Dmitry Skurikhin’s Anti-War Protest Store

Dmitry Skurikhin

On Yandex Maps, almost all the roofs of houses in Russko-Vysotskoye, a settlement near St. Petersburg, are gray, but one sports the colors of the Russian flag. This is Iren, a shopping center owned by local businessman Dmitry Skurikhin. He had the tricolor painted on the roof ten years ago. But this year he ordered a nine by two meter yellow banner from a friendly printing house and on May 7 installed it on the blue section of the roof.

“I defiantly sided with Ukraine. And everything is fine — the villagers say hello to me, no one tells me to buzz off. I regard this as unequivocal support,” says Skurikhin.

He has turned the front of his store into a political statement and, despite numerous fines, he has no plans to stay silent or leave the country. Dmitry Skurikhin told The Village why he doesn’t worry when people scrawl the word “traitor” on the walls of his store, how he drives a vehicle with a “No war!” sticker (while his former best friend drives a car marked with a Z), and what tricks the activist has for communicating with rural policemen.

The front of Dmitry Skurikhin’s store: “Peace to Ukraine! Freedom for Russia!” is painted on it, along with the names of Ukrainian cities and towns attacked by the Russian army.
Russian businessman and anti-war activist Dmitry Skurikhin

How the protest store works
Dmitry Skurikhin is forty-seven years old. He was born in Russko-Vysotskoye and graduated from school there. He studied electrical engineering at the Voenmekh (Military Mechanical Institute) in Petersburg, and is an officer in the reserves. He went into business in 1996. In 2009, he went into politics when he was elected to a five-year term as a municipal councillor in Russko-Vysotskoye.

Dmitry has five daughters. The eldest recently married, while the youngest are still in school. “Four years ago, there was this incident. I came to the school and saw a portrait of Putin on a stand in a classroom. I demanded that the teacher take down this poster. They took it down!”

The businessman has two stores in total. The first is in the neighboring village of Yagelevo, and it has no political murals. The second one is in his native settlement. This is the Iren shopping center, named after the river in the Perm Region, where Dmitry’s parents came from. On Iren’s ground floor are Wildberries, Ozon and SDEK delivery points, a flower shop, a shoe repair shop, and a small gym; on the second floor, there is a tailor’s, a manicurist’s, a hairdresser’s, and a game room. Behind the facade of the building inscribed with the slogan “Peace to Ukraine! Freedom for Russia!” is a 256 square meter banquet hall. “Weddings, wakes, and rural discos-cum-fistfights are held there,” says Dmitry. According to him, there have been an especially large number of wakes recently.

How the war has impacted Russko-Vysotskoye
“Words are my weapons. I am trying to convince my fellow villagers that freedom, democracy, human rights, local self-government, and separation of powers are the road to prosperity,” the businessman says.

“We basically have nothing to say about Dmitry Skurikhin’s activism. It is, rather, reflected only in his posts on the internet, not in the life of the settlement,” the moderators of the Russko-Vysotskoye group on the VKontakte social network wrote in reply to a query from The Village.

The first mention of the settlement dates back to the sixteenth century, but there are no historical buildings left except for the ruins of the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The population of Russko-Vysotskoye is about five thousand. Many worked at a poultry plant, the main local employer (in terms of volume, it was among the top five agricultural enterprises in the Leningrad Region). But in the second month of the “special operation,” the factory management announced its closure, citing plans to build housing on the site. Then Leningrad Region Governor Drozdenko reversed the closure, and in June, after two months of downtime, the poultry plant is scheduled to resume production.

“Our store survives due to the fact that we sell on credit. We’ve got debtors up to our eyeballs. These are people who are three days away from retirement, but have no money. They come to buy bread and potatoes. We sell them in irregular batches. For example, there are people in the village who cannot buy a dozen eggs and buy four eggs instead. This is telling,” Skurikhin replies when asked about the war’s impact on Russko-Vysotskoye’s economy.

