Jhe condemns handed over to Alexei Moskalyov on March 28 was outrageous: two years in a penal colony for posting some anti-war comments on social media, which were only investigated after his daughter, Masha, drew a pro-Ukrainian drawing in class. But prosecutors had signaled that was the sentence they were demanding, and in the Russian justice system, they were not going to be disappointed. The surprise was that the accused was not actually in the room when the sentence was read. After the verdict, the court’s press secretary explained why: he fled house arrest overnight.
The prosecution and conviction herald a new type of Kremlin repression: the separation of families as punishment for anti-war activism. Outside the courtroom, Mr Moskalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Bilienko, expressed his shock. “Never have I seen a verdict delivered without an accused,” he said. “All I can say is that I hope he is safe. Where is a secondary concern for me. A day later, Mr. Moskalyov was detained in a shelter in Minsk, the Belarusian capital He had apparently been being smuggled to the West.
The Moskalyov story began just under a year ago when Masha, then 12 years old, was asked to do a cartoon in support of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine. For most students at his school in Yefremov, a fossilized town five hours south of Moscow, it was a simple task. But Masha produced a drawing showing her understanding of the truths: a young family, flying missiles, with the captions “No to war” and “Glory to Ukraine”. Her horrified teacher reported the matter to the principal, who apparently passed it on to the police. A day later, Masha and her father were kicked out of school by men in uniform. “The other students looked out the windows, as if we were terrorists,” Moskalyov later told local media.
A case against Mr Moskalyov was opened when prosecutors uncovered his own anti-war social media posts. He was fined 32,000 rubles ($415) for expressing anger over reports that Russian soldiers raped Ukrainian women. He tried to put an end to the incident by pulling his daughter out of school and moving to another town. But just before the new year, the security services raided his home again. Mr Moskalyov says they confiscated his family’s savings (worth about $4,750), beat him, smashed his head against the wall and played the Russian national anthem loudly. volume. Prosecutors have opened charges against him for “repeated discredit” of the Russian military, 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 proceeding to strip Mr Moskalyov of his parental rights, amounting to a complete separation between parent and child, is to be heard on April 6.
Mr Biliyenko said the legal process was being used to punish the father and daughter for their anti-war stances. The two are very close, he said, and the separation would hurt them both: “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, underscored the close bond. “Hi Dad,” the letter read. “I love you very much and I want you to know that this what you’re doing is just… You’re my hero.”
When your correspondent tried to visit the children’s shelter, a spartan building behind a tall green fence, a security guard yelled at him to leave. Mr. Biliyenko says he fears for Masha’s well-being and there are rumors that she tried to kill herself.
Mr Moskalyov’s case is the most egregious of its kind, but similar cases have been reported elsewhere in Russia. In February, police prosecuted a family in Moscow after their daughter posted an avatar of St Javelin, a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, on social media. In Dagestan, a region in southern Russia, a schoolgirl was forced to apologize on camera after saying “Glory to Ukraine, Putin is a bastard” during an assembly on the last day of school.
And in Buryatia, Siberia, authorities have placed a disabled 16-year-old boy after the arrest of his adoptive mother, Natalya Filonova, an anti-war activist. Her adoptive father was hospitalized after a heart attack. The boy was not allowed to attend his mother’s trial. A leaked recording of a conversation with an orphanage worker suggested Ms Filonovaya should have ‘knew better…than to piss against the wind’.
According DVO-Info, a human rights watchdog, more than 500 minors have been arrested and seven prosecuted since the beginning of the war. As authorities encourage loyalists to speak out against their anti-war neighbours, the practice of hitting dissidents where it hurts – their families – is expected to continue. “They will sue others, imprison more people and take more children from their parents,” Mr Biliyenko said. “Children of enemies of the state. This is the example they set for anyone who might think to open their mouths. ■