Victoria Lomasko: The BORN Trial

for_prigovor
Defendants Isayev, Baklagin, Volkov, and Tikhomirov

BORN: A Graphic Reportage by Victoria Lomasko
How the most brutal nationalist gang in Russia was tried
Apri1 21, 2015
Meduza

On Tuesday, April 21, the Moscow Regional Court will render its verdict in the trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), one of the most violent nationalist gangs in Russia. They have a series of murders of immigrants and antifascists to their credit, as well as numerous attempted murders. In addition, BORN members murdered a federal judge, Eduard Chuvashov. A jury tried the members of the gang. In their verdict, the jury acquitted one of the defendants, Yuri Tikhomirov (who continues to serve a sentence, handed down earlier, for involvement in the murder of antifascist Ilya Dzhaparidze). The three other defendants—Mikhail Volkov, Vyacheslav Isayev, and Maxim Baklagin—were declared wholly or partially guilty, but deserving of leniency for most of the counts of the indictment. However, prosecutors have requested life sentences for Baklagin and Isayev, and twenty-five years in a maximum-security facility for Volkov. The final decision is now up to the judge.

Throughout the trial, artist Victoria Lomasko worked in the courtroom. Meduza presents her graphic reportage on the BORN trial. Meduza special correspondent Andrei Kozenko, who also followed the trial, has annotated the drawings.

01_10 dec
Isayev, Baklagin, Volkov, and Tikhomirov. December 10, 2014

Photography was strictly forbidden at the trial. It was Tikhomirov who petitioned the court to ban photography; he was the only of the four who completely denied involvement in the gang. The other defendants supported his claim. They said that Tikhomirov was “slow on the uptake,” and was of no use at all in serious matters, such as planning murders.

02_10 dec
Judge Alexander Kozlov. December 10, 2014

Moscow Regional Court Judge Alexander Kozlov presided over the trial. Overall, he was exceptionally tactful and pointedly polite.

“I understand nationalism and all that, but why did you have to kill?” he asked at one point.

Only one thing was forbidden in Kozlov’s courtroom: mentioning that the criminal case had obvious political overtones, that the ultra-rightists had been communicating with people from the presidential administration through a series of intermediaries, and that BORN itself was a project that could not have been conceived without their involvement. Kozlov ruthlessly barred all attempts to discuss this.

03_10 dec
Baklagin: “I came to the conclusion that the state weasels out when immigrants commit crimes.” December 10, 2014

 

Baklagin is a lawyer by training. He honestly testified that one of the murders was committed on a particular day, because on other days he had to be in court early in the morning. Baklagin was charged with six counts of murder, accessory to murder, and attempted murder. He said that he committed the crimes to restore the justice that was absent in the Russian state.

04_22 dec
Volkov: “I regarded my actions as self-defense in the broadest sense, as an attempt to put the thugs tormenting my people in their place.” December 22, 2014

 

Mikhail Volkov is a veteran football hooligan and member of the skinhead gang OB-88. He did hard time for a nationalist pogrom at the Tsaritsyno Market in 2002. Several times he was forced to explain he got neo-Nazi tattoos when he was “young and stupid,” but had later changed his views. Volkov was charged with one murder committed on his own and another murder committed with an accomplice. He himself said that his motives were about the same as those of Robin Hood.

05_22 dec
Goryachev: “I have never seen these people before. Until I was arrested I had never heard their names.” December 22, 2014

Ilya Goryachev’s testimony was billed as one of the key episodes in the whole trial, but it did not turn out that way. Educated as a historian, nationalist and spin-doctor Goryachev is regarded by investigators as the organizer of BORN. His case is being tried separately; it has only just been sent to trial. He served as a witness at the main BORN trial. He was expected to name the names of people close to the Kremlin who had in some way been involved in the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists. But Goryachev denied everything. He allegedly did not even know any of the defendants.

06_12 jan
Tikhomirov: “I do not consider myself guilty, and was not a member of BORN. FSB officers cajoled Isayev and Baklagin into testifying against me.” January 12, 2015

The testimony of the defendants was riddled with inconsistencies. Judge Kozlov occasionally accused them of trying to shield themselves and evade responsibility. One of their main arguments was that BORN did not exist. Volkov, in particular, insisted he had heard the acronym only after he had committed the crimes.

07_12 jan
Tikhomirov and his lawyer. January 12, 2015

Yuri Tikhomirov sat quietly and spoke the least of all. He had never heard of any such gang, had been involved in only one point of the indictment, and had received a ten-year sentence for that crime before the others had been charged. The jury believed him.

08_12 jan
The court views a video recording. January 12, 2015

A significant part of the evidence against the defendants consisted of photos and video. In particular, thanks to surveillance cameras, prosecutors were able to prove that Volkov had committed one of the murders.

09_11 feb
Prosecutor (addressing jurors): “The BORN members were not in the habit of verifying information. Unverified information served as grounds for murders.” February 11, 2015

Prosecutors repeatedly attacked the ideological aspect of the BORN case. The nationalists did not want Russia to become like France, which was “swamped with immigrants.” However, they themselves had never been to France. And yet they sought information about future victims on ultra-rightist websites and in the media.

10_11 feb
Prosecutor (standing behind BORN’s attorneys): “As you have seen yourselves, the gang had more than enough weapons.” February 11, 2015

The hearing during which the physical evidence—the weapons seized from the gang—was presented was like a trip to a theme park. The BORN members used sawed-off hunting rifles and pistols, manufactured in the early twentieth century. They came by these weapons, apparently, through people who illegally excavate battlegrounds.

11_11 feb
Donara Dzhaparidze, mother of a murdered antifascist (Yuri Tikhomirov is seated to the left): “I can’t go into the apartment: Ilyusha is not there.” February 11, 2015

The mother of antifascist Ilya Dzhaparidze left Moscow for Georgia after her son was murdered. She could not go back to the flat where she lived with her son. Few cursed the defendants as she did. The defendants only looked away.

12_16 feb
Isayev’s attorney: “Baklagin has correctly pointed out that the antifascists are just another gang, but with different ideas. They were involved in a turf war.” February 16, 2015

Another mitigating argument mustered by the defense was that contemporary antifascists are nothing like the ones we saw in Soviet films about World War Two. They are an aggressive subculture with whom the nationalists would fight, including on the streets. It sounded plausible, but still did not answer the question of why it had been necessary to commit murder.