How the activist is fined for posters
The inscription “Peace to Ukraine! Freedom for Russia!” appeared on Skurikhin’s store in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea. This was followed by many (about two hundred) political posters. Skurikhin orders them from the same company that made him the yellow stripe for the roof, whose name he won’t disclose. “You can say that I am a small-town activist who voices his stance on any occasion. Some event happens — for example, [Russian opposition politician Boris] Nemtsov was killed [on 27 February 2015 in Moscow] — and I put up a poster.” The businessman fastens the posters with screws at a height of six meters on the same wall as the inscriptions.

The posters hang for an average of two to three hours. Then the local council sends an employee with a ladder and a screwdriver, and the police arrive from the 114th precinct in Annino, fifteen minutes from Russko-Vysotskoye. The posters are taken down. “The police officers in rural areas are smart, intelligent, decent, normal people. Not like in the city. They’re almost all on my side. It’s another matter that they have their orders and their oath,” Skurikhin argues.

Then Dmitry is fined. At first, the fines for “violating landscaping rules” were 300 rubles, but then they went up to three thousand rubles. (“As the secretary of the administrative commission told me, ‘They increased it especially for you, because no one else in the region is being punished under this article.'”) The last fine was issued under the new law on “discrediting the army.”

How they’re trying to prosecute Dmitry for “discrediting the army”
On March 5, the State Duma passed a law according to which people can be fined for “discrediting the army.” On March 6, Skurikhin hung a poster on his shopping center depicting residential buildings bombed in Kharkiv and a Ukrainian girl who had been killed. On Facebook he wrote, “Perhaps this is my last publication. Just in case, goodbye, my friends.”

“This is Kharkiv. Everyone speaks Russian there. Who are we defending there and from what?”
Photo courtesy of Dmitry Skurikhin’s Facebook page.
This image was not part of the original article on The Village, although there was a link to it.

The farewell was premature — Dmitry was only fined 45 thousand rubles [approx. 750 euros]. (He has challenged the fine in court.) And not so much for the poster itself, as for the story he told about it on Telegram, which follows from the charge sheet for the administrative offense: “68 views were made [of the post]; the channel has 23 subscribers.”

Later, another charge was filed against the activist under the same article in the administrative offenses code (there has been no court hearing yet) for reposting one of the blogger Rustem Adagamov’s posts. Skurikhin says that now he has a “standing invitation” on WhatsApp to come in and face a third set of charges, and shows us his correspondence with the policeman involved. The summons is preceded by the New Year’s greeting car that the law enforcement officer sent to the businessman six months ago.

Earlier, Dmitry says, the local beat cops themselves came to deliver the summonses, but they got tired of it. “Rural police,” he says, “have a lot of cases to deal with, and here they’re being sent to deal with nonsense. They said the hell with it.”

How the activist was called a traitor
While we are talking, a local passes by and asks Dmitry how things are going.

“I’m alive and well and at large,” the activist replies.

Dmitry Skurikhin, as one of the few public anti-war activists who have not left Russia, is regularly visited by journalists. Recently, three foreign media outlets were doing stories about him at once: the BBC, Belsat, and Stern. Reporters like to ask the opinion of passerby about Skurikhin’s “protest wall.” “He’s an idiot,” one of the respondents told Steve Rosenberg of the BBC. Another noted that Dmitry “has the right to express his opinion.”

Skurikhin is grateful to journalists. “If it weren’t for their attention, activists would be” — he rubs an imaginary powder in his palms — “and everything here right down to the lawn would be demolished,” he says.

At the end of March, the activist painted the names of Ukrainian cities that had been attacked on the front of the store. Then he regularly supplemented the red list. When we were there, he painted in two more names: Dnipro and Sloviansk.

But on the night of April 15, three unidentified people scrawled the word “traitor” on the Iren shopping center and deposited a pile of manure outside the entrance.

“They thought they would present me in an unfavorable light to my fellow villagers. It turned out the opposite. A woman passes by: ‘Dima, don’t touch the manure, I’ll take it myself, I need it for the garden.’ Or I go out with a bucket of yellow paint to paint over the graffiti, and an old-timer stops me. ‘Are you going to paint over the [names of the] cities?’ he asks. ‘No, just the word “traitor,”‘ I say. ‘Ah, paint over “traitor,” but don’t touch the cities,'” the activist recounts.

