What Mobilization Has Done to the Sverdlovsk Region

The Sverdlovsk Region is one of the leading Russian regions in terms of the number of casualties among mobilized men. Many of them perished in the Kherson Region, from whose capital Russian army retreated after eight months of occupation. Relatives of the mobilized men said that, despite the fact that the authorities promised not to send untrained soldiers to the front line, their loved ones were killed a week after they were drafted. Some were killed literally within a few days. Despite this, the mothers, wives and children of the mobilized men support the war and thank Putin. Our film explains why.

00:00 Sverdlovsk Region is among the leaders in numbers of mobilized men killed 01:15 “They were quickly dispatched to the Kherson Region” 04:57 A man who had four children was taken away 08:43 How a father went to fight instead of his conscript son 13:10 “We had a funeral, but we didn’t see who we were burying” 14:55 What relatives of dead draftees receive 16:40 The mobilization’s end result

Source: “The Mobilization’s Aftermath: What the War Has Done to Russia,” iStories (YouTube), 14 January 2023 (in Russian, with Russian closed captions).


Alexei Rozhkov responded with Molotov cocktails to the decision by the Russian authorities to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. On March 11, he set fire to a military enlistment office in the suburbs of Yekaterinburg. He was detained the same day and charged with “attempted murder”: allegedly, there had been a watchman in the building at the time. The young man faced up to fifteen years in prison.

Alexei was held in a pretrial detention center for six months. The charges were then unexpectedly reduced to a less serious crime — “property damage” — and the insurgent was released on his own recognizance. After a time, thanks to the support of a human rights organization, Rozhkov left Russia, and we were able to speak to him.

Tell me what you did before February 24. Did you have a job? Any hobbies? Were you interested in politics?

Rozhkov: I lived in the city of Beryozovsky, a suburb of Yekaterinburg with a population of about 100 thousand. Yekaterinburg itself can be reached by bus in twenty or thirty minutes. I worked as a sales consultant at a DNS store.

I was fond of music — I’m a guitarist, a bassist. About six years ago, I had a band, Tell Me the Reason. I started recording a solo album [before February 24], which is still not finished due to the war, having to moving around, and being in prison.

I love dynamic, energetic music: it invigorates me, helps me get out of depression, and gets me warmed up and excited.

I have been interested in politics since I was fourteen. [Alexei is now twenty-five.] My views have changed over time. Previously, they were more democratic or something, more legal. Now I can call myself a left-wing anarchist. I have always campaigned to open people’s eyes and make them see what is happening with the country — for example, with the standard of living. I talked to my family and acquaintances, friends and even strangers. I drew leaflets and spray-painted walls. Do you know those big advertising banners? At night, I would climb up and write “Putin is a thief” on them. At the time, he was merely a thief. But now, of course, he is not just a thief but also a murderer. I wrote on such billboards at night so that people would also start asking questions and arrive at the same opinion.

Tell me why you decided to set fire to the military enlistment office. What did you hope to achieve?

Rozhkov: Since February 22, I had been closely following independent media and social media channels. I expected the war to start in the last week of month, because Russian troops were amassed in Belgorod, Belarus, and other border areas. It was obvious that some kind of movement of troops would begin. And it kicked off on February 24. I began to go into a depression. I was constantly flipping channels and reading the news. I was getting worse every day. I just understood that it was impossible to remain indifferent. What is happening now is illegitimate; it is illegal. Any war means death for ordinary folks. A war in the twenty-first century seems somehow alien to me, especially for such ridiculous, made-up reasons. We annexed Crimea in 2014, and I said already back then that it was wrong. Crimea is not ours and will never be ours. I said there would be consequences. And that’s how it turned out.

It is really awful for me to get my head around the fact that people are getting killed — civilians are dying, and those who do not want to fight, but have been drafted, are also getting killed. I wanted to make some kind of appeal for people to start fighting against this war. I wanted to impact the situation, to do something to stop it all or at least weaken [Russian troops]. So, I set fire to the military enlistment office in the city of Beryozovsky. I didn’t try to burn it down. I threw three Molotov cocktails at the glass doors, which broke. I didn’t even expect them to shatter. Actually, I was thinking that I would just set fire to the door, to the entrance. I was unlucky: at that moment, traffic cops were driving past and noticed what I did. [They] put out the fire, and then they followed me. I couldn’t get far. I ran about a kilometer, and I was blinded by the high beam from their vehicle. I tried to get out of there, to run away, but they threatened to shoot me, and I was forced to surrender.

