Skip to main content
  • Share to or

‘The country is sick if it’s looking for spies among housewives and mothers’ The family of treason suspect speaks

Source: Meduza
Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

On January 21, Svetlana Davydova, a resident of Russia’s Smolensk Region, was taken into custody by FSB operatives and charged with treason under Article 275 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.The next day, Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court complied with a request made by the investigation and sent Davydova, a mother to seven children — four of her own and three from her husband's former marriage, to the Lefortovo detention center. According to the FSB, Davydova called the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow in April 2014 to report that soldiers based at a military unit next to her home were headed for Ukraine. Meduza Special Correspondent Daniil Turovsky traveled to the Smolensk Region and met with Davydova’s husband, Anatoly Gorlov.

“Every boxer trains to fight – both to strike and to take blows. But when the fight begins, none of that matters. Everyone will get hit in the face. Everything ends up different than how it was during practice. Thoughts and feelings will be different. The hit always comes suddenly and must be endured,” explains Anatoly Gorlov, the husband of arrested treason suspect Svetlana Davydova.

We are sitting in the family’s apartment in a nine-story building on the outskirts of Vyazma, a town in Russia’s Smolensk Region. Anatoly is wearing sweatpants and an undershirt. On the table in front of him is a cup of tea. On the cup are the English words “The Best Daddy”. He speaks calmly and coolly. Every now and then the kitchen door is cracked open and a peep is taken by one of his six older children: 12-year-old Olya, 7-year-olds Sveta and Natasha, 5-year-olds Artur and Spartak, and 3-year-old Eduard. Svetlana’s older sister, Natalya, comes into the room with 2-month-old Kassandra in her arms. Natalya looks a lot like her sister. “Kassandra has taken to me. I’ve been able to get her to eat. It’s probably because I look like Svetlana,” she explains. Natalya isn’t here just as Svetlana’s sister. She’s also Anatoly’s first wife and mother to three of the children in the family.

Natalya was also here on January 21, 2015, the day when the FSB came to the apartment. She’s been around for the past two months, taking the older children to school because Svetlana didn’t want to leave her newborn daughter to do so. Around 8 a.m. Natalya exited the building with Olya, Sveta, and Natasha. The school isn’t far away, so she was back in 25 minutes and found the apartment door wide open with men dressed in black inside.

Davydov Family Photo
Courtesy photo

According to Anatoly, he was making breakfast and pouring tea while his wife, Svetlana, was breastfeeding their 2-month-old daughter, Kassandra, just a few minutes before the arrival of their unexpected guests. At around 8:15 a.m. the doorbell rang. Anatoly looked through the peephole and saw a local police officer he knew. The officer spoke through the door: “Your neighbor is complaining that you are making noise. Open up.” Anatoly opened the door and the police officer stepped aside. Then about 20 people came running both up and down from the staircase into the apartment shouting, “Stop!” Anatoly saw a thick gold chain on the neck of one of the operatives and cried, “Sveta! It’s bandits!” The men who stormed the apartment had weapons, but they were not used. Anatoly took his sons to a back room and put Kassandra in her crib.

One of the men showed a Smolensk FSB identification card and handed Svetlana Davydova a decree issued by Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court on January 19th which authorized her arrest on suspicion of treason. Anatoly ran his eyes across the document and saw the words “treason”, “Ukraine”, “telephone”, and basically couldn’t understand any of it.

The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation prescribes a prison sentence from 12 to 20 years for Svetlana’s accused crime of treason.

“Why is this from the Lefortovsky Court?” asked Anatoly.

“Why are you asking questions? Because that’s the way it is,” answered one of the operatives.

They allowed Svetlana to get dressed and then took her from the apartment. Anatoly managed to say only one thing to her: “Don’t be afraid of anything and don’t panic.”

“She has a baby to breastfeed. She’s not going to run off anywhere. Why are you arresting her?” he said to the FSB officers.

“Okay, here’s the deal. You can either write that you are taking responsibility for this child or we’ll call child protective services and have the baby taken away.”

After Svetlana was removed from the apartment, Anatoly asked the agents that stayed behind if he could call his father. They refused his request and a search began. The FSB started in the bathroom and separate toilet room, then they searched the kitchen (including inside the oven), living room, children’s room, Anatoly and Svetlana’s room, and the balcony.

“Will you willingly hand over things that are connected with the criminal case?” one FSB agent asked Anatoly.

“What do I have to hand over?”

“You should know.”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you have weapons or drugs?”

