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They were holding hands A group of men with ties to violent Russian nationalists attack four ‘suspected lesbians’ in St. Petersburg 

Source: Meduza

A group of young men attacked four women in St. Petersburg on December 9, brutally beating one of them. After they were arrested, the attackers told police that they assaulted the women because they saw them holding hands and believed they were lesbians. The assailants are reportedly tied to a local nationalist movement supposedly headed in part by a man named Andrey Linok, who is suspected of involvement in dozens of similar and even more serious attacks.

A group of young men attacked four women in downtown St. Petersburg, brutally beating one of them

On the evening of December 9, four women were walking down Ligovsky Prospect in the center of St. Petersburg. One of the women, who later identified herself to journalists as Alina, says a group of seven young men began following them. She says the men started insulting their appearance and calling them lesbians. “They came up too close and started asking what we had in our pockets. We tried to keep moving, but the men blocked our way. In the end, we still managed to run into some coffee shop. I tried to call the security guard, but I didn’t have time,” Alina told the website Bumaga

The group of men followed the women into the cafe. When one of the women tried to retrieve her pepper spray, one of the men punched her in the face. As the men then ran from the scene, 18-year-old Ekaterina Lysykh chased after them. Video surveillance from inside the cafe shows how one of the fleeing men kicked her before another man in the group decked her with a blow to the head.

Paramedics were summoned to the cafe, and Lysykh was taken to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a concussion. She also received stitches in her lip, and she says she cannot fully remember the attack. The next day, on December 10, Lysykh was discharged from the hospital, but her condition soon worsened. One of her friends, who asked Meduza not to reveal her name, says she’s been rehospitalized, and she’s now doing better.

Police arrested the attackers, who say they didn’t like how the women were holding hands

On the evening of December 11, agents from St. Petersburg’s “anti-extremism” unit arrested four suspects at different locations around the city. According to the Telegram channel Baza (known for its close ties to law enforcement), the assailants said they disliked how Lysykh and her friends were holding hands. The website Fontanka reports that one of the suspects said the group decided to harass the young women because they thought they were lesbians.

The four men taken into police custody are between the ages of 16 and 19 years old. Three of them, including a local high school student, were charged with “malicious infliction of moderately serious bodily harm.” The fourth individual was named as a witness in the case.

The authorities released all four individuals without seeking any pretrial restrictions. The men did not respond to Meduza’s messages on social media. According to a friend, Lysykh was summoned to identify her attackers on December 12. The same friend says officials have asked Lysykh not to speak to the media about the attack before their investigation is complete.

The suspects are reportedly fans of a nationalist group with links to other hate crimes

According to Fontanka, all four of the men arrested by police are “fans of the nationalist group Firstline Nevograd,” whose members like to downplay their organization as a loose “formation.” Since the summer of 2018, the group has staged concerts in St. Petersburg and sold t-shirts and sweatshirts bearing its symbol. Some of the profits from these sales are used to support incarcerated nationalists, including criminals convicted of assault and other violent crimes. Other groups also named Firstline have operated over the years in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia.

Additionally, members of the group’s St. Petersburg community have shared videos on social media showing nationalists attacking Antifa activists. Fontanka attributes at least a handful of attacks against left-wing activists to members of Firstline Nevograd. The group itself denies any involvement in these incidents.

There’s no definitive information about how many people belong to Firstline Nevograd or who started the organization. According to the “SOVA” Center for Information and Analysis, which monitors Russian nationalists’ activities, the man responsible for forming the group might be Andrey Linok, nicknamed “Lincoln 88.” Linok is a St. Petersburg native who started his first nationalist group in 2007 at the age of 17. In May 2011, a local court convicted members of this group of carrying out 19 assaults. Ten of these men were sentenced to between four and nine years in prison, while the remaining defendants were given probation. Due to the statute of limitations, the court dropped hate-crime charges against six minors who supported Linok. Investigators say the group’s members also committed at least two murders.

Linok himself was sentenced to nine years in prison and went free in 2017. He never renounced his nationalist views, and he later started collecting money to support fellow nationalists behind bars. Analysts believe he may have created Firstline Nevograd after his release from prison. In messages on the social network VKontakte, a spokesperson for Firstline Nevograd told Meduza that it has no ties to Linok. Indeed, there is no reliable evidence proving this connection.

At the same time, the group’s online community has shared videos of “acts” supposedly organized by Linok. Sources close to the St. Petersburg police department told Meduza that Linok staged at least three attacks against local migrants and activists from the LGBTQ and Antifa communities. He was briefly arrested for one of these assaults.

On September 2, 2018, a group of roughly 20 neo-Nazis came to the St. Petersburg nightclub “ZOCCOLO,” where the punk group “Truckdrivers” (popular among Antifa activists) was scheduled to perform. Some of the group entered the club and a brawl ensued, while the rest remained outside, throwing rocks through the windows. After a few minutes, the neo-Nazis ran around the corner from the building. When a security guard carrying a broom later approached the group and tried to speak to them, one of the men hit him in the head, and the others then started throwing smoke grenades at him and shooting at him from a flare gun.

No one was seriously injured in the attack, and the club’s owner said the damage to the premises was insignificant. The Truckdrivers still performed, albeit an hour late.

Following the incident, police opened a disorderly-conduct investigation, naming seven suspects, including Andrey Linok, who’s charged with organizing violent acts motivated by ideological and political hatred. In footage from the attack, a man who resembles Linok appears twice. In the video, the man doesn’t attack anyone, but he does raise his hand in the Nazi salute.

Linok has been in jail since September 2018, and he maintains his innocence. By the time the case went to trial in the summer of 2019, Linok had managed to get married while in jail, taking his wife’s surname, making him Andrey Kleshchin. Fellow nationalists in St. Petersburg believe he is a political prisoner, and they regularly hold individual pickets in his support on Nevsky Prospekt. 

Story by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Kevin Rothrock