“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.

Darya Polyudova

Darya Polyudova, holding a placard that reads, “Ukraine, we are with you.”
Image courtesy of Ivan Astashin

A subscriber has reported that he received a letter from political prisoner Darya Polyudova in which she told him about her court hearing in the Moscow City Court on May 12.

Let me remind you that left-wing activist Darya Polyudova is currently doing her second stint in prison on political charges.

In 2015, the activist was sentenced to two years in prison for “calling for extremist activities and separatism”: this was how the authorities viewed her preparations for a March for the Federalization of the Kuban.

After her release, Darya continued to be involved in political activism. But in January 2020 Polyudova was arrested again. In May 2021, she was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “condoning terrorism” and “calling for terrorism.” The court regarded posts about Shamil Basayev and a phrase about the “Lubyanka shooter” Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire on FSB officers near Lubyanka Square in Moscow in December 2019, as evidence of Polyudova’s guilt.

In both cases, the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Polyudova as a political prisoner.

However, the Russian state’s persecution of Darya Polyudova has not ended there. In late 2021, the FSB opened another case against the activist. Now she stands accused of “organizing an extremist community,” i.e., the so-called Left Resistance movement. Under the new charges, Darya may face another six to ten years in prison.

In this new case, Darya has been remanded in custody. Of course, she is already in custody. Without a new criminal case she would have been in a prison camp a long time ago [serving the sentence for her previous conviction], but the investigation wants her in a pretrial detention center.

Darya is appealing all the court decisions on the extension of her remand in custody. The court will consider her appeal of the latest extension on May 12.

Come and support Darya Polyudova!

11 a.m, 12 May 2022, Moscow City Court, 8 Bogorodsky Val, Room 327

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 7 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The English Lesson

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
November 18, 2021

A trifle, but an unpleasant one all the same.

According to the Russian Penal Code, convicted foreign nationals have the right to communicate with prison wardens in any language they speak and receive a response in that language. Vitya [Viktor Filinkov], as you know, is a citizen of Kazakhstan. In response to the razor blades planted [and “found”] by prison officials in his cell on his birthday, he wrote a statement in English.

And what do you think happened? The penal colony found an English teacher, Nadezhda Ivanovna Zhavikova, who works at Night School No. 13. in Orenburg, who “checked” Vitya’s composition and “corrected” the “mistakes” in it so that the text would better suit the wardens. The only thing she didn’t do, unfortunately, was grade the composition. But the prison staff probably gave her an A.

Vitya writes, “Before I started, current inspector had said that I should REPLACE my prison uniform. I DECLINED but he took it and gave me new one.”

The meaning is clear. What does Nadezhda Ivanovna write in [her] translation?

“Before that, the duty inspector told me to PUT my clothes in ORDER. I SUGGESTED that he take it away and give me a new one in return.”

At issue here is the tunic that was replaced against Vitya’s will before he went to the baths. After he came back, prison officials “found” a shard of a blade in the seam of the tunic. It thus transpires that it was Vitya who asked for it to be replaced.

Vitya ends his statement with an appreciation of the production staged by the Correctional Colony No. 1 troupe: “I didn’t brake the razor, it’s a play. Good scenario, actors. Good game, well played.”

Nadezhda Ivanovna feigns that she didn’t understand what was at issue, and translates [the passage] as if Vitya was bragging about his own play-acting: “I didn’t break the razor, it’s a game. A good acting script. A good performance, well ACTED [by Vitya, apparently [because the verb is the singular in Russian, not the plural —TRR]].”

Maybe, of course, the teacher didn’t do it out of spite, but simply couldn’t make sense [of Filinkov’s statement]. But somehow it seems to me that she made perfect sense of it and even made it over [to satisfy the wardens].

UPDATE. On a more practical note, if you have a translator’s diploma and would like to write a specialist’s opinion for the upcoming hearing appealing Vitya’s transfer to a single-cell facility for a month, you’re welcome!

Team Navalny
Instagram
November 15, 2021

❗️ Viktor Filinkov and the torture colony

Viktor is a political prisoner in the Network case. The case is about a “terrorist community” of young men who were fond of airsoft and openly voiced opposition to Putin.

