Over a year since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, thousands of anti-war protesters have either been suppressed or arrested. The heavy-handed government quickly sweeping away dissenters and the opposition—including sentiments coming from underage schoolchildren.
And, with the recent enactment of two Russian laws criminalizing independent war reporting and protesting, the voices of those who don’t support the war are now being drowned out more than ever with the risk of up to 15 years in imprisonment.
A Russian single father is reported to be under house arrest and is facing criminal charges after his 12-year-old daughter drew an anti-war picture in school.
According to OVD-Info, a human rights organization that has been closely monitoring the case since it first surfaced in April 2022, the girl has also been temporarily held for interrogation but was later released and is now staying in a state-run orphanage.
Weeks after Russia’s “special military operations” in Ukraine broke out, Masha Moskalyov drew rockets being fired from the Russian side toward a Ukrainian family. During art class, they were assigned to dedicate a supportive picture of the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, but the strong-willed 12-year-old girl instead expressed her anti-war sentiments. She also included the flags of the warring countries, with a “No to War” sign on the Russian flag and a “Glory to Ukraine” phrase on the Ukrainian one. Upon seeing this, the art teacher went straight to the principal, who next called the police.
‼️ Masha, a 12 year old Russian girl, drew a picture in support of Ukraine. The regime’s authorities beat up Masha’s father, stole his savings, detained him and sent the girl to an orphanage. 1/6 pic.twitter.com/GC38LbeHXq
— OVD-Info English (@ovdinfo_en) March 1, 2023
“What a mess started after that!” Masha’s father, Alexi, recounted in an interview. His daughter cleverly evaded arrest that day by using someone else’s name, but unfortunately, that was not the end of it. She later told her father what had happened, and the 54-year-old single dad promised to come with her to school the next morning until the end of classes.
That didn’t go well.
Alexi said the principal called the authorities as soon as he was spotted and recognized as Masha’s father. This time, though, the police brought in child protection officers. They also withdrew the girl from class, taking her into the hall, then detained the father-daughter for interrogation.
“Such a shame when they take the child from class and lead her down the hall like a prisoner!” Alexi said. “They started to say: ‘See, this is what you’ve been teaching your kid! Look what she has drawn!’ I said: ‘What’s so special about this? She stands against war, against bloodshed. What’s wrong with that?‘”
He continued: “They compiled a report and called teachers as witnesses to sign it. The students watched us through the windows as we were led to the police car, like some terrorists. We were brought to the police chief, Andrei Aksyonov. He lectured me on my ‘poor parenting.’”
OVD-Info contacted Aksyonov for comment on the matter, only to denounce the organization’s misplaced support, saying, “If you are defending Moskalev’s interests, you shouldn’t be. The man lives in the wrong context. This person does not live in the sphere of public activity; quite the opposite, he contradicts the sphere of public activity.”
While being interrogated, authorities had dug up Alexi’s anti-war statements on social media, leading to his indictment and a fine of about $425 that same day.
Sadly, that was not the end of it, as interrogations and detentions persisted, with one instance in December where Masha was interrogated alone for several hours. A month later, Alexi endured brutal beatings during interrogation while his daughter was placed in state custody for a day.
Soon after, they left the comforts of their home in Yefremov, a town just outside Moscow, for their safety, only for the police to find them on March 1. Both were detained once again, with Masha later released to be sent to child protection services and her dad taken by the police.
Here is our translation of the interview with Masha Moskaleva, conducted by the local activist Elena Agafonova. Shortly after the interview, the 12-year-old girl was taken to an unspecified orphanage for her anti-war drawing. pic.twitter.com/FWxFCjKJgh
— OVD-Info English (@ovdinfo_en) March 2, 2023
Not An Isolated Case
Moskalev’s case wasn’t isolated, as many schoolkids who expressed opposition and criticism against Russia’s special military operation following the onset of the war have been prosecuted.
OVD-Info recorded that at least eight minors were criminally prosecuted for anti-war sentiments, while over 500 have been detained in anti-war protests. Most parents of these kids have also been charged due to “poor parenting,” as Alexi had experienced. However, the organization has no clear statistics on possible bullying and harassment in schools for those who oppose the Kremlin’s political agenda or simply decry the whole war.
His mother was summoned when a boy exclaimed, “Glory to Ukraine!” in his school hallway in March last year. Later, when home alone, he was then harassed by the police officers who came knocking on their door. In October, a fifth grader and her mother were taken to police custody in Moscow after the girl’s “St Javelin” avatar had been discovered. That same month, another student was bullied for an anti-war letter.
All these kids were listed under the police watch list.
As of now, Alexi is under house arrest, which restricts the single father from working and thus cuts their source of income. Masha is responsible for all outside errands because she has no other guardian. She also believes that school is unsafe because they were the ones who snitched on her to the police and placed them in this harrowing situation.
Now that Russian lawmakers have approved new legislation that prosecutes anyone found guilty of discrediting the Russian army, it is expected that those who express anti-war sentiments in the future will face harsher punishments. The pending legislation’s amendments are scheduled for a final reading and vote in mid-March.
Since February 24, last year, Russia has repressed at least 21,000 people who were reportedly opposed to its invasion of Ukraine, and over 400 people have been convicted or charged for anti-war activities. Those who participate in anti-war demonstrations have also been arrested and treated harshly. Moreover, independent war journalists and anyone who expresses dissent to the special military operation have been placed on watch lists. That likely includes your truly and the entire SOFREP team.
The 43-minute documentary below, produced by DW News, takes us into the eyes of Russians and how they feel about Putin’s ongoing special military operations in Ukraine, ranging from suppressed opposition to apathetic citizens to natives willing to flee for safety.