OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 299: Captured in Minsk

1 April 2023

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions in Russia. Each week OVD-Info publishes a bulletin with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

An extract from Masha Moskaleva’s letter to her father / Photo: Pravozashchitny ekstremism [Human Rights Extremism] Telegram Channel


Greetings! The defendant in the ‘anti-war case’ who escaped from house arrest has been detained in Minsk, the Free University has been recognized as an ‘undesirable organization,’ and a contract soldier who refused to fight in Ukraine has been sentenced to nine years in a strict regime colony.

Aleksei Moskalev, father of Masha, in the sixth class at her school, who drew an anti-war drawing, has been caught in Minsk. Aleksei Moskalev, who lives in Efremov, was sentenced to two years in prison for posts on the Odnoklassniki social media site, posts which he denied making. The night before he was sentenced, Moskalev escaped from house arrest, however two days later he was detained in Minsk. The law enforcement officers turned their attention to the family after Masha drew an anti-war picture in a school art class. Since her father’s detention, the girl has been in a rehabilitation center, where her meetings with relatives and her lawyer are limited. You can read Masha’s letter to her father here.

  • Why is this important? The story of Aleksei and Moskalev and his daughter Masha is an example of how the government puts pressure on dissenters of all ages, even children. Masha is not allowed out of the rehabilitation centre, and Aleksei was detained on the territory of another state. The case has received a lot of publicity. People loyal to the Russian authorities have also spoken out in support of the Moskalevs. For example, the press service of Evgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner PMC, published a letter calling the sentence unfair.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has recognized the Free University as an undesirable organization. The prosecutor’s office has said that ‘in the course of the educational process, students develop a persistent aversion to Russia and the ultra-liberal model of European democracy is imposed on them.’ The project itself calls its goal ‘to rebuild the university, freeing teachers from all administrative diktat.’

  • Why do I need to know this? People charged with participation in the activities of an ‘undesirable’ organization face charges that can include terms of imprisonment. In 2022, Andrei Pivovarov, former director of Open Russia, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on this charge. He was put on trial for 30 posts and one repost of a Facebook post by Open Russia. Now those who post information about courses at the Free University on social networks or send donations to the organisation may also be prosecuted. Without this support, the independent educational project will not be able to survive.

A contract soldier from Crimea who refused to fight in Ukraine has been sentenced to nine years in a strict regime penal colony. Contract serviceman Denis Narolsky ‘left his military unit without authorisation.’ The court sentenced Narolsky to nine years in a strict regime penal colony on charges of desertion. Narolsky pleaded guilty and explained he did not want to take part in the war.

  • Why is this important? The penalty for desertion in conditions of armed conflict (Article 338, Part 3, of the Russian Criminal Code) was added to the Russian Criminal Code in September 2022, a few days after Putin announced the ‘partial mobilization.’ This part of the article provides for a punishment ranging from five to 15 years’ imprisonment. According to Mediazona, as of 22 March, there had been at least 500 prosecutions of contract service personnel and mobilized soldiers in Russian courts on charges of abandoning their units without authorisation, refusing to follow orders, and desertion. The authorities frighten Russians unwilling to fight with enormous sentences and deprive them of free choice. Those already mobilized from various regions have repeatedly complained about poor conditions and violations of their rights, and moreover about what are known as ‘meat raids’ – when soldiers are sent to the front lines as soon as they are trained.

American journalist Evan Gershkovich has been remanded in custody on charges of espionage. The Wall Street Journal journalist disappeared in Ekaterinburg on 29 March. The next day it became known that he was facing criminal charges of espionage. Gershkovich was taken to Moscow and remanded in custody. The journalist had been interviewing Ekaterinburg residents about their attitudes toward the Wagner PMC. And according to the Investigative Committee, he had been ‘gathering information about one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex.’

  • Why do I need to know this? The prosecution of Evan Gershkovich is the first such case against a foreign journalist. If convicted of espionage, he faces from 10 to 20 years in prison. In September 2022, Moscow City Court convicted Ivan Safronov, an ex-employee of the Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers, under a similar article on state treason, which applies to Russian citizens, not foreigners. The journalist was sentenced to 22 years in prison and fined half a million roubles. Pressure on Russian and foreign journalists is an attempt to deprive the world of access to independent information about what is happening in Russia.


‘In quite unchristian way.’ In February, a court in Buryatia fined Evgeny Vlasov, a father of many children, 30,000 roubles. He was charged with discrediting the Russian army for posts he made on the VKontakte social media network. OVD-Info talked to Vlasov and his defence lawyer about disagreement with the war, parenthood, and mistakes in the trial proceedings. You can read Evgeny’s story on the OVD-Info website or here without VPN

Lawsuits Our friends at the Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre have launched ‘Ne poedu’-bot [‘I won’t go’-bot] that generates lawsuits against being called up in the spring draft, which begins today. With the help of the bot you can challenge a decision on mobilization, illegal draft and denial of the right to alternative military service. You can connect to the bot here.

Our Work

Every day we take calls to our hotline, write news reports and materials about politically motivated prosecutions in Russia, as well as producing guidelines on various matters, reports and podcasts. Our lawyers handle criminal cases and draw up applications to the European Court of Human Rights, while our IT team works every day to make our services more user-friendly.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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