Russia is persecuting dissidents by taking away their children
Tit is fine which was given to Alexei Moskalyov on March 28 terrible: two years in a prison colony for posting some anti-war comments on social media, which was investigated immediately after his daughter Masha, made a pro-Ukrainian photo in class. But prosecutors had indicated that this was the sentence they needed, and in the Russian judicial system they were not going to be disappointed. The surprise was that the accused was not in the room when the sentence was read out. After the decision, the press officer of the court explained strongly why: he escaped the house arrest overnight.
The prosecution and conviction reveal a new type of Kremlin crackdown: separating families as punishment for anti-war activities. Outside the courtroom, Mr. Moskalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Biliyenko, expressed shock. “I’ve never seen a verdict delivered without a guardian,” he said. “I can’t say but I hope he’s safe. Where else am I concerned.” A day later, Mr. Moskalyov was held in a safe house in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. It seems that it had been smuggled to the West.
The story of the Moskalyovs began a little less than a year ago when Masha, 12 at the time, was asked to make a picture in support of Russian soldiers who were fighting in Ukraine. For most of the students at her school in Yefremov, a fossil town five hours’ drive south of Moscow, it was a simple task. But Masha made a picture showing her understanding of the facts: a young family, missiles flying, with the captions “No to war” and “Glory to Ukraine”. Her horrified teacher reported the matter to the headmistress, who apparently passed it on to the police. A day later, both Masha and her father were marched out of school by men in uniform. “The other students looked out of the windows, as if we were terrorists,” Mr Moskalyov told local media afterwards.
The case against Mr Moskalyov was opened when prosecutors discovered his own anti-war posts on social media. He was fined 32,000 rubles ($415) for expressing his anger at reports of Russian soldiers raping Ukrainian women. He tried to draw a line under the incident by taking his daughter out of school and moving to another town. But just before the new year, the security services attacked his home again. Mr. Moskalyov says they took his family’s savings (worth about $4,750), beat him, smashed his head against the wall and played the Russian national anthem at high volume. Prosecutors opened a case against him for “repeated defamation” of the Russian army, which could mean up to three years in prison and separation from his daughter.
On March 1 Mr. Moskalyov was arrested on his way home from work. On the same day, Masha was taken away and placed in a children’s home. A parallel process to remove Mr. Moskalyov from parental rights, which is a complete separation between parent and child, is expected to be heard on April 6.
Mr Biliyenko said the legal process was being used to punish father and daughter for their anti-war roles. The two are very close, he said, and separation would hurt both of them: “They support each other. They are happy in each other’s company. Everything else is irrelevant to them.” A letter written by Masha from the shelter, later published by activists, emphasized the close bond. “Hi Dad,” the letter reads . “I love you so much and I want you to know that what you are doing is right … you are my hero.”
When your correspondent tried to visit the children’s shelter, a spartan building behind a tall green fence, a security guard shooed him away. Mr. Biliyenko says that he fears for Masha’s well-being, and that there are rumors that she tried to commit suicide.
Mr Moskalyov’s case is the most egregious of its kind, but similar cases have been reported elsewhere in Russia. In February, police charged a family in Moscow after their daughter posted an avatar of St Javelin, a symbol of the Ukrainian struggle, on social media. In Dagestan, a region in southern Russia, a schoolgirl was forced to apologize on camera after shouting “Glory to Ukraine, Putin is a bastard” at an assembly on the last day of the school.
And in Buryatia, in Siberia, authorities placed a disabled 16-year-old boy in care after his foster mother, Natalya Filonova, an anti-war activist, was arrested. A foster father was taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack. The boy was not allowed to go to his mother’s court case. A leaked recording of a conversation with an orphanage worker suggested Ms Filonovaya “should have known better… than to go against the wind”.
according to OVD-Info, a human rights watchdog, more than 500 people have been arrested and seven people have been criminally charged since the start of the war. With the authorities encouraging loyalists to pillage their neighbors against the war, the practice of hitting dissidents where it hurts is set to continue – their families. “They will go after others, they will put more people in prison, and they will take more children away from their parents,” said Mr. Biliyenko. “Children of enemies of the state. That’s the example they’re creating for anyone who might think about opening their mouth.” ■