Dmitry Lyamin: Hero of the Resistance

Dmitry Lyamin’s headshot from Odnoklassniki.ru (“Classmates.ru”

If there is an actual “Russian anti-war movement,” this is what it looks like: Dmitry Lyamin, accused of torching a military conscription office in Shuya, the third largest town in the Ivanovo Region. Lyamin has been transferred from Ivanovo to the notorious Butyrka remand prison in Moscow, allegedly, so that he can undergo a psychiatric examination at the equally notorious Serbsky Institute. According to former political prisoner Ivan Astashin, who now spends all his waking hours helping the new wave of political prisoners in Russia and publicizing their cases, there are rumors among the legal community that the criminal charge Lyamin faces will be changed from “destruction of property” (Article 167 in the Russian Federal Criminal Code) to “terrorist act” (Article 205), a much more serious charge that carries a penalty of up to twenty years in prison.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 29 June 2022

Yelena Osipova: “May Your Sails Be White, Not Red with Blood”

The Petersburg artist and activist Yelena Osipova created a placard for this past weekend’s Crimson Sails celebrations (for newly minted high school graduates/school leavers) and stood with it on Malaya Sadovaya, a pedestrian street in downtown Petersburg. Her placard read, “May your sails be white, not red with blood. Make the world good!” Photos courtesy of Irina Bogdanovskaya, as posted on the public Facebook page Yelena Andreyeevna Osipova. Artist. Citizen

Opportunism and Quietism Are the Watchwords

There is the strange assumption that Russians would be hotly and much more numerously discussing the war on social media and in public were it not for censorship, surveillance, and the draconian new laws on “discrediting” the Russian armed forces, etc. But this assumption, when it is made by outsiders, is based on the belief that the Russian public’s engagement with important political matters and social issues was palpably greater before the war.

It wasn’t that much greater, in fact, as evidenced, among other things, by the fact that what political ferment there was on Russophone social media in recent times often as not had to do with hot-button events in “the west,” such as George Floyd/Black Lives Matter and Trump’s failed coup. And even then these discussions revealed a broad ignorance (and hatred) of politics in non-authoritarian countries and the extreme rightwing sympathies of the Russian “liberal” intelligentsia.

It is not repression and “fascism” that are the real or the only obstacles to democratic, anti-authoritarian grassroots political movements in Russia, but quietism (to use the polite term) and opportunism, which will ultimately nullify all attempts, I’m afraid, to create meaningful anti-war movements, “united fronts,” and so forth at home and abroad.

In that sense, there’s almost no reason for outsiders to get excited by any of the various “projects,” “movements,” zingy new websites, etc., that the opposition in exile, aided by much braver but usually anonymous comrades at home, have been throwing up rapidly and carelessly since February. Most of them will have vanished just as quickly (quietly, without a trace) by year’s end, if not sooner.

Much less should outsiders pay too much mind to the attempts by the newly minted diaspora to get their pretty mugs and their sentiments broadcast to the world via such respectable outlets as the New Yorker and the New York Times, thus making themselves the heroes and heroines of the story instead of Ukrainians. They just cashing in their more considerable reserves of media, cultural and intellectual capital to right their momentarily capsized boats and advance their own fortunes, not pausing for a second to think how this naked opportunism looks to their former Ukrainian “sisters” and “brothers,” who for various reasons have much less of this capital. ||| TRR


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

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

“I demand an immediate cessation of all hostilities and an international investigation of all crimes committed. […] I call on all Russians to fight for their rights and against the dictatorship, and do everything to stop this monstrous [war],” a young woman named Victoria Petrova says confidently and clearly on the screen in courtroom 36 at the St. Petersburg City Court. The members of the public attending the hearing — they are thirty-three of them — applaud.

A month ago, Petrova was an “ordinary person,” a manager in a small family-owned company. Now she is a defendant in a criminal case, charged with disseminating “fake news about the army,” and has been remanded in custody in the so-called Arsenalka, the women’s pretrial detention center on Arsenalnaya Street in Petersburg. The case against her was launched after she posted an anti-war message on the Russian social media network VKontakte. If convicted, she could face up to ten years in prison. In the following article, The Village explains how, thanks to Petrova’s lawyer, the case of this unknown “ordinary person” has resonated with the public, why Petrova’s mother is not allowed to visit her, and what the prisoner herself has to say.

The Case

On the sixth of May, at seven in the morning, Center “E” and SOBR officers came to Petrova’s rented apartment on Butlerov Street with a search warrant. They seized phones, laptops, and seven placards on the spot. The next day, the Kalinin District Court remanded Petrova in custody in Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 for a month and twenty-five days.

“The investigator said that, if he had his way, he would have released Vika on his own recognizance. But he was instructed to petition the court to place her under arrest,” Anastasia Pilipenko, Petrova’s lawyer, told The Village.

A case was opened against Petrova under the new criminal article on “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” According to the new law, any information on the so-called special operation in Ukraine that does not come from official Russian sources can be deemed “fake.” In Petrova’s case, the grounds for the criminal charges were a post on VKontakte, dated 23 March 2022, and the nine videos that she attached to it, featuring journalists Dmitry Gordon and Alexander Nevzorov, and grassroots activist and blogger Maxim Katz.


Who else has been arrested in Petersburg on criminal charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army?

Sasha Skochilenko
artist, musician

Olga Smirnova
activist

Maria Ponomarenko
journalist (she has been transferred to Barnaul)

Boris Romanov
activist

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


Nearly 32,000 Victoria Petrovas are registered on VKontakte, and more than 1,800 of them live in Petersburg. The Victoria Petrova in question is depicted on her VKontakte pages as a woman wearing a light beanie, glasses, and makeup in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. She has 247 friends and eighty-nine followers.