The FSB took these two facts and cooked up charges that got the defendants sent to prison for terms from six to eighteen years. Allegedly, the young men were divided into combat groups that were supposed to organize bombings in order to “sway the masses for further destabilization of the political situation in the country.”

The defendants claim that they were tortured into confessing, and that the evidence in the case was completely manufactured by the security forces.

The verdicts were announced in February 2020. But the matter did not end when the young men were sent to penal colonies: the authorities began bullying them there. We know the most about their treatment of Viktor Filinkov.

For the slightest offense — such as “didn’t say hello ten times a day to a prison employee,” “washed ten minutes earlier than he was supposed to,” “left his work station during work (he went to the work station next to his to ask how to use the machine because he hadn’t been properly instructed)” —  Viktor is sent to a punitive detention cell. Letters from [Viktor’s] friends and relatives are opened, shown to other prisoners, and even replies to them are forged.

Things are so over the top that when there was a scabies outbreak in [Viktor’s] cell, his cellmates were given ointment, but Viktor himself was not, because “he complained.”

Now Viktor is being transferred to Correctional Colony No. 5 in Novotroitsk, to an isolated solitary cell, for repeatedly violating those supremely absurd rules. This colony is a torture colony, one of the most violent in Russia. In June, twelve inmates there engaged in a “collective act of self-mutilation” to protest the torture.

The Putin regime is a regime of vengeful scum. No one is safe from their lawlessness. This nightmare will become more and more commonplace with every passing day. Don’t let that happen.

More information about how Victor is being bullied can be found in the article linked to in stories.

Release political prisoners!

Translated by the Russian Reader

11/11

 

“Killer icicles” on the rooftop of a building in downtown Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

11 November 2021

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office has petitioned the Russian Supreme Court to “liquidate” the venerated human rights, educational and charitable organization Memorial, reports the BBC’s Russian Service.

A snowy street in downtown Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

200 Years Ago

On this day in 1821, Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow into the family of an army doctor who worked at a hospital for the poor. After finishing school in Moscow, Dostoevsky joined the army and studied engineering in St. Petersburg, where he was captivated — or perhaps invented — the city’s dark allure. He published his first novel, “Poor Folk,” in 1845. Four years later he was arrested for being in a literary club that discussed banned books critical of the authorities; he was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted just moments before he was to be shot. He spent four years in a prison camp and another six years of compulsory military service.

A snow-covered Alexander Pushkin on Pushkinskaya Street in Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

1 Year Ago

The US correspondent of a newfangled “leftist” Russian website, writing one year ago:

“If you believe the mass American media, former Vice President Joe Biden won the US presidential election. If you believe the camp of the current president Donald Trump and American Marxists (a bizarre interweaving), it was not without machinations. I personally have no confidence in any of the candidates, much less in their parties, or in the American electoral system as a whole.”

 

Corner of Bolshaya Podyacheskaya Street and Nikolsky Lane at the Fontanka River in Petersburg, with a view of the Trinity Cathedral of the Izmailovо Life Guards Regiment in the background, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

11 November 2021

Officials Decide to Send Network Case Convict Viktor Filinkov to Single-Cell Room, Then to Punitive Detention
Mediazona
November 11, 2021

Prison officials have decided to send Viktor Filinkov, convicted in the [Network] case, who was sent to Orenburg Correctional Colony No. 1 in August, to a single-cell room for a month, and then to a punitive detention cell for ten days. His public defender Evgenia Kulakova reported this turn of events to Mediazona.

According to Kulakova, yesterday the prison’s disciplinary commission decided to send Filinkov to a single-cell room [abbreviated EPKT in Russian, this is a prison within a prison for the most “unruly” or “dangerous” inmates] because of razor blades that, as the prisoner noted, had been planted [in his cell] by Federal Penitentiary Service officers on his birthday. The second penalty was imposed on the young man for “inter-cell communication.”

Filinkov was delivered to Orenburg Correctional Colony No. 1 in August after 45 days in transport. Since then, he has spent only three days in the general population. He has spent the rest of the time in a punitive isolation cell or strict conditions of detention.

