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Russian Journalist’s Intimidation Campaign Drives Family Into Hiding

A woman holds a portrait of pro-Russia separatist commander Arseny Pavlov, known as "Motorola," during his funeral in Donetsk on October 19.
A woman holds a portrait of pro-Russia separatist commander Arseny Pavlov, known as "Motorola," during his funeral in Donetsk on October 19.

A popular St. Petersburg bar and restaurant has closed down and a young head chef is in hiding -- all because the chef wrote a crude social-media post following the death of Arseny Pavlov, a top commander of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine who was known as Motorola.

Now, the same pro-Kremlin Russian tabloid journalist whose Twitter campaign generated threats of violence against chef Grigory Pashukevich is targeting another man he claims belittled Pavlov, who was killed by a bomb in his apartment building in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk on October 16.

In an October 21 tweet, Komsomolskaya Pravda military correspondent Dmitry Steshin lashed out at a young man from the southern Russian city of Voronezh named Sergei Kalinin.

Steshin claimed that Kalinin repeatedly posted a disrespectful poem about Pavlov, a Russian who was one of the most prominent commanders of separatist forces whose war against government troops has killed more than 9,600 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. Pavlov was given a hero’s funeral in Donetsk on October 19.

Kalinin’s profile on the Russian social-media site VKontakte was deleted shortly after Steshin began his campaign against him.

Steshin’s first online campaign this week targeted Pashukevich, who posted a comment "stupidly and in anger" about Pavlov’s death on his Facebook page on October 17 that he quickly regretted and deleted.

"I can tell you right now that I immediately apologized to the deceased man’s family," Pashukevich told RFE/RL’s Russian Service. "Really, it is not right to say such things literally the day after someone’s death. You can have whatever attitude you want to what Motorola did on the territory of Ukraine, but using language such as I used about this man -- or about anyone -- is unacceptable."

The interior of the Citizen restaurant in St. Petersburg
The interior of the Citizen restaurant in St. Petersburg

Steshin, however, invited his 85,000 Twitter followers to express their feelings about Pashukevich’s post on the Facebook page of his employer, the Citizen bar and restaurant. The tweet was re-posted more than 300 times, and the bar announced on October 18 that it had fired Pashukevich.

The following day, Citizen announced suddenly that it was closing altogether, apologizing to anyone it had "angered or upset."

Pashukevich told RFE/RL that he and his family are now in hiding after receiving numerous threats of physical violence both on his social-media pages and by telephone.

After Steshin published his tweets, Pashukevich said, “the threats started coming.”

"There were comments saying, 'We need to rip his ass off the sofa and stick a knife in his liver' or, 'We need to do something so he isn’t alive anymore.' Then on VKontakte, I got a personal message saying that they were coming after me on Wednesday. That was the night of October 17-18. After that, fearing for my life and the lives of my family, I hid."

Pashukevich said he does not know what he will do next.

"I am solving the problems now as they arise," he said.

Russia claims it has not sent soldiers to Ukraine and is not supporting the separatists on the battlefield, despite what Kyiv and NATO say is incontrovertible evidence that it has provided them with manpower, weapons, and financial backing.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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