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Eight Russians Who Have Taken A Stand

Andrei Zubov, a historian and professor of philosophy at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (MGIMO), lost his job after likening President Vladimir Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Andrei Zubov, a historian and professor of philosophy at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (MGIMO), lost his job after likening President Vladimir Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

On August 25, 1968, eight Soviet citizens came out into Red Square to protest the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Under the banner "For your freedom and ours," the protesters were quickly arrested by the KGB and most suffered years of exile or imprisonment for their quixotic gesture.

Now, 47 years later, some Russian citizens feel they are in a similar situation -- pushed by their consciences to protest policies that the overwhelming majority of Russians accept. Many of these dissenters -- Aleksei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov, Pussy Riot, Yevgenia Chirikova, and others -- are well known in the West. But there are many more that have received less attention.

In recognition of the eight 1968 Red Square protesters -- Larisa Bogoraz, Konstantin Babitsky, Tatyana Bayeva, Vadim Delaunay, Vladimir Dremlyuga, Viktor Fainberg, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, and Pavel Litvinov -- RFE/RL is highlighting eight of the lesser-known Russians who have risked their safety, their jobs, and their liberty to follow their consciences.

Andrei Zubov

Andrei Zubov, a professor of philosophy and noted political commentator, lost his job after likening President Vladimir Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

In March 2014, Zubov published a column in the daily Vedomosti comparing the deployment of Russian troops in Crimea to Hitler's annexation of Austria in 1938-39. Russia, he warned, was on the verge of becoming a "political dictatorship."

"I wanted to show Ukrainians that not everybody in Russia shares Putin's opinions, that there also is another Russia," he told RFE/RL at the time.

Zubov was swiftly dismissed from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). The university later canceled the decision, which had sparked a scandal, but failed to renew his contract when it expired three months later.

He currently gives lectures and speeches in various institutions.

Aleksei Dymovsky

In November 2009, Russian police officer Aleksei Dymovsky posted a video on YouTube in which he passionately denounced police corruption and called on Putin to clean up law-enforcement agencies.

He was fired and detained on fraud charges that were later dropped.

His gesture spurred dozens of similar video appeals from police officers, state prosecutors, and other government workers across Russia.

Dymovsky left his hometown of Novorossiisk, in southern Russia, and relocated to Moscow, where he is actively involved in opposition activities. He is the founder of White Ribbon, a nongovernmental group advocating police reform.

Sergei Baranov

Priest Sergei Baranov demonstratively left the Russian Orthodox Church in 2012 to protest the jailing of three members of the Pussy Riot collective who had performed a "punk protest" song criticizing Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.

The verdict against Pussy Riot, Baranov wrote in an open letter posted on his Facebook account, was "rendered at the direct instigation of the Russian Orthodox Church and the people who wrongly call themselves 'Orthodox citizens.'"

Fearing retaliation, he fled Russia and applied for political asylum in the Czech Republic, which he was granted in April 2013.

He dropped off the radar after telling RFE/RL in May 2013 that he planned to convert to the Greek Catholic Church.

Darya Polyudova

A lawyer and an activist with a local communist party in Krasnodar Krai, Darya Polyudova faces extremism charges and up to five years in prison for posting a photograph on social media of herself holding a sign reading, "Instead of war with Ukraine, revolution in Russia."

In addition, she faces another similar charge for reposting on social media a post calling for Russians to "get rid of Putin and make a socialist revolution."

Darya Polyudova
Darya Polyudova

Defense lawyers, however, say that her troubles with the law really began in August 2014 when she participated in a "march for the federalization of the Kuban region," which the authorities have interpreted as "activity aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."

She spent about six months in pretrial detention before being released in February after promising not to leave the region. In her case file, she is accused of "personal antipathy toward the current president" and "hatred for the present political regime in the Russian Federation."

On May 21, she was fired from her job as a lawyer for a local hospital. On June 2, she was hired by a private law firm, but their employment offer was withdrawn the next day -- she says, following pressure from the local Federal Security Service (FSB).

Her next court hearing is scheduled for August 26.

Vlad Kolesnikov

Moscow teenager Vlad Kolesnikov has taken a bold stand against Russia's interference in Ukraine, landing him in hot water.

After posting a string of critical comments on his Facebook page and wearing a pro-Ukraine T-shirt to school, Kolesnikov was assaulted by fellow students earlier this year.