Tell me how you prepared for this. How spontaneous was this protest?

Rozhkov: It happened quite spontaneously. I didn’t even develop an exit plan and was operating in unfamiliar territory. It seemed to me like some kind of self-sacrifice. I perfectly imagined that I would be held [criminally] liable for this, but I had no fear.

After my protest action was carried out, Putin admitted on Channel One that conscript soldiers had been deployed to the military special operation zone, and [said] that they would be withdrawn from there and that those who had sent them would be punished. It was after my arson attempt that he said this. I was the third person in Russia to set fire to a military enlistment office, and this is [an example of how] several people made an impact to save guys like us, guys our same age. [Conscripts] were not killed in the war. None [of them] were killed: they were simply transferred back to Russia, leaving only contract soldiers [in the war zone].

So you think that the arsons of military enlistment offices also influenced this decision by the authorities?

Rozhkov: Yes, I think so. I’m certain of it.

How did you feel while you were in police custody? Was there any pressure from the investigative authorities? What actually happened after you were detained?

Rozhkov: I was detained, handcuffed, searched, thrown into a paddy wagon, and taken to the police station. I was treated pretty badly at the station. The police chief of the city of Beryozovsky threatened me personally that he would piss on me and beat me with a stick — those were literally his words. But there were also decent people [among the police officers] who did not threaten me and talked to me calmly. They supported me so that I would not go into complete shock.

At Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Yekaterinburg, I was quarantined at first. They didn’t issue me bed linens, they didn’t give me a pillow or a blanket — they only gave me a pissed-stained mattress. Thank God I didn’t spend much time there. On the fourth day, the head doctor of the psychiatric ward summoned me. Since I have some ailments, she put herself in my shoes and I was transferred to the hospital wing, to the “psycho hut.” Basically, I liked it there. Despite the fact that some people in my cell were wacky, I had almost no conflicts with them. It wasn’t the first time my cellmates had been in prison. I was the only first-timer.

[In the pretrial detention center] they gave me very strong drugs, which made me feel lousy. One of those drugs was risperidone, which is prescribed to schizophrenics. I was given a triple dose. I suffered from restlessness [akathisia], I had panic attacks, I was short of breath and suffered from insomnia. That is, the treatment wasn’t right for me. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I was sent there, and not to gen pop.

I was a “road worker” [the person in a prison cell or block responsible for the “road,” the illegal system of communication among cells] — they respected me and listened to my opinion. Basically, everything was fine while I was in the joint. The prison staff were mostly supportive: you could talk to them a little bit during inspections or when the gruel was served.

During the period of my imprisonment, I was taken for an inpatient mental competency examination to the psychiatric hospital on the Siberian Route [i.e., Sverdlovsk Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital]. I stayed there for twenty-one days. There, on the contrary, the prison staff behaved aggressively and tried to provoke many people, including me, into conflict.

Those who succumbed to provocations were tasered and locked up in solitary confinement. The worst, most deranged prison staff, I believe, were in the tenth ward of the psychiatric regional hospital on the Siberian Route.

Did anyone support you while you were in prison, such as relatives, friends, or maybe human rights campaigners?

Rozhkov: When I was in the pretrial detention center, a lawyer from the Anarchist Back Cross came to visit me and offered their help. They also asked whether I wanted to receive letters, [financial?] assistance, care packages, and publicity for my case. I turned down the assistance and publicity, but decided that it would be nice to get letters from concerned folks who help people like us who are in prison. The letters really gave me a boost. My parents and concerned people from Yekaterinburg helped me by bringing me care packages. I won’t name names, but they helped me and are still helping me.

Why did you decide to turn down the assistance from the Anarchist Black Cross?