13_16 feb
Volkov (his mother seated in the foreground): “What sort of bandit am I? I have a family, kiddies… I read them to sleep at night.” February 16, 2015

The defendants’ relatives rarely came to the hearings and never together. They sat with the reporters, glancing occasionally at the ultra-rightists as they gave testimony. They flatly refused to talk to the press.

14_16 feb
Baklagin: “When the war in Ukraine began, I immediately applied in writing to join a penal battalion.” February 16, 2015

Baklagin asked to be sent to fight in the Donbas: his blood would atone for what he had done. BORN is closely linked to Ukraine. Volkov had escaped there before being extradited back to Russia. One of the most violent members of BORN, former FSB officer Alexei Korshunov, had escaped to Zaporozhye and died when a grenade he was carrying exploded. Finally, another suspect is still in hiding in Ukraine. According to unconfirmed reports, he is even fighting against the separatists.

16_20 feb
Tikhomirov’s lawyer: “Khasis and Tikhonov called each other ‘bunny rabbit’ and ‘kitty cat.’” February 20, 2015

Nikita Tikhonov and his common-law wife Yevgenia Khasis gave the most detailed testimony against the BORN members, which visibly irritated the latter. Tikhonov is serving a life sentence for the murders of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Khasis is serving eighteen years as an accessory to the murders. On the sidelines, the lawyers did not rule out that Tikhonov was taking responsibility for more than what he had done so that he could stay in a Moscow remand prison—near the crime investigation scene—rather than in the transpolar prison for lifers with its incredibly poor living conditions. Khasis just wants to get out early.

18_30 mar
Judge Kozlov: “If you decide that Isayev, Baklagin or Volkov deserve leniency, the court cannot sentence them to life in prison.” March 30, 2015

It took a very long time to empanel the jury in the BORN trial. Ordinary residents of Moscow Region were not chomping at the bit to serve on the jury. The defendants themselves rejected several candidates for “looking like antifascists.” Nevertheless, a jury was seated and they produced a verdict in the trial. The defendants were found worthy of leniency. But not Baklagin and Isayev, who had shadowed Judge Chuvashov. (The late Korshunov was deeemd to be his killer.) The chance of a life sentence for them persists.

19_31 mar
Jury forewoman: “Has it been proven that Tikhomirov was a member of BORN? No, it has not been proven. Six jurors voted yea; six, nay.” March 31, 2015

Those who followed the trials called the jury’s verdict a little too soft on some counts. But be that as it may, only Tikhomirov was acquitted.

20_
The jurors

Court juries have this peculiarity: all parties to the trial focus the attention of jurors less on the legal aspects and try more to play on their emotions. No lawyers are empanelled, after all. Both the prosecutors and the defense asked the jury to be fair. It rendered its verdict. The judge will turn the verdict into specific sentences for the BORN trial defendants.

Editor’s Note. I thank Victoria Lomasko and Meduza for their permission to translate this article and reproduce Ms. Lomasko’s reportage here. All illustrations courtesy of and copyright Victoria Lomasko and Meduza.  Translated by the Russian Reader

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Post-Soviet Cassandras (Berlin)

 

11020730_438171806342700_9079588153318388054_oPost-Soviet Cassandras is an exhibition with artists from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, who all deal critically with the social and political situation in their countries. The show is about analysing the current social reality: about women’s rights and gender roles, about the lack of a political dialogue, about happiness and misfortune within marginalized groups. Despite flagrant abuses, the artists envision ideas for a more inclusive future using the means of art.

Participating artists: Anatoly Belov (Kiev), Gandhi (Saint Petersburg), Shifra Kazhdan (Moscow), Victoria Lomasko (Moscow), Marina Naprushkina (Minsk/Berlin), Nadia Plungian (Moscow)

Curated by: Dorothee Bienert, Victoria Lomasko, Nadia Plungian, Antje Weitzel
A project in cooperation with uqbar e.V.

April 25–July 12, 2015. Opening: 6 p.m., Friday, April 24, 2015

Galerie im Körnerpark
Schierker Str. 8, 12051 Berlin, Germany
galerien@kultur-neukoelln.de
+49 30 56823939
Open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m–8 p.m.
U + S-Bahn: Neukölln und Hermannstraße

Russia vs. Russia: Political Art and Censorship

Victoria Lomasko
April 14, 2015
Facebook

During the last discussion at the Russland vs. Russland. Kulturkonflikte forum, the event’s title finally paid off.

Kristina Leko, an artist and teacher at the Berlin Institute of Art, opened the discussion. The organizers had invited her to comment on the forum and the exhibition of Russian “critical art.”

She wondered how much the objets d’art for Marat Guelman’s Perm project (documented at the forum) had cost, whether the money had come from the city’s budget, and if it had, whether the citizens for whose sake this monumental street art had allegedly been made had agreed with this. Leko noted that she had found it unpleasant to listen to the presentation of the project, during which it was stated that the residents of Perm were “insufficiently educated to understand art.” She also said that after carefully viewing the video documentation for MediaImpact, she could not understand where the audience for this sociopolitical art was. Did Russian “critical” artists even want to communicate with the general public? Leko asked whether it was possible to make “critical art” now without taking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine into account, and whether one could be a “critical artist” while ignoring gender and racial discrimination.

Her talk was suddenly interrupted by artist Alexander Brener, who burst into the circle of panelists and yelled, “All of this is shit! We must talk about what matters most!” Brener was not a forum participant. He had come every day to listen to the speakers and several times had expressed his dissatisfaction, but in much more acceptable form.

Brener had interrupted Leko’s talk and continued to shout about shit, but the panelists interpreted his stunt variously. One group sided with Brener, calling him a great Russian artist. This was a performance, a compliment to the forum’s organizer. The talk had been boring: let Brener have his say, they said. The moderator, sociologist Alexander Bikbov, demanded that Leko be allowed to finish her talk. He was backed up by cultural studies scholar Olga Reznikova, who told Brener that there had been many boring and offensive presentations over the past three days and asked him why he had not felt the urge to shout down a high-profile male who had been talking “shit.” The only Ukrainian participant in the forum, Vasily Cherepanin, director of the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv and editor of the Ukrainian edition of the journal Krytyka Polityczna, said he felt sorry for us, since we were accustomed to rudeness and could not tell the difference between it and art. As a manager of an institution, he himself kicks out such “performance artists,” no questions asked.

