Looking for Ecuador

I was walking down Dostoevsky Street when a middle-aged dame jumped right at me from out of Candle Lane and screamed, “What an obnoxious street, solid zigzags! There’s no way I can find the right address!”

Somewhat blown away by the notion of a “zigzag street” in Petersburg, I asked what street she needed.

Razyezzhaya, 12. Ecuador is there too.”

“Ecuador!?” I repeated, even more flabbergasted.

“Well, yeah.”

“Razyezzhaya is over there,” I said, pointing up ahead. “You haven’t reached it yet, but you’re blaming the zigzags, although you can actually break your leg here in South America.”

The woman looked at me unkindly, and quickened her pace. I caught up with her at the intersection of Dostoevsky and Razyezzhaya. She was pestering a young fellow about which way Number 12 was even as she stood right under a sign that showed the range of house numbers on that block. The young man was in fact trying to point the sign out to her.

Then she saw me and charged off in the right direction, gesticulating and repeating, “One moron after another.” And I, waving at her as she walked away, suddenly realized that she had meant Aquaphor, [a water filter store] in the consumer services center on the corner of Razyezzhaya and Bolshaya Moskovskaya, not Ecuador.

Source: Marina Varchenko (Facebook), 3 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Serving Russia is real work: voluntary service in the armed forces”: a recruitment ad outside Yamskoi Market in downtown Petersburg. Photo by Marina Varchenko, who captioned it on Facebook as follows: “The horrors of our little town.”

Source: Marina Varchenko (Facebook), 19 March 2023


Today I wound up in the Metropolitan Garden at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Even though it’s March, the weather was wintry: sunny, frosty, pretty clouds in a blue sky, birds chirping. It was fine. I wandered around, taking pictures (which I’ll show you later). A fairly young lady came towards me and looked at me and my camera.

“What is there to shoot here?” she said. “Go to Kazakhstan, to such and such city”—I’ve forgotten the name—”there is definitely something to shoot there.”

I was so taken aback that I said nothing in reply, which is strange for me in such circumstances.

Okay, whatever: I’d had my little walk. As I was leaving the garden I saw a twenty-something kid begging pitifully and mournfully for money to buy food. When someone gave him ten rubles, he would ask for twenty. When someone gave him twenty, he would ask for forty. When I handed him a 100-ruble bill, he asked for 200 — so insistently that I decided I wouldn’t give more. So he shouted, “That’s something, at least” at me as I walked away, his voice dripping with mockery. Okay, the day was getting interesting.

I wanted to go to the Fontanka, but I was tired already. I decided to take a bus down Nevsky several stops. The bus was packed. I was shoved up against some old biddy, who immediately asked, “Is this where I get off for the Interior Ministry House of Culture?” That was when I let loose about culture, and the Interior Ministry, and everything else. The passengers responded aggressively. Basically, I didn’t make it to the Fontankа — I got off earlier. Otherwise, I would have risked being charged with defamation.

I walked the rest of the way to the Fontanka. The sun was shining, and it was beautiful. I began to calm down. I saw a decent-looking dude, opposite the Mayakovsky Library, doing number one right into the Fontanka. People were walking by him, trying not to notice. I decided to walk on by too: otherwise, I would have got carried away again. As I walked by I was thinking about culture, of course.

I turned onto Lomonosov Street, then onto Razyezzhaya. Seeing a young woman coming toward me, I tensed up in advance. “Where is Dostoevsky Street, 12?” she asked.

“I don’t know where Number 12 is exactly, but it’s somewhere nearby. But you have just passed Dostoevsky Street, you need to turn around and go back,” I said to her, pointing with my hand.

I went on, but the girl stared at her smartphone. And don’t you know, she took off away from Dostoevsky, not toward it.

Since I was freaking out big-time as it was, I went into a store, hoping that nothing would happen at the final frontier before home. And everything did go well, but while I was unloading my groceries at the checkout, the cashier lady was possessed to congratulate me on the upcoming holiday [International Women’s Day], and I was likewise possessed to reply that I didn’t celebrate communist holidays. In a nutshell, I walked out (ran out) of the store as old women and not only old women screamed at me that they had lived well under the Communists, but “liberasts” like me had ruined everything. Yes, sir, it wasn’t a good day.

Source: Marina Varchenko (Facebook), 7 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Their Logic Suggests It’s Immoral to Have an Opinion”

A snapshot of the “voluntary” resignation letter Vitaly Blazhevich was forced to submit on February 17, 2023.
Thanks for his kind permission to publish it here.

The Far Eastern Institute of Management, a branch of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), has asked Vitaly Blazhevich, a lecturer at the institute, to resign. He spoke about the incident with Sibir.Realii.

The firing was occasioned by a comment that Blazhevich had made to Radio Svoboda. He had said that the residents of Khabarovsk Territory who had supported its former governor, Sergei Furgal, had thus given a vote of no confidence to President Vladimir Putin. Blazhevich was forced to “voluntarily” resign from the institute.

Blazhevich’s comment concerned the plight of Furgal, in which connection he touched on the attitude of residents of Khabarovsk Territory toward Putin.

“Khabarovsk residents said quite clearly — also, by the way, in the midst of a crackdown by the authorities — that they had lost confidence in Putin specifically. When Putin withdrew his support from Furgal, Khabarovsk residents said loudly and clearly at one of the largest rallies that from now on, we have no confidence in Putin. That is the genuine law that people passed,” Blazhevich said at the time.