Rozhkov: Because I gave into the persuasions of my parents and lawyer. They were against my case being [widely] publicized — allegedly, so as to avoid hounding the investigator in my case. They were afraid that he would toughen the punishment if I attracted public attention. So, due to pressure from [my parents and lawyer], I had to turn down this help.

And yet, when you were in the pretrial detention center, as far as I remember, you were facing the rather harsh charge of attempted murder, right?

Rozhkov: Yes, I had been charged with violating Article 105, part two, in combination with Article 30 — “attempted murder, committed with extreme cruelty, from hooligan motives, in a generally dangerous way.” The crime carries a sentence of between eight years to life in prison.

Do you think that someone’s life was actually threatened as a result of what you did?

Rozhkov: I’m absolutely sure that this wasn’t the case. I doubt that there actually was a woman [night watchperson] of some kind in the military enlistment office building. According to the testimony of the policemen who detained me, who helped extinguish the fire, there were no lights turned anywhere on the premises, and they did not see this woman either. So, I doubt that she was there. In addition, in other such cases — I monitored similar cases — no one was charged under the same article of the criminal code as me. There were no guards there.

When you were released on your own recognizance, you didn’t leave the country immediately. What was holding you back?

Rozhkov: I was promised that the charges against me would be light: Article 167 in combination with Article 30, which translates into “attempted destruction of property,” and carries a maximum sentence of five years. But, after looking at the other cases, I realized that sooner or later, Article 205 [“terrorism”] would be rolled out against all of us.

I also wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family, with relatives and friends, so that I could at least somehow restore our relations and thank them. But ultimately I left. I was evacuated from the country.

How did your relatives react to your actions and to your prosecution?

Rozhkov: They said that I had acted stupidly, that it was impossible to go against the system and that I had let everyone else down. They accused me of suffering from a guilt complex. But I believe that I saved people and that my life is a small sacrifice compared to the number of people who survived thanks to what I did. Even if I had been shot when they were detaining me, I would still have achieved more than anyone else.

How are you feeling right now?

Rozhkov: I feel sad and lonely. I am not in my native country. But I have a friend — I am lucky that he ended up here for the same political reasons — and he helps and supports me. I am also supported by evacuation organizations. I feel pretty bad. But now I’ve purchased the medications prescribed by a psychotherapist, and things are getting easier and easier in my head every day. But sometimes a powerful sadness rolls over me, a melancholy due to the fact that I am lonely and had to leave the country.

Berezovsky and Sverdlovsk Region, on a map of the Russian Federation. Image courtesy of DOXA

When we were agreeing to do this interview, you said that after you had left [Russia], you tattooed the anarchy symbol on the back of your hand. Can you tell me about it for the interview?

Rozhkov: The symbol means a lot to me. I am an anarchist myself, a leftist; I espouse this political position. And although a society without powerful authorities and hierarchies seems like a utopia, we could get there. Power should belong to the people, not to a bunch of corrupt bastards who commit terrible crimes. My symbol also means that I share the views of the people who helped me when I was in prison. It says that I am close to these people. And that I, in turn, will also help political prisoners at the first opportunity.

Maybe you would like to convey something to Ukrainians?

Rozhkov: Yes, I would. I want them to know that there are dissenters, people [in Russia] who do not want war with Ukraine or any war at all. I hope that soon no one else will suffer due to this shit that Putin has made happen. Ukrainians are doing a good job of retaking their territory and destroying Russian troops. I think everything will be fine sooner or later. Ukrainians are very strong, motivated people and will defend their territory to the end. I respect them for that. I would have done the same thing in their place.

Source: Ivan Astashin, “‘I believe I saved people’: an interview with one of the first to torch a military enlistment office in Russia,” DOXA, 22 December 2022. Thanks to Simon Pirani for the heads-up. Translated by Hecksinductionhour

I Am the Lizard King, I Can Say Anything

The flag of Polevskoy. Courtesy of Wikipedia

United Russia Councillor Suggests Ural Villagers Send Children to Boarding School Due to Lack of Bus
Mediazona
January 27, 2020

In Sverdlovsk Region, Lyudmila Boronina, a member of the Polevskoy Urban District Council, suggested that residents of the village of Krasnaya Gorka send their children to a boarding school since the village does not have its own school or a bus to take children to Polevskoy, the nearest town. Boronina’s remarks were quoted by the newspaper Vechernye Vedomosti.