As this article was going to press, the walls of the shopping center were again vandalized. An unknown man on a bicycle wrote the words “traitor,” “freak,” and “moron” next to the names of the cities.

How the businessman interacts with his opponents
“A person can come up to me on the street and yell that I’m an asshole. Be my guest,” the activist says. He has many opponents in the settlement.

As for the Z symbol in Russko-Vysotskoye, according to Skurikhin, there is one on the car of the deputy head of the local administration.

“We were in school together for eleven years. We were very friendly. I wrote to him: ‘Lyosha, what did you put such a thing up for?’ He replied: ‘Dima, you have reached a new low.'”

His friendship with his classmate, according to Skurikhin, was long ago undone by political differences.

“It’s his people who take down my posters,” the activist explains, adding about his former friend, “He’s a good guy, but he’s an UnRus [a member of the ruling United Russia party].”

The official told us in a telephone conversation that he really was in the same class in school as Dmitry Skurikhin, but they were never friends. He did not comment on the activist’s work, saying only, “Our positions are diametrically opposed. You could say that we are ardent opponents.”

The businessman himself pastes a “No war!” sticker on his car.

“The response has been only positive. No, sometimes I see a sour expression on someone’s face. But people who do react [give me a thumbs-up] — attaboy!”

How Skurikhin decided not to shave his beard
“I’m afraid. What then? I can’t stop campaigning,” the activist says in answer to our question whether he is afraid of facing criminal charges for spreading “fake news” about the army, like artist and musician Sasha Skochilenko, “ordinary person” Vika Petrova, Skurikhin’s ally the activist Olga Smirnova, and many others.

He has no plans to leave Russia. But he does not condemn emigrants — on the contrary.

“Good, decent anti-Putin people are leaving. And there is a plus in this. Perhaps the whole world will judge Russia by them. ‘Look, not all Russians are idiots!” But I’ll go on here. If they put me in jail, I’ll sit in jail.”

At the end of the interview, Dmitry asks us to ask him a question about his beard and immediately tells us that on 23 January 2021, he shaved and went to downtown Petersburg for a rally in support of Alexei Navalny. There he was detained and jailed for twenty days. During those three weeks, Skurikhin grew out his beard and made a bet with a cellmate that he would not shave while Putin was in power.

“My cellmate told me, ‘Dima, you’re going to be playing Santa Claus without makeup.’ We’ll see. For some reason it seems to me that I will be shaving my beard off soon.”

Source: “‘A man can come up to me on the street and yell that I’m an asshole’: How a businessman turned his store into a political statement,” The Village, 14 June 2022. Thanks to JG for the story. All images courtesy of The Village, except where noted. Translated by the Russian Reader


“It’s our soldiers, our [Russian] troops, fighting there. Not Martians, but our people. And we are responsible for them. These people exist on taxes, including my taxes. I pay roughly 1,200,000 rubles [$19,500] a year in taxes. Our authorities buy weapons with this money and dispatch our fellow citizens to murder Ukrainian children.”

On the front of his village store, Dmitry Skurikhin paints the names of Ukrainian cities that have been bombarded.

“My heart simply aches when I see what is happening there. I simply cannot stand it. I paint the [name of the] city and I feel better. What if I could do something more? But it’s society that has to do something. I’m campaigning for our society to understand and accept this viewpoint — that we cannot be doing this, that we urgently have to stop it. At first I thought that half [the Russian people] supported the ‘special operation,’ but now it is fewer. It has begun to sink in that this is madness.”

Dmitry Skurikhin has opposed the actions of the Russian authorities since 2014. 

“The Putin regime should simply be eliminated. They are occupiers — they have occupied our country, do you understand? And they treat our country like occupiers, meanwhile fooling our people with their propaganda.”

Businessman Dmitry Skurikhin regularly hangs up posters featuring anti-war slogans on his store.

“The police just come up and take them down. I’ve been charged twice with the newfangled crime of ‘discrediting’ [the Russian army]. From their point of view I’m discrediting our Russian army simply by showing my fellow villagers what is happening in Ukraine.”

Fines for discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation can lead to up to five years of imprisonment. 

