“I wanted to wail, to scream at them: ‘What in the world are you doing to my daughter? Are you human or not?’”

An interview with the mother of Anna Pavlikova, an 18-year-old facing extremism charges in Russia.

15 August 2018
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Anna Pavlikova. In mid-March, Russian law enforcement arrested ten people in Moscow on charges of creating an extremist organisation — the previously unknown “New Greatness” organisation. According to OVD-Info, which monitors politically motivated arrests in Russia, FSB officers organised “New Greatness” from the inside — providing funds, stimulus, direction, a meeting space and even training several participants how to use Molotov cocktails — before declaring it to be an extremist organisation and detaining its members. Charges against seven of the suspects are based on the testimony of the remaining three people who are under house arrest. These men are believed to be security service agents who infiltrated the organisation. Indeed, one of them wrote the organisation's charter. 

Moscow resident Anna Pavlikova was 17 when she was arrested as part of the investigation into “New Greatness”. Since her arrest at home on 15 March, Pavlikova's health has significantly deteriorated. Regardless, her detention has been extended on several occasions: apparently she is a particularly dangerous suspect.

Thus, a Moscow court refused to place Pavlikova under house arrest on 9 August. But after an unsanctioned public meeting was announced in support of her and another defendant, Maria Dubovik, on 15 August, Russia's Supreme Court ordered that Pavlikova's request for house arrest be heard in court, and investigators requested that Pavlikova should be transferred to house arrest. The court is expected to hear this request on 16 August. 

Alexander Chernykh, a correspondent for Kommersant, interviewed Anna Pavlikova’s mother Yulia at the request of OVD-Info in May. 

Yulia, your daughter Anna was 17 when she was arrested. Tell me how the police conducted her detention.

Someone started trying to break into our flat around half five in the morning. There was loud knocking and yelling. The whole family was jolted awake, we didn’t understand what was going on at all. Some man we didn’t know said that we had flooded his apartment downstairs. We didn’t know this neighbour, but we inspected our flat anyway — everything was dry, no leaks — but he screamed to open the door. Then we called the police: we said that some thieves were trying to break in, and asked for help. They checked something and then responded that it wasn’t bandits outside, it was the police and that we should let them in.

My husband Dima opened the door and was immediately hit in the forehead, pushed to the ground and held there with a boot. They were all shouting “On the ground!” and swearing loudly. Four people in balaclavas and machine guns invaded our flat. Then two more in ordinary uniform  came in. They didn’t show any ID: just forced everyone to lie down facing the ground. You know, my elder daughter was scared so much that shoved her five-month-old daughter under the bed to hide. And her husband who was lying beside her started yelling, “Don’t you see we’ve got a baby here?!” Only then the policeman told her that she could get up, and ordered her to sit on the bed with the child. They weren’t allowed to leave the room during the search.


Yulia Pavlikova in her daughter's room. Source: Dmitry Bogolyubov. In the meantime, we were sent to the kitchen and asked questions. They screamed at Anya [Anna], making her cry. “Tell us at once…”, “You’re probably a junkie, aren’t you?” and even “‘We’ll put you in jail for 20 years you’ll come out old and nobody will marry you.” It went on like this for a few hours. One of them even threatened to hit her.

How did the search go? What were they looking for?

The police kept us in the kitchen, so we didn’t see the search itself. They were coming into the kitchen, showing stuff and asking ‘What is it? And what is this?’ But where they took it from we didn’t see.

As it turned out, they just ruined everything in the flat. They stepped on furniture in their boots. The sofa on which Anya sleeps was broken into three pieces. They threw everything off the shelves and took everything out of the cupboards and wardrobes. My daughter liked to make things out of plastic [either plasticine or polymer clay], so the police destroyed her work. What was it all for?

Were there witnesses present?

Yes, they brought some people with them. These weren’t our neighbours or just random people. Afterwards my husband saw them in the window talking to the investigator outside. They were laughing and smiling together with him.

You won’t believe how absurd the search was. My Anya is really into Harry Potter. So, she’s got all the books, posters on the walls, a scarf of the school. And she made badges from the book — with some magic symbols, with their coats of arms. It all turned out very beautifully. So, they pulled the badges out of her jewellery box brought it to us and yelled “What kind of swastika is this?” And she, clever girl, responded “If you haven’t read Harry Potter, I can’t help you with anything.” Then they looked at each other and decided not to take the badges.

What did they confiscate in the end?

