless kindness.”

When Sasha fell ill with cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar affective disorder, she wrote A Book on Depression to support people with similar health problems. The book has been translated into English and Ukrainian. The story of Sasha’s struggle with her illness can be read in this text, published by Bumaga.

Lately, Sasha had been filming and editing lectures for the feminist space Eve’s Ribs and helping to renovate the homes of women who did not want to hire a handyman to do the work, a friend tells Bumaga. She also worked as an administrator at a children’s center on Vasilievsky Island. “She communicates well with children, unlike with the cops,” explains the interviewee.

According to the friend, Skochilenko never had the goal of building a career. It was important to her to do good while also being able to live on the money she earned. 

“I don’t have any kind of particular profession. In different interviews they have called me an artist from Petersburg, a cartoonist, and an actress, and many other things,” Sasha, who at that moment was working as a nanny, said in 2020. “I don’t want to have a particular profession. And in fact, I don’t have one.”

Sasha’s passion has always been music, her friends say. Sasha views it as “an instrument of freedom,” said Skochilenko’s friend Alexei Belozerov. “She wants to create a free space with the help of music—without the hierarchies that inevitably arise within a musical collective, without the division between performers and listeners,” says Alexei. 

“War is hell.” Sasha Skochilenko’s supporters in the hallway at Vasileoostrovsky District Court in Petersburg.
Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

A friend of Sasha who has been involved with her in musical events on many occasions said that the main idea of her music is free improvisation, so that “people who don’t have a musical education but very much want to play won’t be afraid to grab an instrument and play together.” For example, the friend said, Sasha held music jams at psychoneurological resident treatment facilities as a form of art therapy. 

Sasha vigorously advocated the idea of ​​freedom even after February 24. “I do not support the war in Ukraine! I went on the streets today to say it out loud!” she wrote from a rally on the first day of the war. “Two years ago, I taught children in Ukraine at a children’s camp to film videos. I remember each of their faces. They are no different from Russian children.”

Sasha decided not to emigrate, despite the risks. “Sasha said that she would not leave, because she has her social capital here, Petersburg is her city, and Russian is her language,” Sasha’s friend Arseny tells Bumaga. “She is not someone who made it her goal to fight the regime. She is a person with a conscience, and as a person with a conscience, she could not help but react to this shameless situation that is now happening in Russia”.

Guarantees for Skochilenko were signed by St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputies Boris Vishnevsky and Mikhail Amosov, [Pskov] politician Lev Schlosberg, and municipal deputy Sergei Troshin. The court also received a positive character reference from Bumaga general director Kirill Artemenko. There are hundreds of posts on social networks about her case, which has been dubbed absurd. The case has also been covered by Russia’s remaining independent media. And Bumaga has learned that protests in support of Sasha have been organized in London.

The main source of public indignation is not even that Sasha is being prosecuted for an anti-war position, but, rather, the possible sentence (up to ten years in a penal colony) and the fact that she was sent to a pretrial detention center despite her illness.

“I remind you that no one was punished for threats to ‘cut off heads,’” wrote Vishnevsky. “And there was no response to two attempts to kill my friend Vladimir Kara-Murza. But for anti-war speeches, [people get sent to] a pre-trial detention center, and then to a penal colony for ten years. Feel the difference.”

Many of those who spoke with Bumaga and who advocate for Sasha’s release are pessimistic. For example, Vishnevsky himself told Bumaga that he would be glad to be proved wrong if the outcome of the case were positive after all. Journalist Arseny Vesnin recalls that it was clear to him that Sasha would be sent to a pretrial detention center, although he did not want to believe it.

“We must pray that not only the war ends, but also that something in our country changes. This would be a good outcome. But realistically I don’t see any good outcomes,” Vesnin concludes.

Sasha’s friend, who vigorously advocates for her release, tells Bumaga that he cannot express his opinion about what is happening, including in this case, without breaking the law.

“This is terror,” he says anonymously. “It has been unleashed in the original sense of the word— as ‘fear’ and ‘horror.’ They are maintaining an atmosphere of terror. This is the only way to explain why, for replacing one piece of paper in a store with another, a bunch of people in uniform write up interrogation reports and put them into case files, conduct searches, and arrange an ambush using the person’s friend. In this sense, the possible outcome of this case is the same as that of everything that is happening here. The terror will grow, the terror will intensify. They will be trying to frighten us and to break us more and more.”

