“It’s Too Late for Me to Be Afraid”: Olga Nazarenko’s Solo Anti-War Protests

Olga Nazarenko: “I’m a Russian citizen who opposes the war. Send Putin to The Hague!”

Olga Nazarenko, a lecturer at medical university in Ivanovo, got involved in protests supporting Ukraine back in 2018. Since February 24 of this year, she has gone on an anti-war picket almost every week. Over this time, five cases have been opened against her for administrative offenses. Recently, Nazarenko was fined 150 thousand rubles [approx. 2,350 euros] for an anti-war picket. Only a few people in Ivanovo support the lecturer, so she usually stands alone with a placard. There are incomparably more people in her city who disagree with her position. Once, when Nazarenko was returning home, a passerby doused her face with spray paint on a dark street. People have written the Z symbol and the words “Ukrainian scum” on the associate professor’s mailbox. Nazarenko paints over the insults with yellow and blue flowers.

Nazarenko spoke to Radio Svoboda about her resistance to the war.

What was February 24 like for you?

– I didn’t believe until the last moment that war was possible. I can describe my reaction to the news about the outbreak of war with Ukraine only with obscene language. That same day, I went on a solo picket with an anti-war placard, and the next day too. Since then, I have been going on pickets every week, sometimes once every two weeks.

– You have already been convicted once for “discrediting the armed forces.” Why do you risk being prosecuted?

– My conscience won’t let me do otherwise. In the twenty-first century, problems in interstate relations are not solved by war. It’s barbaric. This war is an injustice on Russia’s part, and I cannot remain silent when I see injustice. A [solo] picket is now the only way to voice one’s stance publicly. Yes, most passersby do not voice their opinion in any way while I am picketing. But at each picket I see that two or three people support me. I understand that it is vital for each of them to see that they are not alone. Also, I have friends and acquaintances living in Ukraine. I worry about them, of course, and I know that for them my support — at least in the sense that I am not silent — is also vital.

– What was the trial at which you were fined 150 thousand rubles like?

– On February 27, I went out with a placard that read, “I’m a Russian citizen who opposes the war. Send Putin to The Hague!” Half an hour later, I was detained after a disgruntled passerby denounced me to the police. In April, the court recognized that my right to a defense had been violated due to the fact that my lawyer was not given the charge sheet to sign. The police appealed this decision, and the court found me guilty under Article 20.2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code for, allegedly, “organizing a public event” and fined me 150 thousand rubles. I told the court about my anti-war stance and that our courts are cemented into the power vertical, and so they make the rulings that the Russian authorities need them to make. I also told the court that Russia is waging an unjust war against Ukraine, that people are dying, and that I opposed it. In my opinion, the judge’s ruling had been made in advance.

– Do passersby often react aggressively to your anti-war pickets?

– Of course, there are people who react aggressively to my position. They drew the Z symbol and wrote “Ukrainian scum” on my mailbox. I painted over the inscription with yellow and blue flowers, making it beautiful. Once on the street late at night, a young man doused my face and clothes with spray paint. Fortunately, my glasses protected my eyes from injury, while my clothes turned a golden color. My down jacket even became beautiful, iridescent, but only on one side, sadly. Once, at a picket in support of the boys from the Network Case, a man came up and said that people like me should be shot. He tried to take my placard away and hurt my finger in the scuffle. But I kept him from getting my placard.

– At what point did you decide to go on pickets?

– I have been actively voicing my position since 2014. I was outraged that Russia, at a difficult moment for Ukraine, committed a treacherous act against it by annexing Crimea. This was the first thing that angered me, and the second was the lies that supported it. I realized that in such circumstances I could not remain silent. At first, I went to various protest rallies and marches. But they were held rarely and I wanted to voice my civic stance more often. At first, I was bashful about going out on solo pickets. But on social media I saw that people were doing solo pickets. At some point I decided to try to picket too and got sucked into it.

