Petersburg: Russia’s Window on the West

windy petersburg“One day windy Petersburg won’t let me light a cigarette and I’ll give up smoking on its advice.” Graffiti, Petersburg, July 19, 2018.  Photo by the Russian Reader

Rotunda
June 17, 2019

While Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and the Kremlin were trying to spearhead protests and organize their own rally in support of [the briefly arrested investigative journalist] Ivan Golunov, Petersburg’s acting governor Alexander Beglov missed the political bandwagon once again. Today, during a session of the governor’s so-called inner cabinet at the Smolny, he was told by his underlings the Vesna (Spring) Movement wanted to hold a rally against the persecution of journalists on June 23. Beglov ordered city officials to reach out to the organizers and move the rally to another date since, otherwise, it “would ruin the celebration for school leavers.”

When Beglov gave this order, he was likely unaware city officials had already taken care of the kids. The Smolny turned down Vesna’s request to approve their rally by making up literally a million excuses. For example, a source in the Smolny reported a military band would be playing on Lenin Square (one of the city’s specially designated so-called Hyde Parks, where, theoretically, protesters do not need the city’s go-ahead to hold rallies) on June 23. It also transpired that urgent repairs of heating mains, buildings, pedestrian crossings, etc., were underway at all the other venues in the city center where protest rallies could be held.

Rotunda (Rotonda) is a Telegram channel, covering city politics in Petersburg and written by reporters Maria Karpenko and Ksenia Klochkova. Translated by the Russian Reader

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The Sex Beat

Two Petersburg Activists Remanded in Custody on Suspicion of Sexual Relations with 14-Year-Old Girl 
Bumaga
February 21, 2019

This afternoon, a court in Petersburg remanded in custody two 18-year-old political activists: Vladimir Kazachenko, of the Vesna (Spring) Movement, and Vadim Tishkin, who attended opposition protests.

Police investigators suspect them of sexual relations with a female juvenile.

On the eve of their arrests, Kazachenko was visited at home by policemen who asked him questions about bomb threats. In early February, he had been involved in a protest on Nevsky Prospect. Tishkin claims police planted drugs in his house.

Civil rights activists argue the case bears all the hallmarks of political persecution.

Bumaga has summarized everything known about the case.

Kazachenko is an activist in the Vesna (Spring) Movement. After he was detained on Nevsky on February 9 while carrying a placard that read, “Open Russia Instead of Putin,” in support of arrested Open Russia activist Anastasia Shevchenko, he was charged with two administrative offenses, disorderly conduct and involvement in an unauthorized protest.

On February 19, Kazachenko was scheduled to appear in Petersburg’s Kuibyshev District Court at a hearing on both counts.

Kazachenko claimed that, a day earlier, at approximately eight o’clock in the evening, two plain clothes police officers knocked on his door and asked to be let in.

“They said through the door they needed to question us about the bomb threats of the last several days,” said Kazachenko.

As of today, February 21, there have been bomb threats leading to evacuations of public buildings in Petersburg for six consecutive days.

Our sources in Vesna informed us that officers at a neighborhood police station corroborated Kazachenko’s story about being visited by police due to the bomb threats. The police explained they needed him to make a statement.

Fontanka.ru writes that the police officers left around one in the morning. Kazachenko claims, on the contrary, the officers spent around an hour outside his door, but he did not let them in.

According to his lawyer, the next day, Kazachenko went missing an hour before his scheduled court hearing. By evening, activists from the Aid for Detainees Group discovered Kazachenko was being held in the criminal investigative department at the 15th Police Precinct. Another activist, Vadim Tishkin, was with him.

It is not known when and how they were detained.

sb1Vladimir Kazachenko in court on February 21. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

The media wrote the activists had been detained on sex-related charges. This was corroborated, allegedly, by photographs posted on Telegram channels. Citing sources in law enforcement, Fontanka.ru wrote that Kazachenko and Tishkin had been detained, allegedly, for sexual relations with a 14-year-old female Vesna activist. 78.ru also noted  police had found a beige-colored powder-like substance among Tishkin’s personal effects.