Her post dated March 23 was deleted by VKontakte at the request of Roskomnadzor two days after it was published. But she made other anti-war posts, in which, among other things, Petrova recounts how she was jailed for ten days for taking part in a protest at Gostiny Dvor. In total, since the start of the “special operation,” she was detained twice on administrative charges.

When Center “E” [Center for Extremism Prevention] and SOBR [Special Rapid Deployment Force] came for Petrova on May 6, she thought at first that she would be charged once more under the Administrative Offenses Code. Realizing that now it was a matter for the Criminal Code, Petrova wrote her mother a detailed note explaining what to do with her apartment and her cat, and what things to send to the pretrial detention center, said Petrova’s attorney Pilipenko.

Pilipenko is now the only link between Petrova and the world: no one is allowed to see the prisoner except the lawyer.

The Lawyer

Pilipenko’s mother has her birthday on February 24. On the evening of the 24th this year, she and her daughter were going to drink tea and eat cake. But [the war] started early that morning.

“People who are also opposed to [the war] are taking to the streets. The police are putting them in paddy wagons. They face fines and arrests. Cake is canceled — I have work to do […] I am spending the night at a police station,” the lawyer wrote in her Telegram channel. She spent a month and a half working this way.

Pilipenko is thirty-five years old. She graduated from the Northwestern Branch of the Russian State University of Justice. For a year she worked as a clerk in the Leningrad Regional Court. “It was like going into the army,” she says. Usually clerks eventually become judges, but Pilipenko first became a lecturer, then a barrister. “I would never have become a judge, I would not have been able to make decisions that changed people’s lives,” she says.

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

“But it happens that you can get a case dropped at the investigation stage. Or get the charges reduced to less serious ones. By today’s standards, that is tantamount to success for a defense lawyer,” says Pilipenko.

Pilipenko was not acquainted with Petrova until May 6, when the woman’s apartment was searched. The lawyer was asked to take the case by the Net Freedoms Project. The case is being handled by the Russian Investigative Committee’s central office.

“This means that there is no one investigator, that the entire investigative department is working on the case,” Pilipenko explains.

It was the lawyer who drew public attention to Petrova’s case by writing the following on May 11 on social media:

“Vika is an ordinary young woman. […] She has an ordinary life, goes to an ordinary gym, and has an ordinary cat. She has an ordinary job in an unremarkable company. […] Perhaps the only unusual thing about Vika’s case so far is just her ordinariness. She’s just like us. She’s not an activist, not a journalist, and not the voice of a generation.”

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

Vika

Victoria Petrova is twenty-eight years old. She was born in Petersburg, where she graduated from St. Petersburg State University’s Higher School of Management.

“Vika had a long braid, was very serious, gave the impression of an intelligent person, and got good grades. Intuitively, I feel that Vika is childish in a good sense, unspoiled,” Sofia, a classmate of Victoria Petrova’s, told The Village.

Another friend from school, Daria, in a comment to Mediazona, described Vika as a “born A student,” a “battler in life,” and a person who “was the most organized of all.”

“And her heart always aches over any injustice,” Daria said.

Pilipenko says that Petrova is “a very calm and organized person.”

“I was amazed by this at [the May 7 bail] hearing. People behave differently when they are arrested for the first time. Vika behaved with great dignity,” Pilipenko says.

Before her arrest, Petrova lived alone with her cat Marusya. The animal is now living with the heroine’s mother, while Maruysa’s owner is now at Pretrial Detention Center No. 5.

The Arsenalka. Photo courtesy of Russian Behind Bars Prison Consultant

Arsenalka

Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 is located on Arsenalnaya Street, which is a deserted place dotted with small manufacturing facilities and the premises of the shuttered Krasnyi Vyborzhets plant, which was going to be redeveloped as a housing estate. A banner sporting the prison’s name and an image of the Bronze Horseman is stretched above the entrance to the Arsenalka. From the street side, the complex consists of a typical rhombus-shaped concrete fence, reinforced with mesh and barbed wire. A tower sheathed in corrugated iron juts out above it. On the right, behind an old brick wall, there is a a building in the shape of a cross — a psychiatric hospital “for persons who have committed socially dangerous acts in a state of insanity.” The old Crosses Prison itself, a remand prison for men, is about a kilometer away. Five years ago, all the prisoners were transferred from there to a new facility in Kolpino. The women remained in the pre-revolutionary red-brick Arsenalka complex.

Businesswoman Natalia Verkhova has described life at Pretrial Detention Center No. 5.

“The meter-thick walls and the thick iron doors outfitted with peepholes and bolts. The mattresses a couple of centimeters thick. The prison-baked loaves of bread, often burnt. The broken toilets. The concrete floors in basements where the ladies wait for many hours to be shipped out [to interrogations, court hearings, and other prisons]. The queues at the care packages office and for visiting inmates. The duffel bags chockablock with romance novels in the corridors.”

Former inmate Elizaveta Ivanchikova describes the largest cell in the Arsenalka (for eighteen inmates), to which Petrova, like all newcomers, was first assigned.

“There were nine bunk beds in [the cell]. There were bedside tables next to the beds. In the middle of the cell there was a large iron table with wooden benches. All of this was bolted to the floor. There was also a refrigerator, a TV, a sink next to the toilet, and the toilet itself, behind an ordinary door, without a lock.”

Pilipenko says that Channel One is constantly turned on in this cell and there are many unspoken rules for maintaining cleanliness.

“For example, you can only comb your hair in one place, because if eighteen ladies do it in different places, the hair would be everywhere,” says Pilipenko.

A head inmate keeps order, and at first Vika did not get on well with her. The head inmate did not like that the new girl did not know how to behave in the detention center.

“For example, when the guards come to toss the cell, you need to stand up and lock your hands behind your back,” says Pilipenko.

The conflicts were quickly settled, however, and Petrova was subsequently transferred to another cell.

This, according to Pilipenko, was preceded by an incident in the second part of May, during which plaster fell directly on the imprisoned women.

