The Russian government did not 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 list of “terrorists and extremists.”
The designation on January 10 came as Krivtsova spends her second month under house arrest, facing the possibility of more than 10 years in prison on charges of “justifying terrorism” and “discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”
“The worst possibilities whirl in my head,” Krivtsova told Current Time in an interview from her home. “I understand perfectly well that I might be imprisoned…. I’m trying to reconcile myself to that possibility.”
Krivtsova’s Kafkaesque case began on December 26, when the 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 they arrived.”
While the search was being conducted, a police officer stood over Krivtsova, intimidating her with a sledgehammer, her mother said. Later, an officer of the Interior Ministry’s anti-extremism center told her and her husband separately that the visit was “a greeting from the Wagner” mercenary group.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Kremlin-connected 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 having his skull crushed with a sledgehammer. That video was titled The Hammer Of Revenge.
Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, thousands of anti-war dissenters have faced prosecution and persecution under hastily passed laws that criminalize deliberately spreading what the state claims is 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 Person’s Life’
During the initial court hearings after Krivtsova’s arrest, it became apparent that the case against her was based on denunciations from fellow university students who participated in a closed university Telegram chat that RFE/RL was able to view.
“At the hearing, they mentioned two names of people that I knew who were in that chat. They were discussing how best to submit a denunciation — to the police or the [Federal Security Service],” she told Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in collaboration with VOA.
“I knew them before,” she added. “I had fairly congenial relations with one. We occasionally ran into each other and chatted. The other witness once helped me carry a heavy bag. The weirdest thing is that one of them sent me a copy of the chat.”
She added that her lawyers have not been given 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 from Krivtsova’s Instagram stories in which she reposted the Ukrainian authorities’ recommendations on how Russian soldiers should surrender and photographs of killed Ukrainian civilians.
“This is illegal,” one participant wrote. “Maybe a case should be opened?”
A few moments later, the same participant wrote: “I wrote to the commander. He has friends in the [security] organs and will consult them.”
Someone then posted a screenshot of a post by university lecturer Aleksei Feldt, who wrote that “denunciations do not make one a patriot,” and the participants began discussing it.
“I think denunciations and ratting on someone are two different things,” one wrote. “Ratting on someone is done for personal reasons.”
“What we have here is an illegal act. I think we are obliged to speak up, especially since we know what they do to our boys who surrender,” added another, apparently referring to unsubstantiated Russian propaganda claims that Russian prisoners are routinely abused in Ukrainian custody.
“Denunciation is the obligation of a patriot,” wrote a third. “And even better — exposure in the media. Bullying works better than the Interior Ministry.”
Olesya takes these criminal charges as a difficult trial she must endure. The main thing is that she wasn’t broken and isn’t being broken.”
Krivtsova said she believed the students were motivated by “ideological” convictions.
“I think they all believe their actions were appropriate and fair and that I should be punished in accordance with the law,” she said. “I believe they are guided only by such ideas.
“People infused with a militaristic ideology can easily seek out dissidents because they think dissent might lead to the army’s defeat or the president’s defeat or the country’s defeat,” she said. “So they think they are denouncing ‘for the sake of good.’ At least in their own minds.
“But even if you are ideological, even if you are ready 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, pretty innocuous ones — is immoral.”
Two days after her arrest, Krivtsova faced a custody hearing, during which the court ordered her to remain under house arrest pending trial.
A week later, the police detained her again. They requested a new custody hearing, claiming in court that two one-way train tickets to border areas of Russia had been purchased in her name and arguing that she was a flight risk. Krivtsova denies buying the tickets, adding that she would not be able to do so because she does not have a valid internal passport.
During the hearing, defense lawyers asked for records from the state railway showing when, where, and how the alleged tickets were purchased and for the opportunity to question any witnesses. The judge denied their request.
In the end, the court rejected the prosecution’s request that she be kept 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 hinder the investigation,” Krivtsova’s mother said. “Olesya takes these criminal charges as a difficult trial she must endure. The main thing is that she wasn’t broken and isn’t being broken.
“Olesya didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “She is not guilty of anything. She has nothing to be sorry for.”
Written by RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL’s North. Realities. Current Time correspondent Kirill Belov-Belikov also contributed to this report.