I have been going on pickets in support of Ukraine since 2018. A friend of mine and I protested for the release of the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. After all, a hybrid war had essentially been waged since 2014, and I had always opposed it. I was brought up on the principle that you couldn’t take what doesn’t belong to you, which also applied to international relations. Crimea is Ukrainian by all international standards. I could not approve of Russia’s interference in the affairs of a sovereign state, and from that moment I took an unambiguous stance. On February 24, everything became completely transparent.

– In February of last year, you hung a large banner that read “The FSB is a disgrace to Russia” on a railway bridge. What made you decide to do this protest?

– I believe that the FSB now holds all the power in our country, because Putin is from the FSB. So, the FSB lets itself break any law and torture people with impunity — such as, for example, the defendants in the Network Case. I think it important to voice my negative attitude to this. The banner hung for about half an hour until police officers arrived and tore it down.

I was detained right there and taken to the police department, where they took my statement and released me. This is not the first time I have publicly condemned the actions of the FSB. For example, I picketed against the Network Case outside the FSB headquarters in Ivanovo.

Olga Nazarenko

– Aren’t you afraid to publicly criticize the FSB?

– Yes, that organization has a lot of power, but I have no respect for it.

– I know that you sued Center “E” last year. Please tell us how that happened.

– I was doing community service at the zoo for a video in which I had talked about the problems of our region and called for peaceful protest. I was charged with “organizing an unauthorized event” for these actions. Right when I was cleaning the bird cages, a Center “E” officer came and videotaped me without my permission. The video was posted on the Telegram channel “A Cop’s Life: Ivanovo,” along with what they imagined was a funny comment. I decided that the Center “E” officer had violated my right to privacy. I filed an administrative lawsuit against the Interior Ministry, but my suit was dismissed.

– Not long ago, you were accused of resisting the police because you tried to help a friend at an anti-war picket. What did you do then?

– A female acquaintance decided to go on a picket on February 24 and asked on a chat for support. I responded to this request and arrived at the picket site. As soon as the young woman held up her placard, a policeman approached her and tried to detain her. She was opposed to being detained, so I got between her and the policeman. Consequently, we were both detained. The next day, I was taken to the police department, charged with resisting the police, and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. I’ve already done them. But soon I will have to do another 180 hours for a fresh administrative offense related to publicly voicing my anti-war position.

– How do the heads of the medical school where you work look at your pickets and court hearings?

– They are still relatively friendly to me at work. The bosses said that I could do anything as long as it was not during working hours. I never engage in activism to the detriment of my work: I don’t lobby anyone in the classroom. So I have no problems at the university now. For the time being I can juggle work and activism.

– Does your family support your anti-war position?

– My loved ones worry about me, but they don’t try to dissuade me. My husband and I try not to talk about politics. His point of view runs counter to mine, and we don’t discuss politics to avoid spoiling our relationship. As it is, there are so many situations in which I have to get harsh to defend my position, but at home I want to live in peace and tranquility. My little son and adult daughter worry about me and support me emotionally.

Olga Nazarenko, holding a placard that reads, “Free political prisoners!!! While we drink tea, they’re in prison.” It features a long list of current Russian political prisoners, nearly of all whose cases have been covered on this website.

– How are you going to pay the 150 thousand ruble fine?

– Friends and friends of friends helped me to pay the previous fine of 75 thousand. I don’t know yet how I will raise this amount. I’ll probably have to turn to public organizations for help.

– Putin recently passed laws that give [law enforcement] even more possibilities to crack down on grassroots activists. Aren’t you afraid to continue going on pickets when this is the reality?

– It’s too late for me to be afraid. If the security forces want to sanction me, they have enough material against me. I have already passed the phase of being afraid.

– Do you think your numerous pickets have affected the attitude people in Ivanovo have toward the war with Ukraine?

– Everything in society has only gotten worse over the years. In the big scheme of things, such protests cannot change a thing. They matter only to the person who does them and to people who think the same way, as well as for those supported by them.

– Why are you taking such a big risk in this instance?

– I just act on the principle that you do what you have to do, come what may. This is how I was brought up as a child. I realize that there could be unpleasant consequences for me, but I don’t think about it.

– How exactly were you brought up?