“Vika said that the girls were sitting and drinking tea when part of the ceiling collapsed on the table. Vika was not injured, but one inmate suffered bruises,” Pilipenko says.

The Telegram channel Free Sasha Skochilenko! reported that the plaster collapsed due to severe leaks: “The residents of the cell gathered the pieces of the ceiling, the largest of which weighed about three kilograms. The pieces were wrapped in sheets and the floor was swept.”

Petrova is currently in a cell for six inmates. During their last visit, when Pilipenko asked her how she was doing, Petrova replied, “You know, okay.” Petrova was surprised by her own answer.

“The letters she receives play a big role. Without them, she would not have any way to keep herself busy. This is the biggest problem in remand prison,” says Pilipenko.

The Letters

Petrova has received hundreds of letters, mostly from strangers, including from other countries. Petrova has told Pilipenko that she received a letter from a person who works in management at VKontakte. “He is upset that the social network played a role in my criminal case,” she told her.

“Vika definitely replies to all the letters. Except for those whose senders marked them with Z-symbols,” Pilipenko promises.

Petrova can correspond with other “ordinary people,” but it seems she cannot correspond with journalists. The Village sent her questions through her lawyer, but the sheet of paper with the answers was confiscated from Petrova right in her cell. Our correspondent then wrote to Petrova through the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s online FSIN-Pismo system. All three attempts that the The Village made to communicate with Petrova were not approved by the censor, and the negative responses came within a few hours, although the standard processing time is three days. Then, on the advice of Petrova’s lawyer, our correspondent sent all the same questions via FSIN-Pismo, but did not indicate that they were from the media. On the day this article went to press they were delivered to Petrova, but there has been no response from her yet. According to our information, other journalists have also failed to make contact with Petrova.

Petrova’s mother is also not allowed to see her daughter. According to the lawyer, one of the investigators said that “permission to meet with Mom will depend on the results of Vika’s interrogation as the accused party.” The investigators want Petrova to admit wrongdoing.

The Hearing

Victoria’s mother Marina Petrova lives in a three-room flat on Lunacharsky Avenue. Pilipenko filed an appeal against the order to remand her client in custody, hoping that “on grounds of reasonableness, legality, and humaneness” Petrova would be transferred to house arrest at her mother’s residence.

On the eighth of June, a hearing on the matter was held in the City Court. During the hearing, Pilipenko stated that her client was “actually being persecuted for voicing her opinion about the special military operation.” She also said that Petrova does not have a international travel passport and presents no flight risk, that there are no victims or witnesses in the case [whom the defendant theoretically thus might attempt to pressure or intimidate if she were at liberty], and that she had been charged with a nonviolent offense.

The defendant participated in the court hearing via video link from the Arsenalka. In her seven-minute closing statement, she explained what, in her opinion, had been happening for the last three and a half months in Ukraine.

Among other things, she said, “As a result of eight years of brainwashing by propaganda, Russians for the most part did not understand that [a war] had begun. Meanwhile, the completely immoral Z movement, ‘zedification,’ has been spreading across the country that once defeated Nazism. […] I do not feel any ideological, political, religious or other enmity towards the state authorities and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation as institutions. In my anti-war posts, I said that people who gave and carried out criminal orders and committed war crimes should be punished for it.”

Judge Tatiana Yaltsevich denied the defense’s appeal. Petrova will remain in jail at least until the end of June.

On the evening of June 8, subscribers to the Telegram channel Free Vika Petrova! were warned that reposting her speech in court “could lead to criminal prosecution” — probably also under the article on “fake news” about the army.

The next day, Petrova commented on her speech to her lawyer.

“She says that since she has already become a political prisoner, she cannot help but use the court hearings as a means to talk about what is happening. She has not remained silent before, and she has even less desire to be silent now that many people will hear what she has to say,” reports Pilipenko.

Source: “‘An ordinary person’: the story of Vika Petrova, who wrote a post on VKontakte and has been charged with spreading ‘fake news,’ but refuses to give up,” The Village, 9 June 2022. Thanks to JG for the story and the heads-up. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell. Ms. Petrova’s support group has a Telegram channel and is circulating an online petition demanding her release.

Primorsky Partisans

Communist Deputy Leonid Vasyukevich’s anti-war speech and the ensuing controversy begins at approximately the 1:59:40 mark in the video, above. The Newsbox.24 dispatch, cited below, contains a different, much shorter video, shot from behind Deputy Vasyukevich while he was reading out his group’s statement. Because it is embedded in a Telegram post I was unable to embed it here. The title of this post refers to the famous group of anti-police guerrillas from the Maritime Territory. || TRR

A group of deputies in the Legislative Assembly of the Maritime Territory [Primorsky Krai] has drafted an appeal to President Vladimir Putin demanding that he stop the so-called special military operation and withdraw troops from Ukrainian territory. The appeal by four deputies from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) was read aloud by Deputy Leonid Vasyukevich at the regional parliament’s [May 27th] session, Newsbox.24 reports.

According to Vasyukevich, given their significant losses, Russian troops would not be able to achieve military success. “We understand that if our country does not stop the military operation, there will be more orphans in our country. Young men who could have been of great benefit to our country have been killed and disabled during the special operation,” the deputy said.

Maritime Territory Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, who was delivering a report on his activities for the past year, demanded that Vasyukevich and Gennady Shulga, who supported his party caucus colleague, be removed from the chamber. “These actions discredit the Russian army and our defenders who stand in the fight against Nazism. [He is] a traitor,” Kommersant quotes Kozhemyako as saying.

Legislative Assembly deputies voted to strip Vasyukevich and Shulga of their right to vote during the session. Anatoly Dolgachev, the head of the Communist Party caucus, called the actions of his fellow party members a “stunt,” and also said that “they defame the honor of the Communist Party with such statements.” He promised to evaluate their actions and take “the toughest measures.”

