“Youth Is The Only Hope”: Stories From Witnesses Of The Protests In Russia
31 March, 2017
Russian OMON trying to get students down from the lamppost, protesters in downtown Moscow on 26 March. Mass demonstrations took place that day in multiple Russian cities demanding resignation of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was accused of corruption. Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

During the wave of protests against corruption in Russia that took place last weekend, almost 1300 people from all over the country were arrested. The majority of arrests occurred in Moscow, where 1000 people were detained. Two people who were caught by the police and a human right activist spoke to Hromadske about their experiences and why students have become the biggest hope for change in Russia.

“Light Torture”

Oleksiy Minyaila, an entrepreneur, was caught near one of the metro stations 100 meters away from the protest. The policemen did not announce themselves themselves and did not explain the reason for his detention. At first, Oleksiy was beaten, then four policemen put him inside a police van and drove him to the police station.

“There were major violations of our rights,” – he remembers. “We were kept outside for three hours. It wasn’t so comfortable being there while the temperature was 0⁰ С. Phones were taken away from everybody except me, I’d hidden mine in my underwear. They [policemen] tried to take it away, but they didn’t dare go into my pants. They took me to the police van and started to threaten me, I started screaming and they stopped.”
Keeping people in the police station without the correct protocol – is one more violation which occurred during the protests in Russia. He was in the police station for 48 hours.

He calls the events that occurred in the police station “light tortures”. The police kept 7 people in a cell meant for for 2. In spite of the uncomfortable heat, each protester was only given a 0.7 litre bottle of water. When they requested that more water be given to them, they were sent to the toilet to drink from the tap. In addition to this, food parcels were forbidden and no lawyers were granted access.

“I have only one explanation for that – the head of the department wanted to show his loyalty to the system, and decided to put pressure on people,” - Oleksiy speculates.

The court proceedings are ongoing. This man hopes for the best. The policemen made numerous mistakes when writing out protocols, which could work in favour of the detainees in court.

The arrest of bypassers

A publicist and writer, Elizavetta Aleksandrova-Zorina, also happened to take a in the police van during the protests in Moscow. She tells us about the random people that were arrested – for example, a Greek, who was attending a festival nearby and just came out to smoke.
“He was caught randomly,” Elizavetta says, “Now he will go to court like the others. He seemed like a totally different person by the time he left the police station”.
What was special about these protests, was how protective the young people were, the Elizavetta recalls. Some of them happened by the protest just by accident, some came with friends, but there were also youths who went there on purpose.

16-year-old Nastya sticks in Elizavetta’s mind as having a very active civil awareness for someone her age. “She said she was a patriot and that she didn’t want to leave the country. I know her parents supported her. We called Nastya's mom when she was arrested. Her mom was supportive of her and did not punish her,” the writer says.
There were quite a lot of school children at the protest. Elizavetta thinks that, unlike middle-aged people, young people think about the future and the changes needed to make the country a better place.

“Youth is the only hope”

A human rights activist and the head of the fund ‘Rus’ sidyaschaya’, Olga Romanova, considers schoolchildren to be a potential driving-force for reform in Russia. “It was the protest of young people who don’t know what is defeat. They don’t have any experience in protesting. They are our only hope; those young people, who so far like it and have had their first opportunity to speak up about how they feel,” she says.
The authorities did not treat children like children. They were arrested as brutally as adults were. Many of them weren’t allowed to call their parents, to take care of their needs, or drink water.

Olga hopes that cases against children, which will be examined by the Department of Minors, will be just a formality. She also relies on the youth to also react against the stern response from the authorities, in particular, president Putin's press-secretary Dmitrii Peskov, who claimed that protesters were being paid.

“The young protesters are 16-17 years old on average. I don’t think that these people will get mortgages or become deputies working for the state. That’s why the potential for protests is very high,” she’s reassures.

Moreover, many of them will have the right to vote in 2018, when the next presidential elections will be held in Russia.

A Russian OMON policeman trying to remove school-aged protestors from a lamppost in the center of Moscow, Russia, during the anti-corruption protests on March 26th. On this day, a wave of protests occured in many Russian cities, with the demand for the resignation of the Russian PM, Dmitrii Medvedev, who was previously accused of corruption by Russian opposition.
/by Olga Tokariuk