– My parents are teachers. They are decent people who shaped my principles, such as the literature I read as a child. My favorite books were Alexandra Brushtein’s trilogy The Road Goes Off into the Distance.

– But many Russians have read those books. Aren’t you angry that so few Russians protest publicly?

– I am a little annoyed, rather, that people cannot act in keeping with their conscience. And I realize that if more Russians had openly voiced their position when it was not less dangerous, the situation would be slightly different now.

Most people let their personal interests outweigh [other things], and this is normal. My instinct for self-preservation is a little dull, and perhaps this is not entirely normal. I don’t condemn Russians, but still I think that, in the current situation, it is impossible to remain silent.

– Now, after almost five months of war in Ukraine, many Russian activists complain of burnout and fatigue. Do you have such problems?

– I don’t have burnout and depression, but nor do I have any hope that things will change quickly. Perhaps in a hundred years our great-grandchildren will be able to change something — if we manage to raise our children the right way, and then they raise their children the right way. At some point, there will be enough people to change things here. But my generation won’t live to see it.

– Are you not planning to leave the country if a criminal case is opened against you?

– I’m not going anywhere. Russia is my country: it doesn’t belong only to those in power and their supporters. I won’t let anyone kick me out of my own country. I’m ready for a possible prison sentence. If it happens, I will serve my time, and then I will get out and continue my pickets. I’m not too afraid of prison: people somehow live in there too. You can’t jail everyone, and you can’t shut everyone up.

Source: Darya Yegorova, “‘It’s too late for me to be afraid’: Olga Nazarenko’s solo pickets,” Radio Svoboda, 16 July 2022. All images courtesy of Ms. Nazarenko via Radio Svoboda. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

How I Was Friends with Billionaires

Igor Mints, Rustam Yulbarisov, and Sasha Mints. Courtesy of Rustam Yulbarisov

How I Was Friends with Billionaires
Rustam Yulbarisov
Zanovo
November 1, 2020

This is a saga of two families, of poverty and wealth, and of the twin brothers who helped me see the biggest difference between people.

I learned that humanity was divided into classes at School No. 963. My mother managed to get me into the first A class, which was considered a university prep class, in contrast to the proletarian B and C classes. We studied English, drawing, ballroom dancing, and even the Vietnamese martial art Việt Võ Đạo, which was taught by an Azerbaijani. The school fees were also higher.

I learned directly about the divisions between people from my friendship with my classmates Sasha and Igor. I don’t know what caused us to become friends, but now I am sure that it was inevitable, because we had too much in common. Our families had moved to Moscow from the regions. We lived in neighboring houses on the same floors. We were non-Russian, and they were also a little non-Russian. They were twin brothers, and I had a brother. They clobbered each other, and we clobbered each other. Our fathers worked as officials in the new Russian government. They even gave their sons identical jackets: green ones for us and purple ones for them, and our mothers gave us identical books—Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs.

The book so fascinated us that we formed a club called UGS (UFO and Ghost Society) and got a notebook in which we recorded the mystical happenings in our courtyard. We would visit each other, watch movies on videotape, and play LEGO. I liked going to their house more because we had a one-room apartment and they had a five-room apartment. I had to lie that we had another room, a secret one. Most importantly, they had a computer, at which I sat with the twins in turn on the same chair, battling it out on Heroes of Might and Magic II, with its codes for black dragons. Our family would get a computer later.

Our friendship ended in the eighth grade. Igor and Sasha went to study at University Prep School No. 1501 (affiliated with the STANKIN, the Moscow State Technology University), taking with them all the classmates with whom I was friends. I stayed at School No. 963 because I acted in the theater club and didn’t want to get my life entangled in machine tool engineering, mathematics and economics.

I will always remember the conversation we had in the hallway at school. We were walking past the changing rooms on the ground floor and discussing our position in the world.

“We’re middle class,” I said.

“No, we’re upper class,” they said.

Their names were Igor and Sasha (Alexander) Mints.

