Antonii Pavlov at the place where he was detained by Moscow police.
For the last five years it’s not just political activists who are detained by Russian police at protest rallies — passers-by are also picked up, charged with administrative offences and forced to pay fines.
Here is the story of Antonii Pavlov, 20, from the Black Sea resort of Tuapse, who came to Moscow to look at the Kremlin — and wound up behind bars.
I don’t know how I happened to get detained. I was just passing by — I’d come to Moscow to go on a guided tour of the Kremlin. But, you know, I like it when there’s freedom. Maybe that’s the problem?
I’m from Tuapse, on the Black Sea, about 100-150km from Sochi. I’m 20 years old. My mother doesn’t work; my father drives a bus. My granny named me Antonii in honour of St Antony. I’ve also heard that there’s a book about Antony and Cleopatra, but I haven’t read it. I don’t have a lot of education, to be fair.
"The main thing I realised when I was in hospital was that I didn’t want to spend every day working from 6am to 8pm"
I fell in love with freedom when I was diagnosed with blood cancer. I was 16. I was walking home one day after I’d be training my hand-to-hand fighting, when I suddenly started staggering. My mum even asked me if I was drunk. I went to bed and woke up the next morning with a nose bleed, a neck ache and spots all over my body – small bruises in a kind of rash. They turned out to be haematomas that had formed because my blood wasn’t coagulating properly.
Tuapse, Krasnodar. CC A 3.0 Maxim Ulitin / WikimediaCommons. Some rights reserved.I spent six months in oncology units — first in Tuapse and then in Krasnodar and St Petersburg. I was in constant need of white corpuscles, and my father went all over the town sticking up homemade posters asking for people to donate blood. They attached me to a machine, drained me of blood, added the white corpuscles (they’re actually yellowish) and pumped it all back in. When they do that, you actually feel your life energy returning. I had been so sad, tired and depressed — and there I was, full of energy again.
Every day they would bring me a whole saucer full of pills — red ones, yellow ones — it was like being in a restaurant. Sometimes they made me sick, and sometimes they made me tense and bad-tempered. Someone would say something to me and I would feel really hurt. And I got so fed up with them that I refused to take them any more. The nurse had to insist – “you’ll die if you don’t take the pills,” she would scream.
"I’m not going to croak so don’t even go there!" Everyone cracked up: "That’s the right attitude!" And after that I started getting better
So I shouted and swore back at her: “I’m not going to croak, you bitch, so don’t even go there!” And everyone cracked up: “That’s the right attitude!” And after that I started getting better.
The worst bit was when they took some brain cells from me, without anaesthetic: they would stick this enormous needle right into your skull, and it would make this awful sucking noise as well. And it was awful when other people I knew died: some of them little kids and some people my age. I don’t even want to remember it. But since the hospital, I haven’t cared what happens to me — nothing could be as bad as that. If something bad happens, I think: “That’s nothing, I don’t give a damn.”
After getting out of hospital I had two years on supportive care at home and home teaching. The home teaching was a drag — I had no contact with anyone, so social life. You’re free for the whole day, you’re on a beach: live, be happy, have fun! But there was nobody to have fun with – everybody else was at school.
The doctors wouldn’t let me do a lot of things, of course. I wasn’t allowed to be out in the sun for a long time, for example, or lift things. But I can tell you — I don’t want to live wrapped up in cotton wool, in a space suit. I want to live just like everybody else.
The main thing I realised when I was in hospital was that I didn’t want to spend every day working from 6am to 8pm. I don’t want to have a mortgage and a flat. And I don’t want to sacrifice my health so that some old guy can get rich at my expense. So I finished school, enrolled in a meteorological college and set up my own small business.
It was a kind of advertising agency: we designed banners and websites and so on. I did some of the work myself and farmed some of it out to other people. I was just 17, so I didn’t register as a sole trader and didn’t pay any tax, and I was earning OK — about the same as my dad.
Before my 18th birthday I was able to buy my mum a car, a Zhiguli 7. It cost 50-60,000 roubles [£640-£770]. And I bought myself an old BMW from the 80s, although hadn’t taken my driving test. In our town everybody knows where there’ll be cops standing with their striped batons, waiting to flag you down, and in any case there’s a general chat room where you can find out whether they’ve moved anywhere else, so you can avoid them – no problem. And you can always slip them some cash. If you’re caught without a licence on you, you get a fine of 50,000, plus 5,000 as a bribe — but you can talk them into reducing that to two or three thousand. Although I haven’t driven the BMW much: it kept breaking down so I dumped it, it’s still rusting in the garage.
"I don’t want to sacrifice my health so that some old guy can get rich at my expense"
They threw me out of the college because I was always working. I re-enrolled, but then I started travelling around between cities – I wasn’t just not at college, I wasn’t anywhere in town. So they threw me out again. I wasn’t even travelling for work — it was just for myself.
I was bored at home. It’s a small place, only 50,000 people. If you go out you always know everybody you meet. But here in Moscow you don’t know anybody; you don’t know what’s round the next corner — it’s fun. Late one evening some friends called for me and asked me to come out with them. Somebody said: Let’s go to Gelendzhik. So we drove for 80km, but there was nothing much to do there at night so we just wandered around for two or three hours, looked at the quay, which is quite nice, and went back home again. That’s how you need to live and travel.