Sasha’s case is not an exception. The security forces are persecuting many people who have protested the war by replacing price tags.

As of April 7, four days before Sasha Skochilenko’s arrest, twenty-one criminal cases had been launched nationwide on suspicions of spreading “fake news about the Russian army,” wrote human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov. Almost all of the cases involve publishing “knowingly false information” on the internet—with the exception of five cases, and only one of those cases also involves distributing flyers in a store.

Despite increased pressure, Russians continue to replace price tags with anti-war messages. This “quiet protest” is considered an easy way to convey the truth about what is happening in Ukraine to people living in a different “information bubble.”

Replacing price tags in stores became a popular form of protest after the campaign was announced by Feminist Anti-War Resistance, a movement of Russian feminists that came to life in February 2022 in response to the war. But the movement recognizes that protesting can be dangerous.

A sampling of anti-war “price tags” from Feminist Anti-War Resistance’s Telegram channel.
Courtesy of Kholod. This image was not included in the original article, in Russian, on Bumaga.

“The police have increasingly been tracking down people involved in various types of anti-war protest,” a spokeswoman for Feminist Anti-War Resistance told Bumaga. “To date, we know that one of our participants, who put anti-war slogans on price tags, was tracked down through the card she used to pay in the store.”

The movement says that they have not been in contact with Skochilenko—or, perhaps, do not know that they have had contact with her, since they communicate with many members of the movement anonymously. But they expressed their support for the artist: “We believe that Sasha should be released immediately, and the case against her should be closed and all charges dropped.”

“Today, anti-war price tags are one of the most common forms of protest, along with posting stickers and flyers in public places,” the spokeswoman said. “Unfortunately, no forms of anti-war protest are absolutely safe in Russia today. We believe it is important to emphasize this regularly and encourage everyone to pay special attention to safety rules and to take potential risks into account.”

Two days after the hearing, Sasha Skochilenko is still in the temporary detention facility. In the evening, she is supposed to be taken to the pretrial detention center. She delivered a message through her lawyer, saying that she was doing well and was grateful for people’s support.

The wardens at the temporary detention facility promised to provide Sasha with a gluten-free diet and, according to her lawyer, they have kept their promise. A request to meet her dietary needs has also been sent to the pretrial detention center. At the same time, Sasha’s girlfriend has been summoned to the Investigative Committee for questioning.

Bumaga will continue covering the case of Sasha Skochilenko. For the latest news, subscribe to our Telegram channel and the Free Sasha Skochilenko support group channel on Telegram.  You can also sign a petition calling for Sasha’s release.

Source: Bumaga, 15 April 2022. Translated by Christopher Damon, Zhenia Dubrova, Savannah Eller, Emily Hester, Marta Hulievska, Kirill Lanski, Jasmine Li, Milla McCaghren, and Andres Meraz. Thanks to Victoria Somoff for her assistance and the Fabulous AM for her abiding support of this project. ||| TRR

Coach Yakovlev’s War with the Zwastika

Valery Yakovlev copied out some of the supportive text messages he received after the media wrote about his case.
Photo courtesy of Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)

Valery Yakovlev, a 64-year-old children’s sports coach in the village of Onokhoy, in the Republic of Buryatia, spoke out against the special operation in Ukraine and twice tore down a “Z” sign from the entrance of the village’s sports school. His explanation for why he did this was recorded by the school’s doorkeeper on a dictaphone, and the recording was later handed over to the police. For publicly discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation, the court fined the Coach Yakovlev 90 thousand rubles [approx. 1,030 euros].

Valery Yakovlev is a USSR master of sports in classical archery. He has been a winner of individual events and an overall champion at republic-wide archery competitions. Having worked as a coach for twenty-two years, he has trained numerous champions, masters of sports, and candidates for master of sports.

For many years he was a successful businessman: he had his own store in the village. Later, he bought twenty hectares of land and became a successful farmer.

In adulthood, he fulfilled a childhood dream by building a glider and flying it. He is fond of sailing, paints pictures, and studies Spanish. He plays the synthesizer. He has four adult children, as well as grandchildren.