Maritime Territory Legislative Assembly deputies Leonid Vasyukevich, Gennady Shulga and Natalia Kochugova did not respond to our request for comment as this story went to press. Deputy Alexander Sustov declined to comment.

Source: “A group of KPRF deputies in Primorye speaks out against the war,” Radio Svoboda, 27 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. I translated and published this post before checking to see whether other Anglophone had reported the incident. They have, apparently, including Radio Svoboda’s parent agency, RFE/RL.

“To Become White in the Eyes of Whites”: Astrakhan Kazakhs and the War in Ukraine

Monument to the Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly in Astrakhan. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

According to official statistics, ethnic Kazakhs [so-called Astrakhan Kazakhs] make up 16% of population of the Astrakhan Region. At the same time, 80% of the region’s residents who have been killed in the war in Ukraine and whose deaths have been publicly acknowledged by relatives or the authorities, are members of this particular ethnic group. Idel.Realii talked to several Astrakhan residents to understand why this is the case and what reaction it causes in the local community.

The situation is similar in regions without the status of “republics” — the Astrakhan Region is sending mainly ethnic Kazakhs, not ethnic Russians, to war. According to our figures, the regional and municipal authorities of the Lower Volga have acknowledged, as of today, the deaths of twenty-six natives of the region in the war in Ukraine. Based on the names of the victims and their places of birth, it is possible to say with a high degree of probability that twenty-one of them are ethnic Kazakhs.

Kazakhs are the second largest ethnic group in the Lower Volga after Russians. The 2010 census revealed that around 150 thousand Kazakhs live in the Astrakhan Region. Thus, the ethnic Kazakh population makes up 16% of the region’s residents who indicated their ethnicity. But Kazakhs are in the majority among the acknowledged war dead. Twenty-one out of twenty-six is 80% — that is, the disparity is fivefold.

Fragmentary reports coming from Astrakhan’s rural areas in the early days of the war suggest that the number of the region’s residents killed in Ukraine may be significantly higher than the official data admits. The ethnic imbalance is also noticeable in unconfirmed cases. Reports of war dead appeared mainly in the chats of residents of the Volodarsky District, the only part of the Astrakhan Region where Kazakhs make up the absolute majority of the population.

Idel.Realii talked to several residents of the Astrakhan Region to understand the possible causes of this imbalance and what people in the region think about it. The names of the interviewees have been changed for their safety.

“THE ONLY WAY TO FEED A FAMILY”

“This is not a new story: Kazakhs have always been represented in the uniformed services more than other Astrakhan residents,” says Aisulu from the Volodarsky District. “If you walk around the regional center, you will notice that almost half of the police officers are Kazakh in appearance — which is also much more than the proportion of Kazakhs in the entire population. You see the same picture among contract soldiers in the military.”

She believes that this is due to the fact that Astrakhan Kazakhs have traditionally been settled in small villages in rural areas.

“Many of them are located far from the city. They do not have permanent transport links with the outside world. They are separated from the main roads via one or more ferry crossings,” she says. “There is a high unemployment rate in such areas, and if you have bigger ambitions than working in agriculture, the main ways are rotation work or service in law enforcement and the military. The second option, of course, is regarded as more stable (not to mention respectable), so young guys from villages go en masse into the army and the police. This is often the only way for them to feed their families.”

According Aisulu, Kazakhs also choose to serve in law enforcement and the military more often than ethnic Russians because they have fewer job prospects in large cities: due to xenophobia, many employers prefer to hire a person of Slavic appearance, automatically considering them more competent and presentable. According to Aisulu, this further narrows career choices, motivating Astrakhan Kazakhs to go into voluntary [contract] military service, where ethnicity does not play such a huge role.

“WE DO NOT AND CANNOT HAVE INTERESTS IN UKRAINE”

“In the context of the current war, there may be another factor — ideology. Yes, there are an unusually large number of Kazakhs among Astrakhan military personnel, but they are clearly not the absolute majority. Why do we hear almost only about their deaths? We can assume that the command deliberately sends soldiers of non-Russian appearance to the front line to emphasize the formal justification for the attack on Ukraine: ‘the multi-ethnic people of the Russian Federation’ are fighting ‘fascism,'” says Adilbek, a native of the Narimanov District.

In his opinion, this is ironic.

“This is, allegedly, a campaign by a multi-ethnic people, in which there are Kazakhs, among others, and Putin says, ‘I am Lak, Jewish, Mordvin, Ossetian,’ but this campaign is aimed at expanding the ethnic Russian world and promoting Russian ethnic interests. It has nothing to do with the interests of Laks, Ossetians, or Kazakhs. We do not and cannot have interests in Ukraine at all, we have nothing to do with it. I see a sad irony in this. Russian fascists are waging an aggressive war, leading minorities into battle and taking cover behind fictional anti-fascism. Consequently, our guys are dying for people who actually despise them and are just using them.”

“WE DON’T WANT OUR CHILDREN TO DIE”

Rufina, a relative of an Astrakhan Kazakh who has died in the war in Ukraine, and a native of the Astrakhan Region’s Kamyzyak District, says that many residents of her village have gone to fight. Two other relatives of her parents are currently in Ukraine.

“My mother, grandmother, and other women who remain in the village are rather apolitical people with no coherent system of views. They are, in fact, now opposed to the war, but in their own way: ‘We don;’t want our children to die god knows where and god knows for whom.’ This does not prevent them from chewing out Ukraine and making fun of Zelensky, but they also chew out Putin. The only thing they really want is for all of it to stop and for their children to come home. The men are a little different: my uncle wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a Z, and some people in the village dress up children in these symbols. But I don’t consider this a direct endorsement of the war. In my opinion, their motivation, rather, is just to support their brothers, since they are [in Ukraine],” explains Rufina.

