On January 12, Peterburg’s Vyborg District Court held a hearing on the merits of the criminal case against Petersburg documentary filmmaker Vsevolod Korolev. At today’s hearing, the complainant and prosecution witness Mikhail Baranov was cross-examined. It was Baranov who had requested that law enforcement agencies file criminal charges against Korolev.
Baranov unexpectedly changed his initial testimony, telling the court that he considered the posts by the accused “an expression of free speech,” and that he himself had “liked” Korolev’s posts to give them more publicity. The prosecution witness also said that the police had come to his home, and that he had been questioned at the police department about that very same “like.” It was only after this interaction that Baranov had filed the complaint, asking the authorities to determine whether Korolev’s posts constituted “disseminating fake news about the army.”
However, the interrogation record in the case file paints a different picture: according to it, Baranov had gone to the police himself. Korolev’s posts had, allegedly, angered him. Today, at the trial, Baranov said that he could not remember what his emotions were at the time, and that his opinion could have changed.
Vsevolod Korolev, a St. Petersburg poet and documentary filmmaker remanded in custody on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, is a political prisoner. Until his arrest, Vsevolod Korolev supported people subjected to repression for anti-war statements: he made a documentary about those prosecuted and he called the war a war
The human rights project, ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ considers Vsevolod Korolev a political prisoner in line with international standards. He is being prosecuted for posts on social networks. Korolev’s criminal prosecution violates his constitutional right to freedom of expression. His prosecution is intended to silence voices in Russia that oppose the war against Ukraine and to intimidate civil society.
We demand the immediate release of Vsevolod Korolev and the termination of all criminal prosecutions under the unconstitutional Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.
Who is Vsevolod Korolev and what are the charges against him?
Vsevolod Korolev, 34, is from St. Petersburg and in recent years he has been active in the city’s volunteer movement and engaged in civic activism. Korolev has worked as a volunteer with the Perspectives Charitable Foundation and the St. Petersburg Observers movement (which organizes independent election observation).
After the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Korolev became very active in the anti-war movement. On his social media pages he wrote about the crimes of the Russian military, attended the trials of those arrested on charges related to the war, collected donations of food and other necessities for those held on remand, and made documentary films about what was happening. For example, he made films about the prosecutions for ‘anti-war’ activities of the artist Sasha Skochilenko and the journalist Maria Ponomarenko.
On 11 July 2022, a criminal case was opened against Vsevolod Korolev on suspicion of disseminating information known to be false about the use of the Russian armed forces. The next day his apartment was searched and he was detained.
Korolev is accused of making posts in March and April 2022 on the VK social media site about the crimes of the Russian military in Bucha and Borodyanka near Kiev and about the shelling of Donetsk. Korolev subsequently confirmed he had made posts about the war in Ukraine, but maintained they contained no lies.
Korolev understood the risks of speaking out freely. ‘I refuse to not say the truth about things,’ he wrote on his social networks.
On 13 July, a St. Petersburg court remanded Korolev in custody, even though he has had his thyroid removed and needs regular medical examinations.
Korolev faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Why do we consider Vsevolod Korolev a political prisoner?
Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code criminalising dissemination of information known to be false about the actions of the Russian army contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations and fundamental principles of law.
In particular, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ Restrictions on the exercise of these rights ‘shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ Such norms are also contained in Article 29 of the Russian Constitution. The restrictions on freedom of expression introduced by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code serve none of these purposes and are a form of censorship. This is all the more so given that, in the course of an armed conflict, it is not always possible to establish the accuracy of statements made by the parties to the conflict, and the Russian authorities hold simply that official reports by the Russian Ministry of Defence should be considered reliable.
Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code was specifically created as an instrument for the prosecution of critics of the Russian authorities and criminalises any statements about the use of the Russian armed forces abroad. This has already been confirmed in practice. Under this article, people are more often prosecuted not even for statements of fact but for expressing their opinions and personal attitudes. At the same time, the prosecuting authorities ascribe to many of those prosecuted, like Vsevolod Korolev, the subjective motive of ‘political hatred,’ which significantly increases the potential penalty.
A more detailed description of this case and the position of the Human Rights Project can be found on our Telegram channel.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
How can you help?