On March 23, a flash mob entitled “Za nashikh” [“For our lads”] was held in Onokhoy. In its wake, a Latin letter Z was pasted on the entrance to the children’s sports school. When Coach Yakovlev saw the sign, he tore it down. But the next day the letter appeared on the door again.


So I tore it off again [says Valery Yakovlev]. On the third day, when I came to practice, the doorkeeper didn’t want to give me the keys to my room. She said she’d been forbidden to give them to me. I think that was their way of provoking me. I snapped. I yelled, “Is this because I tore down the letter?! Did anyone ask you, me, or the children whether we wanted this letter on the door? Who gave you the right to hang it up there on my behalf?! Do you want bombs falling on your heads? Or your children’s heads? Why are you acting like sheep? So, now if I’m against the war, I can’t be given the keys?!” I don’t remember it verbatim anymore, but I said something like that. The whole thing was recorded on a dictaphone and turned over to the police.

I was later summoned to the police station. They kept me there until half past eleven. And the next day they interrogated me for another four hours. Some police boss showed up who started scanning me, checking me out. They asked me what ethnicity I was. The next day, a lieutenant colonel arrived and started scanning me too. It was unpleasant, frankly speaking. I had the feeling that they were digging hard for one specific word, figuring out what my associations were with the Z, so that later they could they tie it in with the army. I felt that they wanted to pin me with this fifteen-year article [i.e., the new article in the Russian criminal code that makes “discrediting” the Russian army punishable by a maximum of fifteen years in prison]. But I argued that there was nothing political about what I did. I just didn’t want the children to get mixed up with that sign. It gives off dangerous vibes.

I told the police that I don’t like the armed forces, I don’t like marching, I don’t like military uniforms. There are people who have this point of view. There is no such sign on the art center. There is no such sign on the comprehensive and music school, there is no such sign on the recreation center or the kindergarten. There’s not even one on the village administration building! But there is a sign like that on the children’s sports school! Why? I run the archery section. I teach kids to shoot. It’s shooting! But I don’t want them to apply their knowledge. What’s not clear about that? I don’t like that letter. And yes, it reminds me of something.

What is the total amount of the fine that the Zaigrayevo District Court imposed on you?

I was tried on three charges at once. The first two were for tearing off the sticker [with the letter Z]. The third was for what I said on tape. On April 5, the Zaigrayevo District Court of Buryatia found me guilty of violating Part 1 of Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.3.3, “Public actions aimed at discrediting the deployment of the Russian Federal Armed Forces.” I was ordered to pay 30 thousand rubles for each of the violations. The total amount of the fine was 90 thousand rubles. I was given two months to pay the fines.

After the verdict was announced, I only said, “But at least I won’t be ashamed in front of the children!”

Could you afford, on your salary, to pay off this amount so quickly?

My salary at the school is 18 thousand rubles a month [approx. 205 euros], and I have a pension of 9 thousand rubles a month as a working pensioner. Of course, it was unpleasant. I thought that I would have to sell my outboard motorboat. Or that I would have to give up my entire salary every month and live for the time being on my pension alone. Since I have a lot of potatoes in the basement, I would have survived.

But my children took pictures of the charge sheet and announced a fundraiser on the internet. Apparently, they circulated it on some messenger services. The donations came to me, along with the messages. I can’t read them without crying, I immediately get a lump in my throat. Some of the messages are brief: “For the fine,” “For the fine to the ghouls,” “For justice,” “Hang in there, bro!” Others are longer: “Accept this donation with my respect and gratitude,” “You are not alone, thank you for your courage and honor,” “All the best to you, normal people are on your side!”, “You are right, thank you,” “Valery, you are a hero of our time,” “Conscience is your main thing,” “Thank you, you are a role model,” “Thank you for peace — no war.”

There was not a single negative comment. People sent messages from different cities around the country. That is the most important thing.

As my children tell me, the comments about the doorkeeper were by no means unsparing in all cases. But I haven’t seen them myself, I’m not on social media.

We ended up raising 200 thousand rubles [approx. 2,300 euros] in two days instead of 90 thousand. I gave the surplus to charity and asked people to stop sending money.

