“It’s important not to give into panic”: how I found out my husband was being tortured by the Russian security services

In late January, my husband Viktor Filinkov went missing on route to Petersburg airport. When I found him two days later, he’d been tortured and charged with terrorism.

Alexandra Filinkova
28 February 2018

Self-portrait of Alexandra Filinkova, the wife of Viktor Filinkov. In late January, news that Viktor Filinkov, a left-wing activist and computer programmer, had disappeared (24 January) at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport was followed by arrests and searches (26 January) at the apartments of anti-fascist activists in the city. When Filinkov then surfaced in court and pre-trial detention, he stated he had been tortured by officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – as did a witness in the case, Ilya Kapustin.

Russian security services have now accused Filinkov of being a member of a terrorist organisation – together with several other people, including six people from the Volga city of Penza. Filinkov describes what happened to him at the hands of FSB officers on 23-25 January here.

Alexandra Filinkov, Viktor’s wife, had traveled to Kyiv for vacation and was waiting for Viktor to arrive when he disappeared. Here, via OVD-Info, a Russian NGO that monitors freedom of assembly and politically-motivated arrests, Alexandra shares her experience of helping a loved one. 

After the arrest

It’s natural to be left-wing. To stand against discrimination, to stand for the freedom of self-expression, cooperation and mutual aid – this is normal. It’s a profitable mode of behaviour, game theory demonstrates it. It’s normal to feel hostility to racists, police violence, drunk priests who run people over in their cars and ex-gangsters who occupy positions of power. Who can like this?

We used to be involved in the anti-fascist movement, but we led a settled life in Petersburg. I was studying, Viktor worked. We used to hang out with people with similar views, and we didn’t miss an opportunity to argue about injustice.


NOD picket, by Alexandra Filinkova.Last spring, we were walking near the Chernyshevskaya metro station [in Petersburg] and came across a picket by NOD [National Liberation Movement] in front of the US consulate. Everyone’s dressed up, wearing scarfs in the colours of St George ribbons, duffel coats, they’re shouting. We started asking what their demonstration was about. The NOD men and women thought we were “interested youths”, and started talking our ears off. It turned out they were protesting against human rights. They were shouting:

“The laws of the Russian Federation should be above the Constitution! This is the West and the USA imposing their rules of the game on Putin, these juvenile courts, these animal rights activists! The enemies of Russia are setting up anti-missile and echo radio locator systems near the border so that all the planes lost contact and crashed!”

Viktor is a tech guy, he was interested by the “echo radio locators”. He asked if the NOD people knew about the laws of physics. After Viktor asked the question, a lady in a St George’s scarf started shouting at him: “The laws of physics can exist if they don’t contravene the laws of the Russian Federation. Police! Take these provocateurs away!” A sad-looking police officer (who had been guarding the zoo) asked us not to make the situation worse and leave. This is how their action ended. Later, I recognised a few of the NOD activists from photographs near the FSB building in the city [on 6 February, NOD members picketed the FSB building in Petersburg, calling for them to “suppress the terrorist scum”].

Sometimes Viktor recognises he’s wrong. For him, the truth is higher than his own pride. That’s what kind of person he is

Viktor and I lived together, the marriage was a legal formality.* Neither of us have relatives in Petersburg, and we had to get married to have the right to legally represent a spouse or if one us wound up in the hospital. Viktor and I are good friends and spend almost all of our time together. He’s a reserved person, good-hearted. You can’t call him hot-headed, but some friends are annoyed by the way he argues, though later they themselves recognise that they didn’t have much in the way of argument either. Sometimes Viktor recognises he’s wrong. For him, the truth is higher than his own pride. That’s what kind of person he is.

I don’t boast that our relationship is a good one. I say this because my husband can’t just disappear for a few days, like he did on the evening of 23 January 2018. He couldn’t unexpectedly leave to hang out with his friends, to get in some kind of argument on the street, to get knocked over by a car just because he crossed the street on a red light. I waited in the airport until I couldn’t anymore. All the passengers had long left, the security guards had closed the doors of the arrival zone. No one else could come out. I tried to ring him. No one picked up, then the phone was switched off, then switched on again, but no one picked up. I started ringing the airline, the border services of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. I harassed the security guards at the airport until they checked the arriving passengers. They said that Viktor hadn’t arrived in Kyiv.