Several anonymous Telegram channels published similar reports. The posts featured photos from the so-called orgy, which took place under a Navalny campaign poster and involved the two activists and two young women. According to the Telegram channels, police found the photos when they were interrogating one of the female minors and confiscated her telephone. The faces of the alleged orgiasts were blurred in the published photos. Vesna argues the photos were deliberately leaked to the Telegram channels to make the case public.

According to an article published on the website Moika 78, the parents of the two female juveniles pictured in the photos filed criminal complaints against Kazachenko.

Later, the Aid to Detainees Group reported that Kazechenko and Tishkin were suspected of violating Article 135 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Commission of indecent acts without violence by a person who has reached the age of eighteen against a person who has not reached the age of sixteen”).

Fontanka.ru wrote that the activists confessed their guilt, but the Aid to Detainees Group denies this. According to the civil rights activists, Tishkin admitted a narcotic substance was found among his personal effects, but he claims it was planted there.

sb2Vadim Tishkin in court on February 21. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

On February 20, the Petersburg office of the Russian Investigative Committee reported that two local residents, born in 2000, had been detained on suspicion of committing indecent acts.

“The evidence gives us grounds to believe that, on February 18, 2019, the suspects committed indecent acts against a female juvenile, born in 2004, in an apartment on Grazhdansky Prospect,” wrote the agency.

The Investigative Committee stressed, however, it had “conclusive evidence” of the arrested men’s involvement in the crime: photos and videos found on the mobile telephones of the suspects and victims.

“The involvement of the suspects in political organizations of whatever kind has nothing to do with the current criminal case,” the Investigative Committee underscored.

According to the Aid for Detainees Group, the arrested activists initially received legal assistance from Russia Behind Bars and Memorial since, according to the civil rights activists, the case bore the hallmarks of political persecution.

Varya Mikhaylova, a spokesperson for the Aid for Detainees Group, explained to Bumaga that civil rights activists had made this assumption because Kazachenko had been involved in Vesna’s protests, while Tishkin had been detained during a protest against the pension reform on September 9, 2018. According to Mikhaylova, the two female minors were also involved in political activism.

sb3Vladimir Kazachenko in the cage. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga  

The Vesna Movement also believe the case is politically motivated.

“I doubt whether they would put so much pressure on [Kazachenko] and make such a big deal of the case if he weren’t an activist. Besides, it would appear that he was missing for several hours before police investigators went public with their suspicions. None of the police precincts told us he was in their custody,” said Anzhelika Petrovskaya, the Vesna Movement’s press secretary.

Vesna commented on news of Kazachenko’s arrest on the evening of February 19. It said it believing meddling in the personal lives of activists was wrong.

Subsequently, Vesna has commented on the case on its Telegram channel.

“We hope people realize this is a victimless crime. Vladimir did nothing bad from an personal viewpoint. There was no violence involved. The movement believes we should help and support him,” wrote Petrovskaya.

Vesna has no intention of expelling Kazachenko from the movement. On the contrary, its activists are planning a crowdfunding campaign to support him in remand prison.

Two days after the activists were detained police, a court remanded them in custody. Their hearings took place in closed chambers.

Kazachenko was charged with having sexual relations with a minor in collusion with other individuals, a violation under Article 135 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, which stipulates a maximum punishment of fifteen years in prison.

Petrovskaya said Kazachenko had been sent to Remand Prison No. 1 for two months.

sb4Vadim Tishkin in the cage. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

Tishkin was also jailed for two months. The Petersburg judicial system’s joint press service did not mention the drugs charge, only that Tishkin was suspected of having sexual relations with a minor as part of a group.

Fontanka.ru writes that Tishkin is also suspected of attempting to steal a mug from a Starbucks on Nevsky Prospect.