On October 6, Filinkov received a month-long reprimand for his [alleged] refusal to sweep the exercise yard in the colony and transferred to a single-cell room. He was also put on a watch list as someone “prone to systematic violation of internal regulations.” Kulakova also said that on October 30, Political Prisoners Day, he went on a hunger strike.

Filinkov demanded freedom for all political prisoners and that he be moved from solitary confinement. A few days later he added a new demand — that books, newspapers and writing materials be brought to his cell. He ended his hunger strike on November 9.

In 2020, the Second Western District Military Court, sitting in St. Petersburg, sentenced Filinkov to seven years in a penal colony in the Network case. He was found guilty of involvement in a terrorist community (punishable under Article 204.5.2 of the Criminal Code). Filinkov was the first of the young men charged in the case to report that he had been tortured by the security forces.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Doppelganger

“It’s kind of a dystopia. In some respects. Of course, it has nothing to do with reality. The world is shrinking and becoming cramped. Something or someone is always offended in close quarters. And there’s always someone pointing a gun at your head. Sometimes it’s you.”

Masyanya, Episode 152: “Doppelganger.” (Toggle the “CC” button for English subtitles)

____________

The caste of those deprived of their civil rights — foreign agents, undesirable organizations, extremists of all stripes — will constantly expand. Social stigmatization will be strongly encouraged. The number of persons on different registries and lists, and under police watch will grow exponentially. Legal restrictions — bans on participating in elections, serving on various public councils, founding mass media, attending football matches, working in certain areas, and so on — will be supplemented by defamation campaigns. The separation of the estates in terms of legal and social status will be vigorously encouraged by the authorities.

Source: Pavel Chikov, “Not a Tyranny Yet: A Prognosis for the Rest of Putin’s Fourth Term,” Republic, 19 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

 

Artist unknown, Russian National Guardsmen in Their Free Time. Posted by Dmitry Vrubel on Facebook. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up

____________

Security forces raided a gathering to write letters to political prisoners at the Vogel Bar. They showed up along with Rospotrebnadzor officials for a surprise inspection on the evening of October 24. After managing to tally forty-five people on the premises and not find markings on the floor mats, the officials sealed the establishment prior to a court hearing. The bar’s management fears bankruptcy and plans to open a new bar in a new location.

The latest gathering to letters to political prisoners at the Vogel this time ended with a visit by regulatory authorities. The police officers who arrived twenty minutes after the event started immediately stated that the 76th police precinct had received a complaint alleging that the bar was not in compliance with the mask mandate. At that moment, the gathering, at which attendees were to write letters to the performance artist Pavel Krisevich, jailed on charges of disorderly conduct after a performance on Red Square in which he pretended to shoot himself, had just begun. That evening, Krisevich’s friends and acquaintances, as well as former political prisoners, were to speak to the guests. One of the bar’s co-founders, Valentin Khoroshenin, told Zaks.Ru that the complaint claimed that a “meeting of anti-covidniks” was planned for that evening at the Vogel. He believes that this was just an excuse to find non-existent violations and close the bar.

The inspection report indicated that more than forty-five people were present in the room at the time. The bar’s management are adamant that this was not the case. The Vogel’s owners have already studied surveillance camera tapes and counted less than forty people on the premises, including the police officers.

Other violations included the absence of markings on floor mats and an insufficient supply of medical masks. According to regulations, such establishments should have a five days’ supply of personal protective equipment. The available supply was only enough for one day. Rospotrebnadzor officials did not enter the kitchen. According to Khoroshenin, they claimed they were too tired to do so.

Vogel Bar has been in business since March 2021. From the very beginning it advertised itself as a venue for activists: political lectures, discussions and debates were held there. During this entire time, Rospotrebnadzor never carried out inspections. But the Interior Ministry regularly sent its people there. For example, Center “E” officers attended the debates. The security forces showed up for other letter-writing gatherings, but everything had ended without trouble.

