‘The bleeding didn’t stop’ Defendant in Russia’s controversial extremism case shares letter describing his confession under torture
Moscow’s Lyublinsky District Court will soon announce the verdicts for the seven defendants in the controversial “Novoe Velichie” (“New Greatness”) extremism case. Prosecutors are demanding the most severe punishment for 27-year-old Ruslan Kostylenkov — seven and a half years in a penal colony. In 2018, Kostylenkov was arrested on his birthday, March 15. That same day, the Telegram channel “Kremlevskaya Prachka” (dedicated to airing the authorities’ “dirty laundry,” its name literally translates as “The Kremlin Washerwoman”) uploaded a video of his interrogation. In the video, Kostylenkov can be seen explaining that the purpose of their group was to act as a “tribunal over members of the ruling elites” and “abolish the repressive, existing laws and constitution.” Kostylenkov later recanted, claiming that he confessed under torture. The pretrial detention center’s medical unit diagnosed Kostylenkov with multiple bruises and hematomas — two weeks after he was beaten. According to Kostylenkov’s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina from the rights group “Zona Prava,” this was noted in the case file. However, her last three attempts to initiate proceedings against the officers who arrested her client have been denied. During the trial, Kostylenkov spoke about the fact that force was used against him more than once, but he didn’t dare provide any details about what happened. In March 2020, he spoke in detail about the torture he experienced in a letter to a friend. After prosecutors requested the sentences for him and the other defendants in the case, Kostylenkov decided to make this story public. Meduza shares a translation of the full text of his letter, with only minor edits.
To begin with, it’s worth talking about the time and place of the incident, as well as the individuals who took part in the acts of torture; to make it easier to understand, I will give them nicknames.
Place and time: my apartment; Moscow Region, city of Khotkovo, 35 Sedina Street, apartment 1 (first entrance / first floor).
Roughly between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m.; March 15, 2018.
- Ryzhy: Operative (MVD/FSB?). 30 years old: red hair, he talked and asked [questions] the most; hardly inflicted any injuries on me; filmed the very video with my “confession”; later came to [visit] me at the pretrial detention center and convinced me to plead guilty; played the role of the “good cop.”
- Biven: Operative (MVD/FSB?). 30 years old; blue eyes and light hair; played the role of the “bad cop”; spoke the least and beat me the most; apparently he and Ryzhy work as a pair, since they came to [visit] me at the pretrial detention center together.
- Kavkazets: Operative (MVD/FSB?). 30 years old; looks like an Armenian or an Azerbaijani; small and paunchy; hardly beat [me], he planted leaflets, a program, and drugs on me; put a bag over my head and choked [me] with it.
- Anonim: SOBR soldier. He was masked. Hit me a lot in the neck, the back of the head, the head, hands, legs, kidneys; inserted the steel handle of a kitchen mallet into my anus.
- Pryshch: SOBR soldier. 35–40 years old. Hardly inflicted any injuries on me, only helped hold me, while Anonim tormented me.
Plus there were several other people on the arrest team, including a girl, but they only searched the apartment and didn’t take part in the torture. I don’t remember them and will not talk about them.
* * *
On March 12, 2018, I noticed that there was a car parked not far from my home — a dark Toyota. I immediately understood that it was Field Surveillance Operatives, since the neighbors and the local residents put their cars in the parking lot between the high-rises, and not across from the entrance to the “Belan” shop; plus I had read a bit about [field surveillance] and pictured it.
I’ll attach a drawing of the layout of the yard to my story, where you can visually familiarize yourself with [what’s being] narrated.
Did I understand that they were following me? Yes, I understood. However, I didn’t know that a criminal case had already been launched and that they were planning to arrest me. It seemed to me that this was a temporary measure, to verify how dangerous an oppositionist I was. And that’s all. I left my apartment several times and went about my business, passing a meter from their car, looking inside along the way. In fact, I didn’t see anything unusual in there: two serious mugs, I looked at them and they looked at me. They didn’t follow me while I went about my business, apparently, their task was to monitor my house and how often I leave it.