____________________________

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
February 27, 2019

[…]

We spoke with Vadim Tishkin. He looked like a teenager, confused and completely ignorant of what a remand prison was. We spoke with him on Monday. He was delivered to the remand prison in the early hours of Friday morning. He had been without bed linens and other necessities the entire time. When police searched his house, they had let him take some things with him, but he had not chosen the best things to take. The remand prison should have issued him bed linens, of course, but apparently you have to insist on it for it to happen.

Concerning the criminal case, he said the police had not beaten him. They only insisted he take part in a drug sting, promising to plant drug in his home or on his person if he refused to cooperated. He refused to cooperate, and the police planted lots of drugs on him.

They knew right away the types and quantities of drugs they “found.” No forensic examination was needed.

The sting would have targeted his friend the political activist Vladimir Kazachenko.

(I wrote the first sentence of this story because I think it is terribly important that the first and second paragraphs are about the same person. A confused adult, who was a juvenile until recently, was made to choose between a prison term and a sting operation. Since he has a state-appointed defense lawyer, he will probably get a long prison sentence.)

We asked about telephones, because the Telegram channels who had sources in the police said the girl had voluntarily surrendered her telephone to police officers. In fact, as Vadim told us, she had not surrendered it voluntarily. It was forcibly confiscated, and the police had guessed the password since it was simple.

[…]

Thanks to Comrade K. for the heads-up.

____________________________

Former Sandarmokh Caretaker Sergei Koltyrin Sentenced to Nine Years in Pedophilia Case
Sergei Markelov
Novaya Gazeta
May 27, 2019

The Medvezhyegorsk District Court in Karelia has sentenced Sergei Koltyrin, former director of the district’s museum, to nine years in a medium-security prison camp and forbidden him to engage in teaching for ten years. The other defendant in the case, Severomorsk resident Yevgeny Nosov, was sentenced to eleven years in a prison camp.

Koltyrin was charged with indecent acts against a juvenile male in collusion with other individuals (Russian Criminal Code Article 135, Parts 2 and 4), sodomy against a juvenile male in collusion with other individuals (Article 134, Parts 3 and 5), and illegal possession of a weapon (Article 222, Part 1).

Nosov was indicted on the same charges, except the weapon possession charge. Both defendants refused to comment on the verdict.

The prosecution had asked the court to sentence Koltyrin to sixteen years, and Nosov to eighteen years, in a maximum-security prison camp. Prosecutor Andrei Golubenko told reporters the prosecution was satisfied with the verdict, but it would first have to read the text of the court’s ruling to decide whether to appeal it.

When asked how many victims there had been and whether the defendants had confessed their guilt, Golubenko refused to answer, citing the fact he could not divulge the particulars of the trial, since the evidence in the case had been presented in closed chambers.

Koltyrin’s defense lawyer, Konstantin Kibizov, was not present for the reading of the verdict, but he said his proxy would probably appeal the verdict.

Koltyrin and Nosov were arrested on October 3, 2018. According to police investigators, the men had repeatedly raped Nosov’s distant relative, who was twelve at the time. Both defendants partially admitted their guilt [sic]. The men were subsequently accused of having sexual intercourse with a juvenile male.

In August 2018, Koltyrin was appointed curator of the excavations in the forested area of Sandarmokh, as conducted by the Russian Military History Society. He had spoken negatively about the hypothesis that the site contained the graves of victims of the Finnish occupation of Soviet Karelia during 1941–1944. Koltyrin insisted the memorial site contained the remains of Soviet citizens executed during the Stalinist purges.

The mass graves of Stalin’s victims at Sandarmokh were discovered by a group led by Memorial Society historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was arrested in 2016 and charged with producing pornography depicting his juvenile foster daughter.

In April 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriev on the charges. However, the prosecutor’s office appealed the verdict, after which the case was sent to the Karelian Supreme Court for review.

In the summer of 2018, Dmitriev was indicted on new criminal charges. In addition to producing pornography, he was charged with committing violent sexual acts against his foster daughter.

