OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 328: Education outside the law

21 October 2023

OVD-Info is a Russian civil society organisation 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.

Central European University / Photograph from the website of the Central European University


The Central European University has been designated an ‘undesirable organization’, a criminal case was opened against the author of the Masyanya series of cartoons, and an activist prosecuted in Russia was kidnapped from a shelter in Kyrgyzstan. 

The Central European University has been designated as an ‘undesirable organization.’ The Prosecutor General’s Office claims the educational institution’s programmes ‘devalue and distort the history of the Russian state, downplay the merits of prominent Russian scientists, writers, and cultural figures, and promote false assertions about Russia’s guilt in all world cataclysms.’ The Prosecutor’s Office also believes ‘the organization focuses its efforts on discrediting the special military operation and the political leadership of the Russian Federation.’ The Central European University was founded in 1991 by financier George Soros and was based in Hungary, but in 2018, under pressure from that country’s government, the university was forced to leave and it now operates in Austria. 

  • Why is this important? Studying at the Central European University provides a quality education at an international level. The university ranks high in the ratings in a number of subjects. Now the Prosecutor General’s Office has effectively criminalized this opportunity for applicants from Russia, and students of the university face the risk of prosecution under the legislation on ‘undesirable organizations.’ The state seeks to combat dissent in every way possible, including in education, because it wants students to be taught only the ‘right’ views. The Central European University is not the first university to face such pressure. In March, the Free University, founded in 2020 by teachers fired from the Higher School of Economics for political reasons, was designated as an ‘undesirable organization, and in June 2021 Bard College, which cooperated with St. Petersburg State University, was included in this list.

Oleg Kuvaev, the author of the Masyanya animated series is under criminal investigaiton. The grounds were advice to Russian soldiers to surrender with the help of the Ukrainian project ‘I Want to Live’, which was heard at the end of one of the episodes. Another criminal case was opened the same week against another cartoonist, Pavel Muean, creator of the animated web series Mr. Freeman. He is suspected of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army for a post about the killing of civilians in Bucha. Neither artist lives in Russia. 

  • Why do I need to know this? After the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many artists began to speak out against Russian aggression in their works, including Oleg Kuvaev. Part of the new issues of Masyanya was devoted to the war. This means of protest would seem to be effective because in this way ideas can be spread, for example, among those who have long been fans of the animated series but had not thought of politics. However, such actions have not gone unnoticed by the authorities. They want to silence as many people as possible.

A Left Bloc activist prosecuted in Russia has been kidnapped from a shelter in Bishkek. On the night of 16-17 October, unidentified men who claimed to be Kyrgyz police officers arrived at the shelter and took Lev Skoryakin in an unknown direction. His whereabouts has been unknown since. In June, Skoryakin had been detained in Bishkek where he was remanded in custody. However, a month ago he was released. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Kyrgyzstan refused to extradite him to Russia because he had requested asylum in Kyrgyzstan. In his home country, Skoryakin is being prosecuted on account of a protest entitled ‘Happy Chekist Day.’ In December 2021, activists unfurled a banner with this inscription in front of the FSB office in Moscow’s Southwest District which they illuminated with flares.

  • Why do I need to know this? Detentions abroad of Russians prosecuted in politically motivated cases are becoming more common. Usually the countries that figure in such news reports are Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia. The security forces in these countries cooperate closely with Russian law enforcement agencies and clearly act at their behest, sometimes, as in the case of Lev Skoryakin, even breaking the law. Unfortunately, it is often easier for people fleeing criminal prosecution in Russia to reach these countries because the border can be crossed using only an internal passport. Therefore, some of the defendants in such cases find themselves in a trap. They face extradition and subsequent imprisonment in their own country, while not everyone has the opportunity to leave for safer countries. 

Military censorship is being tightened. The State Duma in the third and final reading passed a bill on blocking websites with proposals to finance the Ukrainian armed forces and instructions on how to transfer money to Ukrainian organizations and foundations. Amendments to introduce criminal liability for statements about Russian National Guardsmen fighting in Ukraine passed their first reading. Another bill – with a proposal to fine Russians abroad for anti-war statements – has just been submitted to the State Duma. 

  • Why is this important? Legislation concerning expression of anti-war sentiment is being regularly expanded. The government seeks to completely suppress freedom of speech in Russia, leaving citizens with no way to say what they think. The likelihood that the last two bills will also be adopted is very high. Officials do not usually criticize amendments of this kind.


Only a Bible and a prayer book in my pockets. In March, Igor Orlovsky, a Christian from Krasnoyarsk, was sentenced to three years in prison for anti-war comments. Then a new criminal case was brought against him for dissemination of military ‘fake news’ motivated by political hatred and public rehabilitation of Nazism. You can now read Orlovsky’s story on our website.

Translated by Rights in Russia

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