You can send letters to the following address:
In Russian: 196655, г. Санкт-Петербург, г. Колпино, ул. Колпинская, д. 9, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН России по СПб и ЛО, Королёву Всеволоду Анатольевичу 1987 г. р.
In English: Vsevolod Anatolievich Korolev (dob 1987), Remand Prison No. 1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region, 9 Kolpinskaya Street, Kolpino, St. Petersburg, 196655, Russia.
The founder of the Left Resistance movement, Darya Polyudova, has been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony on charges of “creating an extremist community.” Polyudova was already serving time on another charge, and had three years left to go in her sentence.
The Second Western District Military Court has handed down the new sentence to the activist. It agreed with the prosecution’s arguments that the Left Resistance, as created by Polyudova, was an “extremist community.” And yet, at the moment there is no such organization listed in the Russian Justice Ministry’s registry of “extremist organizations.”
In addition to “creating an extremist community” (Article 282.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), the court found the activist guilty on two counts of “condoning terrorism” (Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) over posts published on the movement’s social media page.
The sentence took into account Polyudova’s previous sentence of six years, which she received in 2021, writes Mediazona.
Polyudova was the first person in Russia charged under the criminal code article outlawing “calls for separatism” (Article 280.1). This accusation was brought against her in 2014 for trying to hold a “March for the Federalization of the Kuban” in Krasnodar.
One charge after another
Polyudova began her career as a political activist in Novorossiysk, where she organized Strategy 31 protests. Due to constant arrests and dismissals from work, Polyudova was forced to move to Krasnodar, and later to Moscow.
In 2017, Polyudova was released from a work-release penal colony where she spent two years on charges of calling for separatism, and founded the Left Resistance. The description of the movement on its VK page stated that it “stands against the oppressor capitalists and for all the oppressed and the power of the working people.” The movement’s members attended protest pickets and distributed leaflets.
In January 2020, Polyudova was arrested again on charges of calling for separatism — this time for a solo picket where the activist stood holding a placard that read, “Kuriles, stop feeding Moscow! Long live the Far Eastern Republic!”
She was also charged with publicly condoning terrorism over a repost of a message about the Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev.
The calling for separatism charge against Polyudova was eventually dropped due to the liberalization of Article 280.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. However, in September 2020, the activist, who by that time had been in remand prison for more than six months, was charged with a new offense.
The FSB regarded her statements about Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire at the FSB headquarters on the Lubyanka in December 2019, as grounds for charging Polyudova with “condoning terrorism.” Later, this charge was reduced to a charge of calling for separatism.
In May 2021, Polyudova was sentenced to six years in a penal colony on charges of publicly condoning terrorism and calling for extremism.
Polyudova was presented with new charges of “creating an extremist community” in December 2021, while she was in remand prison awaiting an appeal against the previous sentence.
Left Resistance founder Darya Polyudova has been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony, while Left Resistance activist Kirill Kotov has been sentenced to three years probation, the Telegram channel Free Kirill Zhukov reports.
Polyudova’s sentence incorporates the previous verdict against her and will run from January 2020, when the young woman was remanded to a pretrial detention center in a previous criminal case, her lawyer Leonid Solovyov told OVD Info.
The prosecution had requested just this sentence for Polyudova, but had asked that Kotov be sentenced to three years in a penal colony.
Polyudova was accused of “creating an extremist community” (per Article 282.1.1 of the Criminal Code), while Kotov was accused of involvement in an “extremist community.” Polyudova was also charged on two counts of public calls for terrorism or “condoning terrorism” (per Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code).
According to the FSB, Polyudova created the Left Resistance to “plan and commit crimes, […] namely, public vindication of terrorism and public calls for extremist activity.” Investigators argued that the “extremist community” engaged in holding pickets and making posts on social media.
In addition to Kotov, four other activists have been charged with involvement in the extremist community: Sergei Kirsanov, Alyona Krylova, Igor Kuznetsov, and Andrei Romanov.
On 18 November 2021, the FSB searched two addresses as part of the case against the Left Resistance, including the house where Kotov used to live. The criminal charges against the movement were made public on 3 December 2021. Tomsk opposition activist and RusNews journalist Igor Kuznetsov was already in remand prison in connection with the case of the Telegram channel Chto-Delat! Andrei Romanov and Alyona Krylova were not in Russia, while Sergei Kirsanov and Kirill Kotov were released on their own recognizance. By this time, Polyudova had already been sentenced to six years in a penal colony in a previous case.