The letter Z taped on the Onokhoy sports school’s front door. Photo courtesy of Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)

Has the village’s attitude towards you changed?

Some people say “Hello, Valery Anatolyevich” when they meet me, as usual. But others walk by me like they don’t know me. But, apparently, these people were not close to me before. I see surprise in some people’s eyes, like they didn’t know I was that kind of person.

A lot of soldiers from Buryatia have been dying in this war. Is this discussed in your village?

Do you think that people even know this? They don’t know. There is no such information in the public domain. I once went up to a father of two sons of draft age. They are about to be summoned to the military enlistment office. I said to him, “Listen, your sons may be taken away from you, they may be killed. What do you think of that as a father?” He replied, “Well, that means it was fate.” I almost fell over. Another father had a different reaction. He said, “I’d rather go with [my son] and rob a store so that we could go to prison together. He will always be my son, whether he’s a criminal or anything else.” Those are the opinions people have.

I saw on the internet the [internal] passport of a man whose body had been found on the battlefield. He had the same last name as people I knew from a neighboring village. I wanted to call them and ask whether he was their relative. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Later, I found out that yes, it was their relative.

I don’t know what to think about this… I can’t talk. Everything inside me hurts! (He cries – Siber.Realii.)

Sometimes you start talking to people, and the person responds by talking at you like the TV. Everything is immediately clear. I ask whether they’ve been watching TV. There’s no one to talk to anymore except old acquaintances. I’m irritated by human stupidity and people’s unwillingness to try and understand anything, their inability to be independent in their judgments.

Where do you get your information from?

I used to listen to Echo of Moscow, but now it’s gone. There are twenty channels on the TV in Onokhoy, but there is nothing to watch. I rarely turn it on. I even have my own personal rating of channels in terms of mendaciousness: Zvezda, TV Centre, and so on. I also have my own ratings for TV presenters. I regard them as frontline soldiers. They do tremendous work, trying to condemn millions of people to death.

I’m not involved in politics, and I don’t trust anyone. First I compare and analyze the information. I use the internet and YouTube. I look for the experts, in both politics and economics. By the way, judging by the forecasts of the latter, we are in for rough times. I have land, several hectares, that I’ve been working for many years. I bought more seeds and potatoes just in case. I have to at least cover my costs as a farmer — diesel fuel, tractor repairs, and dog food.

Can we say that the story with the stickers and the audio recording has come to an end?

Now I am being asked to make a statement in the media saying that I made a mistake, and that the western media blew things out of proportion. They even gave me a sample text written in advance. I don’t know what to do yet. After all, I don’t want to lose my job working with children. I love my job.

Onokhoy, Republic of Buryatia. Photo courtesy of Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)

Why do you think what has happened to Russia happened?

There should be turnover in the country’s leadership. Eight years and two terms should be the maximum in office, no matter how good a president is. This should be the case in any country to prevent dictatorship and corruption.

Now, after some time has passed, do you not regret that you tore down that letter Z and got into so much trouble for it?

When I saw that sign, I thought for only half a second. Later, I pondered why I did it. I thought for a long time and this is what I discovered: when I was in grades four, five and six, I hated Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov. At the time, I didn’t know why I hated them. [They were] “enemies of the people” and “traitors.” But many years later, after I had read almost all of Solzhenitsyn’s works, when I found out who Sakharov was… My God, how they hammered that stupidity and rubbish into our heads! I don’t want it to happen again. That’s all.

Source: Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL), 18 April 2022. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader. Earlier today, Reuters published a revealing portrait of another brave Russian teacher who resisted his country’s wartime plunge into fascism and also paid the price.

“Give Birth Yourself!”

Maria Petrovskaya holding a placard that reads “Give birth yourself” in Nizhny Novgorod. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda’s Instagram page

The crackdown against Russians who oppose the war with Ukraine continues. Two new articles in the administrative offenses code and the criminal code — Articles 20.3.3 and 280.3, i.e., making it a crime to “discredit the Armed Forces” — have been specially adopted to punish those who call the war a war. But they have been enforced by the courts and the security forces in a such a way that grounds can be found in anything a placard reading “Fascism will not pass,” a placard containing an anti-war quote by Putin’s, leaflets containing the biblical commandment [“Thou shalt not kill”], asterisks instead of letters, the inscription “Two words” [i.e., “No war”] — for detaining and charging someone. Police in Nizhny Novgorod did not like placards that read “Mariupol. We remember, we grieve” and “Give birth yourself!”