“People see this and it stays in their heads. Now it is just sitting there, but later it will become an itch and then turn into something unbearable. Putinism is a cancerous tumor, a disease of our society. We have to vomit it up somehow. Russia is now on the side of evil, on the side of Putinism. Putinism is an evil, definitely, for unleashing such a hell in Ukraine. Consequently, Ukraine has the motivation — they are fighting for their lives, for their families, for their homes, for their land. What are we doing there? Putin has forced our society to fight against a neighboring society, instead of doing business and exchanging knowledge and services to our mutual benefit. We could live together wonderfully, but now they are our enemies for hundreds of years to come.”

Despite the fines, Dmitry continues his campaign in the village. 

“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my security. But this is more important. It’s important to campaign, to convince people to come over to this point of view. And I won’t spare any expense or effort on it. Well, what could happen? If they imprison me, I’ll go to prison.”

Source: Current Time TV, Instagram, 21 August 2022. Subtitles translated by the Russian Reader

“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.

Ten Fun Figures about the Ex-Capital of All the Russias

Ten Telling Statistics about the Petersburg Economy
Mikhail Karelov
November 3, 2015
The Village

1–2%
According to city hall’s forecasts, the city’s gross regional product will grow this much by the end of 2016.

Facade of Galeriya shopping center, downtown Petrograd
Facade of Galeriya shopping center, downtown Petrograd

50,600,000,000 rubles [approx. 71 million euros]
Petersburg’s budget deficit in 2016.

"Crushing food in a city that survived a siege is shameful!" "I don't get it?"
“Crushing food in a city that survived a siege is shameful!” “What do you mean?”

8.9%
Decrease in Petersburg’s industrial production index year to date.

"Water level on November 7, 1824."
“Water level on November 7, 1824.”

19.3%
Decrease in production at Petersburg’s automotive production cluster year to date.

Greenlandia New Estate in Devyatkino
Facade of building in Greenlandia residential complex, Devyatkino, Lenoblast

13.8%
According to forecasts, Petersburg’s inflation rate as of January.

Advertisement in top-floor window at Kirov Palace of Culture, Vasilyevsky Island
Advertisement in top-floor window at Kirov Palace of Culture, Vasilyevsky Island

9.3%
Decrease in the average monthly wage in Petersburg year to date. 

Cat in a courtyard off Suvorov Prospect, Central Petrograd
Photogenic cat in courtyard off Suvorov Prospect, downtown Petrograd

42,656 rubles [approx. 600 euros]
Current monthly average wage in Petersburg.

"Simbirtseva, Apt. 29. Pay your debt, rat!"
“Simbirtseva, Apt. 29. Pay your debt, rat!”

28,700,000,000 rubles [approx. 40 million euros]
Amount banks lent to Petersburg residents in the third quarter of 2015.

Statue of Lenin, Detskoye Selo State Farm
Monument to Vladimir Lenin, Detskoye Selo State Farm, Pushkin

6.5%
Increase in the amount of utilities tariffs in Petersburg, according to the “index of changes in the average amounts to be paid by citizens for municipal services in various parts of the Russian Federation in 2016.”

"Building for sale"
“Building for sale”

11%
Increase in electricity costs for individual consumers in Petersburg in 2016.

Adapted and translated by the Russian Reader. Photos by the Russian Reader

“We Are Going to Die of Hunger in October”

“We Are Going to Die of Hunger in October”: A Fruits and Vegetables Vendor on What Is Happening at Moscow’s Markets
Sasha Shevelyova and Asya Yemelyanova
August 12, 2015
The Village

A year ago, Russia imposed a ban on the import of produce in response to economic sanctions by the US, EU, Canada, Australia, and Norway. Meat and dairy products, fish, fruits, and vegetables from these countries were embargoed. As conceived by legislators, it was simultaneously supposed to deprive western producers of a significant market, and also to give an additional opportunity for domestic producers to develop.