As the newspaper writes, on January 21, the council’s committee on social policy discussed educational issues, including the fact that there are few regular buses to Polevskoy from Krasnaya Gorka, forcing children to walk four kilometers along the highway to school. Boronina, who took part in the discussion, works at the Center for Culture and Folk Art and coordinates United Russia’s Strong Families project.

“Let’s recall the good old Soviet times: we had a system of boarding schools for children from rural areas. Children were brought to school on Monday morning and picked up on Saturday evening. We have a remedial school in the district. It is temporarily under repairs, but the district owns the building, and it is heated. Maybe we could consider a boarding school for rural children whose parents are not able to drive them to school?” Boronina said at the committee meeting.

Maxim Bestvater, a spokesman for the regional branch of the United Russia party, told the website Nakanune.RU that the proposal was far from perfect and would probably not be implemented since it had been met with hostility.

Bestvater urged people not to compare Boronina with Olga Glatskikh, as their remarks were of a “different caliber.”

As director of the Sverdlovsk region’s youth policy department, Glatskikh met with teenagers in Kirovgrad in 2018. She told them that the state basically did not owe them anything, but their parents did. She also said that the state had not asked their parents to have them. Glatskikh’s department was soon abolished, and she herself resigned.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Why do I translate and post stories like this? There are several reasons. First, because seemingly unimportant dispatches from the Russian back of beyond punch big holes in the myth of the “stability and prosperity” supposedly enjoyed by people in the nonexistent “Russian heartlands” under Putin. If I had the time, the money, and some extra help, I could churn out dozens of posts a day, all of them from places other than Moscow and Petersburg (although they are not immune to these problems, either) showing the staggering instability and immiseration the regime has visited upon villages and towns like Krasnaya Gorka and Polevskoy. Second, the fact that stories like this one are widely reported in Russian media and hotly discussed in Russian social media complicates the simplified picture of Russia as a country with no independent media or civil society. Third, they show how an authoritarian-populist regime functions in the twenty-first century—by “welcoming” certain limited, localized expressions of public discontent, thus deflecting attention away from the decision-making elites in the capitals and their overawing responsibility for the “minor apocalypses” that have been unfolding for decades in the provinces. Given Putin’s new “social turn,” as outlined in his recent state of the nation speech, it will be interesting to see what contradictions and collisions are sparked as the mafia state pretends to put on a more human face. [trr]

Do Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses Deserve Our Solidarity?

[E]mpathy also requires identifying with the person you’re em­pathizing with. And sometimes you only identify with those whom you recognize. That’s a problem because part of solidarity is the people you don’t recognize. The people who you don’t see yourself in. And we’re raised in this particular era of liberal multiculturalism to see ourselves in others. When in fact I tell my students, “Look, not only do you not see yourself in others, but if we’re talking about en­slaved people in the eighteenth century, I’m sorry, none of y’all can know what that means.” We can begin to understand not by simply imposing our own selves but by stepping outside of ourselves and moving into different periods of history. Understanding the constraints and limitations of people’s lives that are not us, as opposed to those who are like us. The fallback is always, “Well, if it were me,” or, “I can see how other people feel,” as opposed to, “Let me step outside myself.”
—Robin D.G. Kelley, quoted in “Solidarity Is Not a Market Exchange”: An Interview with Robin D. G. Kelley, Black Ink, January 16, 2020

witnessesIvan Pryanikov, Venera Dulova, and Darya Dulova are considered “extremists” by the Putin regime. Image courtesy of Woman, Prison, Society

Woman, Prison, Society
Facebook
January 25, 2020

FAITH AS A CRIME

Charged with “extremism,” three Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sverdlovsk Region are awaiting the verdict in their trial. The defendants are Venera Dulova, who has a hearing disability, her twenty-year-old daughter Darya, and Alexander Pryanikov. The prosecutor’s office has asked the court to give them two to three years of probation.

According to the case file, all three prayed and read the Bible, “knowing that they belonged to an organization banned in Russia.”