Polyudova was charged under the article criminalizing calls for terrorism over posts made in 2019 on the Left Resistance’s social media page, including a post entitled “Execute the traitor Putler for treason!” Forensic experts detected “calls for the violent seizure of power” and “use of violence against the security forces” in these posts. Another criminal count was based on posts made on anniversary of the annexation of Crimea and pickets in support of defendants charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Polyudova founded the Left Resistance movement in 2017. Its activists said that the new left-wing organization’s purpose was to replace the “opportunistic Communist Party” and “defend genuine communist ideas.”
In May 2021, the court sentenced Polyudova to six years in a penal colony. She was found guilty on two counts: “condoning terrorism” (per Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code) in connection with a repost on VK, and “calling for extremist activity” (per Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code) for statements about the actions of the shooter outside the FSB headquarters building on the Lubyanka.
In 2014–2015, Polyudova was accused of calling for extremism and separatism. She was then sentenced to two years in a work-release (i.e., minimum security) penal colony.
We have begun supporting Vladlen Menshikov, accused of anti-war sabotage on the railways.
On September 30, pro-government mediareported the arrest of 29-year-old Vladlen Menshikov by the FSB in the Sverdlovsk Region. Investigators claim that Menshikov installed short-circuiting devices on the railway at the eightieth kilometer of the stretch between Rezh and Striganovo, along which trains carrying Russian military equipment run.
During an interrogation, which FSB field agents recorded on video, Menshikov said that he opposes the war and supports overthrowing the current government. He also discusses methods of sabotaging the Russian army’s railway supply lines.
Solidarity Zone was able to establish Menshikov’s identity and locate the pretrial detention center in which he is detained. When we contacted him and offered our support, he responded positively. He asked for legal assistance, and also said he would be glad to receive letters.
We are currently working to start providing full-fledged legal assistance to Menshikov.
We would note that Vladlen is currently being held in solitary confinement, so letters are especially important for him.
Address for letters and parcels:
Menshikov Vladlen Alexeyevich (born 1993)
4 Repin Street
Pretrial Detention Center No. 1
Ekaterinburg 620019 Russian Federation
(It is possible to send letters through the FSIN-Pismo service and Zonatelecom, as well as throughRosUznik, a volunteer-run resource.)
To support Solidarity Zone financially, so that we can continue to pay lawyers, send parcels to prisoners, and help cover other expenses, you can use the follow payment methods:
Source: Solidarity Zone, Facebook, 21 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. People living outside Russia will not be able to use the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s FSIN-Pismo service or the privately run Zonatelecom. It is also probably impossible or nearly impossible to send parcels to Russian detention facilities from abroad. But you can send letters — translated into Russian (if you don’t know a competent translator, you can use a free online translation service such as Google Translate) — to Vladlen Menshikov (and many other Russian political prisoners) via RosUznik. You can also ask me (email@example.com) for assistance and advice in sending letters.
The “underground” exhibition Continuity [Sviaz’ vremen] has been underway in Petersburg since September. The parents of Yuli Boyarshinov, who was convicted in the Network Case, were involved in organizing it.
The exhibition is dedicated to political prisoners. They produced some of the works on display themselves using improvised means while in pretrial detention centers and penal colonies. Poetry readings and art therapy sessions at which postcards for political prisoners are produced also held in the space.
Bumaga visited Continuity and shows here how the exhibition is organized.
The “underground” exhibition opened in September in a private space. The organizers have already planned to close it several times, but people keep coming. “We didn’t think it would last that long. There is even a poetry reading scheduled for Saturday,” Nikolai Boyarshinov, Yuli Boyarshinov’s father, told Bumaga.
The exhibition features works by current political prisoners, including those involved in the Network Case. Some of the works are dedicated to the victims of the Great Terror.
The living room — the main exhibition space — contains paintings by the artist Ad’u. She says that exhibition spaces are reluctant to take her work. “They say, ‘Well, you know,'” she shares with us.
A portrait of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev and maps of Sandarmokh hang under the ceiling. Dmitriev was convicted of “sexual violence” against his adopted daughter. He was scheduled to be released in 2020, but the court toughened his sentence from three and a half years in a medium security facility to thirteen years in a maximum security penal colony.