While this was happening, Leko’s hands were shaking. The German audience was shocked. One of the German participants asked perplexedly, “Why is there no solidarity among Russian artists?”

I am certain that the majority of men in Russia who identify themselves as “leftists” are incapable of uniting with women on an equal footing and dealing with our professional work appropriately, without loutishness. Personally, I have no desire to identify with those “leftists” or liberals who try talking down to me or do the same thing with other women. I had had enough of that at the Feminist Pencil show at MediaImpact.

I said that sexism was one of the causes that prevented people from uniting.

Hearing the word sexism, some of the Russian participants began laughing and making faces. They then pointedly left the room altogether when the topic of gender was picked up by Olga Reznikova, Heinrich Böll Foundation coordinator Nuria Fatykhova, and the German audience.

Vasily Cherepanin raised the next topic. He spoke about the war in Ukraine, stressing it was a war of aggression on Russia’s part. At the same time, many Russian socially and politically engaged artists have preferred to remain apolitical on this matter and not make anti-war statements. One of the Germans asked why the Russians were trying to depoliticize the discussion of sexism and the war in Ukraine. After this question, another third of the Russians dashed from the room, while the artist Brener, who had been sitting quietly in the corner, again broke into the circle of panelists, screaming at Cherepanin, “Fuck off!”

Moderator Alexander Bikbov summarized the discussion by noting that too few “critical” artists had stayed for its final part. As soon as the conversation had turned to the things that mattered most—politics within the art scene and the war in Ukraine—many were not prepared to discuss them.

But then at the farewell dinner, the participants who had left the discussion early continued giggling among themselves about gender and feminism.

____________________

Russia vs. Russia: From Censorship to Self-Censorship
New Russian laws—from a ban on swearing to protections for the feelings of religious believers—have made life difficult for artists. But the main obstacle to freedom of creativity has become self-censorship.
Yekaterina Kryzhanovskaya | Berlin
April 13, 2015
Deutsche Welle

lomasko-courtVictoria Lomasko, Prisoners of May 6, from the Drawing Trials project

For several years, Victoria Lomasko has been doing socially engaged graphic art, producing graphic reportages from court hearings and political rallies, and drawing the real stories of juvenile prisoners, migrant workers, rural teachers, and Orthodox activists. But the Russian woman can now longer speak openly about what concerns her through her drawings: now her black-and-white “comics” could be subject to the articles of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

“My work Cannibal State, in support of political prisoners, today could be regarded as insulting state symbols. Liberate Russia from Putin clearly rocks the boat; it’s a call for rebellion, for revolution, and this is ‘extremism.’ A work from the Pussy Riot trial, Free the Prisoners! Shame on the Russian Orthodox Church!, featuring Patriarch Kirill, no doubt insults the feelings of believers,” the artist recounts.

Could she now, as she did earlier, freely post her political posters in social networks or show them at exhibitions?

“Hardly. But just two years ago several of them were even published in magazines,” notes Lomasko.

From censorship…

At the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts, held April 10–12 in Berlin, Lomasko was not the only one bewildered about the prospects of protest art.

“In Russia nowadays you cannot do anything,” states Artyom Loskutov, an artist and organizer of the annual May Day Monstration marches in Novosibirsk.

In 2014, the Monstrators took to the streets of Novosibirsk holding a banner that read, “Hell is ours.” When the Russian media were excitedly talking about the virtues of federalizing Ukraine, Loskutov and his allies announced they would be holding a March for the Federalization of Siberia.

“If people in Russia hear every day that separatism in Ukraine turns out to be a good thing, that cannot slip through the cracks. We have simply hastened the next stage, when separatism will be seen as good for our country as well,” Loskutov emphasizes.

Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor responded by sending fourteen letters to various media, including Ukrainian publications and even the BBC, demanding that they delete even mentions of this protest.

…to self-censorship

According to many forum participants, however, censorship was not the worst that was happening to them today.

“The worst thing that infiltrates our heads is self-censorship. It is impossible to know about the new laws and not to think about the consequences if you make a work about something that really concerns you,” argues Lomasko.

A congress of ultra-rightist nationalists was held in March in Petersburg, completely legally. And yet the media could not publish photographs of congress participants in clothes featuring swastikas because they would be fined for extremism.

“I really want to speak out on this subject. But if I were to draw something, I could be accused of spreading fascist ideas. And if I put it on the Web, everyone who reposts the picture automatically becomes my accomplice,” explains Lomasko.

Consequently, she said, there have been almost no artworks openly criticizing the annexation of Crimea or the war in Ukraine. Doubts about the legitimacy of Moscow’s actions are now also subject to the Criminal Code.  A rare exception is the graffiti piece Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, in which a pregnant woman holding a Molotov cocktail is depicted with an infant soldier in her belly. But it was produced anonymously by members of the Petersburg group Gandhi.

Monumental propaganda

On the other hand, you can express your joy over the actions of Russian politicians without the sanction of officials. Thus, on the eve of the referendum in Crimea, a monumental graffiti proclaiming “Crimea and Russia: Together Forever” suddenly appeared on the wall of a house in Moscow’s Taganka Square where an officially authorized map of the Tagansky District was supposed have been painted.

“The contractor himself decided that the Crimean agenda was more topical and interesting, and he willfully painted what he did, not the map he had been commissioned to paint,” explains Anna Nistratova, an independent curator, researcher, and artist.

0,,18377432_401,00Victoria Lomasko

Later, such monumental propaganda began to appear all over the country, both as commissioned by the authorities, and at the behest of the population, including activist artists, many of whom also believe, according to Lomasko, “Crimea is ours, Donbass is ours, and Ukraine basically doesn’t exist.”

“In matters of propaganda, orders from the top are not obligatory. Our citizens themselves are capable to taking the initiative,” notes Nistratova.

__________

IMG_5964“Memory” (P = Pamiat’), one of a series of “graffiti” murals produced by the pro-Kremlin youth group Set (“Network”) to celebrate Vladimir Putin’s birthday in October 2014. The five murals, which appeared in different cities, each featured a different letter from the president’s surname; each letter was associated, children’s primer-style, with a different “patriotic” virtue (e.g., such as “memory” of the war). This mural was painted on an apartment block on Petersburg’s Obvodny Canal. Photograph by The Russian Reader

__________

Lost status

Nistratov points out that there are very few artists involved in political art in Russia. Besides, neither exhibitions nor the very best artworks nor inscriptions on the streets have any effect on society, in her opinion.

