Journalist and political emigrant Anastasia Shevchenko has lived in Lithuania for a year. She became the first person to be found guilty in a Russian court for carrying out the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable because of her involvement with the Open Russia" movement. After the sentencing, Anastasia had been under house arrest for two years. The Delfi film crew met with the activist near Aleksey Navalny's punishment cell installation (SHIZO) to talk about Prigozhin's "Solidarity March" in her hometown Rostov, how the Russian system breaks up families, and where to find the strength to get through the current situation.
“Solitary confinement - is not only terrible conditions in everyday life. This is humiliation. You are being destroyed as an individual”.
“The school used my children in propaganda. That's why we left Russia last summer. If I said everything that I think, I would be in prison.
I do not want to go inside the installation because I am afraid of my memories of the punishment cell. These are grey walls, iron bunk beds, and a sink in front. Instead of a toilet - just a hole. Above the hole, there is a video camera that is looking at you. The table and everything else are screwed to the floor. And cockroaches are everywhere, no water. I don't want to sink into those memories”, – says Anastasia.
Since 2017, Anastasia has been the coordinator of the Rostov branch of the Open Russia movement, which was established at the initiative of businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Two years later, she was charged under a criminal article on the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable and she was arrested by a court order.
“I was put in prison for nothing. I took part in the picket, the debate, and the seminar.
Solitary confinement - is not only terrible conditions in everyday life. This is humiliation. You are being destroyed as an individual. They don't call you by your name. There is no mirror - you don't know how you look like. The main goal is to humiliate and break you. And the fact that Navalny still has not been broken indicates that he is a man of great will. I have no other options; my children are my motivation. I'm the only one who can take care of them. After two days in solitary confinement, I was brought to the court; they told me not to leave the bag because I would come back there anyway. I disputed with the police officers and said that I would not come back again. And they really release me under home arrest”, – recalls Anastasia.
“I want the death of my child was not in vain. I want people to know what the price is”.
On the 29th of January 2019, Anastasia Shevchenko's lawyer announced at a court session that Anastasia's eldest daughter Alina has health problems that could be life-threatening to a disabled child. But they never let Anastasia visit her daughter in the hospital.
“The law enforcement, the investigators, and the prosecution treated my children very cruelly. I had no idea why at that time. Why is the life and health of the child carrying no importance at all? My daughter contracted bronchitis three days after my arrest, and a week later, she died at the hospital alone. No one helped the sick child. There were doctors, but she was a disabled child; she had to be fed and washed. They let me in only after her heart stopped twice. The judge had previously refused me access. When they let me in, the nurse cried and said that my daughter had nothing to eat because there was no special food for such children. She hasn't had her diaper changed. She had a high fever, and eventually, she died”.
On the 1st of February, Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of President Vladimir Putin, expressed condolences in connection with the death of Anastasia Shevchenko's daughter.
“The blame for my eldest daughter's death lays on Putin's regime. But my younger children also have been damaged by this regimen. Because being at home under home arrest with their mother means doing everything for the mother. If you got sick, the doctor would not come to you - you had to go alone in an ambulance. If you're alone outside, you can't call your mom. Once, my first-grade son got lost. He went the wrong way, and for two hours, he was walking in the cold”, – says Anastasia.
The activist considers that the cruelty to the children of political prisoners is a deliberate policy of the Russian regime. This regime uses the lives and health of loved ones to blackmail and pressure oppositionists.
“For example, Kara-Murza was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. And the first thing he was forbidden to phone his children. Why? This doesn't make any sense. It's pressure on oppositions. Once, I asked the court for permission to allow doctors to see my children if they were sick so they did not go alone in an ambulance; however, they refused. The investigator said we would not have considered it necessary to let doctors see Shevchenko's children. I will remember this phrase for the rest of my life—natural inhuman bestiality. I want the death of my child was not in vain. I want people to know what the price is”, – says Anastasia.
The activist also emphasizes that often the opposition's fate in the provinces is inevitable because they receive less attention from the media, and the security forces act tougher.
“The distinction is enormous. As I explained to my Moscow friends about the conditions in Rostov's probationary ward, their first response would be no way! In Moscow's prison wards, you can bring your air freshener and your matrasses. No such a thing was allowed for us in Rostov's wards, just a cage, similar to Navalny's punishment cell (SHIZO). In Moscow, you can expect journalists to come to the hearings; here, you are forgotten. I am afraid that my story would not make it to the mass media if not for the tragedy that occurred in my family. I would say that forces in Rostov or Krasnodar are way more aggressive than in Moscow. There had been an accident not so long ago that led to a man's death inside the probationary ward in Rostov”, – says Anastasia.
