5 December 2022
Ilya Yashin’s final word in court at his trial for ‘discrediting the Russian military.’ Prosecutors have asked for him to be given a sentence of nine years’ imprisonment. The verdict is expected on 9 December 2022.
Source: Novaya gazeta
You’ll agree that “the defendant’s final word” sounds quite ominous. As if after I speak in court they’re going to sew my mouth shut and forbid me from talking forever. Everyone realizes that’s exactly the point. I’m being isolated from society and held in prison because they want me to keep quiet. Because at some point our parliament ceased to be a place for discussions and now all Russia has to keep quiet and agree to any actions by the regime.
I promise you, though, that as long I live I will never reconcile myself to that. My mission is to speak the truth. I’ve spoken it on town squares, in television studios, and on deputy tribunes. Even behind bars, I will not reject the truth. After all, to quote the classic, “The lie is the religion of slaves, and only truth is the free man’s god.”
To begin my statement, I would like to address the court. Your Honour, I appreciate the way this court hearing was organized. You conducted an open trial, opened it to the press and the public, and did not prevent me from speaking out freely or my lawyers from doing their job. You’d think you didn’t do anything special. This is how trials should be conducted in any normal country. But on the scorched earth of Russian justice, this trial looks like something alive. And believe me, I appreciate that.
I’ll tell you frankly, Oksana Ivanovna, you yourself have made an unusual impression. I’ve noticed the interest with which you listen to the prosecutor and defence lawyers, how you react to what I say, how you doubt and reflect. To the regime, you’re just a cog in the system that is supposed to carry out its function without a murmur. But I see in front of me a living person who in the evening takes off her robes and runs errands at the same store where my mama buys her pot cheese. And I have no doubt the very same problems concern you and me both. I’m certain that you, like me, have been shaken by this war and are praying for the nightmare to end soon.
You know, Oksana Ivanovna, I have a principle I’ve followed for many years: do what you have to and what will be will be. When military actions began, I did not for one second doubt what I had to do.
I had to be in Russia, I had to speak the truth loudly, and I had to do everything in my power to stop the bloodshed. I’m physically pained at the awareness of how many people have perished in this war, how many fates have been crippled, and how many families have lost their homes. It’s simply impossible to be reconciled to this. And I swear, I regret nothing. Better to spend 10 years behind bars and remain an honest person than to silently burn from shame over the blood your government is shedding.
Of course, Your Honour, I’m not expecting a miracle here. You know I’m not guilty—and I know how this system is pressuring you. It’s obvious you’re going to have to issue a guilty verdict. But I don’t hold that against you and wish you no ill. However, try to do everything within your power not to commit an injustice. Remember that it’s not only my personal destiny that depends on your decision. This is a verdict against that portion of our society that wants to live in a peaceful and civilized way. That portion of our society to which you yourself, Oksana Ivanova, may belong.
I also want to take advantage of this tribune and address Russian President Vladimir Putin. The person who bears responsibility for this slaughter, who signed the law on “military censorship,” and at whose will I now sit in prison.
Looking at the consequences of this outrageous war, you yourself doubtless realize what a grave mistake you made on 24 February. Our army has not been greeted with flowers. They are calling us death squads and occupiers. Your name is now firmly linked to the words “death” and “destruction.”
You brought terrible misfortune upon the Ukrainian people, who will probably never forgive you. But, after all, you are waging war not only against Ukrainians but also against your fellow countrymen.
You are sending into the heat of battle hundreds of thousands of Russians, many of whom will be turned to dust and never return home. Many will be cripples and will go mad from what they have seen and lived through. For you, this is simply loss statistics, numbers in columns. But for a multitude of families this is unbearable pain from the loss of husbands, fathers, and sons.
You are taking away Russians’ home.
Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have left Russia because they don’t want to kill or be killed. People are running away from you, Mr. President. Have you really not noticed?
You’re undermining the foundation of our economic security. By putting industry on a wartime footing, you are turning our country back. The priority is once again tanks and cannons, and our reality is once again poverty and lawlessness. Have you really forgotten that this kind of policy already led our country to collapse?
Let my words sound like a voice crying out in the wilderness, but I’m calling on you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, to stop this insanity immediately. It is essential to recognize that the policy toward Ukraine is wrong and withdraw our troops from its territory and move on to a diplomatic settlement of the conflict.
Remember that each new day of war means new victims. Enough.
Finally, I want to address the people who have followed this legal proceeding, who have helped me all these months and are awaiting the sentence with trepidation.
Friends! No matter what decision the court issues, no matter how harsh the sentence, this must not break you. I understand how hard it is for you now, and how the sense of impotence and hopelessness is tormenting you. But you must not give up.
Please, do not lapse into despair and do not forget that this is your country and mine. It is worth fighting for. Be brave, do not retreat in the face of evil, and resist. Stand up for your street, for your cities. And most important, stand up for each other. There are more of us than it seems, and all of us together are a tremendous force.
And don’t worry about me. I promise I’ll endure all the trials, I won’t complain, and I’ll take this journey with dignity. But please, you have to promise to maintain your optimism and not forget how to smile. Because the minute we lose our ability to rejoice in life, they win.
Believe me, Russia will be free and happy.
Translated by Marian Schwartz