The reading of the verdict is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., January 27, in the Karpinsk City Court (ul. Mira, 60)

By the way, Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted in Hitler’s Germany and the USSR during the Stalinist crackdowns.

Thanks to Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Hot Water

A Female Pensioner in the Nizhny Tagil Area Invited Neighbors to Tell a National TV Channel about Their Village’s Problems: Now She Will Be Tried for Holding an Unauthorized Protest Rally
Mezhdu strok
22 August 2018

A 63-year-old resident of the village of Pokrovskoye in the Gornouralsky Urban District warned neighbors a TV news crew would be coming to cover utilities problems in the village. She now faces a court hearing, charged with holding a public event without the consent of the authorities.

ms-72790-8Irina Kutsenok. Photo courtesy of Mezhdu strok

Due to a hot water outage in the village that had lasted two months, pensioner Irina Kutsenok turned to the news program Vesti Ural for help. When she found out a news crew would be coming to the village on August 1, she posted announcements about their visit in the entryways of residential buildings, asking villagers to come and speak to the news crew. Subsequently, the head of the village council filed a complaint against Kutsenok with the prosecutor’s office, accusing her of “organizing a public event  without filing a notification in the prescribed manner,” a violation of Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code.

“The water was turned off on June 1. The council said it would be off for a mere two weeks, but two months had passed since then. I then contacted Vesti Ural. They had helped us last year with garbage removal. After a segment aired on their program, the council started picking up the garbage. The people at Vesti Ural said they would send a news crew on August 1, and on July 31 I posted flyers in the entryways of residential buildings saying regional reporters were coming to cover the hot water outage so residents would know about it. At the bottom of the flyer, I wrote, ‘Residents should meet outside the club.’ But the editors at Vesti Ural told me the crew would not be coming, because the council had promised them that on August 3 our hot water would be turned on,” Kutsenok told Mezhdu strok.

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Irina Kutsenok’s flyer, announcing an upcoming visit by a news crew from the program Vesti Ural and asking village residents to gather outside the village club at twelve noon on August 1 to speak with the reporters about ongoing problems with the village’s hot water supply. Courtesy of Mezhdu strok

According to Kutsenok, the flyers were taken down almost immediately, on August 1. They were replaced with leaflets claiming water pressure tests would be conducted in the village on August 3.

Nevertheless, Kutsenok went to the village club on August 1 in case residents of Pokrovskoye had questions about the hot water outage. She was met there by Marina Selskaya, head of the Pokrovskoye village council, and Alla Semyonova, a member of the Gornouralsky City Duma.

“They yelled at me, accusing me of holding an unauthorized meeting. Later, it transpired Selskaya had also filed charges against me with the prosecutor’s office, accusing me of organizing and holding  a public event without notifying the council, of organizing protest rallies. Subsequently, the neighborhood beat cop came to my house and informed me I had to go to court. But I hadn’t made any speeches anywhere, nor had the TV reporters shown up. This means I am going to court for turning to the media, to a TV news program for help. What, now we don’t have the right to turn to the media, either, and we should be fined if we do turn to them? I just wanted to give our council a little nudge. I cannot get them to do anything about the water, preventive medical exams or metering devices for utilities. How much can a person take?” asked an outraged Kutsenok.

The magistrate of Sverdlovsk Region’s Suburban District will hear the charges against Kutsenok on August 30. Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Administrative Offenses Codes stipulates a fine of up to 30,000 rubles [approx. 380 euros] or up to fifty hours of community service.

UPDATE. After this article was published, the press service of the Sverdlovsk Region Prosecutor’s Office informed Mezhdu strok the charges against Kutsenok had not been filed with them, but with the police.

Thanks to OVD Info for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Emerald City

Female Workers at Urals Emerald Plant Complain of Abuse during Strip Searches
URA.Ru
December 5, 2016

The Malyshevskoye is the only unique emerald deposit in Russia. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com
The Malyshevskoye Field is the only emerald deposit in Russia. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

Employees of a well-known emerald extraction enterprise in Sverdlovsk Region believe they have been abused during strip searches. The women are forced to freeze while standing on a concrete floor and answer intimate questions, and in the future they have been threatened with searches in gynecological exam chairs.

