A Russian protester has described a climate of fear in Moscow after using a Stephen Hawking book to talk herself out of arrest.
Anya was present at the scene of an anti-war rally in the capital when she and a friend were approached by Vladimir Putin’s security forces.
She gave an insight into life in the grip of the increasingly authoritarian rule of the Russian Federation, where ordinary people can be arrested just for being near a demonstration.
The teacher is vehemently opposed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where she has family, and believes Putin is an “old and corrupt bastard” who is making his people suffer.
She said society remains “divided” over the president despite mounting evidence of horrific war crimes being committed by Kremlin troops.
Anya and a friend went on what they call a “walk” to attend a protest at Moscow’s Three Stations Square on March 6 and were almost arrested, despite not having any banners, placards or signs to the contrary showed.
She told Metro.co.uk they emerged from a tube station and found the seat occupied by hundreds of police officers checking everyone in sight.
“We were shocked but decided to keep walking as we didn’t do anything wrong and it’s not forbidden to walk around,” Anya said.
“A couple of officers stopped us and asked to check our documents.
“We played fools and asked what was going on and why there was no information about the closure of the place. We didn’t get any replies from them.
“They started searching our pockets and bags and found a small leaflet from OVD-Info “What to do if you are arrested”. [an independent Russian human rights project] in my friend’s pocket.
“When he saw it, he immediately grabbed her and took her to an avtozak, a police bus for arrested people.”
Anya, in her late 20s, ran after her friend and managed to get between her and the officer.
“He checked my documents and found out that I wasn’t registered in Moscow and started judging me, asking me where my tickets home were and how I could prove that I live and work in Moscow,” he said you.
‘That was good. I pushed my friend behind me and chatted with him. He asked something like, “What do you think about coming here, are you stupid or something?” and I said, “Hey, I’ll tell you what’s on my mind”.
“I pulled Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time out of my backpack and started telling him about the book, including the Singularity Theory, and he really loved it.
“He suddenly stopped me and asked us to leave the place immediately and never come back, otherwise he will arrest us. We didn’t need to be told twice.”
Another protester at the rally described how police rounded up and arrested protesters and people nearby.
The person described was interrogated for six hours – longer than the law allows – by overworked police officers who were dispatching busloads of detainees at a station on the outskirts of Moscow.
The parent, who anonymously wrote the report on independent media platform openDemocracy, was released after telling officers the trip downtown had been made to buy children’s toys.
According to OVD-Info, between the start of the invasion on February 24 and the end of March, more than 15,000 people were arrested across Russia during anti-war protests. Detention at a rally is punishable by a fine of up to 15,000 rubles, repeated offenses of up to 300,000 rubles, and administrative arrest for up to 30 days.
Still, Anya is determined to “show the truth” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has led to evidence of mass graves and summary executions of civilians by Moscow forces.
The Kremlin has cracked down on the mainstream and social media while spreading narratives claiming that Ukraine fabricated images of atrocities to smear Russia and act as a provocation.
“We’re divided,” Anya said. “There are people who believe everything that is going on is fatally wrong and needs to be stopped immediately.
“We do what we can, we take to the streets and try to show the truth through social media, risking our few freedoms. We support oppressed media and wish we could do more, but with more than 15,000 arrests and 56 people sentenced to prison, we are bound.”
Russia has told its citizens it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine, with a state TV talk show claiming the killings carried out in the city of Bucha were a “Britain-planned provocation”.
Anya said: “The rest of society trusts television and believes the authorities because they made their lives better for once – people still remember the 90s.
“They weren’t taught to think, so they take someone’s opinion as their own and are willing to fight for it.
‘Why? Because they genuinely believe they are doing the right thing. My mother is a smart woman and she can analyze things and think with her own mind. But my friends have real issues with their parents.”
Anya, speaking under a false name, told Metro.co.uk that almost all of her friends have left the country and those left behind want to leave.
Sweeping sanctions imposed by Western nations have disrupted the Russian economy, including by suspending electronic payment systems, although their work has not been affected.
Major international chains, including McDonald’s and Ikea, have suspended operations in the country since the invasion began six weeks ago.
However, Anya described the situation in Moscow as calm, with essential goods available in stores despite inflows of salt and sugar.
“There are a lot of cops on the streets and sometimes it seems like we’re manned,” she said. “But if you’re moving fast and you look like you’re very busy and in a hurry, like a classic Muscovite, they won’t stop you.
“But if you hesitate a second, check something for too long, they come by, ask for documents, question you. But that only happens in the city center.”
Anya sees the invasion as one of the most serious flaws in Putin’s reign, which has spanned more than two decades and has oppressed what she sees as a country possessed of vast human and natural resources.
“I have been voting against Putin’s party, and against him in particular, for more than 10 years,” she said. “I think this fact of my life speaks louder than any words. I personally think he should have left the position a decade ago. He’s an old and corrupt scumbag.
“Despite all this oil, natural resources, amazing lands and amazing human power, we, the common people, are finished.
“Life takes place in St. Petersburg and Moscow while other cities have fallen into disrepair.
“Of course, in every Russian city there are some islands of culture and history, but the general picture is like this.
“We could be one of the richest countries in the world and help the world develop and bring the future closer. Instead we suffer.”
The Muscovite now wants to study or teach abroad, possibly in the UK or US, although the war has complicated the process of obtaining scholarships and moving outside of her home country.
“I’m not going to make any hasty decisions,” she said.
“Like I always say, let’s live and see. Everything changes too fast. I will act on things when the time comes, I always do.’
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/04/09/russian-protester-talks-way-out-of-arrest-using-stephen-hawkings-book-16419819/ Russian protester speaks out of arrest with help from Stephen Hawking's book