Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russian Activists Battle Extremism Charges After Promoting Regional Autonomy

Vyacheslav Martynov (with arm raised), an organizer of the March for the Federalization of Kuban, has been actively involved in the local pro-democracy movement in Kharkiv.

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- Despite supporting the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine in the face of biting Western sanctions, Russia does not take kindly to self-rule advocates on its own soil.

Three Russian activists are facing lengthy jail terms after attempting to stage a rally demanding broader autonomy for Kuban, a territory in southern Russia.

The protest never took place -- the authorities swiftly detained the trio for alleged hooliganism, froze their bank accounts, and placed them on a terrorist watchlist.

One activist, Darya Polyudova, is now back in detention pending trial on charges of extremism and making public appeals for extremist activities. She faces up to 10 years in jail.

The other two activists, Vyacheslav Martynov and Pyotr Lyubchenkov, fled to Ukraine after receiving a summons from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). "We all know how this would have ended," Martynov told RFE/RL in Kharkiv. "I would now be where Darya is, in the FSB's detention center. Instead, I managed to travel to Ukraine in time."

On October 30, the leading Russian rights group Memorial declared Polyudova a prisoner of conscience.

Darya Polyudova faces up to 10 years in jail.
Darya Polyudova faces up to 10 years in jail.

Martynov and Lyubchenkov have applied for political asylum in Ukraine. They too, have been charged with extremism and will face trial if they return. While Lyubchenkov's fate is unclear, Martynov has been denied asylum and is seeking to appeal the decision in court.

"I feel close to Ukrainians, I find it great that people here take an active political stance," says Martynov, who has been actively involved in the local pro-democracy movement in Kharkiv. "I want to live in a country where civil society is developing."

Despite rejecting his application, Ukrainian authorities say they are now looking for ways to shield the 21-year-old from prosecution in Russia.

Vyacheslav Hus, the head of Kharkiv's state migration services, told journalists on November 4 that Ukraine would likely grant Martynov refugee status. "It would make no difference for him," Hus said. "He will be able to stay legally in our country and continue his activities."

Russian authorities appear to be particularly jittery about calls for greater regional autonomy from Moscow, even when the activists, like Martynov and his friends, stop short of making demands for secession.

Attempts to hold a "March for the Federalization of Siberia" in Novosibirsk, Russia's third-largest city, were quashed by local officials in August. The country's Internet monitoring agency, Roskomnadzor, also shut down the page promoting the rally and ordered several news websites to take down their interviews with the march's organizer.