She actively opposes the war and puts up anti-war leaflets in the courtyards of residential areas in Astrakhan, but admits that this stance is not very popular even among her peers — people of high school age.

“Propaganda, unfortunately, does a bang-up job in these parts: many people believe in the ‘special operation’ and despise all Ukrainians. Our Russian-language teacher told us in class about ‘Ukrainian Nazis’ and went to a rally celebrating the ‘reunification’ of Crimea and Russia. I don’t see much opposition from schoolchildren,” says Rufina.

“On the other hand, I met some like-minded women who helped me with leaflets. We made small handwritten posters featuring slogans like ‘Silence is consent,’ ‘No death, no war,’ and ‘Bring flowers, not destruction,’ and pasted them on poles and bulletin boards. They were quickly torn down, however — whether by janitors or ordinary people who didn’t agree with [our message], I don’t know,” says Rufina.

“THE SENSELESSNESS IS STUNNING”

Kanat, who lives in Astrakhan, believes that the region’s residents are gradually losing interest in the events in Ukraine.

“War, like any other topic, cannot grip people’s attention for a long time. During the first month, I heard condemnation and discontent from the people around me and noticed that they were depressed. Now everyone is immersed in their daily problems again,” says Kanat. “There are more of these problems, but for some reason people no longer link them to what the army has been doing at the behest of the authorities. At the same time, it is clear that there is no freedom of speech, there is no criticism of the government and its actions, and we are thinking about how to live with what we have at the moment.”

“A colleague of mine says that when a war is on you must not condemn your country’s army. You can figure things out afterwards, but for now you can only support them. I don’t understand this. If this were a war to defend our own territory, to defend our rights and freedoms, then yes, we could say that, for the moment, we could close our eyes to certain crimes committed by the army or by individuals, and we would get to the bottom of them later. But now the exact opposite — a war of aggression — is happening,” claims Kanat.

According to him, he finds it “strange to see the posthumous medals for Kazakhs.”

“Maybe Kazakhs are not the only soldiers from Astrakhan Region who are getting killed, but I don’t really remember the others, to be honest. The senselessness is stunning. If you believe the rhetoric of the authorities, ethnics Russians are not loved in Ukraine, but ethnic Kazakhs from the Volodarsky District are dying for their interests. But I think that protests in Kazakhstan are more important to them than the rights of Russian-speaking residents of Odesa,” Kanat argues.

“TO BECOME WHITE IN THE EYES OF WHITES”

“Why are Kazakhs and other non-ethnic Russian Russian Federation nationals fighting? I would like to say that it is impossible to explain, but in fact I understand it,” says Rasul, a Kazakhstani national who moved to Russia to study at university. “First of all, these are people from poor regions, for whom the army is a way to move up in life, to become white in the eyes of whites, to become ethnic Russian in the eyes of ethnic Russians, to join something big and supposedly majestic. Secondly, Russian propaganda has this amazing property — it takes all imperial narratives that have existed in this country and fascistizes them to the limit. If you love the Russian Empire, here’s Christ for you. If you love the USSR, here’s the red banner. If you love Russia, here’s the tricolor. Are you a Tuvan who speaks Russian poorly? Here’s the opinion that [Russian defense minister Sergei] Shoigu is the reincarnation of Subutai. Are you a Kadyrovite? Here’s jihad for you. It all affects you, staying somewhere in your head, and when you are sent off to war, you easily find a moral justification for what you are doing.”

Rasul notes that he, perhaps, “would like to denounce ethnic Kazakhs involved in the war, to ‘discharge’ them from the Kazakh people, to say that they are all traitors.”

“From the viewpoint of sharia, they actually are traitors: all muftis, except the pro-Putin ones, have condemned this war. At the Last Judgment, these soldiers will be asked, ‘What did you die for? For Putin and his yacht? Well, then go to hell with them.’ But, to be honest, I feel more sorry for them on the purely human level than for the ethnic Russian guys, because after three years of living in Russia I understood how this propaganda works, how this society as a whole is organized, what the dynamics of interethnic relations are. I myself have many questions for our government, many problems with ethnic Kazakh and Kazakhstani identity, but over these two months I have repeatedly discussed Ukraine with my friends from Kazakhstan — with ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Russians, ethnic Uyghurs, ethnic Dungans, ethnic Germans, and ethnic Poles — and we have always agreed that if Russia invaded us, we would go to war and shoot at the occupiers. We may speak Russian perfectly and have an excellent grasp of Russian literature, but this is our land, and we don’t need any ‘Russian world’ in it,” the Kazakhstani concludes.

Source: Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 18 May 2022. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Vitaly Koltsov

Baza and Mediazona have reported that a man who threw a Molotov cocktail at a riot police bus was detained in downtown Moscow on the evening of May 2. They have published photos from the scene of the incident and the suspect’s arrest.

“A Molotov cocktail flew into a riot police vehicle in the center of Moscow. It all happened not far from the Karl Marx monument on Revolution Square — there are always several police buses there. A man threw a Molotov cocktail and it set fire to one of the paddy wagons. The vehicle was extinguished, and the thrower was detained.” Source: Baza, Telegram, 2 May 2022

A video made by an eyewitness, which Mediazona has at its disposal, made it clear that the front side of the vehicle was charred. The witness specified that the bus “burned for a couple of minutes” before it was extinguished.

The attacker’s motives are unknown, and there was no information about him at the time that the news went to press. In March, a court in Moscow sentenced to two years in prison an anti-war protester who threw a Molotov cocktail at the police: the container did not break, the liquid did not ignite.

Source: Radio Svoboda, 2 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Vitaly Koltsov

A Molotov cocktail thrown at a paddy wagon in Moscow turned out to be an anti-war protest by an alumnus of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Russian State University for the Humanities.

