Denounced By Her Classmates, Anti-War Russian Teen Faces A Long Prison Term
The Russian government didn’t wait for the trial of Olesya Krivtsova, a 19-year-old student in the northern city of Arkhangelsk, to even begin before adding her to its “terrorists and extremists” list.
The appointment came on January 10, as Krivtsova is spending her second month under house arrest and faces a possible more than 10 years in prison for “justifying terrorism” and “discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”
“The worst possibilities are buzzing in my head,” Krivtsova told Current Time in an interview from home. “I fully understand that I may be locked up… I’m trying to come to terms with that possibility.”
Krivtsova’s Kafkaesque case began on December 26 when police showed up to search the apartment she shares with her husband.
“Olesya didn’t see the search,” her mother, Natalya Krivtsova, told RFE/RL. “They removed her from the apartment 10 minutes after she arrived.”
During the search, a police officer stood over Krivtsova and intimidated her with a sledgehammer, her mother said. Later, an employee of the interior ministry’s anti-extremism office told her and her husband separately that the visit was “a greeting from the Wagner mercenary group.”
19-year-old Olesya Krivtsova in a courtroom in Arkhangelsk.
Just a few weeks earlier, the Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group released a brutal video in which convicted murderer Yevgeny Nuzhin, who had been recruited from prison to fight in Ukraine, was branded a traitor and killed by him had his skull smashed in with a sledgehammer. This video was titled The Hammer Of Revenge.
Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, thousands of war opponents have been prosecuted and prosecuted under hastily passed laws criminalizing the willful dissemination of allegedly false information about the war or “discrediting” the armed forces. Krivtsova herself was fined 30,000 rubles ($425) in April for posting anti-war stickers in public.
“Destroying a man’s life”
During the first court hearings after Krivtsova’s arrest, it emerged that the case against her was based on denunciations by fellow students who participated in a closed university Telegram chat that RFE/RL could see.
“At the hearing, they mentioned two names of people I knew who were in this chat. They discussed how best to file a complaint – to the police or to the prosecutor [Federal Security Service]she told Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in partnership with VOA.
“I knew her before,” she added. “I’ve had pretty congenial relationships with one. Occasionally we met and talked. The other witness once helped me carry a heavy bag. The strangest thing is that one of them sent me a copy of the chat.”
She added that her lawyers have not received copies of any denunciations that may have been filed.
In October, participants in the chat were discussing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when one of them posted screenshots of Krivtsova’s Instagram Stories, in which she reposted the Ukrainian authorities’ recommendations for the surrender of Russian soldiers and photos of killed Ukrainian civilians.
“This is illegal,” wrote one participant. “Perhaps a case should be opened?”
A few moments later, the same participant wrote: “I wrote to the commander. He has friends in the [security] institutions and will consult them.”
The case against Krivtsova was apparently based on denunciations by fellow students who participated in a closed telegram chat at the university. (file photo)
Someone then posted a screenshot of a post by university lecturer Aleksei Feldt, who wrote, “Denunciation doesn’t make a patriot,” and the participants started discussing it.
“I think denunciation and betrayal of someone are two different things,” one wrote. “Betraying someone is for personal reasons.”
“What we have here is an illegal act. I think we have an obligation to speak up, especially since we know what they’re doing to our guys who surrender,” added another, apparently referring to unsubstantiated Russian propaganda claims that Russian prisoners are routinely abused in Ukrainian detention.
“Denunciation is a patriot’s duty,” wrote a third. “And even better – presence in the media. Bullying works better than the Home Office.”
Olesya considers these charges a difficult process to endure. The main thing is that it wasn’t broken and won’t be broken.”
Krivtsova said she believes the students are motivated by “ideological” beliefs.
“I think they all believe that their actions were reasonable and fair and that I should be punished in accordance with the law,” she said. “I think they’re just guided by ideas like that.
“People imbued with a militaristic ideology can easily seek out dissidents, believing that dissent could lead to the defeat of the army, the president or the country,” she said. “So they think they’re denouncing ‘for the sake of good.’ At least in their own minds.
“But even if you are ideologically inclined, even if you are willing to defend your country by such means, you can probably find another way,” she added. “Destroying a person’s life because of their views – in this case quite benign ones – is immoral.”
Two days after her arrest, Krivtsova faced a detention hearing at which the court ordered her to be placed under house arrest pending trial.
A week later, the police arrested her again. They requested a new custody hearing, alleging in court that two one-way train tickets to border areas of Russia had been bought in her name, arguing that she posed a flight risk. Krivtsova denies buying the tickets, adding that she cannot do so because she does not have a valid domestic passport.
During the hearing, defense attorneys asked for records from the state railroad showing when, where and how the alleged tickets were purchased, and for the opportunity to interview any witnesses. The judge denied her request.
In the end, the court denied prosecutors’ request to have her in custody, instead adding restrictions to her house arrest preventing her from using the internet.
“She did not violate the terms of her house arrest and did not obstruct the investigation,” Krivtsova’s mother said. “Olesya considers these charges a difficult process to endure. The main thing is that she was not broken and will not be broken.
“Olesya did nothing wrong,” she said. “It’s not her fault. She has no regrets.”
Written by RFE/RL Correspondent Robert Coalson, based on reports from RFE/RL’s North.Realities. Current Time correspondent Kirill Belov-Belikov also contributed to this report.