Text & photos: Konstantin Lenkov, Zaks.ru, 25 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

We have been preparing an investigation into torture in Russian prisons for almost a year. It took a lot of time to track down, earn the trust of, and obtain testimonies from former inmates of the penal colony in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, thousands of kilometers from central Russia. Simultaneously with The Insider’s investigation, Russian human rights activists published an archive of video footage depicting torture being inflicted on prisoners across Russia. The clips, obtained from the FSB and FSIN secret archive, show prisoners from Irkutsk, Saratov, Belgorod, Rostov and other Russian regions being raped, beaten and humiliated. Torture victims explain their torturers’ motives by their desire to break their will in order to obtain material for blackmailing other prisoners, make them confess to crimes, pay tribute, or even to start torturing other prisoners themselves. This all takes place in the modern world, in a country where there is no war, where torturers are not tasked with extracting valuable military information from prisoners at any cost. Torture is rampant in Russia, a country that has signed a number of human rights and anti-torture conventions and seems to enjoy a peaceful life. We have long known that in Russia, prison is not a place of correction, but rather a strange world separate from everything else, where guards and inmates resurrect on a daily basis the practices of the Stalinist Gulag. This has not always been the case. As early as ten years ago there was serious talk in Russia about the need to reform and humanize the penitentiary system. Now things are different. The authorities have been clearly and unambiguously showing how they prefer to rule the country. That is mainly by fear. Investigations into torture have hardly been a revelation, but in a split instant, they made it impossible to ignore torture and pretend it only concerns those behind bars. Of course, the situation will not change overnight, but one thing is certain – this knowledge has now become an integral part of our society. In the following article, we bring you the raw testimony of people who have experienced torture in Russian prisons. They share their thoughts on why it is used, the impact on them, and recount the involvement even of doctors in their ordeal.

Source: The Insider, 19 October 2021. Thanks to Antti Rautiainen for the heads-up

Five Years Ago Today

This is one of the pleasantest pictures I’ve seen in a long time: former Russian political prisoner Alexei Gaskarov walking in the woods.

Gaskarov was released from prison this past Thursday after serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for being involved in a peaceful opposition march that was attacked by police and provocateurs, for being truncheoned and kicked while lying on the ground by a policeman who never paid for his crimes, and for being Alexei Gaskarov.

That sounds absurd, but it’s the truth.

Why was the opposition march attacked by police and provocateurs?

Because it took place the day before Putin reinstalled himself as president, this time, apparently, for life. The protesters were ruining his party by showing the country and the world that not all Russian were happy about this semi-legal coup d’etat.

So three dozen people, some more or less famous, like Alexei Gaskarov, some complete strangers to grassroots politics, had to be taught a lesson about what happens to the nominally powerless when they spoil the festivities for the most powerful man in the country.

This is only one of the reasons why those of us know who really know what has been going on in Russia the past seventeen years feel bemused, at best, and furious, at worst, when the snake oil salesman known as Donald Trump praises Putin for his leadership.

In reality, Putin has brought the country to the brink of moral, political and economic ruin. ||| TRR, 29 October 2016. Photo courtesy of Alexei Gaskarov’s Facebook page

Solving Problems

Grigorii Golosov
Facebook
October 14, 2021

Yesterday, President Putin, driven mainly by the curiosity of journalists, publicly tried to solve problems. There are a lot of problems, he noted: they are literally “raining down.” He named only two: the decline in incomes among the population and the population’s rapid decline (the “demographic” problem). He promised to solve the first one non-linearly, i.e., not by growing incomes per se, but through economic growth. As you know, the Russian economy grows rarely and slowly, but when it does grow (which has happened over the past ten years), then for some reason this has no effect on the incomes of the population. However, it depends on whom we understand by “the population.” There is definitely a population of several thousand people constantly getting richer, although this population is more often outside of Russia than inside it. Putin did not elucidate his methods for solving the second problem, but he is certain that they will also be nonlinear. There are no other problems in Russia, however. There is no problem with political prisoners: they are all criminals. I would probably doubt that. But I totally agree with Putin that there is no problem with democracy in Russia. If there is no democracy, there is no problem with it. Verily, “if you don’t have an aunt, then you won’t lose her.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia — one of the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas — is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060.