We’re Not the Mintses

I can still tell which Mints is which. Igor has a longer face. He’s on the left. Sasha has a rounder face and a lower voice. He’s on the right. Igor was considered a bully, and Sasha was more easy-going. I was more friends with Igor, and my brother was closer to Sasha. Their mother, Marina, is in the middle. Photo: Irina Buzhor/Kommersant

In early 2020, the Basmanny District Court in Moscow arrested in absentia Boris Mints, owner of O1 Group, and his sons Alexander (Sasha) and Dmitry, and put them on the international wanted list. The Mintses have been charged with a serious crime—aggravated embezzlement, punishable under Article 160.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The punishment for the crime is ten years in prison.

The Russian Investigative Committee accused the Mintses of embezzling 34 billion rubles from Otkritie Bank when it bought bonds from O1 Group. According to investigators, in 2017, Otkritie’s chair, Yevgeny Dankevich, agreed with the management of O1 Group to buy its bonds, although he knew that the real value of the securities was less than half of their face value. O1 Group repaid its loans from Oktritie ahead of schedule with the money made from the sale of the bonds. Shortly after the deal was concluded, Otkritie and Trust Bank were taken over by the Russian Central Bank.

The parties sued each other in court in the UK. The Mintses moved to London before the investigation was launched, and Dankevich went into hiding in Israel. The banks petitioned the court to freeze $572 million of the Mintses’ assets, including the Tower of Lethendy in Scotland, four hotels, two estates, and a residential building in Haifa. In 2017, Forbes estimated that Boris Mints was worth $1.3 billion, but a year later he had dropped out of the top ranks. He said that the two banks, in collusion with the Central Bank, had launched a “campaign” against him due to “strong personal animosity.” In 2018, Mints had to sell Budushchee pension fund, which was one of the three largest non-state pension funds in Russia, to pay his debts. Budushchee (“Future”) had made losses for its clients two years in a row, losing “every eighth ruble belonging to pensioners.” “If we all crash, then the country will crash,” Mints said in an interview.

I have nothing to brag about. My biggest crime is slightly injuring a couple of neo-Nazis. I also shoplifted clothes from stores. When I was young, I didn’t have enough clothes. I wanted to look attractive in front of the girls, and not wear jackets handed down to me by older relatives.

“We’re not the Mintses,” my mother would tell us when we couldn’t afford something. That was the most frequent phrase she muttered when talking about our family’s financial circumstance. The second most popular phrase was “we don’t have any money.” My brother remembers his childhood as “cold and gloomy.” I was forever saddled with an anxiety about what tomorrow would bring.

The last time I met Mintses in our neighborhood was before I went to university. A friend and I were drinking beer outside when a foreign-made car passed by. I recognized my school friend at the wheel. He stopped and opened the window. I smiled and put the beer on the roof of the car to free my hand for a handshake.

“Take it off, you’ll scratch the paint,” he said.

The irony is that my father doesn’t just know Boris Mints. Their career paths had been similar in many ways: both started as officials in regional governments, and then transferred to the presidential administration—with one nuance.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Boris Mints. Photo: Vladislav Shatilo/RBC

Boris Mints earned his first capital during perestroika: “It was fabulous money at the time—140-150 thousand rubles.” He was an associate professor of higher mathematics at the Ivanovo Textile Institute when he started working at a youth center for scientific and technical creativity (NTTM) in 1987. Mints wrote programs for automating jobs at textile mills, and along with them, he sold computers through his NTMM, receiving non-cash payments from enterprises, which were then cashed out. This scheme—selling computers and converting the sales into cash through an NTTM—was also employed by the future oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In 1990, Mints became involved in privatizing the Ivanovo economy, heading its property management committee. In this capacity he met the head of the federal property committee, Anatoly Chubais, who hired him to join his team. Chubais then became the head of the presidential administration, and Mints was appointed head of the presidential office on local government. This position put him in contact with Russia’s leading lights, including Boris Yeltsin.