Translated by the Russian Reader

_____________________________________

This post deals with four criminal cases against two very young opposition political activists in Petersburg and two middle-aged opposition historians in Russian Karelia who have played prominent roles in researching and publicizing the extent of the Great Terror in their part of the world.

What the cases have in common is that the men have all been accused and, in one case convicted, of sexual offenses against minors.

In the first case, two very young political activists in Petersburg stand accused of having sex with women only a few years younger.

In the cases in Karelia, the charges seem more serious—sexual acts against minors on the part of middle-aged men—but the article in the Russian Criminal Code is the same. If the activists and researchers caught up in the machinery of the Russian police state are found guilty (as one of them has been, only yesterday), they can be sentenced to long terms in prison.

I get the sense that most of the Russian civil rights community, the Russian press, the Russian opposition, and their supporters in the west do not want to touch these cases with a ten-foot pole, lest the taint of “sexual assault” and “pedophilia” touch them as well.

In fact, I would not have heard of the first two cases if I had not met another young Russian political activist who had the good sense to flee Russia when it was obvious the Prigozhin-controlled local press and social media set them up for the same charges as the ones now faced by Vladimir Kazachenko and Vadim Tishkin.

The whole world should know Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev by now and understand the Putin regime simply cannot let its absurd frame-up, quashed once by the Petrozavodsk City Court, fall to pieces, so it upped the ante by accusing him of sexually assaulting his juvenile stepdaughter.

I know of at least one very large Russian civil rights organization that was so impressed by this obvious trickery they avoided sending a representative to Petrozavodsk for Dmitriev’s new trial.

They were scared to be seen there, apparently.

Maybe it has occurred to a lot of people who are determined not to open their mouths, but the police and security services in Russia have demonstrated in recent years they will stop at nothing to get their man or woman.

People who care about solidarity and glasnost have to be able to get over their squeamishness and see these cases for what they really are—a convenient means of sending the Russian opposition the message that no holds are barred in the regime’s war against them. At least, we have to presume innocence and admit the possibility the regime has no qualms about accusing anyone of any crime, no matter how heinous or, as in the case of the “teen sex orgy” in Petersburg, allegedly involving political activists, how banal.

It thus should go without saying that, when they are indicted on statutory rape or sexual assault charges, jailed in one of Russia’s harsh remand prisons, and abandoned by their former friends and political allies to the tender mercies of prison wardens, police investigators, and prosecutors, some people despair and let themselves be railroaded, knowing that the conviction rate of Russia’s courts is over 99%. {THE RUSSIAN READER}

Yevgenia Litvinova: October 28, 2018

october 28Petersburg democracy activist Pavel Chuprunov, holding a placard that reads, “‘Yes, we tasered them, but it wasn’t torture. We were doing our jobs!’ Admission by the Soviet NKVD Russian FSB, 1938 2018.” Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, 28 October 2018. Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
October 29, 2018

October 28 was the day chosen for publicly supporting people accused of extremism and locked up in jail, i.e., the suspects in the Network and the New Greatness cases. Petersburgers had no choice but to be involved in this international event, since some of the suspects in the Network case are from Petersburg.

The day before, I had listened to Yekaterina Kosarevskaya and Yana Teplitskaya’s brilliant but very heavy report about the use of torture in the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate. In particular, the report recounts how the young men accused in the Network case were tortured. All we can do is constantly talk about these people publicly, about what happened to them over the last year (they were arrested nearly a year ago), and what is happening to them now.

The rally in support of the young folks locked up in remand prisons on trumped-up charges was not approved by the authorities, although the organizers—Open Russia, Vesna, and Bessrochka (Endless Protest)—suggested a variety of venues in the downtown area. Everywhere was off limits.

You can protest in Udelny Park, in the far north of Petersburg, that is, in the woods. It’s a great place to have a stroll and get some fresh air, but who would be there to see your protest? The squirrels? This proposal is better than the garbage dump in Novosyolki, which the authorities always used to suggest as an alternative venue, but it’s not a suitable place for a political rally.

