‘I’m freer than you”: Artist Sasha Skochilenko gets 7 years for price tags telling truth about Russia's war against Ukraine
A court in St Petersburg 33-year-old Sasha (Aleksandra) Skochilenko to seven years’ imprisonment for her peaceful protest in protest at Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and crimes against civilians. The St Petersburg artist, musician and civic activist had written messages against the war; Russian propaganda; and its attacks on civilians on five price tags in a supermarket, with this claimed to be ‘circulating false information about Russia’s armed forces’. In her final address on 16 November, Skochilenko told the court that “although I am behind bars, I am freer than you. I can make my own decisions and say what I think.”
Skochilenko openly expressed her opposition to Russia’s full-scale invasion back on 24 February 2022. She was arrested on 11 April under the worst of four draconian new charges rushed into legislation to silence protest. The new charge of Russia’s criminal code – Article 207.3 § 2 punishes for what the Russian regime claims is “knowingly false information about the Russian armed forces”. It has already been used to pass sentences of up to 8 years for writing about Russia’s war crimes in Bucha, Mariupol, Izium and other Ukrainian cities, with accurate information called ‘false’ because it does not correspond with the official denials from the Kremlin and defence ministry. The latter are continuing to repeat such denials despite vast amounts of evidence that they are lying.
The protest action was peaceful and very powerful, with Skochilenko replacing ordinary price tags in a local supermarket with messages about the war. The messages included the following:
Stop the war. More than 500.00 civilians have been killed by Russian forces
My friends are hiding in the metro from Russian bombs 00.00 of them are Nazis. Stop the war
I have had no contact with my sister for 8.00 days. I don’t know if she’s OK Stop the war.
The Russian army bombed an artistic school in Mariupol where around 400.00 people were sheltering from the bombing. Stop the military action. [It is possible that Skochilenko meant the Mariupol Drama Theatre which Russia bombed on 16 March 2022. Around one thousand civilians are believed to have been seeking shelter there]
Putin has been lying to you from the TV for over 20.00 years, with the outcome being our willingness to justify the war and senseless deaths.
Stop the war! In the first three days, 4,300 Russian soldiers died. Why are they silent about this on television?
One of the many disturbing parts of her persecution is the fact that she was ‘denounced’, like in Soviet times, by . She has been in the appalling conditions of a Russian SIZO [remand prison] since 13 April, with her treatment there, and the failure to provide medical care for several serious conditions, including a congenital heart problem, of major concern. The court ignored several expert assessments confirming that the young woman should not be in detention.
The trial, which continued for 18 months, was clearly political from the outset, with ‘judge’ Oksana Demyasheva entirely legitimate applications from the defence. In from the SIZO a week after her arrest, Skochilenko wrote that she represents everything that the regime under Russian president Vladimir Putin is antagonist to: “creativity, pacifism, LGBT, mental health education, feminism, humanism, and love for everything bright, ambivalent, unusual”. She noted also that two former cellmates, both of whom were accused of crimes (theft), had been placed under house arrest, whereas all appeals for her release had been rejected. The prosecutor Aleksandr Gladyshev her release, claiming that the above peaceful protest was “a grave crime because it undermines the foundations of the state order”. The refusal to release Skochilenko is especially brutal as she has been unable to be with her partner, Sonya Subbotina, when the latter needed to undergo an operation after cancer was discovered.
Since the beginning of its full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia has been releasing convicted criminals, including those sentenced for multiple killings and other violent crimes, on condition that they agree to fight in Ukraine for six months. Such individuals are then ‘pardoned’ by Putin, with their crimes effectively wiped from their record. In contrast, Russia continues to sentence Ukrainian political prisoners and prisoners of war to horrific terms of imprisonment on entirely fabricated charges and imprison Russians for peacefully opposing and telling the truth about the regime’s war against Ukraine. Mediazona, which reported on each hearing in this judicial travesty, that Gladyshev had effectively admitted that he considers Skochilenko’s ‘crime’ to be the very fact that she opposes the war and the current regime.
The sentence will certainly be appealed against, but this was a political trial and sentence, and in similar cases, the judges at appeal level have also proven the truth of Sasha Skochilenko’s words, by providing the rulings demanded of them.