The Village decided to find out whether the fruits and vegetables now sold in Moscow’s markets are really grown in Russia, and what market vendors think about the anti-sanctions and the destruction of contraband food. Unfortunately, the majority of vendors we asked for commentary refused to speak to the press, so we are publishing the monologue of a female vendor who asked not to be named.

still-life-peaches-1916.jpg!LargePyotr Konchalovsky, Peaches (1916)

I have been selling fruits and vegetables for seven years running. I sold baked goods before, and a girlfriend of mine who sold vegetables said to me, “You work sixteen hours a day. Why do you need that? Come work with us!” I worked in a pedestrian underpass, and the hours there were seven in the morning to eleven at night. Now they are eight in the morning to eight at night. The work here is also hard. Everything has to be sorted by hand and dragged around.

Our market has its own laboratory, and we submit produce for testing every three days. It is not cheap, a test costs from 300 to 800 rubles [approx. 4 to 11 euros, as of this writing], and we pay for it ourselves. If the tests come back negative, the produce itself and what was lying next to it are discarded.

On the Fad for Domestic Products
There is now a fad for everything domestic. There were good strawberries from Poland or Greece, but no one was buying them. But if you say they are Russian, they get bought up. But where in the heck does our produce come from? On the other hand, I have to make sales and make my wage, and so I have begun saying they are from Krasnodar or Crimea, and people buy them. They come back, saying, “Oh, they were so delicious!” and buy them again. You get asked, “Whose peaches are these?” and you say, “They’re Crimean.” But can you imagine how they would get here from Crimea? There is no way you could ship them here. They would spoil and get crushed. It is impossible to ship them.

No one knows where fruits and vegetables are imported from today. “Turkey” is printed on all the crates, but such large quantities do not grow in Turkey.

It works like this. You go to the warehouse, and a semi-trailer truck with, say, Belarusian plates is parked there. Crates from “forbidden” countries are removed from the truck and poured into others crates with no coding. Ultimately, they write, “Grown in Russia.” I really like it when they say it was grown in the Moscow Region. Are you serious? The entire Moscow Region is built up with the dachas of oligarchs, who is going to grow produce there, and where? Take Moscow’s near suburbs. Go there and see how much is being grown. You won’t find much of anything. Either you will find what gets sold in really expensive shops or what gets grown for reference, for show.

The onions, potatoes, carrots, and beets are mostly from China. We try and buy high-quality produce, and we press the wholesalers to tell us where things are from, but no one knows. You watch as cherries are poured into other boxes, and peaches are put into different crates.

The tomatoes are transferred to Russian boxes, and vendors say they are from Krasnodar, but I know I am eating a Ukrainian tomato. But I don’t know how it got here.

The tomatoes, say, have been grown in Ukraine. They were shipped to Belarus, transferred to a truck with Moscow plates, and driven further down the road.

We do not sell Polish apples. They were banned back in March. But then unmarked boxes started showing up, and no one would be able to prove they are Polish. Of course it is illegal. It is even worse in the grocery stores. They ship produce illegally directly from Belarus. Moscow has eaten Ukrainian produce its whole life, and then it suddenly became bad.

On the Destruction of Peaches
My personal opinion is that we are going to die of hunger in October, because, two weeks ago, I bought these tomatoes wholesale for 45 rubles [approx. 60 euro cents]. I am not lying. Now we bought the same tomatoes wholesale for 110 rubles [approx. 1.5 euros]. Previously, it would cost 10,000 dollars for a truck to clear customs. The truck would drive up, ten grand would be placed on the custom officers’ desk, and the truck would head on down the road. But we, the consumers, ate normally.

Now it is twenty-five grand just to clear customs. And the drivers said they have been quoted a price of 50,000 dollars just to fly through customs. But then they will be bringing fresh, high-quality, beautiful produce. Meaning, how much are they going to be selling it for? At sky-high prices, so the poor will just disappear. If they continue to let through trucks from “banned” countries, we will survive. If not, it is not clear what will happen.

We have children in the Kursk Region who have seen peaches only in pictures. How many truckloads of peaches have been destroyed now? Would it not have been simpler to distribute them to orphanages? Everything is buried in taxes. As they say, “Russia has allocated so much money.” Do you know the right way to say it? “We have the taxpayers’ money, which we can dispose of in this way.” Because this is our money, after all. It is we who are paying for everything.