All that remained was the only form of political protest that doesn’t require prior approval from the authorities: solo pickets.

The protesters had different placards, but all of them were quite persuasive. They got to the heart of these frame-ups, which crush and maim people in order to earn promotions for the policemen and security services officers who dream them up.

Solo pickets had always been safe in Petersburg, unlike in Moscow, Krasnodar, and so on. That was why many people found them monotonous and boring.

“Oh, solo pickets again,” people would complain.

The plan was to take it in turns to stand holding placards on the corner of Nevsky and Malaya Sadovaya. But the folks from NOD (National Liberation Movement) read announcements for the upcoming protests and got there early. We had to move away from Malaya Sadovaya and closer to the pedestrian underpass to the subway. It’s an uncomfortable, narrow spot.

NOD has been a little sluggish lately. What happened to their weekly vigils? When there’s no money, there’s no NOD. But suddenly they had reappeared, which meant they had been asked to take to the streets by people whose offer you can’t refuse.

Recently, solo pickets have ceased to be “boring,” but there’s no reason for rejoicing. Solo pickets started becoming a staple of news reports around a month ago, when Alexander Beglov was appointed Petersburg’s acting governor. Since then, police have made a habit of detaining people at solo pickets. They make up excuses for their actions on the fly.

I knew this, of course, but I naively counted on logic and common sense winning the day. I compiled and printed out a number of laws proving that I and other “favorites” of Lieutenant Ruslan Sentemov, a senior police inspector in the public order enforcement department of Petersburg’s Central District, had to the right to speak out via solo pickets. I was planning to hand these papers to Sentemov on camera. But I didn’t see him at the rally. I thought he hadn’t come at all. Nor did he see me.

I got lucky. Because what logic had I imagined? What common sense? What laws? What right to hold solo pickets?

Sentemov did see another of his “favorites,” Dmitry Gusev. He pointed at him and said, “Detain him.”

Dmitry was not holding anything at all, much less a placard. He had no plans to be involved in the picketing. But that was that, and now he is detained at a police precinct, like dozens of other people. I counted over thirty detainees. But Alexander Shislov, Petersburg’s human rights ombudsman, writes that around fifty people were detained. Around one hundred people were at the protest.

Several detainees were released without charges, while others were charged with violating Article 20.2 Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code, but most of the detainees will spend the night in police stations. They have been charged with violating Article 20.2 Part 2, which is punishable by jail time.*

The detainees were dispersed to different police stations, some of them quite far away. They needed food, water, and toiletries. Police stations usually don’t have any of these things, although they are obliged to provide them if they detain someone for more than three hours.

Over ten people who were present with me at the protest traveled the police stations to check on the detainees. The rest came from the Observers HQ at Open Space. We constantly called and wrote each other, makingsure no one had been left without assistance. I hope that was how it worked out. The detainees should have everything they need for this evening, overnight, and tomorrow morning.

Natalia Voznesenskaya and I had planned to go to the 28th Police Precinct, but all the detainees there had been released.

We went instead to the 7th Precinct. The internet told us it was near the Kirovsky Zavod subway station. We wandered for a long time amidst the nice little houses built after the war, supposedly by German POWs. We arrived at the police station only to find that its number had recently changed. It was no longer the 7th Precinct, but the 31st Precinct.

We went to the real 7th Precinct, on Balkanskaya Street. Elena Grigoryeva, Dmitry Dorokhin, and two other men were detained there. (One of the men had been taken away by ambulance.) Unexpectedly, the 7th Precinct was a decent place. It was no comparison with the 76th and 78th Precincts, in the Central District. The police officers on duty there accepted our food packages and spoke politely with us.

