At Large  March 17, 2024  Rebecca Schiffman

Artists Across Russia Raided by Security Service

Wikimedia Commons

Putin making an address to the Russian people on 24 June 2023.

Last week, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) raided over thirty artist homes and studios across the country. The raids came on the heels of the Russian presidential election that concluded this weekend with Vladimir Putin claiming another term in office. They appear connected to the Russian government’s case against activist and artist Pyotr Verzilov, and it is believed that they were intended to discourage any art-based protests in the aftermath of the election.  

Pyotr Verzilov is a Russian-Canadian artist and activist known for his support for the band Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist protest and performance art group, which he later received jail time for. In recent years, Verzilov has been vocal about his disapproval of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the imprisonment and death of Alexi Navalny. Last year, the Russian government issued an arrest warrant for Verzilov for reporting on the Bucha massacre in Ukraine on his social media. Verzilov, however, was not in Russia anymore: he revealed in an interview that he joined Ukraine’s armed forces to fight against Russia. Thus, his case was ruled “in absentia” and he was sentenced to 8.5 years in a penal colony.

The raids were reported on by Russian news outlets AFP NewsMeduza, and Mediazona, the latter of which Pyotr Verzilov was the former publisher. According to Mediazona, there were 26 searches in over eight cities, including seven in Moscow and eleven in St. Petersburg. Many of the artists reported that FSB officers broke into their apartments and detained and interrogated them. Some of the artists who have reported their stories include Katrin Nenasheva, Sasha Blot, Vladlena Milkina, and Artem Filatov.

At least twelve artist-detainees became witnesses in the case against Verzilov, and their non-disclosure agreements were taken away. Kristina Gorlanova, a former director of the Pushkin Museum of Art, told OVD-Info that she became a witness “in the criminal case of an ‘artist’ whom she does not even know and has never heard anything about.”

Artist and activist of St. Petersburg’s “Party of the Dead” group, Kristina Bubenstova, who was taken in for questioning with her husband said, “I am a left-wing person and I know no more about Verzilov than an ordinary Internet user.”

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