On Thursday, which marked the one-month anniversary of the start of the offensive that the Kremlin justifies having begun to “denazify” Ukraine, a well-known Russian journalist found a blue and yellow emblem nailed to the door of his house with the word “Judensau” – which means “Jewish pig” in German – written on it. At his feet was a pig’s head, complete with a wig that resembled his own famous curly white hair.
“Have they decided to intimidate me and my family?” asked Alexei Venediktov. “Me, who was taken to be shot by the soldiers of Dudayev?” he continued, in reference to the first Chechen separatist leader. Until a few weeks ago, Venediktov ran the Echo of Moscow radio station, until it was taken off the air by the Russian authorities due to its coverage of the conflict in Ukraine. Since then, he has been threatened for criticizing Russia’s role in the conflict.
On Friday, two more activists were attacked in Saint Petersburg. “Danger! A traitor to the homeland lives here!” read a sign that was left at the entrance to the homes of Daria Heikinen, from the Mayak Movement, and Kristina Vorotnikova, who worked with Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. In the case of the former, fluids were left on the door handle, while the latter found her door daubed with the word “traitor.” Manure had also been left on the floor in the landing.
More such cases had occurred previously. On March 16, activist Olga Misik found the door of her house painted from top to bottom. “My apartment has been given cosmetic treatment,” she wrote on Twitter. She became famous after reading the Russian Constitution in front of the police during protests in 2020, when she was still a teenager.
Misik commented on the threats with a subtle warning. “The West will certainly be counting on the ‘fifth column’,” she said. “They don’t live there in the geographic sense, but in their thoughts, in their slave mentality. But the Russian people will be able to distinguish between the traitors and this purification of society will only make the country stronger. A. Hit… [Adolf Hitler], sorry, V. V. Putin,” Misik published, transcribing the words that had been uttered shortly before by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
The graffiti she was left included the letter Z, which has become a symbol for those who support the war. “Za rodinu” (“for the homeland,” in Russian) and “Za presidenta” (for the president), are among the slogans that had already gone viral on social media.
It is not, however, just areas of civil society that have expressed their rejection of the conflict. On February 25, the second day of the war, a Russian platoon leader and 11 soldiers refused to cross the border that separates Ukraine from the Russian region of Krasnodar. The servicemen denounced the fact that it was an illegal act. As a result, they were sent back to their base, an investigation was opened and they were fired. They are now fighting against the justice system to be readmitted because, they claim, they were unfairly dismissed.
“None of them had their passport for international travel nor did they have the intention of leaving, given that their obligations limited them to the Russian Federation,” said their attorney, Mikhail Benyash, via messaging service Telegram. What’s more, the defense pointed out that illegally crossing the border is an offense that is punishable under the Russian criminal code, and they would also have broken Ukrainian law.
This incident was not an exception. “After this news, we have heard similar stories from Crimea, Veliky Novgorod, Omsk, Stavropol… workers who were looking for help,” human rights lawyer and columnist Pavel Chikov wrote via social media. “Write to our lawyers; we will help the officials to get their jobs back for having refused to go to the fighting in Ukraine,” added Chikov, who is also the president of the Agora foundation, and was expelled in 2019 from the Presidential Council for Human Rights, which reports to the Kremlin.
According to Benyash, “there are a lot of otkázniki [those who refuse to fight in the war] all over Russia, but only these have had the courage to fight their case. The rest joined [the invasion] without question, which says a lot about them as fighters.” The lawyer also wrote that “their refusal to fight should not be seen as a political declaration,” arguing that those who won’t take part in the “special operation,” as the Kremlin calls it, are not committing a disciplinary offense “nor any offense at all.”
None of the plaintiffs was informed about their work trip to Ukrainian territory to take part in a special military operation, nor about the tasks nor the conditions of this operation,” stated Benyash. “As such, they did not provide their consent.”