We ran into Alexander Khmelyov at the station. Wielding a power of attorney as a social defender, he had come to see what kind of mattresses and linens had been issued to the detainees. There were no bedbugs. What was more, the police officers brought the detainees supper from a nearby cafe. They were obliged to do it, but their colleagues at other precincts never do it, and detainees usually don’t even get breakfast.

So, now the stomachs of the detainees were full, and they could take the food we had brought with them to court. Court hearings can last eight hours or more, although it happens that fifteen minutes is all the time a judge needs. There is usually no difference. The court’s rulings have been written in advance.

Before leaving the house to go the protest in support of the suspects in the New Greatness and Network cases, I listened to a program on Echo of Moscow about the case of Elena Kerenskaya, sister of Alexander Kerensky, chair of the Provisional Government in 1917. Kerenskaya was executed by the NKVD in Orenburg on February 2, 1938.

I don’t want to blow things out of proportion, but it has become easier and easier to under how the trials of the 1930s happened the way they did.

* Article 20.2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code covers “violation[s] of the established procedure for organizing and holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets.” Part 2 stipulates punishments for people who organize or hold rallies without notifying the authorities in advance. They can be jailed for up to ten days or fined up to 30,000 rubles (400 euros).

Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Rowdies Have to Be Apprehended Legally, So We Can Have a Celebration in the City on March 18, not Bedlam”

8792CD92-EE28-452C-859C-77B15F02744B_w1023_r1_sThe political performance “Clanking Chains,” March 11, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by Tatyana Voltskaya. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Petersburg Puts Oppositionists on Pause: Eight More Activists Detained
Maria Karpenko, Kseniya Mironova and Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
March 13, 2018 (updated March 14, 2018)

The arrests of opposition activists continue in St. Petersburg. In the last two days, police have apprehended eight activists, three of whom ended up in police custody at the courthouse, where they had gone to support their comrades. The court has already remanded eight people in custody for their alleged involvement in a protest rally that took place a month and a half ago. At Petersburg city hall, Kommersant was told, “The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

On Tuesday, Smolny District Court in St. Petersburg sentenced three opposition activists—Viktor Cherkassov, Yekaterina Shlikhta, and Ilya Gantvarg (son of Mikhail Gantvarg, ex-rector of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and Russian Federation People’s Artist)—to ten days in jail. Police had apprehended them on Monday for involvement in the so-called Voters Strike, a protest rally held on January 28 by supporters by Alexei Navalny. Yegor Ryabchenko, who was also apprehended, was only fined.

On Tuesday, police apprehended another three activists—Vladimir Kazachenko, Alexander Kirpichov, and Darya Mursalimova, who had come to support their comrades—right in the courthouse. Mursalimova and activist Sergei Belyaev, also apprehended on Tuesday, were sentenced by the same court around 11 p.m. in the evening. Mursalimova was given fifteen days in jail for repeated involvement in an unsanctioned rally, while Belyaev was sentenced to seven days in jail and twenty hours of correctional labor.

Kazachenko and Kirpichov’s court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

The new wave of arrests was prefaced by a flash mob [sic], entitled “Clanking Chains,” during which ten activists marched down Nevsky Prospect in chains and prisoners’ outfits. The [performance], which took place on March 11, was held in support of oppositionists who had already been jailed.

The defense attorneys of all of the activists jailed on Tuesday plan to file appeals in St. Petersburg City Court. If the appeals are unsuccessful, the activists will be released only after the presidential election on March 18, just like the three oppositionists already in police custody on the same grounds.

In early march, the court sentenced Alexei Pivovarov, Open Russia’s regional coordinator, Denis Mikhailov, head of Alexei Navalny’s Petersburg headquarters, and Artyom Goncharenko, an activist with the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement, to twenty-five days in jail for their involvement in the Voters’ Strike.

Moreover, Mr. Mikhailov had just served thirty days in jail for organizing the same event, while Mr. Goncharenko had not attended the rally at all. He had merely displayed an inflatable yellow duck in the window of his apartment building, past which the protesters marched. St. Petersburg City Court rejected an appeal to overturn their jail sentences, despite arguments made by the defense that the “deferred punishment” for violating the rules on rallies was “politically motivated.”