There are paintings dedicated to Alexei Navalny. A protest action with flashlights, which took place in Russian cities on February 14, 2021, is depicted as a flashlight shining into the sky and signaling for help.
One of the paintings alludes to a protest action by Pavel Krisevich: a man on a cross, under whose feet dossiers of political cases burn. Next to it are drawings by Krisevich himself, which he made while in a pretrial detention center, using pieces of a sheet, improvised materials and homemade paints. In October, Krisevich, who had previously spent a year in pretrial detention, was sentenced to five years in a penal colony.
On the walls of the corridor outside the living room there are portraits of the young men convicted in the Network Case and their stories. Drawings by the men themselves are also presented. Nikolai Boyarshinov says that each of the convicts “has begun to draw to one degree or another.”
In a closet in the hallway there are drawings by the artist cyanide the angry [tsianid zloi]. Since February, he has been producing one image every day about the war and political crackdown. On the closet doors and inside it there are portraits of Sasha Skochilenko and Seva Korolev, who are charged with “discrediting” the Russian army, Kansk Teenagers Case defendant Nikita Uvarov, and scenes of Navalny in a cell.
There are also anti-war drawings in the exhibition. They are painted in yellow and blue colors. They were created by Ad’u, who, along with other artists, was detained during a protest rally in April 2022, when she was painting riot police against the backdrop of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
There is an art therapy group in the space, which has been led by Nikolai Boyarshinov’s wife Tatiana since May. The group’s members make postcards to fight burnout, stress and fear. They then send postcards to political prisoners.
On October 28, the trial of Igor Paskar began in the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don. He is accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the FSB’s offices in Krasnodar, and also of setting fire to a [pro-war] “Z” banner. Paskar explains his actions as a protest against the war: after the alleged attempted arson at the FSB, he painted his face in the colors of the Ukrainian flag of Ukraine. The FSB has classified the protest as “terrorism,” and the burning of the banner as “vandalism.” Paskar faces ten to fifteen years in prison if convicted.
To Moscow and Back
Igor Paskar was born and lived until the age of thirty-five in a workers settlement in the Volgograd Region. He came of age in the 1990s, turning eighteen in 1994. After school, he enrolled in the administrative and industrial buildings maintenance program at the Volgograd Institute of Architecture and Civil Engineering, but had to quit his studies in his first year after he was drafted into the army. After two years in a construction battalion, Paskar returned to his native village and immediately began working odd jobs — on construction sites, as a loader, and as a courier.
In 1998, when Paskar was twenty-two, he was first sentenced to five years probation on charges related to drug trafficking. In 2001, he received two years of actual prison time for theft and possession of hashish. He was last convicted of a criminal offense — one and a half years probation for possession of marijuana — in 2006. The last ten years, Paskar told Vot Tak, he has been clean — he completely gave up using light drugs.
In 2013, Paskar moved to Moscow. At various times in the capital, he worked as a courier at Samokat, as a loader, and as a furniture assembler. He also sold rare items on Amazon.
He became interested in politics in 2018 — as his case investigator would later write, he became an “adherent of radical liberal opposition ideas.” In 2021, Paskar was detained in Moscow for taking part in a protest rally called by Team Navalny after the politician’s arrest.
In the summer of 2021, the activist returned to Volgograd, where he got a job as a courier. During one of the interrogations about this period, he said: “I was still interested in the work of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and I supported Alexei Navalny. I publicly voiced my opinions among people I know, including at work, and I posted my opinions in messengers and chats.”
The FSB on Fire
In February of this year, before the start of the Russian invasion, Paskar responded to an ad and took in a lost dachshund. According to the activist, stray dogs tried to attack the pooch several times, so he bought a flare gun to scare them away. He soon left his village in the Volgograd Region with his dog for work: he had found an unusual vacancy on the internet — picking strawberries in Adygea. Paskar was unable to start the job, however. There was a conflict in the workers’ accommodations over the dachshund, and he fired the flare gun at the ceiling. Paskar himself called the police, and the court sentenced him to five days in jail. After his release from a special detention center, Paskar left for Krasnodar.