“The artist in Russia today is a strange, marginal subject. His status as an intellectual, as a moral exemplar, which existed earlier, has been completely forfeited,” says Nistratova.

Confusion is, perhaps, the feeling that is prevalent throughout the talks given by the participants of the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts. By and large, the activist artists have no clear strategies for operating under new conditions.

“The only thing that seems to me worthwhile is maintaining one’s own little environment, a bubble inside the shit. Because if this nightmare ever ends, we have to make sure we are not faced with a scorched, absolutely bare field, bereft of political and social art, activism, and civic consciousness,” argues Lomasko.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

This is a real courtyard in my neighborhood, near a playground. Parents stroll around the yard with their children, discussing the news from “fascist” Ukraine.

Do I have the right to draw and show you this landscape featuring a swastika, a landscape that is fairly typical in Russia? During the recent trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), their lawyer argued that the anti-fascists are just another street gang like the fascists. So why not label any denunciation of fascism “propaganda” of fascism itself?

Nationalists freely held an international congress in Petersburg in March. The only people the police arrested were the anti-fascists who protested the congress. Nationalists can walk around sporting neo-fascist symbols, but the authorities will prosecute publications that dare to publish photos of them. Juvenile prisons are filled with skinheads, but nationalist ideas are fomented on television.

Attn: Center “E”. I am opposed to fascism.

fashizm_colourThis yard is not in Ukraine. There are many swastikas in Russia, too. But if Russian citizens try to expose fascism, they can be charged with “extremism.” Inscription on wall: “Russ [sic] is ours!”

Victoria Lomasko: 18+

18+

18-1

The subjects and viewers of my series 18+ often ask why a heterosexual female artist would draw lesbian couples. I have a few answers to that question, but the most truthful would be that what is so fascinating about lesbian clubs is not so much the distinctive sexuality there as the separate feminine environment in which the male’s role at the center of the female universe has been reduced to zero. The chance to depict the complex psychological connections between women is captivating. There are few works from this perspective in art. In public life, attraction between women is almost never manifested. By doing a number of drawings in semi-private lesbian clubs, I was looking for a new visual language. Lesbian couples have a different way of gesturing and moving than heterosexual couples.

18-2

If I lived in another country, I probably would have limited myself to this search for a new plasticity. In Russia, though, the topic of LGBT is inextricably bound up with political and social issues. When I agreed to serve on the jury of the Side by Side Film LGBT Film Festival in 2013, I realized the extent to which the LGBT community was persecuted. It was only during the festival, however, that I found out there are different levels of secrecy within the community, in particular, that lesbians are more invisible and stigmatized than gays. Hence I deemed it important to quote the subjects of my series directly.

18-3

“We socialize with other activists, who accept us wholly and don’t think of us as ‘poor things.’”

Simultaneously with sketching in the clubs, I have begun making portraits of lesbian families and couples, including direct quotations from them as well. The main questions I ask are what has changed for them after the law banning homosexual “propaganda”* passed and how society itself is involved in stigmatizing different social groups, including sexual minorities. 

* In 2013, Russia passed a law banning the “propaganda” or promotion of nontraditional sexual relations among minors. Any information, printed matter or cultural event involving LGBT topics must be labeled “18+.”

18-4

18-5

18-6“When I was fifteen, my only source of information was an article about an ex-female convict, who had been arrested at the apartment of her female ‘cohabitant.’ The word was a sign to me that such relationships were possible.”

“As a young woman, I didn’t come out to my female friends. I thought being a lesbian was like being a monster. I was afraid I’d scare them off.”

18-7

“At work, I turn my MP3 player on during lunch so I don’t have to join in the conversations.”

“When the talk at work turned to families, I always felt like I was sitting on a time bomb.”

“I avoid conversations like that. I say I don’t have the time or I go have a cigarette.”

“When I’m applying for a job, in the box marked ‘marital status’ I always write that I’m living with a woman. I want to know right away whether it’s a homophobic workplace or not.”

“The homely old domestic clucks took pity on me.”

“Is there a stigma? We wouldn’t know. We have a very narrow circle of friends made up only of those who get it.”

“Our circle of friends is made up of other lesbians and feminists.”

18-8

“In Russia, the way the majority of people talks boils down to marginalizing others.”

“I think that being a heterosexual public feminist is even harder than being a closeted lesbian.”

“Men think lesbians are beautiful, long-haired young women who kiss each other.” 

“Butches, who model their behavior on guys, bust men’s balls less than cool, beautiful women whose sex appeal is meant for women. The realization they have no need for them bothers men a hundred times more.”

18-9

“Until 2012, the lesbian scene was completely invisible. That was even cool in a way: girls would kiss on the street, and no one paid any mind. Now people are suspicious of everybody.”

“We don’t meet anyone in the clubs. We go there to hold hands openly.”

 “Since the homophobic law has been passed, I suspect that people on the street and in the subway are suspicious of me.”

“Before, you could be blasé, but now things are scary. We cannot believe we live in the same reality with these people. We are thinking about emigrating to Canada.”

“After the homophobic law was passed, people gave us dirty looks in the subway. But now there is a crisis, and no one could give a shit.”

“People are afraid the authorities will remove children from LGBT families. That is a really serious danger.”

“We are not going to flee Russia like rats.”

18-10

Victoria Lomasko
Translated by The Russian Reader

18+ will be exhibited as part of the project Pas de Deux during the Fumetto International Comics Festival in Lucerne, March 7–15, 2015. Ms. Lomasko will be giving a lecture at the festival on Tuesday, March 10, at 5:30 p.m. Check here for more details.

Victoria Lomasko: Drawing Lessons at a Juvenile Prison

Victoria Lomasko
Drawing Lessons at a Juvenile Prison

In August 2010, I visited the Mozhaysk Juvenile Prison for the first time as a volunteer for the Center for Prison Reform and gave a drawing lesson to inmates. I have continued working with the Center, teaching master classes on drawing at the girl’s penitentiaries in Novy Oskol and Ryazan, and the boy’s penitentiary in Aleksin, but Mozhaysk is the only place which I have visited more or less regularly.

lomasko-prison-photo

Victoria Lomasko with students at Mozhaysk Juvenile Prison

There is almost no funding for the trips. We travel by commuter train, carrying everything we need for classes in our backpacks, so with rare exceptions we use the simplest materials—paper and black pens—during the lessons.