My father, Ildar Yulbarisov, graduated from the geology faculty of Moscow State University in 1981 and went off to explore the depths in the most remote corners of our Soviet homeland. In 1990, he was elected First Secretary of the Ufa City Komsomol Committee, but a year later he left because he “did not want to see the country and the Party fall apart.” My father enrolled in the Russian Academy of Foreign Trade in Moscow, while also working at the Bashkirian mission there. In 1994, my father returned to Bashkiria, where he worked for seven years. He would bring us chak-chak and Moscow sausage from Ufa.

The Mintses moved to Moscow in 1994. The Yulbarisovs had moved there in 1991. The two families crossed paths at Timiryazevskaya subway station.

“Dad, do you remember how you met Boris Mints?”

“I was hired to work in the administration of the President of the Republic of Bashkortostan. We knew the country’s leadership and the administration of the President of the Russian Federation, of course. One day Boris Mints showed up there. You and your brother went to visit them once, and your mother asked me to go pick you up. Boris opened the door. We greeted each other like old acquaintances. I told him that we were in the same system, and hinted that I would also like to move to Moscow. Then he invited me to his office on Staraya Ploshchad, and I invited him to Ufa for Sabantuy. There he met with President Murtaza Rakhimov. Mints was very pleased with the trip. When I accompanied on the way back, he said, ‘Murtaza is happy with you. You shouldn’t leave.'”

The 90s came to an end, as did the Yeltsin era. Vladimir Putin came to power, recruiting a new team. In 2000, Boris Mints left the presidential administration to invest in commercial real estate. In 2000, my father left the post of deputy department head at the Ministry of Ethnic Policy and went into the business of oilfield exploration. Mints was ranked among the top 100 richest people in Russia, and his son Sasha made it into the top ten most eligible bachelors in the country. In the Yulbarisov household, buckwheat and chicken on the table were replaced by pilaf and vak belyashi, which my father cooked with goose. I saved up the money I was given for lunch, spending it on dates with girls in cafes. I pretended that I wasn’t hungry.

The Mintses went to MGIMO to study international economic relations, while I continued a family tradition by majoring in journalism at Moscow State University.  Once our football team played at MGIMO. We went nuts in the stands, burning flares and, finally, pissing the hell out of their gym, because no one liked the rich kids from MGIMO, not even the rich kids from Moscow State.

What the Mintses Fear

Ildar Yulbarisov, the last First Secretary of the Ufa Komsomol Committee, 1990. Photo: Vechernyaya Ufa

“Dad, according to my rough calculations, we are 1,500 times poorer than the Mintses. Why is there such a difference, if you both worked in government, and then went into business?”

“No big business is created by the labor of the people who own it because it is impossible to create such value independently: there are physiological limits. Capital accumulates only if the surplus value that other people create is confiscated from them. And if you add financial fraud to capitalist exploitation, in which people “voluntarily” engage in wage labor, you get these incredible figures. I have never taken anything that belonged to someone else.”

“Maybe Mints worked harder and better than you?”

“He had a chance, and took it. It was facilitated by his personal qualities, upbringing, and system of values. He went into politics to achieve personal enrichment. I’m a simple Soviet man.”

“Did you want to take bribes and steal when you worked in politics? Or did you just not have the chance?”

“No. I was involved in two election campaigns. They would bring us cash and put it on the table. I didn’t take a kopeck, because I’m an idealist. I was 26 years old when I became a full-time Komsomol worker. I had a clear idea of what I was doing: helping people and improving life in the republic. My father taught me to be honest, and the Komsomol taught me to be responsible to the people. We had a big NTTM attached to the Komsomol city committee in Ufa. They sold everything there, and then would go booze it up at a restaurant. They gave me Italian shoes. I didn’t have to do what they did, since we lived well under communism. I had a salary of 525 rubles a month, your mother worked as a teacher and made another 220 rubles a month. We set half of it aside.”

“Are you comparing yourself to Mints?”

“No, we have had different lives. I’m not jealous, because we had unequal opportunities. There were much fewer opportunities to earn money working for the regional authorities. Today, it is obvious that the Russia inside the Garden Ring and the Russia outside it are two different countries.”

“What is the main difference between the Yulbarisovs and the Mintses?”