On the Market
We pay vendors a wage for their services. For the tax inspectorate, we write 10,000 rubles a month [approx. 138 euros], the minimum wage, but she [sic] gets 1,500 rubles a day [approx. 20 euros]. She works for us on the books, but many people want to work off the books. No one here has believed in pensions for a long time. They are grateful for this wage, because no one can give them more. We are all people and treat each other like people. Holidays and weekends are granted on request. No one tries to kill anyone for anything; everything is negotiable. 1,500 rubles is the stable daily wage, but there are also bonuses and gifts for the New Year.

The ethnic dynasties are still relevant at the market. Everything has been divvied up long ago, things settled down way back in the 1990s. They have their pens there, but they are all in the other hall. (The market has two halls—Editor’s note.) They sort things out among themselves. And they sell their produce for twice as much, of course. The second hall is not our competition. Potatoes cost 80 rubles a kilo there [approx. 1.10 euros], while in our hall they cost 40 rubles. The customers there are loaded. The oligarchs send their drivers and housekeepers there, and they immediately pack them up with everything. That is how they live. We are focused on the middle class; we have a different audience. Now a food fair is opening here as well. We will have zero receipts.

Sometimes, the police organize raids. Half of them need to do these checks for show, half of them, for the money. But raids are unproductive at this market. Everyone has residence permits and vendor cards: market management monitors all that. In the past, it was more frightening at the open markets.

On Price Hikes
What will happen next is unclear; the prices are crazy. It would better for us to close the stall than to listen to what people are going to be saying to us. The prices are such that people simply don’t have the money to buy these things. Either you want it and you will buy it at an exorbitant price (provided you have the money) or there will be no way for you to buy it. But I always think about the elderly and children. How will they manage? A mother who has just given birth doesn’t go back to work. She has to stay home with the child for two or three years. Her husband, working alone, will not be able to manage to pay for all this. So what are they going to do? Steal? People are still surviving in Moscow, but it is terrible to think what is happening in the hinterlands, just scary.

A crate gets more expensive by an average of 100 rubles a day [approx. 1.40 euros], and there are five to six kilos of produce in a crate. For the time being, we are keeping our prices stable, more or less. But what will happen come winter? There are products like pumpkin, zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower that a child needs to eat up to the age of one. But young families are poor, only the husband works. Prices are not falling, but the child still has to be fed. I pity them the most. And I feel sorry for the elderly, who have monthly pensions of 15,000 rubles [approx. 207 euros] and spend 13,000 rubles [approx. 180 euros] at the pharmacy.

This is how we do it. If people say they are buying produce to make compote, we give them the smaller, less expensive fruit. If they say they are making jam, we give them average-size fruit. If they are saying taking it to their daughter or someone in hospital, we give them more expensive fruit, but really good fruit. We do reorders every day, most fruits do not stay fresh longer than that. We sort everything by hand daily.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Image courtesy of WikiArt. Thanks to Comrade Nastya for the heads-up.

Happy Russia Day!

At three-thirty this afternoon I was awoken from a well-deserved nap by an incoming SMS on my cellphone, which read:

Уважаемый Клиент, поздравляем Вас с Днём России – праздником свободы, мира, равноправия и справедливости! Искренне желаем Вам и Вашим близким душевного тепла, достатка, счастливой, долгой и благополучной жизни! С праздником, Ваш “Билайн”

I.e.,

Dear Customer, we congratulate you on Russia Day, a holiday of freedom, peace, equality, and justice! We sincerely wish you and your family warmth, prosperity, and a long, happy, safe life! Congratulations, Your Beeline

Aside from irritating the drowsy me to no end, the SMS inadvertently reminded me of an article I had read earlier in the day on the topic of equality in Russia.

One in six Russians lives below the poverty line
June 11, 2015
ru.euronews.com

The numbers of Russians whose income is below the subsistence level increased by 3.1 million people in the first quarter of this year, up to 22.9 million. These figures have been published by Rosstat. The poverty rate rose to 15.9%, meaning that every sixth Russian falls into this category.

From January to March, the average subsistence level reached 9,662 rubles [approx. 155 euros] per person per month (a year ago it was 7,688 rubles). But inflation has also surged, which has been an especially painful blow to the poor.