In a letter, he describes this period as follows: “I have had a whole series of failures in life over the last three months. When the special operation began, I was unable to transfer money from abroad after the SWIFT system was switched off. I had an Amazon account on which I traded rare items. After the start of the special operation, I lost my earnings. I could not get a job in Volgograd and decided to go to Krasnodar for seasonal work, but there were a number of failures. I was angry at my plight and decided to sacrifice myself for what I believe in — peace.”
Paskar held his first anti-war protest in downtown Krasnodar on June 12, Russia Day. It was then that he threw a lighted bottle of gasoline at a banner featuring the letter Z and the slogan “We do not abandon our own.” No one paid attention to his actions, the banner quickly went out, and Paskar was not detained.
Paskar then decided to carry out a protest action at the FSB’s Krasnodar offices. He did not plan to go into hiding and prepared for his arrest by selling his phone and packing a bag for the pretrial detention center. “My criminal experience has left its mark on me. When a person has [this experience], they are no longer afraid to go to prison. They already know that you can live there too — not very well, but you can do it. It is not hell. This has an impact not so much on radical decisions as on accepting one’s fate,” Paskar noted in a letter to your correspondent.
On June 14, Paskar went to the FSB’s offices on ulitsa Mira [“Peace Street”] in Krasnodar. A Molotov cocktail flew [sic] onto the building’s stone porch. The activist then painted his cheeks yellow and blue and waited for passersby to react and for the authorities to detain him. He hoped that someone would record the protest on their phone and post the video on the internet. Passersby avoided the scene, however. FSB officers came out of the building after a few minutes and detained the activist.
A Burnt Rug
Paskar calls his protest symbolic, emphasizing that his actions could not have caused serious damage — only a rug was burned on the stone porch. Despite this, a criminal case was immediately launched against Paskar under Article 205 (“Terrorism”) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, which stipulates a penalty of ten to fifteen years in prison.
On October 28, the Southern District Military Court began considering the case — according to the amendments to the law adopted in 2014, only four district military courts [in Russia] can try terrorism cases. The court extended Paskar’s term in the pretrial detention center for six months, and ruled that the trial would be open to the public. The first hearing on the merits in the case was scheduled for November 10.
In 2016, for setting fire to the door of the FSB headquarters in Lubyanka Square [in Moscow], the performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky was sentenced to pay a fine of 500 thousand rubles under Article 243 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Destruction or damage to objects of cultural heritage or cultural artefacts”). And yet, at the trial, the artist demanded that his actions be reclassified as terrorism.
Earlier, the [exiled opposition] politician Gennady Gudkov said that Paskar’s actions could be deemed disorderly conduct: “In any civilized country, such a thing is regarded as disorderly conduct and is punished with a warning or a fine.” And gallery owner Marat Guelman called Paskar’s act activism.
Paskar is being aided by the human rights initiative Solidarity Zone, which previously announced a fundraiser to pay for Paskar’s lawyer.
Vot Tak has published an article about Igor Paskar, who is accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the FSB offices in Krasnodar and setting fire to a “Z” banner. He did this to drawn attention to the war and voice support for the people of Ukraine.
On October 28, the Southern District Military Court began trying Paskar’s case.
Solidarity Zone has been providing comprehensive assistance to Paskar.
We are now raising funds to pay for Igor’s lawyer.
Minus one:Yan Sidorov, a former political prisoner in the Rostov Case, has volunteered for the war.
Sidorov served four years in prison in the Rostov Case, in which the court decided that two posters and thirty leaflets were evidence of “attempted organization of mass disturbances.” The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized him as a political prisoner.
Yan was released from prison a year ago, and he had planned to work in human rights protection. There were no vacancies in human rights organizations, however, and so he had to get a job as a food delivery courier.
Yan socialized with many leftist and liberal activists, but he also maintained relations with the red-brown National Bolsheviks.
Apparently, the latter were nicer to him. Several mutual friends have informed me that Yan Sidorov has joined the ranks of Eduard Limonov’s Other Russia and gone to the front.
I still don’t get how the National Bolsheviks degenerated from a flamboyant opposition party into the vanguard of the Kremlin regime. The late Limonov was always an imperialist, however.
But how — how?! — former political prisoners become defenders of Putin’s dictatorship, no one seems to understand. As one of my cellmates used to say, “Everyone has gone off their fucking gourd!”