A photo of a young woman holding a placard featuring a man in black cradling a bomb and the slogan “Give birth yourself!” gained fame far beyond Nizhny Novgorod in March. The woman in the photo was the school teacher and feminist Maria Petrovskaya. She had not been involved in public protests before. According to her, the war was her turning point.

“There is a certain last straw,” says Petrovskaya. “All my friends were on Bolotnaya Square, and then on Sakharov Avenue. [This is a reference to the “fair elections” protests in Moscow in 2012.] I endorsed their stance and supported them emotionally, and it was around that time that I began to get a little interested in politics. And yet, as long as it was about the pro-Putin clique’s political, territorial (e.g., Crimea), and financial ambitions, I was not so deeply worried about it. But war destroys and takes the lives of people on both sides. When it comes to the suffering of people, I can’t stand on the sidelines.”

The court hearing on the “Give birth yourself!” protest is still to be held, but the police charged Petrovskaya not with violating Article 20.3.3, but with the more familiar Article 20.2.5, i.e., “involvement in an unauthorized protest rally.” Law enforcement officers decided that Ilya Myaskovsky, who photographed Petrovskaya, was a full-fledged participant in the picket, which meant that it was no longer a solo picket, but a “mass” protest.

But last week, the Sormovo District Court in Nizhny Novgorod fined Petrovskaya and Myaskovsky for their involvement in another protest, in memory of the victims of Mariupol, under Article 20.3.3. Petrovskaya says that, as in the case of the “Give birth yourself!” protest, it was entirely a feminist protest that Myaskovsky had nothing to do with. He only photographed a homemade cross made of branches on which the message “5,000 killed. Mariupol. We remember, we grieve” had been hung.

Нижний Новгород, плакат в память о жертвах в Мариуполе
Maria Petrovskaya’s placard in memory of the victims of the Russian assault on Mariupol.
Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

After the police took Petrovskaya to the precinct, Myaskovsky followed her in a jitney.

“For over an hour [Myaskovsky] hovered outside the doors to the police station, waiting for me. In the end, the inspector who was writing me up dragged him into the station as well. ‘To talk,’ as he said. Meaning that Ilya might not have been charged if he hadn’t chivalrously followed me.”

Petrovskaya and Myaskovsky were charged with “discrediting the Armed Forces.” But Sergei Kulikov, a lawyer from the Visor Project who represented them, says that in court even the policeman who wrote out the arrest sheet could not immediately explain how Kulikov’s clients had discredited the Armed Forces.

“‘Can we say exactly who this text targets?’ I asked the police officer [in court]. ‘No,’ he says. ‘Does this text contain a negative appraisal of the authorities?’ I asked him. ‘No,’ he says. Well, okay, I thought, let’s take the bull by the horns. ‘Does this text discredit the Armed Forces in any way?’ I asked him, and he repled, ‘No!” The police officer later realized that he had made a mistake, and asked to testify at the very end [of the hearing]. He said that in the context of everything that was happening, it discredited [the Armed Forces], of course! Who else was it about?” recalls Kulikov.

Both activists were fined: Myaskovsky, 30 thousand rubles [approx. 324 euros], and Petrovskaya, half that amount. The lawyer presented the court with written proof of Petrovskaya’s low salary at the remedial school where she teaches, and the judge decided to show leniency.

People at Petrovskaya’s workplace do not approve of her activism.

“After the “Give birth yourself!” placard went so vividly public, I was horrified to find that almost all my colleagues supported the war and had a positive take on what Putin was doing. They thought I was a disgrace to the school. The head teacher told me that her colleagues had been calling her all weekend, consoling her and asking her how I could have done such a thing. I was given a very long dressing-down, and so was the director, although he is already an elderly man. Everyone told me that I was throwing him and the [regional] education ministry under the bus, although it’s hard to see how I could have done that,” recounts Petrovskaya.

Нижний Новгород, задержание Марии Петровской
Police detaining Maria Petrovskaya in Nizhny Novgorod. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Kulikov argues that the police’s lack of preparedness helped his client avoid the charge of “discrediting the Armed Forces” in this case.

