On the early morning of November 30, the security forces came to the home of Tomsk musician and teacher Anna Chagina: this was how she found out that she been charged with the criminal offense of “discrediting the army.” Chagina had been detained at an anti-war rally on March 6. In September, the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked Chagina’s page on VK over anti-war posts, which have now served as the grounds for the criminal charges against her under Article 280.3.1 of the Criminal Code. The maximum penalty is up to three years in prison.
On December 1, the court imposed pretrial restrictions on Chagina: she was banned from using the internet and mail, leaving home after ten o’clock in the evening, and attending mass events. On the evening of December 1, after the court hearing, Chagina talked to Sibir.Realii’s correspondent about her criminal case and her scenarios for how and when the war would end.
“Gentlemen, this is my house and my rules”
On the eve of the visit from the security forces, Chagina celebrated her birthday, and her guests had left late. She hadn’t sleep half the night because her nineteen-year-old daughter had a fever, and at six a.m. the doorbell rang. Anna opened it and saw an entire brigade: “There were two witnesses, two field officers from the FSB, an investigator, a special forces soldier, and a lawyer.” Only after returning from the temporary detention center, where she had spent the night, did she discover that the peephole in her door had been prudently sealed with a sticker on the stairwell side. At the time, Chagina had been too busy to notice it: she says that fear had made it hard for her to breathe and she was constantly thirsty. The second feeling she had was indignation.
– As soon as they came, I said, “Gentlemen, this is my house and my rules.” I insisted that they take off their shoes. They rifled through all my books and looked through all the folders. I have a lot of papers — printouts, sheet music, archives. They confiscated computer equipment and a bunch of flash drives and phones, including ones that didn’t work.
To calm her nerves, Anna picked up a guitar and put on a concert. She sang children’s songs and Okudzhava.
– Actually, I rarely give concerts, but then and there I realized that there would be no such opportunity anymore. I was trying not to pay attention to them.
– Did you have a lawyer present?
– They brought a lawyer with them. The court-appointed lawyer was both theirs and mine. At my request, she telephoned my friend Igor, but during the search she didn’t tell me, for example, that I could write in the report that I was against their videotaping during the search. We added that when I was already at the Investigative Committee. My daughter had also wanted to film the search on camera, but her smartphone was taken away. I was scared that I would first be locked up in a temporary detention facility for forty-eight hours, and then immediately sent to a pretrial detention center for two months.
The police search of Anna’s house lasted about three hours, after which she and her daughter were taken to the Investigative Committee.
– My daughter had a temperature of 39 [degrees Centigrade — 36.6 degrees Centigrade is considered normal body temperature]. I asked that she be questioned first as a witness and released, and after that they could talk to me. But first I was interrogated for four hours, and my daughter waited ll that time. The court-appointed lawyer told me that with such a temperature she could have refused to go in for questioning, but for some reason she told me that after the fact. Today, my daughter was taken away by ambulance with pneumonia.
During the interrogation at the Investigative Committee, Chagina cited Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution, which gives people the right not to give evidence themselves, their spouses, or close relatives] and refused to testify about the case per se.
– I verbally said that I did not admit any guilt, but, in my opinion, this was not included in the arrest report. They gave me some document about cooperating with the investigation and asked me to read it carefully. But I refused to cooperate, and I wrote on this document that I did not consider it necessary to read it. Copies of the search and arrest reports were not given to me because, they said, the the court-appointed lawyer had photographed them.
– And then you were taken to the pretrial detention center?
– Yes. To have something to do there, I took a pocket Bible with me from home. I was in solitary confinement. It was cold, and the sink and toilet stank. By law, I could be kept there for forty-eight hours, so I asked for cleaning liquid or power to wash the sink and toilet. They brought it in the morning.
The light does not go off at night. Radio Vanya, a pop station, was playing in the cell until ten p.m. I am a musician, and have other musical preferences. To keep this music from seeping into my mind, I meditated. I read the Bible. I spent the time well.