Well, before he starts shooting, it’s not too late for him to change his mind. Maybe he will shake himself free of this delusion after all.
Russian human rights activist Yan Sidorov is facing the prospect of three years under harsh probation conditions, when he is released next week from the penal colony where he has spent the last two years, Amnesty International said today.
Yan Sidorov is a prisoner of conscience, whose attempts to hold a peaceful protest in 2017 resulted in an imprisonment at a Dimitrovgrad penal colony after he had spent two years in pre-trial detention. He is set to be released on 3 November, but on 29 October Dimitrovgrad City Court will hear a request by the authorities to impose a severely restrictive probation period.
“Russian authorities are sending a clear signal to all young activists that participation in peaceful protests can come at huge personal cost. Yan Sidorov has already served four years in prison; he may now have to spend three more under strict police surveillance, forbidden to go out after 10 pm and banned from travelling outside the Krasnodar region,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.
“The Russian penitentiary authorities must immediately withdraw their request to impose additional arbitrary restrictions on Yan Sidorov and release him unconditionally. Yan Sidorov has done nothing but exercise his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and this outrageous campaign of punishment must end.”
Two weeks ahead of Yan Sidorov’s release from penal colony IK-10 in Dimitrovgrad (Central Russia), the penitentiary administration requested that the court impose a three-year probation period on him. Conditions include obligatory biweekly registration at the local police station and a curfew between 10 pm and 6 am; Sidorov would also be banned from leaving his native Krasnodar region, and banned from attending or participating in any mass events. The Dimitrovgrad City Court will hear this case on 29 October. On 15 October, the penal colony authorities accused Yan Sidorov of violation of the prison regime regulations – allegedly for not attending morning workout – and placed him in a punishment cell for seven days.
In October 2019, Yan Sidorov and his friend Vladislav Mordasov, who spent almost two years in pre-trial detention, were found guilty of “attempted organization of mass disturbances”, and each sentenced to more than six years imprisonment for organizing a peaceful protest in November 2017. The protest was in support of dozens of people in Rostov-on-Don (Southern Russia) who had lost their homes in mass fires. Their sentences were subsequently reduced to four years on cassation. Vladislav Mordasov serving his sentence in IK-9 penal colony in Shakhty (Rostov-on-Don region) is due to be released on 3 November as well.
I spent almost a month in Pretrial Detention Center No. 7 in Kapotnya. But on Sunday the order came down to transfer me, and I was met by the legendary Butyrka Prison. What an interesting place this is, friends! Oak gates, ancient walls, every brick here is steeped in history. A genuine Russian prison with its own unique flavor.
Moving here from Kapotnya, where a “red” regime is strictly observed, you feel the strong contrast. A “black” flag flies over Butyrka, and its units have their own rules.
Life comes to a standstill in Pretrial Detention Center No. 7 after lights out. One of my cellmates was sent to solitary for getting out of bed at night and making himself tea. In Butyrka, life is just beginning when darkness comes. “The roads” — a communication system of ropes connecting the windows — run between the cells. Information is exchanged instantly. The senior inmates in the wings give instructions and bring their juniors “up to speed.” Prisoners make entries in a house book, recording the movement of people around the prison. Prisoners locate acquaintances, exchange malyava [letters and notes] sweets, and cigarettes, and get the news. “The roads” function like a social network.
Butyrka has its own currency — cigarettes. For a pack of Parliament you can get a good pillow or a plate of cottage cheese for breakfast. For four packs — a soft new mattress. Almost everyone smokes, and a thick tobacco smog is found in most cells.
The prison is overcrowded and simply teeming with people: the “overload” amounts to about a thousand people. Thirty prisoners share twenty beds in the large cells. I wound up a small cell in the special unit: four prisoners are crammed into nine square meters. Some time ago, the prosecutor’s office decided to restore order and launched an inspection of Butyrka after getting complaints about the conditions. On the eve of the prosecutors’ visit, several hundred prisoners were promptly scattered to other Moscow detention facilities. As soon as the inspection was over, everyone was brought back to Butyrka.
The most amazing thing in Butyrka Prison is the cats. There are a lot of them here, and they feel like the real proprietors of the place. They calmly stroll the corridors, lounge on the duffel bags of prisoners awaiting assignment at the assembly point, and solicit food with an absolutely imperturbable look.