Employees at the Malyshevskoye Field Emerald Extraction Plant, a separate division of Kaliningrad Amber Factory JSC, have complained of outrages on the part of security guards. Having failed to get justice from various authorities, the workforce has turned to journalists for help.

“We are prohibited from being in the toilet for more than ten minutes. When we ‘violate the rules,’ the security guards demand explanations for things about which we are sometimes ashamed and embarrassed to talk, given that we are women, and anything can happen,” female plant employees told URA.Ru.

For obvious reasons, they were afraid to give their names.

“We get the impression that the security guards, who are mostly men, are really interested in the juicy details,” they said.

However, the female employees consider so-called selective strip searches the most agonizing procedure, despite the fact they are conducted by female security guards. Female employees can be subjected to the procedure repeatedly over a single shift.

“Without giving any reason, the guards can remove any of us from our workplace and take us away for a strip search,” the women continued. “They happen in a shabby room with a concrete floor and a broken window that opens onto a room where male security guards are on duty. The guards force the women to strip naked and pat down their clothes for a long time without wearing gloves. The whole time we arestanding barefoot on a rag on the icy floor. The temperature in the room cannot be higher than fifteen degrees Celsius. Any questions and objections on our part are met with blatant rudeness. They say straight to our faces, “Shut up! You’re all potential thieves and recidivists, and an emerald buyer is waiting for each of you outside the plant.’ The guards make dirty hints about where we might hide the stones. They have promised that, from the new year, we will be examined daily in a gynecological chair. Allegedly, the chair has been ordered. After this humiliating procedure, one of the gals felt sick and had to be taken away in an ambulance.”

Female employees complain that during the searches they freeze in the cold office. Photo courtesy of URA.Ru readers
Female employees complain that during the searches they freeze in the cold office. Photo courtesy of URA.Ru readers

The harassment has mainly affected mineworkers on the picking belt, where only women are employed. The guards behave respectfully towards the male mineworkers, although they too are subjected to frequent strip searches and blatant remarks about where they might be hiding emeralds. This happens despite the fact that all employees at the plant work under the watchful eye of numerous surveillance cameras and security guards, and wear special uniforms whose pockets have been sewn shut.

“Not all the guards are like this. There are also guards who are tactful and treat us politely,” the women continued. “But then there are those who come to work with one thing in mind: to choose a victim and bully her all day. The security company [that provides the guards] is supervised by the plant’s security department. They give the orders to the guards. Their attitude towards us is like that of the Gestapo.”

According to employees, the bullying and humiliation at the emerald field started late last year, when a new director, Yevgeny Vasilyevsky, took over. It was Vasilyevsky who established the security department, which signed a contract with the security firm Rostec Protection. Over the following year, the plant stopped providing workers with gloves and soap, but surveillance was beefed up. The mineworkers were subjected to strip searches for scratching their nose or adjusting their kerchiefs. Curiously, for no apparent reason, the security personnel themselves sometimes approach the conveyor belt on which the emeralds are washed. The female workers managed to capture one such incident on video.

“We have conducted strip searches since 2006, and it goes without saying that everything has been approved by various official organizations,” explained Sergei Babushkin, head of custodial services and economic security at the plant. “The strip search is the same for everyone. Even the plant director goes through it after he has been down in the mineshaft, and no one has complained except for one shift. Three female employees on that shift were detained while attempting to take crystals out of the plant. The employees on that shift ometimes violate the rules. After they have taken a stone from the conveyor belt and put it in a cup, they are obliged to raise their hands and show the camera they are empty. They fail to do this sometimes, and after several verbal warnings we are forced to take them to the search room. Before the new management was installed, private security firms worked at the plant for a long time. Guards and employees mixed, and raw gems were taken from the plant. Now we have put an end to the thefts and hired inhouse security. The business about the gynecological chair is not true. We are a state enterprise, and we have more serious needs.”

Specialists will have to put the complicated matter to a rest. The woman have sent written appeals to the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner and the State Labor Inspectorate for Sverdlovsk Region. Both agencies confirmed they have received the complaints, and assured us that measures would be taken to arbitrate the conflict.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the Left-Fem Facebook group for the heads-up