The Center organizes the trips once a month on particular days. If you miss a trip, you have to wait for the next time round.

The rotation of inmates at the penitentiary is constant. Some are released on parole, while others are transferred to adult prisons. New inmates show up all the time. Over a six-month period, the roster of my drawing group changes completely.

Some teens are well educated, while everything is completely new to others. Many of them have psychological problems.

In short, teaching classes at a penitentiary is a tricky task: you have to experiment and develop your own lesson plan. At the exhibition Really Useful Knowledge you can look over two lessons from my program, “Form and Counterform” and “Ceramics Painting,” as well as the outcome of a creative exchange between the Mozhaysk Prison and prisons in Buenos Aires, which my friend the translator Anna Voronkova helped organize. After returning from Argentina, Anna became one of the main volunteers at the Center for Prison Reform.

Why do we travel to the prisons? The Center’s staff and volunteers bring clothing to inmates about to be released on parole, and hygiene items, birthday presents, and treats to the other inmates. Staff and volunteers also provide psychological assistance and collect material for preventive publications aimed at troubled teens. Another of the Center’s missions is to recruit creative people willing to work regularly with the teens, who need to interact with people from the outside world no less than they need shampoo and socks.

I realize I cannot teach someone to draw when lessons are so infrequent. My emphasis is on developing analytical thinking (the structure of the drawing) and empathy (working on the image). It is also vital to help the kids gain self-confidence, so all the pictures are shown at exhibitions. We photograph these exhibitions and bring the photos back to the prison to show the kids.

The kids find out about the drawing lessons from their minders, but more often they hear about them by word of mouth. Around five to ten students come to my classes. There is often a self-taught artist among them who really wants to learn to draw.

lomasko-prison-1Oleg: “There are swastikas encrypted in Raphael’s drawings.” 

Oleg draws a lot. He has his own views of Renaissance masterpieces.

lomasko-prison-2A drawing by Oleg. “Look over there—wogs!” “Where?” “Right there!”

Oleg is a skinhead. It all started when, aged eight, he witnessed the murder of a friend: teenagers from the Caucasus killed him to get hold of his telephone. At fourteen, Oleg organized a “fight club,” in which he was the youngest member. The fighters “staged flash mobs at Caucasian markets.” Oleg said that in his small provincial town, the population was divided into skinheads, people from the Caucasus, and suckers. He was convicted of a gang killing. He expected to be rewarded for his patriotism, not punished. Oleg had kept up his spirits at the penitentiary: he had been studying foreign languages, philosophy, and economics. He dreams of becoming a politician: “Yanukovych’s priors hadn’t stopped him from becoming president.”

In the autumn, he was transferred to an adult prison.

lomasko-prison-3Andrei: “On the outside, lots of things keep a guy from wising up.”

Andrei is a prison artist. He makes “bands” (drawings on handkerchiefs). He wants to draw beautifully and with feeling, but despises formal exercises. But he did like the lecture on concentration camp drawings. He reads Solzhenitsyn and has been teaching himself to draw by copying illustrations in books from the local library. Andrei’s sentence ended before the New Year, but no one is waiting for him on the outside.

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A drawing by Andrei

Yevgeny had been a gambler. He was sent to the colony for busting open a slot machine. He did not know how to draw and did not want to learn: he came to class to get things off his chest.

lomasko-prison-5Yevgeny: “I take out my anger on the world by drawing. Each drop is a grievance: it’s like rain.”

Yevgeny always looked tense. He hated his surroundings and once said he wanted to murder people.

“Shut up. You don’t know what murder is,” the skinhead Oleg said to Yevgeny, taking him down a peg.

lomasko-prison-6Alexei: “On the outside, I drew cartoon characters.”

Alexei is a tall, handsome teenager. He is well read and has a good memory. What he liked most of all during the lessons was explanations of the abstract foundations of composition, which either irritated or dumfounded the other inmates.

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A drawing by Alexei

It was obvious the other boys avoided Alexei, and one of them half-jokingly called him a maniac. It turned out that once on New Year’s Eve, Alexei had committed a double murder while intoxicated: he had stabbed one of his victims around fifty times with a knife. Before the New Year, Alexei was transferred to an adult prison in Tambov, while the skinheads were sent to a prison in the Moscow Region.

lomasko-prison-8Natalia Dzyadko: “Why does no one come here to play football with the boys?”

Human rights activist Natalia Dzyadko has worked with the penitentiary for eight years. Along with staff members at the Center for Prison Reform, she brings candy and presents for the inmates’ birthdays, and invites people willing to work with the boys to the prison. It is difficult to gain entry to the prison without outside help. There are exceptions: the famous actor and musician Pyotr Mamonov has been granted the right to visit at any time, without a pass. True, he does not come that often, once or twice a year, but the inmates who have caught his concerts at the penitentiary still remember Mamonov.

lomasko-prison-9The inmates have almost no time for themselves: their lives are organized on a strict schedule. But when they do have free time, what they like doing most of all is playing football.

lomasko-prison-10Singer: “We’re fighting a plague, we’re fighting the entire Russian narcomafia.”

Activists sometimes visit the penitentiary, for example, a band made up of former alcoholics and drug addicts, from the organization Transfiguring Russia. The musicians performed for the boys songs they had written about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

lomasko-prison-11The boys said the concert was cool, but that it was odd the musicians were wearing slippers and torn socks.

lomasko-prison-12Father Andrei: “I’m going to sing you songs from the ‘80s.”

Father Andrei from Descent of the Holy Spirit Church also visited the inmates. The church is famous for its prior, ex-rocker Sergei Rybko. The priest performed several songs at a concert in the prison.

lomasko-prison-13Father Andrei: “God definitely needs all of us.”

As in adult prisons, many inmates at the juvenile penitentiary turn to religion. There is a tiny wooden church on the premises. There are lots of icons in every residential unit, and even the TV in the common room is ringed with icons. Orthodox priests frequently come on the weekends to receive confession, chat, and show films about Russian Orthodoxy. No one comes to see the Muslim boys.

lomasko-prison-14“They have put us up a crooked New Year’s tree with crooked decorations.”

As New Year’s approached, they were few boys left at the penitentiary. Some had been released, while others had been transferred to adult prisons.

Victoria Lomasko’s project Drawing Lessons at a Juvenile Prison is on display until February 9, 2015, at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid as part of the group show Really Useful Knowledge.