If the duty guard leaves the food hatch in your cell open, the cats can then jump through it freely and pay you a visit.
Imagine my surprise when, waking up in the morning, I found a purring lump at my feet. It stretched out, asked me to scratch it behind the ear and went to the table, wondering what we were having for breakfast that day.
Today, Open Space Moscow celebrated the birthday of a political prisoner Dmitry Ivanov, the administrators of the Telegram channel Protesting Moscow State University, with cakes, stickers, candles, and merch.
In addition to Ivanov, who is on trial for disseminating “fake news about the army,” the evening’s organizers remembered other people currently jailed under Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code who are not as well known, in particular:
Olga Smirnova, a Petersburg activist with Peaceful Resistance, who has been prosecuted for writing post about the war in Ukraine and burning a cardboard letter Z.
Every morning, Radio Russia turns on in my cell at the temporary detention center. At 6 a.m., the national anthem plays, and then the brainwashing begins.
The news items don’t differ much from one another. Russian troops have inflicted another “surgically precise strike” on the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, destroying more than three hundred “nationalists” and about a hundred pieces of military equipment. The Ukrainian butchers responded by once again shelling residential neighborhoods in the DPR with American (emphasis on “American”) weapons. A rocket hit a kindergarten. Miraculously, there were no casualties.
Audio letters to the editor then come on the air. “Maria from Saratov” or “Elena Nikolayevna from Kirov” read out their original poems dedicated to our heroes who, fighting in Ukraine, have put themselves on a par with the “veterans of the Great Victory.” For dessert, there are “songs of the Russian spring” — amateur ensembles twanging about Mariupol’s return to its “home port” or about the crimes of the Maidan.
And so on — wash, rinse, repeat — every single day. Sometimes I feel like the character in the movie A Clockwork Orange who is seated in front of a screen, his eyes held wide open with clamps. It seems to me that the UN should deems forced listening to such broadcasts a form of torture.
But seriously, my observations suggest that fewer and fewer people are taking this brainwashing at face value. Surprisingly, despite the aggressive war propaganda, I haven’t encountered any manifestations of hatred on this side of the bars at all. Quite the opposite. A detainee escort guard, snapping the handcuffs on me, whispers “Hang in there, Ilya.” The woman on duty at the temporary detention center gives me an extra blanket, “so that at least you can sleep more comfortably.” A bailiff in court thanks me for my video about Kadyrov. Such moments reinforce one’s sense of being morally right.
Even now, sitting in a cell facing the threat of a ten-year prison sentence, I understand that my decision to stay in Russia was the right one, although it was a very difficult decision. Because it knocks out Putin’s main trump card about the opposition’s foreign affiliations and that we would all flee at the first sign of danger. But now people see that we are not fleeing, that we are standing our ground and sharing our country’s fate. This makes our words weightier and our arguments stronger. But the bottom line is that it leaves us a chance to get back our homeland.
After all, the winner is not the person who is stronger right now, but the person who is willing to go all the way to the end.
Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 26 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
Russian authorities have launched a criminal case against Ilya Yashin, one of the last [prominent] opposition figures remaining in the country, for allegedly spreading false information about the army, his lawyer said Tuesday.
“I got a call from an investigator — they are beginning to search his home,” lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said on Facebook.
Prokhorov was later quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the probe was launched because his client spoke of “the murder of civilians in Bucha” on his YouTube channel on April 7.
Russian forces have been accused of committing war crimes in the Kyiv suburb after civilian bodies were discovered there following their withdrawal.
Another of Yashin’s lawyers, Mikhail Biriukov, said a search had been carried out at his home and that Yashin was taken out of prison to attend.
In June, Yashin, who is a Moscow [municipal district] councillor, was sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying police. He was set to be released in the early hours of Wednesday.
Yashin has been a prominent opposition figure in Russia since the mass protests against President Vladimir Putin in 2011-2012. He has denounced Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
He is an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and was close to Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015.
After Putin sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia introduced legislation imposing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading information about the military deemed false by the Russian government.
Writing on social media earlier Tuesday, Yashin, who turned 39 in jail, said he was supposed to be released at 1:20 a.m. Wednesday (22:20 GMT Tuesday).
“Maybe they will let me out. Maybe not,” he said. “What do you think?”
“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.
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?
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.