They took all the electronic equipment that was in the house. Her father’s laptop was taken, all phones and even their boxes were taken too. The only thing they left was my elder daughter’s very simple phone and our old printer.

But the main thing that drew their interest were some printed pages which later turned out to be the charter of “Novoe Velichie”. Anya told me later when we saw each in the court that she didn’t keep anything like that at home and that the only “political” things she had at home were badges with the word “Navalny” on them.

"The search ended. They took the organisation charter, the phones and drove Anya to the Investigative Committee. They put handcuffs on her, a 17-year-old girl. Can you believe it? Because of some sheets of paper"

I could have chosen not to believe her — although our relationship is good, and there’s never been an instance when she’s lied to me. But after Anna was arrested, I read her message exchange on Telegram and saw that she wrote to the others almost the day before the arrest: “I don’t have anything at home.” I am certain it all was planted.

So, the search ended. They took the organisation charter, the phones and drove Anya to the Investigative Committee. They put handcuffs on her, a 17-year-old girl. Can you believe it? Because of some sheets of paper. Her dad went with her. I stayed at home because of my disability. I went into her room and saw how they’d left it.

You know, she graduated from art school. Her drawings were very pretty. So, the policemen threw all her drawings all over the room. On one of the pictures – with a dog – there was a dirty footprint left. It seems so barbarian to me, so cultureless. Was it really that necessary?

I actually collect and keep all of her pictures, but that one I crumpled and threw away.

What happened to Anna after she was arrested?

My husband was with her until late at night. He said the interrogation was very harsh. Four people conducted a cross-examination, with threats, with constant obscene language. And she was underage at the time. They didn’t even hesitate to swear in front of her, the officers of the “rights-protecting” agencies. We’ve got a law against profanity. They spell “18+” on books, people face fines for swearing. But these officers swore endlessly during the search and later during the interrogation.

My husband requested to have a psychologist present because Anya was underage. But the investigator responded: “What am I supposed to do, hang about with you until tomorrow morning? There are too many of you.” Then they wrote in the report that there was a psychologist present although there wasn’t. They didn’t allow her to call an lawyer — she managed to do that only late at night. My husband was sent home by the police while Anya stayed there.

Then, the next say there was a hearing in court, she was declared to be under arrest. When I saw her at the appeal session via video camera, I was tremendously shocked. I just wanted to stand up, to wail, to scream at them: “What in the world are you doing to my daughter? Are you human or not?”

My Anya is very emotional... Last year during exams at school, her blood pressure jumped up to 160, she fainted. They had to call an ambulance. After that I sent her to a doctor for examination: I’ve got multiple sclerosis, I was worried she could also have it.  No sclerosis was detected but the MRI scan revealed some issues anyway. The doctor said then: “She needs care, so she doesn’t worry. She needs to be outside, to breathe fresh air…”

Do you have any records of this?

Of course. We handed in all these medical documents at the first court session on preventive measures. All the hospital documents on her stomach, her dysautonomia, her cardiac issues. She gets examined annually by a cardiologist and neurologist. But unfortunately no judge looked at these documents.

Later, we learned from Anya’s letter to the Public Oversight Committee [an organisation that monitors conditions in detention - OVD-Info] what kind of conditions she was kept in during transportation to the remand centre. There was very little space in that police wagon. She had to sit on cold metal seats while it was -10C outside. She wrote in this letter that they were kept in this insane cold for 3 hours and that her kidneys and her adnexa were inflamed and that she really suffered. It’s a real torture, you know. What are they torturing my daughter for? For some pieces of paper?

Did Anna’s interest in politics come as a surprise or did you know about it?

I knew she wasn’t indifferent. She never lied to me. We were like friends. I knew my daughter went to the march in memory of Boris Nemtsov. I wasn’t against it — I understood that it was important for her and the demonstration was sanctioned. But the search and the arrest, indeed, came as a complete surprise.

I was trying to understand how that happened, so I read all the messages of this “New Greatness” group on Telegram. My daughter’s number was registered to my name [underage children are not permitted to sign a contract with a mobile operator in Russia, therefore the majority of parents register SIM cards with their names]. After the search I got a new SIM with the same number, downloaded Telegram and went through the whole story. I read and saw how these provocateurs managed to do it all. It’s all visible in the chat, like a novel.