Victoria Lomasko: Socially Engaged Graphic Art in Russia

Victoria Lomasko on Socially Engaged Graphic Art
November 8, 2014
Openrussia.org

To get a more or less undistorted sense of reality in our country and transmit it to other people, you have to become a researcher yourself. Socially engaged artists have joined independent journalists, human rights activists, and sociologists in this field. I will try to briefly describe socially engaged graphic art and how it can help in shaping civil society.

It is easier to start the story by talking about my own experience. I would agree with what artist Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin said on this score: “If your work does not improve you, it is powerless to improve anyone else, and [art] has no other task than improving humanity.” For a long time I was hampered by the art scene’s insularity and especially by my own fear of venturing outside it. In 2008, I began making forays into other social milieux and drawing graphic reportages, illustrated documentary stories. I have produced stories about farm workers, village school teachers, migrants, Orthodox activists, the LGBT community, sex workers, and juvenile prison inmates, among others. I have seen that these other milieux are no less isolated from each other, generating mutual contempt, fear, and hatred.

lomasko-soc-1 From the series Black Portraits, 2010. (Left panel) Stoneworker Sergei, who used to be a militant atheist, is now an Orthodox activist: “The West wants to destroy the bold and beautiful Russian people.” (Right panel) Viktor Mizin, a political science lecturer at MGIMO, was born at the Grauerman maternity hospital in central Moscow: “Russians are shit, but I’m a seventh-generation member of the intelligentsia.”

I drew these two portraits on the same day. I meet the Orthodox activist at a prayer meeting against a proposed new redevelopment plan for Moscow, and the “member of the intelligentsia” in a bar on Bolshaya Nikitskaya. The diptych—an illustration of our extreme anomie and mutual disrespect—сame together on its own.

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Teacher: “Is ‘Moscow’ a person’s name or a place name?” First-grader Sasha: “It’s a street.”

The drawing, above, is from the graphic reportage A Village School, which takes place in a village near Tula. When I expressed my surprise that the children did not know what the capital of Russia was, I was told that Moscow was a big dump inhabited by freaks.

The situation is aggravated by the official media, which produce repulsive, clichéd images of many social groups. I was thus afraid to go a juvenile prison for the first time, expecting to see young degenerates there. In reality, black and white were intertwined, and I found it impossible to judge other people’s actions.


From the project Drawing Lessons in a Juvenile Prison, 2010—2014. (Left panel) Oleg: “There are swastikas encrypted in Raphael’s drawings.” Oleg draws a lot. He has his own views of Renaissance masterpieces. (Right panel)  Oleg is a skinhead. It all started when, aged eight, he witnessed the murder of a friend: teenagers from the Caucasus killed him to get hold of his telephone. At fourteen, Oleg organized a “fight club,” in which he was the youngest member. The fighters “staged flash mobs at Caucasian markets.” Oleg said that in his small provincial town, the population was divided into skinheads, people from the Caucasus, and suckers. He was convicted of a gang killing. He expected to be rewarded for his patriotism, not punished. Oleg had kept up his spirits at the penitentiary: he had been studying foreign languages, philosophy, and economics. He dreams of becoming a politician: “Yanukovych’s priors hadn’t stopped him from becoming president.” In the autumn, he was transferred to an adult prison.

Before meeting sex workers, the image of them I had in my head—of brazen, heavily made-up prostitutes—had also been shaped by the media. But in real life they were tired women in casual clothes. Many were single mothers who had gone into prostitution to feed their children.

lomasko-girls-6From The “Girls” of Nizhny Novgorod, 2013. “Some clients ask us to piss on them, but I’d be happy to shit on them on behalf of all women.”

When I had just started making graphic reportages, it was considered something marginal in Russia. The situation has changed in recent years: there have been more and more graphic art non-fiction stories on social topics. Here are a few examples.

lomasko-soc-5Tatyana Faskhutdinova, Unknown Stories from the Life of Lyonya Rodin, 2012. (Left panel) People often take me for an extraterrestrial. One winter, the firewood ran out and there was no fuel for the stove. My friend and I decided to rent a flat. The landlady had a fit when she saw me. Lyona: “How much is the flat?” Landlady: “Ahhh! And he talks, too!” (Right panel) In our town, no one has any use for people like me. Disabled people have no way to get around normally. Tram driver: “Hurry up and get on!”

“Lyonya Rodin is my friend. He has been disabled since birth. […] It was not so much the absurd, maddening situations that happen to him now and then, situations caused by people’s indifference and society’s unwillingness and reluctance to accept people with disabilities, that I wanted to recount, but rather his ability to make friends, to dream, to make plans and carry them out, his passion for what he does, his utter lack of bitterness at life, and his inner calm and pride, despite the harshness and even cruelty of his circumstances.”

lomasko-soc-6Yana Smetanina, The Inhabitants of Psychiatric Hospital N0. 5 in Khotkovo, 2013. TANKA KHIMKI. Tanka is 53. She endlessly mumbles to herself and unexpectedly pops up everywhere at any time asking for a smoke. When she cusses, you can make out what she’s saying. She gestures like a woman who spent ten years in prison. TOO-ROO-TOO-TOO-ROOM. But she got her education at Moscow State University. She was brutally raped for the first time when she was 7. She was raped again as an adult.

“As a child I was really afraid of ‘crazy’ people. […] When, almost three decades later, I came to meet the inhabitants of Psychiatric Hospital No. 5 in Khotkovo, you can imagine my surprise when I realized that nearly all these women had been rape victims and that was why they had lost either their minds or their strength and their will to live. […]  They had been victims of rape, including incest, early in life, assaults on the street, and beatings by their own husbands.”

lomasko-soc-7Ilmira Bolotyan (illustrations) and Natasha Milantyeva (texts), A Nun’s Life, 2013

“Natasha Milantyeva, my girlfriend’s cousin, spent over 18 years in a convent. A Russian Orthodox nun, she was forced to leave her convent because life there threatened her health and the people in charge no longer wanted to see her among their ranks. Her unique experience has been the basis of short stories and plays about convent life. Natasha has witnessed events that no journalist could either record or depict.”

These works and many others were shown at Feminist Pencil, a series of exhibitions of socially engaged graphic art curated by Nadia Plungian and me.

Graphic reportage is especially appropriate in court, since it is forbidden to take pictures and shoot video during hearings. Activist artists in different Russian cities and other parts of the former Soviet Union have taken to sketching court proceedings during political trials.

