Our guest on the podcast this week is Varvara Pakhomenko. Varvara Pakhomenko has been a human rights activist for a very long time. Back in her native Tomsk she was actively involved in human rights activities. Having moved to Moscow, Varvara began working with many human rights activists in the capital, but the geography of her travels remained very wide. Since 2006, Varvara Pakhomenko has worked in conflict zones in the North and South Caucasus: in 2006-2009 at the human rights organization Demos, in 2009-2011 at the Dutch organization Russian Justice Initiative, and since 2011 she has worked as a programme analyst for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group. When the Russian authorities effectively closed the ICG’s Moscow office, Varvara left to work in Ukraine. There she worked first for the UN Development Programme and after that for Geneva Call. A move to Canada seemed to put some distance between her and Europe, but now Varvara Pakhomenko is back again on the old continent.
The recording took place on 24 June 2022.
And of course you can also listen to the podcast in full here (see also below):
The questions we ask Varvara Pakhomenko include:
- How did human rights activism come into your life?
- One of Tomsk’s leading human rights activists was Boris Maksovich Kreindel. He was involved in many projects, including defending the rights of Roma in Tomsk region. How did it happen that he had to leave his native land?
- Tell us about your work in the conflict zones in the Caucasus – where did you work? To what extent was it dangerous?
- Which Moscow human rights activists and which organizations have you worked with in Russia?
- When and why did you decide to move to Ukraine?
- How does the human rights movement in Ukraine differ from that in Russia?
- At least since 2012 the Russian authorities have pursued policies of increasing restrictions on human rights work in the country, attacks on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and a general moved towards isolationism. Do you think they have been preparing for the war against Ukraine for a long time?
- What has been your role at the UNDP and Geneva Call?
- How has the Ukrainian army changed since 2014. How do you assess the Ukrainian military’s compliance with international humanitarian law and with the rules and customs of warfare?
- How do you see the future of human rights in Russia and the future of human rights organizations?
Given the length of the podcast, for ease of listening we have also divided it up into four parts:
Part Two: Early career, becoming a human rights activist, Tomsk, Boris Kreindel, Roma:
Part Two: North Caucasus, South Caucasus, Medvedev’s liberalisation, Political Islamism, Return of Putin to the presidency:
Part Three: Moscow, North Caucasus, Colonial attitudes, Imperialism, Georgia, Ukraine, Differences between Ukraine and Russia:
Part Four: Logic in developments, War, General human rights situation, Geneva Call, the Future:
Sergei Nikitin writes on Facebook: “I remember when I was working on South Ossetia in 2010,” Varya Pakhomenko told Simon Cosgrove and I. “I had to make a difficult decision at the time: I did not know what to do. I called Sasha Cherkasov and asked him what to do in this situation. Sasha replied: ‘You know, no one can make this decision better than you right now. Because you know all that’s going on there better than anyone.’ And at that moment I realized that these fine people had begun to see me as an equal colleague.” In this podcast, Varya Pakhomenko talks about her native Tomsk, about Tomsk human rights activist Boris Kreindel, and about how a student from Siberia became a human rights activist. Varya and I were in South Ossetia together two weeks after the end of the war in 2008, so I had a chance to work with her myself then. After Russia, Varvara Pakhomenko has worked in Ukraine: in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and, after that, with the Geneva Call organization. It was then that she participated in training the Ukrainian Armed Forces, teaching the Ukrainian military how to comply with international humanitarian norms and protect civilians in armed conflict.