Before the protest, Vitaly Koltsov posted a poem about fiery hearts lighting up the darkness. The man went to throw a Molotov cocktail in the center of the capital dressed in a suit and carrying a suitcase.

“If the day is extinguished forever, / Our glory will not fade / Death is given only once, / Let’s choose it to our liking / So as to see, at the end, / The desert illuminated / By our fiery hearts / By the rising sun,” the man wrote before attacking the paddy wagon.

Vitaly Koltsov is the father of three children and a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He has been charged under Article 317 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (endangering the life of a law enforcement officer). He faces up to twenty years in prison if convicted.

Source: Astra, Telegram, 3 May 2022. Thanks to Marina Ken for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

“I Killed Your Mom”

“I killed your mom”

Anti-war messages painted on depictions of soldier and little girl in Petersburg

In at least two places in Petersburg, someone has made a wall painting depicting a soldier kneeling before girl in pink clothes who is bandaging his hand. The letter Z — a symbol of support for Russia’s military actions in Ukraine — is painted on the soldier’s sleeve.

SOTA noticed that in one of these murals, in the Matveevsky Garden on the Petrograd Side, persons unknown had added a speech bubble so that the soldier says, “I killed your mom.”

A photo of the other depiction was taken at Lanskaya railway station by a female reader of Bumaga. There, the slogan “No war” had been written over the image, while the letter Z had been painted over.

Source: Bumaga, Telegram, 2 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“No war”

Yevgenia Isayeva: “If We Give Up, The Darkness Will Devour Us”

In late March, Petersburg artist Yevgenia Isayeva protested Russia’s war in Ukraine by performing an action entitled “My Heart Is Bleeding”: the young woman stood on the steps of the former City Duma, in the downtown, wearing a “bloody” white dress. The artist was jailed for eight days for her protest. Sever.Realii talked to Isayeva about her arrest and whether people who oppose the war should now leave the country.

Isayeva spread out a canvas on which the following message was written: “I feel that it is pointless to appeal to reason. Therefore, I appeal to your hearts. Women, children, old men and old women are dying every day in Ukraine from bombing, hunger, and the inability to get out from under the rubble or get medicines. Their graves, marked with homemade crosses, turn black in courtyards and playgrounds. There are thousands of people who have been wounded and mutilated, there are millions of broken lives. If you make excuses for this, then your heart has gone blind. Find the strength for mercy and compassion, do not support the bloodshed!”

The protest lasted only ten minutes. Isayeva was detained by the police, and subsequently she was jailed by the court for eight days on charges of disorderly conduct. She served her sentence in the special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street in Petersburg.

Isayeva: “My Heart Is Bleeding” was for me a kind of essay in freedom. After February 24, I could not live normally. I felt bad, and for the first time in many years, I started having panic attacks again. And this gesture, in fact, helped me as a ritual – it was easier to go on.

Sever.Realii: Some people have gone on living as they used to live, doing their projects and trying not to notice what is happening, because rockets are not falling on houses here in Russia. How do you communicate with people whose heart does NOT bleed?

– I don’t communicate with people who are not close. I am a categorical person: it’s a matter of black and white for me now. My president was shot dead on a bridge seven years ago. (She means the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov – SR.) I have the sense that we are living an ancient or biblical myth, where there is a kind of crystallization, a highlighting of the truth – of relationships, of how we understand things, of the facts. I am sure that we will survive this horror. While before February 24 it seemed to me that all this would drag on forever, now I’m sure it won’t. Twenty-five percent of Russians do not support what is happening – that is almost thirty-five million people and it is quite a lot. Propaganda is trying to convince society that people like us are crazy. But I’m not crazy. And I told the police at the station that history would judge us and that this would happen quickly enough.

– Can art change anything in life?

– Artists are always troublemakers and disturbers of the peace, even when they later become classics. Take Dürer, for example. He was the first to make a self-portrait en face. Now it is taken for granted, but in fact it used to be that only the faces of saints were painted en face, not those of ordinary people. He was the first to portray himself like this. It was a provocation. Artists are the ones who establish the discourse and make you indignant, who make you think. Art and science look for answers to unanswered questions. It seems to me, of course, that the imagination is also very important: the system is manned by people with no imaginations, who are incapable of abstract thinking – and this is quite obvious. At the police station, they tried to convince me that what was happening was unilinear. I told them that there is your opinion, and there is mine, and it’s different, and that’s fine. And that basically it’s normal to live in a world in which there are different opinions – that’s what I think everyone needs to understand. My generation grew up amid this freedom.

Is it possible to do certain projects in Russia now without being afraid?

We are all like hostages of the system here, but if we give up, all this darkness and drabness will swallow us up and devour us. But there are absolute truths that we can and should talk about. Yes, to some extent, the theory of small deeds has failed we did things, but we didn’t do enough, since now we are faced with all of this. So we have to do it now. Now is the best moment to do rather than giving up, to help each other, while self-flagellation and feeling guilty, in my opinion, are unproductive.

– What were conditions like at the temporary detention center?

I was in a cell for two in the temporary detention center on Zakharyevskaya [in Petersburg’s Central District]. Compared to the police station, where I had spent two days, things were quite good there. My cellmate was a young woman who had been sentenced to administrative arrest over a fight with her husband; she had a black eye. She and her husband, who had been given ten days of administrative arrest, would shout back and forth to each other there. She had been jailed for seven days for their fight with each other. We had rec time in the yard. When we were walking with the other young women and talking, she would say, “My husband and I are doing our time here together.” The girls would immediately ask whether they had been detained together at an anti-war rally. She was embarrassed to tell the truth: she was the only non-political arrestee among us.

– Tell us about your family.