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Radik Vildanov, Bailiffs Blocking the Corridor (Bolotnaya Square Trial), 2014

Zlata Ponirovskaya and I run the web site Drawing the Court, an archive of drawings from political trials and informative texts about these cases.

There are other grassroots initiatives involving drawing. The Women’s Crisis Center in Petersburg, for example, has begun engaging female artists to document court hearings on cases of domestic and sexual violence against its clients.

In Germany, Belarusian artist Marina Naprushkina sketches court hearings in the cases of asylum seekers from different countries, archiving them on the web site Refugees’ Library. Although her project only partly involves Russia (many of the refugees are from Chechnya and Dagestan), I cannot pass up this happy synthesis of socially engaged drawing and human rights work in my overview.

“I put together notebooks at the hearings, which people then translate into different languages. Having the web site function as an informational platform for refugees themselves is our main objective. The refugees are often not ready for the hearings: they don’t know they go, and what they should expect there. The notebooks are already read in many countries around the world,” says Naprushkina.

Like court sketches, graphic art produced for rallies has to make a clear, emotional statement. Many activist artists have been involved in making placards for opposition rallies and even helping to design the look of whole columns.  For example, at a 2012 rally in support of the Bolotnaya Square defendants, the Left Front’s column marched with portraits of the political prisoners drawn by artist Nikolay Oleynikov. In 2014, Oleynikov also organized an Anti-Fascist Creative Workshop at which he helped activists collectively produce placards for the annual Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova memorial rally on January 19. Portraits graced most of the placards at the rally.

lomasko-soc-9Anti-Fascist Creative Workshop. Photo by Vasily Petrov

However, portraits of political activists belong more to the realm of political art than to graphic art focused on social issues. It would also be a stretch to include the numerous examples of graphic art that appeared at protest rallies in 2012 and 2013 in this body of work. The main subjects were criticism of Putin and support for Pussy Riot: I don’t remember seeing placards dealing with societal problems there.

The works of Petersburg artist Yelena Osipova are outstanding in this regard. Even before the upsurge of protests in 2012, Osipova had been attending rallies and solo pickets with large, hand-drawn placards that took on such topics as the demolition of historic buildings, tuberculosis, everyday racism, children involved in the drug trade, and the murders of journalists.

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Yelena Osipova, Don’t Believe in the Justice of War, March 2014. Photo by Asya Khodyreva

Osipova illuminates even the war in Ukraine from a social angle. Such posters of hers as Don’t Go to War, Sonny and Stop the War, Mothers and Wives, and her large-format colored placard Don’t Believe in the Justice of War treat war not as an abstract evil but as the personal tragedy of women who have lost sons and husbands.

City walls are another good place for socially engaged graphic art. Over the past two years, the Petersburg group Gandhi has become a notable presence in socially engaged street art. Most often, the group makes large stencils in a laconic, poster-like style, for example, its series depicting female migrants or its latest work, a fresco on the fence of the Social Adaptation Center for the Homeless in Moscow.

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Stencils made by the group Gandhi for the Solidarity Art Festival, 2014. Photo by Anton Androsov

Gandhi has made one of the few statements by Russian artists on the war in Ukraine. At the Street Art Museum in Petersburg, they produced a fresco entitled Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, explaining it as follows: “We see and hear what is happening—a war that has not been formally declared but which is permanently conducted on the external and internal fronts. […] Our subject is a woman holding a Molotov cocktail. Glowing inside her is an infant soldier, doomed to fight for the money and power of strangers. The woman has chosen to rebel, knowing that if she fails, her child will himself, in the future, go after her with a gun.”

lomasko-soc-12Gandhi, Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, 2014. Photo taken from the group’s Facebook page

Samizdat has always been a means of spreading leftist ideas. Graphic artists have been actively collaborating with such independent publications in Russia.

The newspaper Chto Delat has been published for many years by an eponymous group of leftist artists, philosophers, writers, researchers, and activists. Back issues of the paper are accessible on their web site.  The newspaper is filled with graphic art. These are not illustrations, however, but series of works by artists, linked to the articles by a common theme.

Lots of graphic art is printed in the anarchist newspaper Volya (Liberty).

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Anarchist newspaper Volya

The 2013 International Women’s Day issue of Volya, featuring the works of feminist artists, was especially interesting visually. Such a variety of genres—posters, stencils, comics, graphic reportage, logos, and cover art—cannot be found in the official press.

Feminist zines are gradually emerging in Russia. In 2013, the first issue of Molota ved’m (Malleus Maleficarum) was published.

In the next few days, the first issue of the queer feminist zine Naglaya rvanina (Insolent Gash) will be released.

lomasko-soc-14Spread from queer feminist zine Naglaya rvanina, 2014

I am particularly interested in how socially engaged graphic art can become a part of human rights work and educational projects. Since 2010, I have worked as a volunteer with the Center for Prison Reform, participating in art trips to juvenile prisons. My project Drawing Lessons is part of the Center’s human rights and educational program. The project includes summaries of lessons specifically designed for juvenile prisons, drawings made by the inmates during these lessons, my own sketches in the prisons, and various samizdat (calendars, postcards, and brochures).

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Calendar for the Novy Oskol Prison for Girls, 2012

I have posted most of the material from Drawing Lessons on my blog.

Another example is the Nasreddin Hodja Joke Contest, a project by Petersburg artist Olga Jitlina. Every week for several months, Jitlina organized informal meetings with migrants at teahouses, cafes, and other places.  Over cups of tea, participants analyzed the kinds of ethnic discrimination experienced by migrants in Russia and came up with succinct, witty responses that would put their offenders in their place without inciting them to violence. Artist Anna Tereshkina drew comics for the project about the modern-day Nasreddin and his fictional sister Dilfuza, who find themselves in typical conflicts in Russia. The speech balloons were left either entirely blank or only the lines of the victimizers were filled in. The migrants themselves came up with Nasreddin and Dilfuza’s rejoinders, and the wittiest lines were incorporated into the comics.

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Olga Jitlina meeting with Nasreddin Hodja Joke Contest participants at a Petersburg teahouse, 2014. Photo by Victoria Lomasko

I hope even this fragmentary overview of Russian socially engaged graphic art gives some idea of its variety, especially in comparison with the situation in the 2000s. However, due to the tightening of censorship, the range of topics on which one can speak publicly without fear of incurring fines, criminal penalties or some other form of pressure from the government has begun to shrink rapidly.