“They probably had not yet been instructed what to do with this article. They have been instructed now. I know this for sure because there are two cases in which even pro-government picketers have been charged under this article. So, I think our policemen are performance artists, too. They have been given an absurd tool, and they are raising the absurdity to the next level! It’s more like the law enforcement that the Soviet authorities practiced after the Revolution: ‘revolutionary legal awareness’!” says the lawyer.

“If they fined people who held up a blank piece of paper or a placard with three asterisks followed by five asterisks [thus suggesting the Russian phrase Net voine (‘no war’), which consists of a three-letter world and a five-letter word]… Or, for example, I saw an image of three bears and five bears drawn by a female artist, and she was fined, too. Toy bears in memory of dead children: yes, that discredits the army, of course,” says Petrovskaya.

Last week, city hall announced a competitive review of Nizhny Novgorod’s bomb shelters. The purpose of the review is to maintain the shelters “in constant readiness so that they can be used for their intended purpose.”

Source: Alexander Lugov, Radio Svoboda, 11 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Asch Conformity Experiments

Back in the 1950s, experiments were conducted that purported to demonstrate how difficult it is for one person to resist the opinion of a group. These were [Solomon] Asch’s famous [conformity] experiments.

The subjects were asked to compare the length of lines. The correct answer was obvious, but it was “decoys” in the group who answered first, and they all pointed to another line as the right one. Consequently, most people conformed with group’s opinion and answered the question incorrectly. But if at least one of the decoys had been instructed to answer differently than the others (although not necessarily correctly), most of the subjects were able to assert their own opinion.

A friend told me how she had unwittingly found herself inside an Asch experiment. She was an independent observer on an elections commission in which all the other members were attempting to falsify the results. They put the ballots for one candidate into a stack with the other candidate’s ballots. My acquaintance tried in vain to protest. She said that her principal emotion was not indignation, but the terrible thought that, maybe, there was something wrong with her. It seemed to her that she was going crazy: it could not be that all these people were doing “wrong” so calmly and confidently.

That is why the authorities are going after pro-peace posters and anti-war quotes by Leo Tolstoy, and that is why draconian fines and criminal penalties have been introduced for voicing opinions other than the official ones. That is why all the opposition media have been shuttered. Because the existence of even one public voice contradicting the “unanimous choir” enables thousands of other people to maintain their own common sense. (For those of you who do not like the opposition and opposition politicians, remember that this holds true even if the contradictory voice is “wrong.”)

Many people are now afraid to speak out publicly, not only because of the possible punishments, but also because of the effect demonstrated by Asch’s experiments. It’s scary to stand alone against everyone. That is why it is so important to support each other (“a like is also a help” :) and, at least, voice one’s opinion in private conversations with each other, if not publicly. It will help someone not to go crazy.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Translated by the Russian Reader


Marina Dubrova, an English teacher on the Russian island of Sakhalin in the Pacific, showed an uplifting YouTube video to her eighth-grade class last month in which children, in Russian and Ukrainian, sing about a “world without war.”

After she played it, a group of girls stayed behind during recess and quizzed her on her views.

“Ukraine is a separate country, a separate one,” Ms. Dubrova, 57, told them.

“No longer,” one of the girls shot back.

A few days later, the police came to her school in the port town of Korsakov. In court, she heard a recording of that conversation, apparently made by one of the students. The judge handed down a $400 fine for “publicly discrediting” Russia’s Armed Forces. The school fired her, she said, for “amoral behavior.”

“It’s as though they’ve all plunged into some kind of madness,” Ms. Dubrova said in a phone interview, reflecting on the pro-war mood around her.

With President Vladimir V. Putin’s direct encouragement, Russians who support the war against Ukraine are starting to turn on the enemy within.

The episodes are not yet a mass phenomenon, but they illustrate the building paranoia and polarization in Russian society. Citizens are denouncing one another in an eerie echo of Stalin’s terror, spurred on by vicious official rhetoric from the state and enabled by far-reaching new laws that criminalize dissent.

Source: Anton Troianovski, New York Times, 9 April 2022. Read the rest of this disturbing article by clicking on the link. Thanks to Comrade SG for the timely heads-up.