“Russia in practice will strive for carbon neutrality of its economy,” he said at an energy forum in Moscow.

“And we set a benchmark for this — no later than 2060.”

Source: AFP/Moscow Times

Russia’s natural population underwent its largest peacetime decline in recorded history over the last 12 months, an analysis of official government statistics has shown.

Russia’s natural population — a figure which counts registered deaths and births, excluding the effects of migration — declined by 997,000 between October 2020 and September 2021, demographer Alexei Raksha calculated.

The stark drop comes as Russia, which has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 death tolls, continues to see record numbers of lives lost to the pandemic. The country has recorded at least 660,000 excess deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Russia’s total population of around 145 million is lower than it was when President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 despite Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 which added 2 million to Russia’s official population statistics.

Source: Moscow Times

Only 12 World Leaders Greet Putin on His 69th Birthday. In another sign of Putin’s isolation, only 12 world leaders sent him greetings on his birthday this year. None at all came from the US or from EU countries (business-gazeta.ru/article/524870).

Source: Window on Eurasia (Paul Goble)

Dmitry Glukhovsky: Gelsomino in the Land of Liars

Writer Dmitry Glukhovsky makes unexpected bold speech at GQ Awards
Activatica
September 18, 2021

The writer and journalist Dmitry Glukhovsky made an unexpected speech at the GQ Awards ceremony in the presence of Channel One [talk-show] host Ivan Urgant.

In Glukhovsky’s opinion, the real bestsellers for which the prize should be awarded are George Orwell’s 1984, as well as The Adventures of Cippolino and Gelsomino in the Land of Liars, by Gianni Rodari. These books, according to Glukhovsky, describe the reality in which we live. “If Orwell now occupies the second place in our country [in terms of reader demand], the people are not as stupid as some elected (or non-elected) officials believe,” the writer said.

The cover of a Russian edition of Gianni Rodari’s Adventures of Cippolino and Gelsomino in the Land of Liars. Image courtesy of AliExpress

He also mentioned the “occupation” of the vegetables by the fruits, in The Adventures of Cippolino, and the “country where things cannot be called by their real names,” as described in Gelsomino in the Land of Liars. Reading these works to his children, Glukhovsky was struck, he said, by the similarity to present-day Russia.

“It’s already an act of civic courage not to lie, not to be afraid, not to cheer when others are kicked, and not to pretend… Free the political prisoners!” said the GQ Award winner.

The audience greeted the speech with an ovation. Tension was visible on the emcee Urgant’s face.

Translated by the Russian Reader 

Ilya Pershin: The Ice Under the Major’s Feet

Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page

The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
Kseniia Sonnaya
OVD Info
September 2, 2021

Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.

On January 31,  2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.

“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.

She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St.  Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.

“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.

According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.

According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”

Investigative Ballet
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.

When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.

At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”

There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.

When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.

In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”

Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.

Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.

Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.

In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.

On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”

Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.

“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”

At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.

Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”

Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.

25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.

26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.

27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.

28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.

29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.

30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.

31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD

1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.

2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.

3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.

5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.

10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!

You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:

Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994

You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.

All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Real Rusha

The success of Putin’s Russia has been determined by a correct-minded approach to solving problems of the development of Russia. Putin’s domestic, socio-economic and international policy ensured great support for him from the majority of Russian citizens. He was supported by the nation not only as a politician, but first of all as a national statesman, responsible for the country and its development.

—Ivan S. Kuznetsov, Elena V. Katyshevtseva (Nikulina), and James Douglas Stuber, Modern Russian History: A Textbook, trans. Liudmila I. Katyshevtseva (Gwangju: Chonnam National University Press, 2012), p. 188

Since the beginning of the year, the number of political prisoners in Russia has increased from 349 to 410. According to the Memorial Human Rights Center (included in the register of foreign agents), the vast majority of them were deprived of their liberty due to their religious affiliation. The list also includes people who were deprived of their liberty after participating in protests in support of Alexey Navalny in January of this year.

—Alina Pinchuk, “‘The growing repressiveness of the regime’: there are more political prisoners,” Radio Svoboda, August 17, 2021

Photo and translation of second quotation by the Russian Reader