The lecturer was summoned to the office of Oleg Kulikov, the institute’s deputy director for organizational matters and digitization. It was Blazhevich’s remarks about Putin that had caused Kulikov’s concern. One of his arguments was that RANEPA had been established by the President of Russia. (The decree establishing the university was signed in 2010 by then President Dmitry Medvedev.)

Blazhevich was informed that the complaint about his comments to Radio Svoboda had come from the so-called Regional Management Center, which is engaged in “collecting, analyzing and processing complaints and reports from the populace.”

According to Blazhevich, he was threatened that if the complaint made it to the police, an administrative case against him could be opened. In addition to the police, Blazhevich was threatened with dismissal under labor law for “immoral behavior.”

“We are university lecturers: we have no right to speak badly about the president,” the institute’s deputy director told him.

“Their logic suggests it’s immoral to have an opinion,” remarked Blazhevich. He added that he had not discussed politics with colleagues or students during working hours, and that there had been no complaints about his academic performance. He thus does not believe that the denunciation originated within the university.


After Sergei Furgal, the former governor of Khabarovsk Territory, was arrested in the summer of 2020, numerous protest rallies took place in Khabarovsk in support of the politician over the course of the next several months. On February 10 of this year, the Moscow Regional Court sentenced Furgal to twenty-two years in a maximum security penal colony, finding him guilty of organizing assassination attempts on three business competitors.

Source: “University lecturer in Khabarovsk fired for remarks about Putin,” Radio Svoboda, 13 February 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader

If you didn’t get enough brains when they were handing them out, you can only learn to tell good from evil the hard way. The process is quite long and painful. It is very, very scary to stop being the consenting majority. It is very, very scary to discover you’re having the “wrong” thoughts without nipping them in the bud. It takes a lot of courage to go through withdrawal when your whole body wants another dose of what it’s used to: it’s like quitting smoking or drinking. When you get free of it you’re left one on one with the whole world until you get washed up on some other shore. I’m not making excuses for anyone. I’m just trying on someone else’s shoes.

Source: Marina Varchenko (Facebook), 15 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader

A former governor from Russia’s Far East has been sentenced to 22 years in jail for murder and attempted murder in a controversial court case in Moscow.

Sergei Furgal insists he is innocent and says the trial against him was motivated by politics.

He was elected governor of Khabarovsk region in 2018, unexpectedly beating the Kremlin’s preferred candidate.

His detention in July 2020 caused widespread anger among locals.

The judge in Luberetsky Court near the capital ruled that Furgal, 52, must serve his sentence in a high-security prison after a jury found him guilty on two charges of murder and one of attempted murder.

The killings, said the prosecution, were linked to rivalry between Furgal and other businessmen in 2004 and 2005.

The ex-governor — who won office as a candidate for the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) — struggled to contain his emotions in the courtroom after the sentence was read out, shouting “Do you have no shame?” at the judge. His lawyers say they will appeal.

When he was first arrested, residents in the city of Khabarovsk took to the streets in huge numbers — some estimates put the figure as high as 50,000. Such demonstrations are rare in Russia and took the Kremlin by surprise.

Furgal’s supporters claimed that the criminal case against him was politically motivated — punishment for daring to beat the Kremlin’s candidate in elections.

Experts say his landslide victory was the result of a massive anti-Moscow vote. As governor, he was tough-talking, and some say more popular even than President Vladimir Putin.

Contract killings of business rivals were common in Russia, especially in the 1990s and the early 2000s, when Furgal was a successful businessman.

However, the case is more likely to be linked to his unique position — as a popular local politician who didn’t show absolute loyalty to the Kremlin.

“Furgal may well have been involved in shadowy business in the past, but so too were many of the other regional leaders whom Putin has been happy to support,” Russia expert Mark Galeotti told the BBC. “It seems clear that this was essentially a political move: once the Kremlin decided Furgal had to go, they looked for whatever excuse they could use.”

The Khabarovsk protest movement in 2020 was unusual for two reasons. Firstly, it was grassroots-based: meaning the authorities could not simply arrest the ringleaders.

Secondly, it was focused on a single local issue — the arrest of the governor — making it very difficult for the Kremlin to pin the blame on the West or on “foreign forces” — as is the usual tactic.

But in the weeks that followed, arrests were made, and the demonstrators were eventually silenced or pushed off the streets.

President Putin appointed a new governor, Mikhail Degtyaryov, who also represents the LDPR. Mr. Degtyarov, though, is a Kremlin loyalist and recently became a vocal supporter of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Source: Will Vernon, “Sergei Furgal: Former Russian regional governor jailed in murder cases,” BBC News, 10 February 2023

“Prophecies about Ukraine”

The books on display, from left to right, are: I.A. Ivanova, “Yevgenia Negina: A Novel in Verse”; Klementina Bove, “Is That Really the Same Tatiana? (A Novel)”; A.S. Pushkin, “Yevgeny Onegin: A Graphic Guide”; I.V. Stalin, “Prophecies about Ukraine”

A textbook and resource guide store for school teachers, Lomonosov Street, Petersburg, today.

Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 21 October 2022. Remarking on this post, “Marina Marina” wrote: “I got into a fight with a history teacher from Russia in the comments [to another social media post]. She doesn’t see any historical parallels at all. And she says that it was the Americans who made up the history of Ukraine. And that what she teaches there at home is the only truth in the world.” Translated by the Russian Reader