Even worse than official censorship is the internal censorship practiced by the organizers of socially engaged projects.  For example, I was asked to leave in the pitiful stories of migrants in a graphic reportage I was doing while removing everything about the perpetrators of their misadventures—Russian police officers, judges, and officials who abuse their power. Such decisions are explained by the fact that castrated socially engaged works are “better than nothing.” As a result, instead of analyzing phenomena in their entirety, they once again leave viewers and readers with distorted images.

Artists reacted to events in political and public life in 2012 and 2013 with a flood of works. Many of them were superficial and lacking in professionalism, but this was made up for by the urgency and timeliness of their topics. Now we will have to react less and reflect more. In principle, any social topic can be used to reveal Russian society’s fundamental evil: our total alienation from each other and disrespect. And for the most radical works there are still the social networks, the streets, and samizdat.

Victoria Lomasko: A Village School in Russia

A Village School
Victoria Lomasko
May 19, 2013
soglyadatay.livejournal.com

school-1
This is the school in the tiny village of Nikolskoye. You can get to the village by bus from Tula: the trip takes an hour and a half. There is no public transportation between Nikolskoye and the nearest large village, Krapivna, and the district center of Shchyokino. The locals rarely leave the village.

school-2 Zoya Nikolayevna: “In four years, we’ve turned it into a normal school.” Sergei Alexandrovich: “The parents now see their children as human beings.”

This is the school’s director Zoya Nikolayevna and her husband Sergei Alexandrovich, a teacher and the school caretaker. They live in Krapivna, and until 2008 they worked at the Krapivna boarding school for orphans and sick children. When the boarding school closed, Zoya Nikolayevna, Sergei Alexandrovich, and a team of Krapivna teachers transferred to the Nikolskoye School.

Around eight in the morning, the couple leaves for work by car. The trip takes them through hills, a forest, and fields.

school-3 “It’s been flooded for a month.”

The road from Krapivna to Nikolskoye crosses the river Upa. In the spring, the Upa floods, completely covering the bridge. During the floods, the Emergency Situations Ministry organizes passage across the river. Previously people were ferried on a military amphibious vehicle, which resembles a tank without a gun. Now they are ferried in a small motorboat. The motor constantly stalls, and an ESM guy has to row all day from shore to shore, battling the strong current.

“There is no spare motor, mooring or field kitchen,” the ESM guy complained as he plied the oars, “but the brass flies in an expensive helicopter and shoots everything on an expensive screen.”

 The teachers from Krapivna make the crossing twice a day.

 school-4

Teacher: “Children calculate on their telephones. They have no use for mathematics.”

There are twenty-three pupils and ten teachers at the Nikolskoye School. There are four pupils in the biggest class, and one in the smallest.

Several pupils commute from the neighboring villages, where there are no schools. In summer, they come on bicycles; in winter, they go on foot. When the roads are drifted over with snow, and the local authorities have not had time to clear them, they stay at home.

The school in the neighboring village of Kuzmino remained open for a long time with five pupils. There were more teachers than pupils.

If there is no school, a village is doomed, the teachers say.

school-5

By comparison, there are no fewer than twenty pupils in each grade at the Krapivna village school, and a total of 226 pupils in all.

There are classes in which half the pupils are children of migrants. Families from Dagestan are moving to Krapivna in large numbers and buying homes. Migrants from Central Asia settle in hostels on the outskirts of Krapivna. They work in gardens and storage facilities.

In the class depicted in the drawing, above, there were two pupils who were Uzbeks, a Tajik, a Lezghin, and an Azerbaijani.

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The children get along with each other.

“They’re all local kids to me. We have a friendship of peoples here,” said the teacher smiling.

But there are problems, too. Not all the children of migrants speak Russian passably. Not all the children are sent to school on time. For example, the Tajik boy was three heads taller than the other pupils. It turned out he had been enrolled in the first grade at the age of ten.

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Teacher: “Is ‘Moscow’ a person’s name or a place name?” First-grader Sasha: “It’s a street.”

For now, there are only ethnic Russian children at the Nikolskoye School—no migrants.

The village has a single employer, Nikolai Kurkov, former chairman of the Lenin Komsomol State Farm and now the owner of two farms, a grove, and a dairy.

The parents of the pupils at the Nikolskoye School either work for Kurkov or have moved to Shchyokino or Tula, leaving their kids with their grandmothers.

The kindergarten closed back in the 1990s and, unless their grandmothers raise them, the children turn into rural Mowglis.

There are two pupils in the first grade, but the teacher has a hard time coping with them.

“At the beginning of the school year, they ran around the classroom during lessons and screamed,” she recounts.

It would be unprofitable to open a private kindergarten in the village: Nikolskoye residents would not be able to pay more than a thousand rubles a month (approx. twenty euros) per head to send their kids there.

school-8

The village school lacks a gym and a cafeteria. A kitchen has been set up behind the bookshelf in the most spacious classroom. The tables there are laid when the children have lunch.

They are fed buckwheat kasha, macaroni, and rice with gravy, sausages or hamburger patties, and a delicious compote. The grandmother of one of the students, a former employee of Kurkov’s dairy, works as the cook.

A chauffeur drives the village’s “gilded youth,” Kurkov’s numerous grandchildren, to a more comfortable school in the district center.

 school-9

Chorus on stage: “These are the victims who have come to life from the ashes and risen once again, and risen once again!”

On May 9 (Victory Day), the pupils at the Nikolskoye School put on a holiday concert under the direction of the music and physical education teacher. Guests arrived: two war veterans, who had got tipsy for the occasion; two female graduates of the school; three old women; and an elderly former teacher who cried throughout the concert.

The upperclassmen have been touched by the events of the Great Patriotic War (World War Two). Many of their grandparents had told them how the fascists marched through Nikolskoye when they were children. But other events of Russian history are dry, boring texts in textbooks to the kids.

The first-graders do not know the name of our country’s capital.

“Well, and what of it?” winces their teacher, who believes Moscow is a big dump.

Indeed, what of it? Moscow residents are also uninterested in the life and death of lost villages like Nikolskoye.

school-10

__________

Recent publications in English by and about Victoria Lomasko:

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Victoria Lomasko (right) teaching an art workshop at the girl’s juvenile correctional facility in Novooskolskaya, September 2014