– How did the court hearing go?
– I had petitioned for a change of counsel, and the attorney I had retained was already at the hearing. We were able to keep the hearing open to the public. The investigator asked the court to impose pretrial restrictions that would prohibit me from using all means of communication. The lawyer asked for a mitigation, and I was still permitted to use the telephone.
Chagina is now forbidden to use the internet and mail, leave home after ten o’clock in the evening, or attend mass events.
– They put a Federal Penitentiary Service tracking bracelet on you. How do you like it?
– When I would see such a bracelet on others, I would think, Those are the fetters of Satan! It’s fine so far. I haven’t tried doing yoga in this bracelet yet. I’ll work out, and it’ll be clear how it feels… I’m talking calmly and even joking, but in fact I’m in shock. Once I saw a man who, after an accident, was standing there with a split skull – his brain was clearly visible, but he was talking calmly. He was in shock from the pain. Something similar is happening to me now.
– How much will the court-imposed pretrial restrictions, the ban on using the internet and leaving the house in the evening, complicate your life?
– Things couldn’t have been worse even before the criminal case came along. In September, the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked my VK page, which had a very strong impact on me, because I used this page to advertise private lessons and find music students. I have a very low income. I was selling my apartment to buy a smaller dwelling and pay off my debts, but due to the fact that I am now a criminal defendant, I cannot wrap up the deal.
“Blessed are the peacemakers”
Chagina recalls how she gave a concert on the eve of the March anti-war rally.
– There were about a hundred people there. Before playing, I openly spoke out against the war. I played one of my favorite Ukrainian carols on the violin. It was very warmly received. After the concert, a woman from the audience approached me: “My son is going to the [anti-war] rally on March 6th. I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid.” There were others. They were surprised: “You say that war is always bad. That it was Russia who attacked.” But even these people did not condemn me, but shared their misgivings with me.
My daughter went to a solo anti-war picket on March 3 and was immediately taken away. This was even before the laws were tightened, which occurred on March 5. I was afraid to go out on March 6, but I couldn’t stay away. My friend, who is seriously ill, went to the rally with her family. I can’t tell you her name, because I’m afraid that they will start pulling in everyone again. Her husband was detained. I thought hat she would be detained next. She had come out with a placard that read, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I took the placard from her and held it up. I stood there holding it for ten minutes before they put me in a traffic police car and took me to the Soviet District police department. I was later fined on administrative charges of “discrediting the army.”
– How long have you been in the protest movement?
– Protest rallies are not the most important thing in my life, but I’m used to openly voicing my opinion. I went out to protest for Navalny and for TV2 [the Tomsk independent TV channel shut down by the authorities in 2014 — SR]. In 2014, when Crimea began, I went to a protest rally carrying a placard that read, “Don’t shoot your brothers.”
– Why are you personally against this war?
– I am against any war. Violence cannot solve any conflict. I sincerely admire the martial arts, if it is an honest one-on-one duel without weapons. But you can achieve only universal death through wholesale slaughter.
I rethought a lot of things after February 24. The war enabled me to separate what I love from what I hate. I had wanted to leave Russia for many years before the war. I hate it when a person endlessly tolerates what cannot be tolerated — humiliation, filth, an unseemly life — and does nothing about it. War is an attempt by such people to resolve the logjam of problems through violence and hysteria.
– What do you like about Russia?
– I love the nature. I love a certain kind of simplicity. Not the the kind of simplicity that is worse than thievery, but the kind of simplicity that can be called openness. The war made it possible to find out that there are many honest and decent people among Russians. Before the war, I was little interested in politics, and I didn’t closely follow the events in Donbas. I was busy with my family, my art, and my work.
When the war began, Tomsk showed a new side to me. I have reached a different level of social connection and communication here. Despite the fact that we don’t agree about everything, we still manage to keep in touch. This is very important to me. It is for the sake of this that it is worth going to protest rallies. Love will save the world.