"In the message feed, you can see when this Ruslan D. appears [the undercover agent who, in effect, created the organisation]. You can see how he talks to the kids, makes them trust him"

The kids weren’t thinking about anything dangerous. They just gathered at McDonalds, hung out, worried about the election and discussed what to do to prevent falsifications. We adults discuss politics as well: someone in the kitchen, someone over a cigarette. So do children.

In the message feed, you can see when this Ruslan D. appears [the undercover agent who, in effect, created the organisation]. You can see how he talks to the kids, makes them trust him and then starts to provoke them. He says: “Why do you gather at McDonalds like dummies? Let’s find a space. That will be serious. A step forward.” Then he brags in their chat: “Guys, I’ve bought a printer. We will print our flyers now.” And he sends photos of the printer. Then he wrote the charter. You can see it clearly. This is how he formed the group little-by-little and the kids didn’t even notice it. He is not just a provocateur, he is a Provocateur with a capital P.

From reading the chat I understood how he caught Anya, I guess. But before that I should tell you a little about her. She grew up very just and responsible. She cares about the environment. For instance, she had been writing to all authorities, so they would put recycling bins near the house. Because of her we started to use ecological dishwashing liquids, laundry detergent, make-up…

She has a big heart for nature. When they were cutting trees down to make a bicycle path at Krylatskoye [a Moscow district], she attended all the meetings, gathered signatures against it. She explained the noise would interfere with birds nesting. She always worried about them deeply. This winter was hard on the birds — it was very snowy. So, she was buying immense amounts of food for them. We hung bird feeders.

Once, a tree fell down due to the wind. She went and found three tiny birds in the grass. The whole family fed them in turns, every two hours. Then they grew bigger and she took them back and let them go.

Anya loves animals in general. She wants to become a biotechnologist. She attended a preparation course at Moscow State University. She tried to enter it but her score was just by a little below the needed, so she decided to wait for a year and re-take the exams this summer. And she went to work in a veterinary clinic so she wouldn’t be a burden. They all love her there very much. When I went to get a profile on her for the court, her boss was in total shock. She complimented my daughter so much, saying that the girl runs herself rugged.

I think these feeling of caring, justice and responsibility — they played a nasty trick on her in the end. Probably I’m also guilty as her mom — I didn’t teach her how to be cunning. I didn’t teach her that sometimes she needs to keep quiet and sometimes to cheat a little. So she grew up very just and very straightforward. And then this provocateur Ruslan D. simply exploited it.  

How exactly?

He’s a good psychologist and knows what buttons to push. It is clearly seen in the chat. He writes to Anya: ‘“We need you. You don’t even have to pay the fees. The main thing: come to the meetings. The rest can’t do without you.” He plays on her sense of responsibility, you know. Later she writes that she doesn’t have enough time and that she wants to leave the organisation. But this provocateur doesn’t let her go, persuades her, writes her directly. He gives her important assignments. Probably the more people he puts in jail, the better for him.

I absolutely can’t understand how it is acceptable to act this way. He is significantly older than the rest. He’s over 30, probably married and with kids. How can he come home to them from work? You know, maybe even the fascists let kids go in some cases. But he didn’t show mercy to a 17-year-old girl, he pushed her intentionally. What for? For more stars on his shoulder boards? How can he live knowing he ruined someone else’s life?  

My daughter should be preparing for exams now, applying to a university, engage with her animals. Anya bred parrots at home. Some of a rather rare breed. One bird they brought to her from Israel and the other one from St Petersberg. She spent a lot of time on them to make them nest. And the eggs hatched but she got arrested. So she didn’t see then. Anya hopes she’ll be let out, she asked not to give the birds away so she can see how they turned out

She is also is very worried about the dog. We’ve got an American Cocker Spaniel at home, he’s 11. Old and ill. Anya treated him. At our first meeting she started to cry that she wouldn’t see the dog anymore. She said: “When they were taking me they didn’t even let me to say goodbye to the dog.”

She was only 17 and she was arrested for a few sheets of paper. Some girls grow up quickly, but Anya isn’t like that. She hasn’t been in a relationship. No boys. She slept with a toy horse still. She’s just a child. And now she’s locked at the remand centre where there are 45 people in one cell.  

I still can’t wrap my head around it. How is it possible to ruin a child’s future taking all that she valued? I want to scream but I don’t know where. I was sitting at home today, crying and thinking that it would be great to find a place where Vladimir Putin goes. To tell him about this case.

Who benefits from having such a good girl taken to a remand centre? What did these kids do to put them to jail? I just don’t understand how our government lives with this.  


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