Then 5-year-old Spartak came out of his room, went up to the man, and asked what he was doing there. The boy then winked at him and sang a song about boots, Anatoly explains.

According to the search report that Anatoly has, six mobile telephones were confiscated along with two laptop computers, a desktop computer, eight credit cards, old train tickets, receipts, and all the notebooks in the apartment. The English word “Notebook” was printed on one of them, and that caught the eye of one FSB agent. “Why is there foreign writing on this notebook?” he asked.

“They were probably laughing at me,” Anatoly says. “Then they asked why we have so many phones and computers. I explained that we have a lot of children and we everyone needs to be in touch.”

View of military base seen from apartment window
Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

The FSB skimmed through the notebooks they found in Anatoly and Svetlana’s room. Three specific entries interested them and they were each listed in the report:

“24.04.14, GRU servicemen arrive in Moscow on Monday in civilian clothes. It seems to be for personal reasons and at their own expense. They plan to get weapons on the spot. They plan to be there before the election and then depending on the situation. It’s possible that this information will help you save Ukrainian lives and the integrity of your country. I inadvertently overheard a military serviceman talking on the phone. He was talking about the number of people.”

“07.07.14, what about the refugees? We don’t know how to get them under control. But it’s possible that people will be scattered with the purpose of destabilizing. Pumping is possible in order to sweep those running from the action zone.”

“Sooner or later my views might lead to repression. I am a mother to many children. The legal system is getting worse. So are human rights and the expression of thought. Sooner or later I might witness violence against my family and all the bandits who are now in Ukraine will return to Russia and continue this insanity. I want ask for political asylum. Ukraine is fighting for the people. In Russia, Putin is fighting with the people.”

According to Anatoly, his wife was always writing something and kept journals.

The next day at 9 a.m. Anatoly went to the FSB office in Smolensk. He was given the phone number of the Moscow investigator in charge of his wife’s case – Mikhail Svinolupa, a lieutenant colonel of justice responsible for important cases in the FSB’s investigation department. Anatoly was not able to get a hold of him.

At their Smolensk office, the FSB decided to ask him about what kind of woman Svetlana is in their family and what kind of mother she is. But they explained that he would have to wait five hours to make his statement. Anatoly brought the children’s birth certificates in hopes that they would help make the situation better. Around noon he finally got through to the Moscow inspector who explained that the Moscow Lefortovsky Court would hear the case for putting Svetlana into custody at 2 p.m. and added, “You, of course, won’t make it on time.”

“Maybe they kept me in Smolensk so that I wouldn’t be in court,” Anatoly speculates.

Svetlana Davydova was taken into custody and put into the Lefortovo detention center. The FSB says that in April 2014 Davydova called the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow and informed them that soldiers from military base #48886 (which she could see from her apartment window) were being sent on a mission to Donetsk. 

“She called the embassy when she was three months pregnant. No one is taking into account her emotional state of mind,” Anatoly says. “I know for a fact that she didn’t have any thoughts of treason. She had no intent to cause harm. We often discussed Ukraine and Novorossiya. What if tomorrow someone from Vyazma takes a pencil and draws a new independent republic on Russian territory and takes up arms? Will we be interviewed about that? It’s absurd. But I don’t remember that we discussed a call to the embassy. The desire to help the Ukrainian people? Yes. For fewer people to die on both sides? Yes. Did she really call the embassy? How did they even find out that she called? That’s the question. She doesn’t know any state secrets. She can’t tell the difference between one type of truck and another. It’s not even a fact that she overheard a soldier. It’s possible that the guy she heard wasn’t a solider. She wasn’t following anyone. She didn’t investigate anything. She didn’t have any documents. She overheard this conversation in a public place. On a bus.”

The database of website has information about possible Russian military bases and military action taking place on the territory of Ukraine. It’s possible to find at least one person from the base adjacent to Davydova’s apartment on the website. The military unit serves as quarters for the 82nd Special Purpose Independent Radar Brigade. According to the Armiya Rossii (Army of Russia) social network, in 1939 the division, which was later made into a brigade, participated in the liberation campaign of Western Ukraine. “Since June 30, 1994 the unit has been on duty to protect the borders of the Russian Federation and those of its allies from sudden attack.”

Anatoly says that there were no warning signs of this happening. No one called. The local police didn’t come by. “But I’m not surprised that this is happening in our country. Svetlana was actively involved in public life.”