His grandfather, a former KGB officer, then packed Kolesnikov off on a train to his father in the town of Zhigulyovsk, in the distant Samara region. His school quickly informed him that he had been removed from the rolls "at his own request."

Vlad Kolesnikov
Vlad Kolesnikov

"I'm strong enough to smile, and I know at the bottom of my heart that I support the right cause," he wrote in an emotional post on June 11.

Kolesnikov's woes inspired an outpouring of sympathy on Facebook, where he currently has more than 3,000 followers.

He has since returned to Moscow and is battling what he described as attempts by police to prosecute him for allegedly smashing the windows of his grandfather's home -- an accusation he firmly denies.

He said police, together with former schoolteachers and local deputies, have questioned his best friend and asked him to testify against him.

Kolesnikov said he is considering fleeing Russia.

Aleksei Devotchenko

A well-known actor, Aleksei Devotchenko renounced his government awards and publicly called on cultural figures not to participate in events that support the Russian government and state companies.

In March 2010, Devotchenko published an open appeal to fellow artists and cultural figures with the provocative title Can We Do Anything?

Aleksei Devotchenko speaks at a rally in St. Petersburg in February 2011.
Aleksei Devotchenko speaks at a rally in St. Petersburg in February 2011.

In it, Devotchenko criticized the "criminal, deeply depraved, and cynical regime" and urged artists not to lend any support to the government. Money from the government and state companies, he said, "does stink -- it smells of dank prison cells, of neglected hospitals and homeless shelters, of the acrid smoke of burnt-out architectural monuments and historical buildings and night clubs and homes for the elderly. It smells of the boots of the OMON riot police."

In 2011, he rejected his state awards and in 2014 he signed a letter opposing the war in Ukraine.

In November 2014, he was found dead in his Moscow apartment, apparently having bled to death after injuring himself while drunk.

Pyotr Pavlensky

St. Petersburg artist Pyotr Pavlensky has made numerous bold gestures in opposition to Putin's government, including sewing his mouth shut to protest the incarceration of members of Pussy Riot, nailing his scrotum to Red Square to protest "the police state," and cutting off part of his ear to protest the political abuse of psychiatry in Russia.

Pavlensky, 29, has specialized in political performance art since at least 2012, when he appeared in a St. Petersburg church with his mouth sewn shut to support Pussy Riot. He was taken for psychiatric evaluation, but was declared sane and released.

Police detain Pyotr Pavlensky after he cut off part of his earlobe.
Police detain Pyotr Pavlensky after he cut off part of his earlobe.

The following year, Pavlensky was delivered naked except for a cocoon of barbed wire to the steps of St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly. His intention was to protest Russian laws that "aren't aimed against criminals, but against the people."

In November 2013, a naked Pavlensky sat down in Red Square and drove a large nail through his scrotum into the pavement. "A naked artist, looking at his testicles nailed to the pavement is a metaphor for apathy, political indifference, and the fatalism of Russian society," he said in a public statement. (Video contains graphic content)

In 2014, a court dismissed charges of hooliganism against Pavlensky and ordered him freed. He is currently under investigation for allegedly violating Russia's laws on political demonstrations and vandalism.

Aleksandr Byvshev

In April 2015, a district court in the Oryol Oblast village of Kromy convicted popular local secondary-school German teacher Aleksandr Byvshev, 42, of extremism for his poem To Ukrainian Patriots.

Written in March 2014, the poem sharply criticized Russia's annexation of Crimea, which was taking place at the time.

Aleksandr Byvshev
Aleksandr Byvshev

Byvshev lost his job for his "negative statements about the political decisions made by the highest leadership of the Russian Federation" and was sentenced to six months of labor. Byvshev is officially listed as "terrorist-extremist" No. 841 on the website of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service.

Byvshev said in a recent interview that a lawyer explained to him that if he had supported the Kremlin, he could have been as "extremist" as he wanted.

"He said: 'If for instance you had written 'Kill the Ukrainians; bomb Kyiv!' no one would have charged you with extremism. You would have been the main patriot of Kromy and of all of Russia,'" Byvshev said. "The worst thing is that he was right."

His case is currently under appeal and Byvshev says he will take it to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

Compiled by Claire Bigg and Robert Coalson
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