– You had already been found guilty on administrative charges of “discrediting the army” for your posts on VK, which eventually served as the pretext for the criminal charges. Did you understand what the consequences could be?
– I understood. But it was important for me to convey my position to people. I am mentally ready for the fact that the state will punish me for this. I haven’t yet talked in detail to the lawyer who is defending me. But, as far as I understand, I face either a prison sentence or a huge fine. I’m not afraid of either.
I felt like I was being watched, but I couldn’t quite believe it. I saw some people outside, standing below my apartment. The FSB field officer who escorted me today said that he had personally shadowed me. And the investigator said that all the investigators at the Soviet District police department know me. Apparently, they were all here pulling shifts. By Tomsk standards, I have a rather large social media following — more than a thousand people on VK. And I have a lot of acquaintances from very different circles that do not intersect in any way.
– Which posts on VK did they deem “discrediting”?
– I have only read the arrest reports so far, not the stuff in the criminal case file. As far as I understand, the incriminating posts are the ones featuring texts by the Christian thinker Pavel Levushkan and the philosopher Nikolai Karpitsky, as copied from Facebook and posted on my VK page, with the authorship of the texts indicated. Karpitsky is a philosopher who lived in Tomsk and headed the Tomsk Anti-Fascist Committee, but now lives in Ukraine. He talks about necrophilic imperialism and about why Russians behave this way, both in war and in peacetime. Plus the comment “No war!” which I wrote below someone else’s post on VK.
“I am also to blame”
– Anna, why do you think there is no mass anti-war movement in Russia nine months after the start of the war and even in the wake of the mobilization?
– Because no one wants to go to prison. But when mobilization began, the war affected even those who had hoped to remain observer. I am acquainted with a Tomsk family in which the husband works at Gazprom and the wife teaches at a university. The husband earned good money, and the family traveled a lot around the world. But when the war began, they did not object to its officially stated aims, nor were they surprised by the claims of the propagandists that Putin was fighting NATO and gay parades in the west. But then the husband received a conscription summons, and their point of view changed immediately. The husband fled abroad.
– Speaking of emigration. You’d already had an admin. You saw that you were being followed. Why didn’t you leave?
– I had obligations. I didn’t emigrate due to my family. My daughter has health problems. My mom is here. I have a grandmother and a grandfather who are already ninety years old. Finally, my romantic partner is here.
– And you don’t even consider such a possibility for yourself in the future?
– I consider it, of course. More precisely, I would like to travel around the world, immerse myself for a long while in a different culture, in a different linguistic environment, and live in a different climate. I am a very curious person. Before the war, I had such plans: when the children grow up, I’m off! But I wasn’t thinking about the kind of emigration in which you leave and burn all your bridges.
– In your opinion, who is to blame for the fact that this war began?
– Putin, first of all. He signs off on all the decisions. But he’s not the only one to blame. I am also to blame. I voted for Putin the first time he was elected. It was the only time I voted for him. He seemed like a man who could do something good for the country. I was very naive, and I didn’t know anything about Putin’s past. The epiphany came when I noticed that Russian reality had begun to resemble C.S. Lewis’s science fiction novel That Hideous Strength. There is this character, the Grey Shadow, in the novel. He is nowhere and everywhere. His henchmen on the ground resemble him and poison the atmosphere. And there, as in Putin’s Russia, they endlessly repair what doesn’t need to be repaired and generate the semblance of busyness.
The “castling move” and even the “nullification” seemed mere absurdities. But I didn’t expect the scale of demonism that we see now. Like Stalin or Hitler, Putin is a demon who stole my country.
– How long can this war last, and how will it end?
– I have three scenarios: reasonable, mystical, and punk/optimistic. Which one would you like to hear?
– Let’s hear all three in turn.
– Reason says that this is going to go on for a long time, for many years. Even if the fighting against Ukraine ends in the foreseeable future — within two years — it is unlikely that everything will end quickly in Russia itself. But I don’t want to talk about a civil war.