Svetlana at a rally against price hikes organized by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in 2008. Photo from the booklet “Stalin and the Modern Age”
Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

According to Anatoly, Svetlana often wrote letters to the president and governor about problems in the town such as repairing the local water supply system or providing free textbooks in schools. She frequented opposition rallies and made an unsuccessful bid for city council on the Communist Party ticket.

Anatoly steps out of the kitchen and returns with a red folder bearing the acronym of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Inside the folder are clippings of Anatoly and Svetlana’s involvement in the party during the 1990s along with party pamphlets.

He takes a booklet called “Stalin and the Modern Age” out of the folder. Somewhere in the middle of the publication are several photographs. One of them shows Svetlana standing beside Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov at a rally against price hikes which was held in 2008.

“We had been members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation since the 1990s. But we ended our affiliation in 2010. In the 90s we were struggling to weed out the roots of the old Soviet Communist Party and to create something new. But they pushed us aside. And what is the result? Putin. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The United Russia Party. It’s all just one entity. They have different views, but they find a consensus on every issue. Our party doesn’t exist anymore. That’s why we left it and why I won’t go to them asking for help even though we supported each other for many years. I know their position on Crimea and on Ukraine. They support Putin.”

Anatoly has recently campaigned for the Spravedlivaya Rossiya (A Just Russia) Party. He had a talk in the summer with local FSB agents regarding a letter he sent to FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov in which he asked him to take action against TV host Dmitry Kiselyov. Anatoly claims that the presenter’s programs “incite war and hatred”. The FSB told Anatoly that action would be taken, thanked him for his civil position, shook his hand, and said goodbye.

“I am not an intelligence officer. But I have met with foreigners recently,” Anatoly laughs. “When I was a forest ranger, Ukrainians came by. And there are Tajiks and Vietnamese in town.”

“And we have Blacks. They are black as coal!” Natalya says.

“What difference does that make?” Anatoly says in embarrassment.

Anatoly and Svetlana’s apartment barely has any furniture. In the children’s bedrooms there are only beds. No toys can be seen. One of the walls has a piece of holiday tinsel on it. In the kitchen there is a table with two stools.

Anatoly explains that Svetlana is a calm and very inquisitive person. She likes to read different Russian newspapers into order to “get all the information”. She finished seamstress school and eventually studied economics at Moscow’s Institute of Textile and Light Industry. She worked as a seamstress and as a quality control inspector. Now she is receives welfare aid to take care of her children. Svetlana and Anatoly have been married since 2010.

Anatoly doesn’t have a full-time job. He is reluctant in admitting that sometimes he works as a security guard. “It’s better that I don’t talk about my work,” Anatoly explains. “Look what happens here. You engage in some sort of public activity and then you end up having problems at work. If they don’t fire you, then pressure will be put on the management.” He says that neither he nor Svetlana have any friends. “We live for our family. Lived, rather,” he says.

It’s about 11 p.m. and Natalya is pouring the children milk and giving them pieces of bread with some boiled meat. The oldest daughter, Olya, is holding 2-month-old Kassandra and trying to put a pacifier into her mouth. The rest of the children are playing around the apartment and jumping on the beds. “Mama can’t be with you, but she loves you,” Anatoly has told the youngest children. The older daughters have been told the details. “Mama has been arrested. We will defend her. Stuff like this happens in life. Not everyone who is accused of something is actually guilty.”

Notice of Svetlana Davydova’s detention that was sent by the FSB to her husband
Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

Anatoly is now planning to find a new lawyer. He is amazed at the behavior of the one that was appointed by the state. “He didn’t even tell us when the hearing was,” Anatoly explains. Svetlana’s lawyer, Andrey Stebenev, has told radio station Govorit Moskva (Moscow Speaks) that “the case hasn’t just been made up and there is information available that justifies it.”

Anatoly looks out the window. It’s dark outside and the only place that provides the slightest bit of light is the military base. If you look closely, you can see several army trucks. Anatoly and Svetlana’s apartment is on the fifth floor and when spring comes leaves on the trees will block the view of everything.

“Everything that is happening reminds me of a movie,” he says. “But this is real life. I’ve been thinking and maybe we needed to be more active in fighting for what we stood for in years past in order to not be going through this today. It won’t help the country at all if they sentence her or come up with some reason to put me behind bars, too. This story needs to be made public. People have to understand that something is wrong if things like this are happening. Russia is sick if it’s looking for spies among housewives and mothers.”

Daniil Turovsky

Vyazma, Smolensk Region

  • Share to or