I’ve never counted the number of towns I’ve been in, and don’t remember their names. But I’ve been to all the towns in the Krasnodar region — I don’t know how many they are — and all around Rostov as well. And naturally I wanted to see Moscow.
So when a friend who had moved from Tuapse to Moscow invited me to come and stay, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and set off immediately. My friend, it turned out, didn’t live in Moscow itself, but in the suburb of Lyubertsy, 30km outside the capital. It took me two hours to get to central Moscow, first on a bus and then the Metro.
Moscow amazed me – it’s so huge! But I didn’t get to explore it properly. There was unusually bad weather when I arrived – the worst rains for several years, people told me. It was cold as well. I’m from the south, of course, but it seemed like indecent weather for the summer. I really wanted to see the Kremlin, but it wasn’t working out for me — the first time I came it was shut and the second, there was some kind of book exhibition going on.
"I was never interested in protests. There was one we had in Tuapse, along the sea front, when they built a chemical plant right on the water. I didn’t go"
The day of the rally was sunny and warm and Pasha, one of our friends, wanted to go to the city centre. It took just an hour by car, which was great, and I asked him to drop me off. Pasha went off to the rally (back in Sochi he was already involved in something) and another friend, Kamal, and I headed off in the direction of the Kremlin. Third time lucky, I was thinking.
I was never interested in protests. There was one we had in Tuapse, along the sea front, when they built a chemical plant right on the water. I didn’t go. People were always protesting about something, but the plant’s still there.
But once someone protested with a banner addressed to Dmitry Medvedev “Dima, don’t be a coward!” Of course, I’d heard that people gather with placards in Moscow — I’d seen pictures on the internet. That they’re protesting against corruption and for Alexei Navalny. But it seems to me that people have always taken bribes, and they’ll continue to do so. I can’t imagine a person who’d refuse money in Russia.
So anyway, we set off in the direction of the Kremlin. Everything was blocked off, in some places - construction sites, in others - cops. We wandered down side streets for ages. And then Pasha phoned us and said he’d been detained. Kamal and I laughed, and carried on walking about. Then we set off for the metro, I don’t remember which, and saw people on their way back from the rally. They were just walking, not bothering anyone, and then the police started to grab them. Mostly people who looked alternative. Who weren’t dressed the same as everyone else, they were detained first.
One guy, we later met in the riot van, was detained because he took a picture with police in the background — they didn’t like it, they turned their backs to him. Another guy was detained because he was laughing too loudly, although he wasn’t even going to the rally, but, as it turned out, a birthday celebration.
I was watching all this, watching and — honestly — laughing. And then a cop came up behind me, took me under the arm and says: “Come on, let’s go”. And I think “Oh shit”, put my hands up as if to say: I’m not resisting. I’d seen how forcefully they detained those who resisted a little. I was searched and put in the back of the van.
I basically thought that they’d detain us and let us go: they just want to scare us a little. But no. They took us to the station and started procedures. I asked a hundred times: there definitely won’t be a criminal case? There definitely won’t be anything on my personal file? The officers said that everything will be fine, that it’s just their job, and they don’t particularly like sitting here either. And so it happens that one cop detains you, another writes you up, and no one is responsible for anything. It’s you that’s committed the offence, and it’s you who has to pay the fine.
It was ridiculous at the police station. They wrote everybody up on exactly the same report and just asked us to sign it. “You xxx were walking down xxx and were detained legally.” That’s on paper. And then they said: below that you write “I don’t agree” and give your own version. I said that I won’t write anything, I have Article 51 of the Constitution, and I don’t have the right to give evidence against myself and my family members.
"I said that I won’t write anything, I have Article 51 of the Constitution, and I don’t have the right to give evidence against myself and my family members"
Before that, I’d had a fair amount to do with the police. In Tuapse, we have a law that prevents teenagers from being out unsupervised after nine in the evening. Of course, we still went out, and negotiated with the police. Besides that, my girlfriend and I once took a drunk into the police station. That’s when the police told me about Article 51 of the Constitution.
But the Moscow police went berserk when I mentioned Article 51. He just looks at me as if to say: you think you’re clever, right? He tore up that report, printed a new one stating that I’ve refused to give evidence. You can photograph it, he said. And my phone was rather simple, I don’t have a camera. When they saw that, they realised that I can’t record them if something happens, and started swearing at me, that I’m mocking them somehow. One of them shouted: “I’ll shoot you dead, we’ve had enough of you.” I understood that there was a bunch of people there, cameras — what will they do to me?
On departing, one of the cops asked me: “Do you have a wife?” I said: “No, I’m not married. Why?” “You’ve got a difficult character.” I started laughing — how many times have I heard that from girlfriends before!
In the end, I didn’t tell my parents that I’d been detained. There’ll be the court procedure, then we’ll see.
Before this, I’d heard that people get paid to attend these kind of rallies. Maybe some people do, but the majority, 90%, I’m sure, come out because they want to. I read about 1,700 detentions across Russia. So many people. How is this possible?
I don’t think that I’d travel to Moscow to attend a rally. But if I’ll be near, then I’d go now.