– On my mother’s side, we have our own plot at the Volkovo Cemetery. The oldest grave is that of Apollon Alexandrov, who died in 1866, but when he was alive he was something like a caretaker at the Alexandrinsky Theater. Basically, he was tangentially involved with art, and I have a long family history on my mother’s side. Some of my relatives are from Ukraine: for example, my ancestors include the famous artist Ivan Makukho–Makushenko, a People’s Artist of Ukraine. The surname was later split into Makukho and Makushenko. Among Dad’s ancestors (Yevgenia’s father is Maxim Isayev, an artist, director, actor, playwright, and co-founder of the AKHE Engineering Theater – SR) there is a Jewish line, whose graves are at the Transfiguration Cemetery. There is a family legend that a young woman, the daughter of a rich rabbi, and a revolutionary–minded poor Jewish boy ran away from Gomel to Petersburg and started that line. The family albums have been preserved at home: you look at pre–war photos and see how there are fewer and fewer men in the pictures: crackdowns and war took their toll, people disappeared and died. I have a very good sense of the two-hundred-year history of my family’s relations with Petersburg. Sitting in the temporary detention center, I read the essays of Joseph Brodsky. He had the idea that in Petersburg they show you the house where Dostoevsky lived, and then they show you Raskolnikov’s house: life equals literature. I lucked out with teachers at school: my literature teacher made sure that the poetry of the Silver Age has stayed with me. The romance with the city is part of my own myth. I draw Petersburg, I write about it. It is a friend, a lover, and a companion. I feel like I’m a part of it. So I don’t have the passionarity [sic] for emigration: there is no place like home.

– Have you asked yourself whether you should stay or leave?

– After the collapse of the Roman Empire came the Dark Ages, when literacy disappeared: everything was so badly destroyed that people forgot how to write, they forgot what these signs meant. But writing later re-emerged. It is very important now to carry the light through these Dark Times. Not everyone will leave [Russia]. There are children here, and they will grow into young people. I grew up in the culture of the nineties, when “freedom” was the watchword, and was greatly treasured. It is very important to sustain this freedom. Even if everything is banned, we must remain free.

Source: Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 29 April 2022. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Denounced and Their Denouncers

This is my detailed summary — for the Russian-impaired — of Proekt’s grim but poignant short new documentary about Russians denounced to the police for their anti-war actions and statements in the last month and the people who denounced them (neighbors, relatives, pupils, etc.). It’s worth watching and reading, I think, especially because it humanizes the whole ugly business in a very moving, personal and easy to grasp way. While I wouldn’t say that it gives me hope, it is inspiring to see how such seemingly different people in terms of their backgrounds (businessman, artist, university student and blogger, district council deputy, ex-policeman and teacher) behave bravely in harrowing circumstances that have silenced many other people, or worse. It’s also to Proekt’s credit that in the case of several of the film’s protagonists they interviewed them where they live, including in public (which leads in two cases to run-ins with the powers that be). It goes to show that however frightening things have become, Russia is not yet “North Korea.”  ||| TRR

Proekt, “How the war in Ukraine has triggered a wave of denunciations in Russia,” 24 April 2022.
Published on Proekt’s website on 25 April 2022 under the title “Your denunciation is very important to us”