Could I have hidden? Easily and more than once. Nobody bothered me.
These guys followed me until the evening of March 14, then other operatives in a huge SUV replaced then. While they were conducting [field surveillance] on me, I managed to inform a couple of my friends about it, but I don’t think this is relevant to the narrative.
I think that’s about it.
* * *
On March 15, 2018, I was awakened by a knock on the door. Getting out of bed [without] getting dressed (I was in my underwear and t-shirt), I went to the front door and asked: who is it? I don’t have a peephole, so I couldn’t look at who was standing outside the door. A woman’s voice answered my question: “Ruslan, hi, Anya [sent me].” By the way, the funny thing is that I have a friend, Anya, [from the city of Khotkovo]; I thought this was coming from her, there wasn’t a single thought about [Anna] Pavlikova.
I opened the door and a SOBR officer (Anonim) pinned me down, threatening me with a gun. Thus, I found myself lying on my stomach, on the floor of the room. After I fell to the floor and covered my head with my hands, my uninvited guests began to beat me with their fists and kick me.
In their testimony, the operatives specified that I allegedly swore, fought, and ran to the window to hide (they didn’t mention the fact that I have bars on my windows and there’s no way I could have done this); it’s all a lie.
They beat me up, handcuffed [my arms] behind my back, sat me on a stool, and began to interrogate [me]. During an absolutely asinine conversation, which went on for 20 minutes, Biven and Anonim hit me on different parts of my body, when they thought that I, in their opinion, was answering [their] question incorrectly. That is, not in the way they needed [me to]. Kavkazets put a small bag with a powdery substance in the waistband of my underwear and threatened to find a grenade in [my apartment]. From time to time, I was overtaken by fits of wild laughter, which I couldn’t fight. This annoyed the operatives. At some point, Kavkazets took a yellow bag and put it over my head, it became hard for me to breathe, but I didn’t lose consciousness. On top of that, he took out a small plastic box and threatened to use it. I didn’t understand what it was — it was either a soldering iron or a taser. Ryzhy and Biven stopped him, since they considered the use of the “box” unnecessary. Plus, Kavkazets threw a file with “New Greatness” leaflets and programs on the coffee table in front of me.
Then I was taken to the kitchen and left with the SOBR [officers] — Pryshch and Anonim. They stretched me out, Pryshch held me, and Anonim started to beat my kidneys, and then he took a steel kitchen mallet (for pounding meat) and thrust its handle deep into my anus.
After a couple minutes they left, and Ryzhy came in. He said that we needed to record a video-confession. We did this for about 15 minutes, because the text for the video was too long and I couldn’t remember it the first time. In the future, this video ended up on the Internet.
After that they took me to the [other] room, where I signed a report on the search of my home. The witnesses, running into my apartment for ten seconds, also gave their signatures.
I put on jeans, threw the package of powder out of my underwear, and was taken from the house in a bent position, and placed in the SOBR’s “Bukhanka” [van], which was located in the adjoining parking lot. By the way, a video camera from the internet provider OTS (they provide Khotkovo with internet) could have caught this moment; it’s possible that they still have a videorecording.
I drove in this car, lying down, for two hours, to the [Investigative Committee department for Moscow’s Western Administrative District]. About halfway along the route we stopped and they took me to a fastfood place to go to the toilet. In the toilet, I discovered that my legs were covered in blood, this was the result of the damage to my anus. The bleeding didn’t stop.
At the Investigative Committee, Biven hit me in the kidneys a couple of times. Ryzhy sat with me during my interrogation and actually dictated my testimony to Investigator Rodionchik, which I subsequently signed, almost without reading it.
* * *
The result: I was covered in bruises, I had severe injuries on my wrists from the handcuffs, and the first five days after my arrest I urinated and defecated blood.
All of this has been documented, and there are a lot of witnesses.
* * *
Tatyana, keep my story to yourself and at the right moment we’ll publish it. Now is not the time.
The original text of Ruslan Kostylenkov’s letter is available in Russian here.
Translation by Eilish Hart