The death of a basketball player or a kapellmeister, people who were not supposed to be at the forefront in the first place.
Anastacia was planning to leave for Moscow on the 24th of February 2022; however, that morning started with a text from her friend saying, “We are not leaving; the war has started.” That day, civil aviation was not seen in the sky over Rostov, the city on the border with Ukraine.
“My children had been asking me what we are going to do now. My first response was – I had never lived during the war. I knew that I could not be part of this country anymore, so I decided to leave. However, it was not possible at the time, my children needed to finish their school years, and I was still doing my probation sentencing, which required me to register with a FSIN (the federal penitentiary service) ever so often. The price of the tickets at that time was around two hundred thousand roubles (at that time equal to 2100 euro), which was also an issue. We could leave only by the end of the kids' school year”, – Anastasia remembers.
According to the activist, every middlebrow person in the country, who was not fond of politics, had felt the consequences of the war influencing his life; tragedy had knocked on every door. Including the one saying, “Politics is not my cup of tea.”
“My classmate had died in this war; some lost their loved ones or their friends. It is impossible not to notice obits being delivered in the neighborhood around you. It is impossible not to notice the deterioration of living standards, increasing prices, and increasing censorship. You don't have to follow any telegram channels that belong to the opposition when having an Instagram or Facebook account counts as an act of extremism itself. You seem to be surrounded by foreign agents, terrorists, or extremists, and the atmosphere of fear overclouding it all. When the war started, armed people could be seen everywhere in the streets of Rostov, and fresh flowers were always lying near the monument dedicated to “polite people,” which could only mean that another soldier had died today. The “Z” symbol started to appear on government agencies, public transport, police cars, and cars of federal services.
I am looking through the obits that people post on social media; the death of a basketball player or a kapellmeister, people who were not supposed to be at the forefront in the first place. It makes you feel like everyone was taken by this war, no matter their social status or professional field,” – Anastasia continues.
“Prigozhin's mutiny was a necessity. Armed person on the tank who's moving towards Moscow is easily followed”.
“Today, to take part in a protest against Putin means imprisonment or even death; please have no doubt that he will kill protestants if he needs to. There is no such thing as a peaceful protest in Russia; it will not work today.
In the majority, the population is afraid to speak or talk with the press or any media. I was trying to convince citizens of Rostov to comment about the situation with Prigozhin's mutiny and him entering the city, but none was willing to talk with me. They are afraid to follow in my foot's steps, be imprisoned, or get probation.
The mutiny was a necessity because it showed us what we have, what kind of situation. An armed person on the tank who's moving towards Moscow is easily followed because of his strength. In nowadays society the request for truth is in high demand, everyone is tired of lies, and it seems like Progozhin can fulfill this request by telling the truth. His main points are we do not have firearms, we do not need this war, and we are losing. Moreover, people are tired of Putin, even the one supporting the war with Ukraine. On the other side, the category of citizens who are again Putin and against Prigozhin demanding the action plan. We are always waiting to be saved, that someone will come on the helicopter and deal with our problems, helps us, while we will wait and see how it will end. Infantilism and irresponsibility are the most significant issues in our society. Soviet past plays a massive part in it; this is how we were raised, never taught how to make our own decisions. Since an early age, you are robbed of decision-making opportunities, living just like everyone else around you, stereotyped and chained,” – Anastasia is saying.
“I am Russia too. Most of us here do not associate ourselves with any other country. And Russia will not disappear”.
According to Anastasia's friend, who is associated with Russian mobile operators since the beginning of the war 850 000 Russian sim cards were disconnected.
“People not just left; they left for good, and the number of disconnected sim cards is way higher.
In Lithuania, people from Russia are trying not to lose their connection with Russia, helping the one that was left behind. Journalists are trying to cover all the latest news and to demonstrate what is happening; political opposition is gathering in peaceful protest and organizing seminars. However, if something happens, we are coming back. I am Russia too. Most of us here do not associate ourselves with any other country. And Russia will not disappear; she will continue to be the neighbor of Lithuania and Ukraine. Yet something must be done; we cannot pretend nothing happened.
It is a tragedy. I got a call from my Ukrainian friends who moved to Saint Petersburg way before the war. The war started when his mother died during one of the Russian attacks, brother, a yoga instructor, left for war on the frontline. My friends cannot bury their mother, come, and take some things dear to their hearts. It is an enormous tragedy; all family connections are lost. And Putin is at fault here; it is on his conscience”.