There were a few possible options of what could have happened, and I started turning them over in my mind. He wasn’t late for the flight, because he left early; the flight wasn’t delayed, he wasn’t stopped for a “chat” by the Ukrainian security services at the border; he didn’t board the plane, and didn’t answer his phone when it was working and there was an internet connection. I contacted Vitaly Cherkasov, a lawyer.

We started searching [for Viktor]. A chain of calls, faxes, emails, missing person reports, the police station in one district, a second, a third. At several stations, they’d pick up the phone and shout “He’s not here!” in irritation; some places they didn’t even pick up the phone. The Prosecutor’s office, Emergency services – they were just awful. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of people from ONK [the Public Monitoring Commission, a civic organisation that monitors human rights in places of detention], definitely not in one day.


Self-portrait in the airport, by Alexandra Filinkova.On 25 February, I received a call from Yana Teplitskaya [one of two ONK members who visited Viktor Filinkov in pre-trial detention]. She said that they’d found Viktor – he was in court facing serious charges and had confessed to participating in a terrorist organisation.

I didn’t know what had made him agree to these charges. I thought it was a mistake and prepared myself for the worst. In these kind of moments it’s important not to lose yourself – don’t give in to panic. If you start panicking, you’re vulnerable. You have to act methodically, note your telephone calls, save your faxes, statements.

You start to feel sick from what’s happened and the hate you feel for those who did it

Then Vitaly Cherkasov went to see Viktor. After a short meeting, he rang me and said that my husband had been taken into the woods and tortured with a taser. He has shock burns on his chests and outside thigh, and that the torture lasted for five hours. It’s impossible to be ready for that. You start to feel sick from what’s happened and the hate you feel for those who did it.

I’m not scared. I’m safe. I think that’s the most important thing for Viktor and me in the fight against the crimes of the FSB and prison service officers. I write to Viktor regularly via friends from Russia, I’m afraid that letters from Ukraine will take a long time. Unfortunately, he’s still not received a single letter. I don’t think anything has changed for us. In my letters, i write the same as before, in our everyday life: I joke, tell him how my day was, that the bitcoin price has dropped, that something is working out in my studies, I send him interesting articles. I subscribed him to some magazines. I write about how he wanted to take a vacation for ages and restore his sleep pattern – here’s a good opportunity to do that. I don’t want these new conditions to change him as a person. This nightmare will end sooner or later, and he should come out the same person he went in as.

People we didn’t expect to help are helping, and those we expected to – not always. I think people are scared of the situation, and several try to give the impression that nothing is happening. I think that until you get into this kind of situation, you don’t understand how much help you need from other people. Nevertheless, I’m thankful to my family, my friends and all the people who don’t remain indifferent for their support for me and Viktor.

What can you do? Don’t be a coward. If you hesitate, they’ll destroy you and your loved one. It won’t be easy for you, you want to cry, complain, say that no one is helping – leave all that. At the given moment, you are possibly the only person who can help your loved one, and now is not the time to think about how sad you are, how shitty the situation is. Together with your loved one, you need to discuss how to act in an extreme situation, have a number of a lawyer and know this: the longer you remain quiet, the longer they’ll be in the hands of sadists, and you won’t know what’s happening. Don’t let yourself be manipulated. Don’t believe in noble actions from the side of law enforcement.

Update: On 18 February, Ekaterina Kosarevskaya, a member of ONK, reported that one letter from Alexandra Filinkova had been passed on to Viktor. Alexandra is yet to receive a letter.

* Alexandra also asked us to add that her relationship with Viktor is a romantic one. With the phrase “marriage is a legal formality,” she wanted to say that the formal registration of their relationship hadn’t influenced them at all.


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