The embargo on food imports from Europe and the United States, [introduced] in August 2014, fueled an inflation of food prices, and the 200% drop in the ruble’s value at year’s end drove up the prices of imported goods. As a result, by the end of the first quarter, the annual inflation rate in Russia had reached a thirteen-year maximum, 16.9%, according to Rosstat. By May, the figure had dropped slightly to 15.8%.

The statistics agency blames the increase in poverty on inflation. Average per capita monthly income, now at 25,210 rubles [approx. 400 euros per month], seems to have increased compared with the first quarter of 2015 by 11%, but fell by a quarter compared with the fourth quarter of last year.

Do you wonder how many Russians 15.9% is? The hipsters at The Village told their readers the answer yesterday evening as the latter were gearing up for the long holiday weekend: 22,900,000.

But how many people live in Russia?

According to the handy Political and Physical Map of Russia, published by AST Publishers in February 2015, which I recently picked up at my local French-owned hypermarket, the Russian Federation’s population stands at a healthy 146,100,000, now, apparently, that is, that the Republic of Crimea’s nearly two million former wayfarers have returned to home port.

map 1

map 3map 5

But there are a handful of malcontents who bristle at this new method of fighting poverty by annexing the territory and populations of other countries. One of them is  a stalwart of the Petersburg protest scene, Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, who showed up to a “prayer for deliverance of the Fatherland from the oppression of lawless men in power” this afternoon, at the city’s Solovetsky Stone, sporting a provocative but veritable downer of a placard.

stepanych-2

Russia immediately went mad after [the annexation of] Crimea (Yuly Kim). On June 12, 1990, Russia’s day of independence from the USSR was proclaimed! June 12, 2015, is the anniversary of Russia’s destructive isolation from the West.

Source: Facebook (Vadim F. Lurie)

Fortunately, the Russian authorities are not as down in the mouth as the sour old multiple arrestee Stepanych. For example, Maria Shcherbakova, the seemingly perpetual head of the city’s Central District, had these uplifting holiday congratulatory printouts pasted on every front door in our neighborhood the other day.

shcherbakov kongrats

Dear Central District Residents!

The Administration of Saint Petersburg’s Central District warmly congratulates you on the national holiday, Russia Day.

This holiday is dear to everyone who loves their Fatherland and takes pride in the glorious pages of its history and its extremely rich spiritual and cultural legacy. Based on the centuries-old traditions of Russian statehood, the huge creative potential of our multi-ethnic people, and unshakeable democratic values, we will make Russia a strong and successful country.

On Russia Day, I would like to wish all of us to be happy, to live in peace and tranquillity, and to thereby multiply the riches of our Motherland!

M.D. Shcherbakova
Chief Executive, Central District of Saint Petersburg

Earlier today, President Putin expressed similarly upbeat patriotic sentiments while handing out state prizes for achievements in science, technology, literature, and the arts:

“These ideals of patriotism are so deep and strong that no one has ever been able and will ever be able to recode Russia, to convert it to fit their formats. We cannot be separated, torn, and isolated from our native roots and origins.”

Who would want to “recode” and “reformat” Russia anyway? Grumpy old Stepanych? The nearly twenty-three million Russians now living on less than 155 euros a month?

Of course not, you sillies. It is that wicked, black-as-tar, uppity Negro from across the seas, Barack Obama, as the hipster baristas in the coffee hut on the corner of Liteiny Prospekt and ulitsa Belinskogo have pointed out in their own droll way.

obama's blood

We continue our trek around Petersburg’s fashionable spots:

“What is Obama’s Blood?”

“A quadruple espresso.”

“And why did you call it that?”

“That’s just what we came up with.”

Source: Facebook (Alexander Nazarov)

At 147 rubles a cup, Obama’s Blood is the most expensive item on the menu, as a friend has pointed out to me, but when you convert it to euros (€2.36) or dollars ($2.66), it is practically a steal.

And it will get in you in the mood for a fun albeit nerve-wracking Russia Day.

* * * * * *

Russia Day (Russian: День России, Den’ Rossii) is the national holiday of the Russian Federation, celebrated on June 12. It has been celebrated every year since 1992. The First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on June 12, 1990.