The January 28 protest rally was peaceful. Police detained around twenty people, which was very few compared with previous unauthorized protests in Petersburg. Except for Denis Mikhailov, all of the detainees were released from police precincts after police had so-called preventive conversations with them. They were not even written up for administrative violations.

Our source at Petersburg city hall explained what was happening.

“The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Remembering the Great Terror

gulag-1
“Here, at Vosstaniya Street, 55, lived Vladimir Dmitrievich Morozov, a quality control inspector at the Etalon factory. Arrested February 9, 1938. Executed October 17, 1938.”

Remembering the Great Terror
David Frenkel
Special to the Russian Reader
November 1, 2015

On October 30, the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions, the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement organized a memorial event entitled Immortal Gulag, by analogy with the popular annual memorial event Immortal Regiment, held on Victory Day (May 9), during which crowds of people march through the streets of Russian cities bearing portraits of their relatives who fought in the Second World War.

As solo pickets are the only form of public protest in Russia that does not require prior permission from the authorities, and most people are reluctant to attend unsanctioned street protests, Vesna decided to held series of solo pickets on Vosstaniya Street in downtown Petersburg.

The activists stood in front of buildings holding posters bearing the name of somebody who had lived in the building and was arrested and executed during the Great Terror of 1936–1938.

gulag-2
“Here, at Vosstaniya Street, 21, lived Alexei Ivanovich Kirishev, a clerk at Bus Depot No. 3. Arrested September 14, 1937. Executed October 15, 1937.”

Earlier in the week, the website of the political party Velikoye Otechestvo (Great Fatherland), co-chaired by the notorious pro-Putin nationalist Nikolai Starikov, published an article dubbing the memorial event a “provocation”, and its organizers “a new generation of people willing to betray the interests of their Motherland for fine talk about democracy [a]nd green paper slips [printed] with portraits of American presidents.”

The article exhorted Petersburgers to avoid Vosstaniya Square on the evening of October 30. It reminded readers that “Russia [was] striking IS positions in Syria,” and there was thus “an extremely high risk of terrorist threats in major [Russian] cities,” they “should avoid large gatherings of people whenever possible.”

“Here, at Vosstaniya Street, 43, lived Sigurd Felixovich Machevsky, an inspector at the Leningrad Customs Service. Arrested August 25, 1937. Executed December 16, 1937.”

Despite the fact that the event had been heavily promoted, only thirty-some people took part, most of them Vesna activists and their friends.

Another disappointment was the fact that the posters contained the bare minimum of information about the Terror victims: their names, professions, and dates of birth and execution. There was only one line in small print at the bottom of each poster reminding passersby that October 30 was the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression.

A pack of torn-up posters found in a trash bin also raised eyebrows, triggering unpleasant associations with discarded “granddads on sticks” from certain Immortal Regiment events, which had provoked a storm of protest on Russia social networks.

gulag-3
“Here, at Vosstaniya Street, 2, lived Alexander Ivanovich Galanin, head of the special department at the Lepse Factory. Arrested August 4, 1938. Executed November 6, 1938.”

Most passersby who stopped to read the posters reacted positively. Some shared stories of their own families, while others nodded and said, “We support you.” One woman even handed out flowers to the activists.

As usual, other passersby sought to link the event with evil plots by the US State Department or the Ukrainian government, but there were few such people.

gulag-5

One standout among them, Andrey Yazov, posed as a journalist and attempted to “troll” the activists. He even subsequently posted a video on his page on the Russian social network VKontakte. In the video, entitled “Trolling Vesna,” he asks the activists whether the Terror victims had not, in fact, been criminals. He clearly loses his interest when he learns that Soviet authorities later exonerated all of them.

gulag-6
“My great-grandfather, Fyodor Seliverstovich Kolnibolotchuk, a peasant, lived in the village of Voskresenka, Orenburg Region. He was ‘dekulakized’ and exiled along with his family on February 23, 1930. Arrested December 8, 1937. Convicted under Article 58-10.1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code [anti-Soviet and counter-revolutionary propaganda and agitation] on February 10, 1939. Killed in prison.”