  1. Mikhail Zheltonozhsky, a businessman and “extreme travel” enthusiast from Bryansk, was denounced by a neighbor lady for flying Ukrainian pennants from his window. His denouncer, Elena Ruchkina, a midwife at a local outpatient clinic, wrote in her complaint to police, “[The pennants] seemed suspicious in light of recent events.” That was grounds for sending three police cruisers and a high-ranking police colonel to their apartment building to detain Zheltonozhsky.
  2. Elmira Khalitova, a university student and political blogger from Moscow, was denounced by her father, Timur, who telephoned police and demanded that they bust down the door to her flat to detain her. He claimed that his daughter had been urging her readers to “murder Russians.” His denunciation was captured on tape. Elmira claims that her father has extreme pro-Putinist views. Among them are his view that Ukraine is “one big fiction” and that it should be merged with Russia. A heavy drinker, Timur is a fan of the rabid pro-Putin TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov. Fortunately, Elmira was able to convince police (for the time being?) that she had not urged anyone to “murder Russians.”
  3. Sasha Skochilenko, an artist from Petersburg, was arrested and remanded in custody for replacing price tags with anti-war messages at a Perekrestok chain supermarket in Petersburg. Her friend Alexei shows Proekt’s film crew around the store as he talks about the circumstances of her arrest. They are confronted by a store employee, who angrily orders them to leave the premises, explaining that she doesn’t want to be “imprisoned and murdered” like Skochilenko. Alexei explains that the Perekrestok customer who reported Sasha was a woman from the neighborhood born in 1947, whom the voice-over narrator claims is the target audience of this particular anti-war campaign because, supposedly, they peruse supermarket price tags more intently than younger shoppers.
  4. Alexandra Arkhipova is an anthropologist. She explains that the authorities have three methods for ferreting out anti-war dissidents. First, so-called Center “E” (the federal “anti-extremism” police, established by the “liberal” Dmitry Medvedev during his term as president) monitor social media for “extremism” posts. Second, the authorities cook up such charges against well-known activists who are in their sights, such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, recently arrested in Moscow on the same criminal charges as Skochilenko. Third, “alert” citizens among the general public report such dissidents to the police. This segment features clips from a recent speech made on TV by President Putin in which he warned the Russian public that a “fifth column” and “national traitors,” as puppets of the west, would oppose his invasion of Ukraine.
  5. Sonya is Sasha Skochilenko’s live-in girlfriend in Petersburg. She explains that they met two and a half years on a dating website and fell in love almost immediately. They live together in Parnas, a neighborhood in Petersburg’s far north, on the border with the Leningrad Region. The voice-over narrator explains that Sonya and her friends are now focused on making sure Skochilenko survives her ordeal in remand prison, where she will be held at least until the end of May. Sonya explains that since Skochilenko is her “family” and closest friend she now feels lost and desperate. We see Sonya on an escalator in the Petersburg subway, which is festooned with Zwastikas. Sonya says that it’s strange that people pretend not to notice them, although the city is covered with them. The voice-over narrator cites the human rights organization Agora, which has recorded one hundred anti-war-related criminal cases launched by the Russian authorities between February 24 and April 20. He goes on to explain that the number of administrative cases filed during this same period would be hard to tally since over 15,000 people have been arrested at anti-war demonstrations since the war began on February 24. The anthropologist Arkhipova returns to explain that denunciations played a role in the prosecution of dissidents and demonstrators in previous years, but now the practice was been gaining more notice because everyone is paying attention.
  6. Andrei Shestakov is an ex-police officer and, now, ex-history teacher in the town of Neryungri (Sakha Republic). Shestakov was forced to quit the police after he publicly supported Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” campaign. Now he has been forced to quit his teaching position for having “anti-war conversations” during class with his pupils. He was denounced to the authorities either by one or more of them or their parents. Shestakov says that he doesn’t even want to know who informed on him. 
  7. Elena Kotenochkina is a deputy on the Krasnoselsky District Council in Moscow. Kotenochkina called Russia a “fascist state” during a recent council meeting, which was videotaped and posted on YouTube. The video came to the attention of Russian State Duma deputy Oleg Leonov, who denounced Kotenochkina to the authorities. The security forces have also included in her case file a video for draft-age young men that she made in her capacity as district council chair and co-chair of the district’s draft board. In the video, she explained that conscripts were being sent into combat in Ukraine, but by law they were not required to sign the contracts that made their combat deployment there possible. Although she has not been formally charged with any crime (an official “inquiry” into her actions is underway), loyalist politicians like Leonov are making a fuss that might be lead to her being charged, especially as she is well-known opposition politician in Moscow. The nationally known opposition stalwart Ilya Yashin, shown in the footage, is a deputy of the same district council and her ally. He has pointedly chosen to stay in Russia and speak out publicly against the war.
  8. Zheltonozhsky compares the top-down campaign of support in Russia for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to a “general psychosis.” The voice-over narrator explains that Zheltonozhsky has had trouble with the authorities since Soviet times, when he refused to join the (Communist) Party. The business he started in the nineties — a network of kiosks — was destroyed in the 2010s when Bryansk city hall carried out a “beautification” campaign that outlawed such commercial outlets. As he is explaining how one of his kiosks was torched as part of this municipal campaign, police officers approach him and Proekt’s film crew and ask him to go with them to a nearby police box (in the Bryansk city center). On their way, they pass a banner, featuring the Zwastika as its key graphic element, that reads, “For peace! For Russia! For the president!” At the police box, the officers ask Zheltonozhsky why his (blue and yellow) clothes are that color (he claims he ordered orange pants, but was sent yellow instead), and they ask to see his cellphone. The voice-over narrator explains that the authorities have placed Bryansk and other Russian cities near the Ukrainian border on high-level terrorism alert. The narrator then talks on the phone with Elena Ruchkina, the midwife and neighbor lady who denounced Zheltonozhsky to the police, asking her why she did it. She responds by asking whether the narrator thinks that Zheltonozhsky’s actions were “normal.”
  9. Khalitova says that while she had always been aware of the danger of being persecuted for her political outspokenness, she was now acutely aware of the threat. She has broken off all contact with her family after her father turned her in. She says he did it because he wanted to feel “important.” In a recorded phone conversation, Timur Khalitov claims to the narrator that he panicked when he got an “anonymous” phone call about his daughter’s alleged extremist activities. Walking through a park, Elmira tells Proekt that she has been thoroughly disappointed by the Russian public’s reaction to the invasion because she had been convinced that the widespread notion that there was a “Putinist majority” in Russia who supported the president was a “myth.” Now, she says, she understands that most people are willing to let young men die in battle as long as nothing else changes in their lives.
  10. Sonya reads aloud the first letter that Sasha Skochilenko wrote from remand prison. In the letter she says that while her accuser might get a “miserable reward” for denouncing her, Skochilenko herself will gain “immortality.” Sonya claims that none of the letters that she and other friends have sent to the remand prison have been delivered to Sasha, nor has she received the food care packages that she needs as someone who suffers from celiac disease. Her friend Alexei explains that patients with this diagnosis must not eat bread and pasta, but since the disease is not officially recognized by the authorities as a “serious” ailment, they are not obliged to meet her dietary requirements. Sonya explains that, when celiac disease is not managed properly, it can lead to cancer, osteoporosis and other life-threatening ailments. 
  11. Arkhipova argues that the practice of denunciation that has now come to the fore in Russia is “for art’s sake” in the sense that it is motivated neither by the need to protect oneself nor by the prospect of monetary gain. On the contrary, Russia’s new-model denouncers are “exercising their civic muscles” because they feel “needed.” The narrator says that the number of denunciations in wartime “civil society” will only grow, citing the United Russia party’s launching of a special bot for filing denunciations, which Rostelecom has promised to support by passing the denunciations on to the authorities. Elmira Khalitova says that she feels she is surrounded by people who, although they behave normal in everyday life, are quite willing to “condone a crime.” She says that because of this new sense of what her society has become, she feels “empty inside” and that the country has no future. Shestakov says that he has become more careful about what he says to whom. Zheltonozhsky says that he also no longer talks about political topics to certain people. Sonya says that everything has been changed by the war, but that this wasn’t clear at first. She says that Skochilenko loves Russia, is a “genuine Russian patriot,” and had hoped that things could be changed for the better. Kotenochkina says that although people are afraid, such a war in the twenty-first century is so wrong that they have no choice but to act. As she begins crying, the screen fades to black and the message “No war” appears on the screen.
“‘Your denunciation is very important to us.’ A film about how the war in Ukraine has revived the fashion of denouncing people in Russia.” A screenshot of the documentary film’s page on the Proekt website.