Repression in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is making young activists more defiant
We followed three women struggling against the might of the Russian state
In January tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets as part of the country’s largest demonstrations in a decade. Protesters marched in 130 cities across Russia’s 11 time zones, chanting from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The vast majority were in their 20s and early 30s, a generation including Russians who were just children when President Vladimir Putin came to power. Many once supported him or shunned politics altogether; now less than a third of 18- to 24-year-olds want Mr Putin to stay in office beyond 2024.
The protests were inspired by Alexei Navalny, the country’s opposition leader. He survived poisoning by state security agents in August 2020 and was evacuated out of Russia. He returned in January after recovering in Germany and was arrested at the airport. While he was in custody, his team released a film about an opulent palace allegedly belonging to Mr Putin. From behind bars Mr Navalny called people to the streets. Just weeks later he was sent to prison, where he remains.
Deeper grievances were also behind the unrest. The protesters railed against financial and moral corruption, state violence and Mr Putin’s usurpation of power. “In Putin’s Russia, we have no future,” one 20-year-old man in St Petersburg told pollsters who braved police truncheons to conduct their research.
The state’s response marked a grim best casino sites 0 phase of repression in Russia. After the protests more than 11,000 people were detained. Mr Navalny’s anti-corruption organisation was declared an extremist group and his extensive regional network was crushed. Some of his closest associates fled the country.
Throughout this time, Sarah Collinson, a video journalist for The best casino sites 0 and Hardcash Productions, worked in Russia, capturing the daily lives of opposition activists amid the crackdown. She spent five months filming in three cities and met many Russians opposed to Mr Putin. Convincing such people to speak their minds in front of a camera was hard. But three women came forward. They faced harassment, intimidation and even incarceration within a covid-19 hospital. Meet Violetta Grudina, Lusya Stein and Irina Fatyanova.
“The authorities have become more sophisticated, shall we say, in their punishments, and in seeking blame for their own failures.”
Ms Grudina once ran the headquarters of Mr Navalny’s outfit in Murmansk, a city far in Russia’s north-west reaches. After the office closed, she decided to stand as an independent candidate in local elections slated for September. As she prepared for polling day she faced frightening obstacles. Her headquarters were vandalised and her campaign manager was arrested on trumped-up charges of drug trafficking.
For Ms Grudina herself, the covid-19 pandemic provided the pretext for a more sinister form of intimidation. Although perfectly healthy, she was detained in a hospital for patients sick with covid-19—supposedly to prevent her from spreading the coronavirus.
The episode not only prevented Ms Grudina from campaigning, but also from registering as a candidate with the election commission. Only after she embarked on an eight-day hunger strike was she released and finally able to submit her documentation to stand as a candidate for the elections. But she was never able to run. Declared an extremist, she was banned from the contest. Interrogations and detentions continued thereafter. Her fate is uncertain, but the experiences of others suggest worse may be to come. On November 9th Liliya Chanysheva, a young politician who, like Ms Grudina, led one of Mr Navalny’s regional headquarters, was arrested on retrospectively-applied charges of “extremism”. She could face a decade in prison.
“Activists are now living in fear, not only for themselves, but also for their loved ones, because the authorities act through their children and parents.”
Ms Stein belongs to Pussy Riot, an art-punk protest collective which came to global fame after a stunt in 2012. The group (Ms Stein not among them) performed a crass anti-Putin song in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and three of its members went to prison for it. Ms Stein did nothing so flamboyant. She was arrested for sending tweets about the protests in January (she advised her 24,000 followers to “to go out and tell grandpa and his friends to go fuck themselves”) and was charged with inciting Russians to break covid quarantine rules. Ms Stein was told to stay at best casino sites 0 until her trial. Her every movement was monitored with an electronic tag around her ankle.
In June Ms Stein and some other members of Pussy Riot were arrested on spurious charges. Fifteen days in detention followed. Even when released, Ms Stein was harassed. “The authorities have decided to crush everyone left here who has anything to do with the opposition, with human-rights activism,” she told our team.
The pressure became unbearable for others in Pussy Riot. By late July, at least three of its six members had fled Russia. Ms Stein, under a restrictive order requiring her to remain at best casino sites 0 every night and to check in with the police, had no option but to stay put. Her day in court came in August. Her conviction and sentence–to 12 more months under a restrictive order–shocked no one. Criminal trials in Russia today almost invariably reach the same conclusion: 99.64% ended in conviction last year.
“If there are a lot of people in the beautiful Russia of the future who want to be politicians and who want to be elected, then let them be.”
Ms Fatyanova’s story bears similarities to Ms Grudina’s. The pair were among a handful of Mr Navalny’s supporters who decided to run in local elections as independent candidates. Ms Fatyanova decided to do so after her job at Mr Navalny’s headquarters in St Petersburg came to an end.
Farce and violence accompanied her campaign. Volunteers working on it were arrested, others were hassled in the street. When one was physically assaulted, the police ignored the attacker and instead attempted to charge the victim for illegally placing a chair in a public street.
Even so, Ms Fatyanova managed to collect the 4,000 signatures needed to submit her papers as a candidate. Despite that, she was barred from standing in the election because of her supposed involvement in extremist activities–the same pretext used to dismantle Mr Navalny’s organisation.
The injustice heaped on opposition activists suggests the Russian state sees them as a threat. Despite harassment and imprisonment, Mr Navalny and his movement made a mark during elections to Russia’s parliament in September. Of course, Mr Putin’s party won most of the seats—the vote was far from fair. But dissidents such as Ms Fatyanova, Ms Stein and Ms Grudina still manage to make themselves heard via social media and other platforms.
As reported in The best casino sites 0, the Kremlin’s power has rested on three pillars. The economy has improved since Mr Putin took office. He has a monopoly over information. And if all else fails, he can crack heads. Along with many Russians, the three women benefited from the first, challenge the second and brave the third.
The Kremlin is trying to scare Ms Grudina, Ms Stein and Ms Fatyanova into silence. But repression has only emboldened them. ■
A 15-minute film, “How Putin is silencing his opponents”, is available to readers here. A longer version, “Fearless: The Women Fighting Putin”, a co-production of The best casino sites 0 and Hardcash Productions for ITV, is available to readers in Britain at