He does, however, reveal the sensitive fact that not all of the activists studied the biographies of the people whose posters they held. On the other hand, two participants held posters bearing the names of their own relatives.

gulag-7
As during other such memorial events, most passersby sped past the activists without visibly paying any attention to them.

The police did not interfere. They merely asked the activists, “Why don’t you stay at home?”

All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel. The Memorial Research and Information Centre in Petersburg has recently launched a searchable online version of its Leningrad Martyrologue, a catalogue of local victims of the Great Terror (in Russian), in concert with the Last Address project. Curious readers should also look at Laboratorium 1 (2015), Gulag Legacy: Spaces of Continuity in Contemporary Everyday Practices, ed. Olga Ulturgasheva (in Russian and English), published by the Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), recently declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian Ministry of Justice.

Summer of Friendship Campaign Continues in Petersburg

Summer of Friendship Campaign Continues in Petersburg
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
June 29, 2015

The Vesna (“Spring”) Movement has continued its Summer of Friendship campaign for peace between Russia and Ukraine.

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Summer of Friendship postcard

Yesterday, Sunday, June 28, Vesna activists handed out blank postcards on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya Street asking people to write kind messages to Ukrainians.

The organizers claimed that members of the public dropped over two hundred “freedom postcards” into a special mailbox during the event. Our correspondent estimated that the number of postcards submitted was closer to one hundred.

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“Russian Post”

“All the letters will be sent shortly to the addressees. Our colleagues in Kyiv and other cities will help us deliver them. We want to remind both Russians and Ukrainians that we are a fraternal people and must remain this way. We have many things in common: history, culture, family connections—everything but politicians. And we must overcome hatred together!” Vesna’s press secretary Anton Gorbatsevich explained in a letter to our correspondent.

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Similar actions took place in Krasnodar and Tomsk, and another such event has been planned for Voronezh in a few days.

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All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Vesna (“Spring”) Movement | June 9, 2015 | vk.com

Vesna recalls the fate of Russian troops in the Donbas

Another grave appeared on the Field of Mars in Petersburg today.

Near the graves of the victims of revolutions and civil war there has appeared a tombstone in memory of the victims of a new fratricidal war, a war between Russia and Ukraine.

Set up by the Vesna Movement, the new Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is meant to remind people of the hundreds and thousands of our compatriots who have been sent by Putin to the war with Ukraine. They are lied about. It is said they are on leave or that they resigned from the service, but more and and more evidence points to the fact that Russian soldiers have been fighting in the Donbas, and have been coming back wounded or in coffins.

Their graves are concealed, they are not talked about, and their relatives, in return for promises of compensation, lie and say the soldiers died during training exercises. The graves do exist, however.  There is this one mock grave on the Field of Mars, and lots of real graves all over Russia.

We are protesting against Putin’s recent decree, making the military’s losses during “peacetime” a state secret. This hypocritical and cowardly decision is of a piece with the Russian regime’s policy of befuddling soldiers with propaganda, sending them off to war, and then lying that they had never existed. And instead of peacetime we have an undeclared war with a fraternal people.

Vladimir Putin has often been credited with the phrase, “We don’t abandon our own guys.” But we have recorded the correct version of the phrase on our memorial: “We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.” He easily sacrifices both his own and other people’s soldiers to achieve his political objectives.

Putin is a war criminal whose place is in the dock at the Hague Tribunal. That is certainly where he will end up, unless the fate of other dictators who fought with their own people does not catch up with him first.

Ub5yzKoHBeo“An unknown soldier who died in the Donbas during ‘peacetime.’” // “‘We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.’ V. Putin.” Photo by David Frenkel