“Over three decades, capitalism in Russia has degenerated into its most savage form, dividing people into the poorest and richest strata. According to the most conservative estimates, five percent of the population owns seventy percent of the wealth in Russia. We are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, while the Mintses are at the top. But the situation on the moral ladder is different: the Yulbarisovs are at the top, while Mintses are at the bottom. We’re poor, but we’re honest.”

“You know that sounds like an excuse, right?”

“That’s exactly what it sounds like. I’m not worried about it. It’s you young people who are out of luck. Now wages are paid so people don’t die of hunger, and in addition there is the cult of consumption and the cult of success. The world is getting worse, but I’m sure there will be a limit. Either the people will revolt, or the Communists will come to power. Rich people like Mints are afraid of this.”

The Code for Black Dragons
Midway upon the journey of my life, I found myself in a forest dark. Then I found my Bodhi Tree and sat under it, wondering what the forest was, who I was, and where I was going. I recalled my childhood and formulated four truths that I understood from my friendship with the Mintses.

Truth No. 1. I realized that all my life I had suffered from envy, from unfavorable comparisons and the sense of my own inferiority. I even set aside a page in my diary where I write down all the people I have envied. The habit of constant comparison has nurtured in me a capacity for reflection and self-awareness: comparing myself with others, I become aware of my position vis-à-vis all phenomena in the world.

Truth No. 2. It’s not my fault. The dark forest existed before I showed up, and my path has been shaped by the objective layout of obstacles in the thicket. I have extended this truth to all people. We are not to blame for anything, and especially for our poverty, since we are not able to choose the families into which we are born or the societies in which we live. My son had no choice either.

Truth No. 3. I have to work because I have no property. I have extended this truth to all people. People are the same everywhere, and human need is everywhere the same. The poor man works to live, and the rich man lives off his work, repeating again and again, “If you work harder and better, you’ll become like me.”

Truth No. 4. Their family’s social class is a determining factor in the lives of individuals. But it is merely a historically transitory form, a flaw in the capitalist system that we can overcome through collective effort.

We sit in the same chair, playing the same game. Let’s enter the code for the black dragons and win at last!

But we have been separated by capital—by a billion-dollar chasm.

What can I set against a billion dollars of capital? Only my own existential experience. I’ve seen things you never dreamed of. A crowd dressed in black,  destroying the cozy streets of Copenhagen in a frenzy. Police sirens wailing in the rain, punctuated by singing. Hugs with a masked stranger: we were victorious then. I have seen things that we could have written down in our notebook. Those moments became mine forever, and I would never have wished for anything else.

I finished the text, opened a messenger app, and wrote to you. “Hello! This is Rustam Yulbarisov. We went to school together and were interested in things mystical. Do you still believe in aliens?”

Born in 1988, Rustam Yulbarisov works as a journalist in Moscow and is a socialist. Thanks to Bryan Gigantino for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Trams of Old Ivanovo

tram service-ivanovo cancelled-2008
“Tram service in Ivanovo was cancelled in 2008.” Tram at Vokzalnaya Square in Ivanovo, July 28, 2007.  Photo by Dinamik / Wikipedia

Public transport is represented by trolleybuses, buses and taxis. The trolleybus system was opened on November 5, 1962. The first line ran from the Bagayeva area (now Victory Square) to the GZIP plant. The tram was operated from November 6, 1934 until June 1, 2008. According to former Ivanovo Mayor Alexander Fomin, “Over the past 20 years, the number of vehicles in the city has increased by more than 10 times, while traffic is 5–7 times higher than that for which they were designed.”

The system of urban bus services in Ivanovo-Voznesensk began on November 8, 1926. The bus park was originally located on Paris Commune Street. In the early 1960s, a new bus depot was built on Prospekt Tekstilchshiki. In the Soviet period, buses and coaches were operated Ivanovo Passenger Motor Company (MTE-1) and the taxi service (Ivanovo MTE-2). Ivanovo MTE-1 closed in December 2007.

Source: Wikipedia, lightly edited for readability