The mystical point of view says that the war is part of an ongoing struggle between Good and Evil, which just touched us personally now.
And the punk scenario says that “We will leave the zoo,” as Yegor Letov sang. Lately, before the criminal case, I wanted to forget everything, and just believe that sooner or later we would stop being monkeys who piss on each other. That we would exit our individual cages and become human beings.
– Do you see any rudiments that give you hope that an epiphany, a kind of purification, is possible in Russia?
– I see them. Many of my friends say, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to build something here. This is my homeland, and I won’t surrender it to anyone.” Among them are calm optimists who believe that “this too shall pass,” and determined folks who are ready to fight.
An acquaintance of mine supported Navalny and left for California forever to avoid criminal charges. But his friend, an American, on the contrary, moved to Altai from California ten years ago, became a Russian farmer, and has no plans to leave Russia. I love the Russian language and Russian culture, but I’m not a nationalist — I’m a globalist. I am for a world without borders, and I hope Russia will one day become a part of this world.
– You took a Bible with you to the temporary detention center. Do you consider yourself Orthodox? How do you feel about the fact that the ROC has been stumping for the war?
– I practice integral spirituality, but I still seek guidance in the Orthodox Church and consider myself a Christian. The ROC’s official position [on the war] is a disgrace, and all [other] Orthodox churches have condemned it. Real Russian Orthodoxy and what it is associated with today are heaven and earth. What is the Christian conclusion here? God is merciful. And He is merciful to those who labor under delusions, too. Another thing is that everyone suffers for their delusions, including the deluded themselves.
– All the independent media that reported your arrest wrote that you are a musician. What kind of music do you play?
– I graduated from music college as a violist and I play the viola. I teach violin. I’ve had a bunch of musical groups in the past. I’ve played rock, punk, folk, and Celtic. In addition, I’ve played with an ensemble of violinists. I worked in a symphony orchestra for a year.
– Is there a particular kind of music that serves as a lifeline for you nowadays?
– I’ve been listening to very little music lately — I’ve been overloaded. But Bach is always a lifeline. One of my relatively recent discoveries is the Petersburg singer Sasha Sokolova, who, unfortunately, died of cancer. I can say of her music that it’s about our time.
– Do you imagine that the court could acquit you?
– I’m not counting on it… When I was dozing in the cell at the temporary detention center, I thought it would be cool to open my eyes in the morning and see the ocean, clean and transparent. In exactly the same way I believe that the court could hand down a fair verdict — as in a pipe dream, as in a miracle. I believe this war will end. I admit that a miracle is possible.
Since the new articles of the Criminal Code and the Administrative Offenses Code on discrediting the Russian army and disseminating “fake news” about it came into force, more than 100 criminal cases have been launched in Russia and around 4,500 reports of administrative offenses have been filed, according to Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, speaking at a session of the State Duma on October 19.
According to OVD Info, a total of 352 people are under suspicion or facing charges in so-called anti-war criminal cases launched in Russia between February 24 and November 24. As of 23 November 2022, 5,159 administrative offenses cases have been instituted in Russia under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code (i.e., for “discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”).
On March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law criminalizing “fake news” about the actions of the Russian Armed Forces. Russians can be fined up to 1.5 million rubles or imprisoned for up to three years for violating the new Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code, defined as “Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes “discrediting” the Russian army, stipulates a sentence of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to a million rubles.
Source: “‘Putin is a demon who stole my country;: an educator accused of ‘discrediting the army’ talks about her criminal case and believing in a miracle,” Sibir.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 3 December 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader, who in the “real world” would have been paid 275 dollars or euros for this work (as an experienced professional translator) or, at least, 75 dollars for the five hours I spent doing it, per the minimum wage in the US state where I currently live. Please make a donation to this free resource today and thus send me the message that you value the work I do here and want me to continue doing it.