Violetta Grudina used to lead Alexey Navalny’s campaign office in Murmansk — before this opposition movement was outlawed as “extremist,” that is. In the summer of 2021, she announced plans to put her name on the ballot for the upcoming City Council elections. Not long after, the authorities opened a criminal case against her, claiming that Grudina failed to fulfill quarantine requirements while recovering from the coronavirus in June. On top of that, in mid-July, Grudina was hospitalized by court order — despite the fact that she tested negative for COVID-19 and no longer had any symptoms. On July 26 — after almost two weeks in the hospital — the opposition politician announced a hunger strike. In conversation with Meduza, Violetta Grudina talks about her forced hospitalization, going on hunger strike, and why she’s not giving up on running in the fall elections.
Please note. This interview was first published in Russian on July 29, 2021, and has been summarized for length and clarity.
“I feel like a wreck — after all, I’m on a hunger strike,” Violetta Grudina tells Meduza. The opposition politician, who was forcibly hospitalized earlier this month, announced her hunger strike at 7:00 o’clock in the morning on July 26. “I’m demanding that my documents [for candidacy nomination], which I gave to the doctors, be handed over to the election commission. Only the chief physician can transfer them. I can’t hand them in from the hospital myself,” she explains.
Grudina felt like a hunger strike was her only option — she says other methods didn’t work: “All of my requests are ignored, the doctors are forbidden from talking to me. And the administrative personnel and chief physician avoid me in every possible way.” At this point, Grudina isn’t sure whether her candidacy paperwork will be submitted to election officials or returned to her. She describes the hospital staff as “United Russia doctors.” The facility where she is being held, the Murmansk Regional Center for Specialized Medical Care, is headed by Arkady Amozov — who ran in the ruling party’s primaries and also plans to throw his hat in the ring for the upcoming City Council elections.
Even before she announced her hunger strike, the hospital administration didn’t make things easy for Grudina. She tells Meduza that when she first arrived, she was in touch with the junior medical staff, but now no one’s talking to her. “Immediately after I was ‘packed off’ to the hospital, I volunteered for a few days in the cafeteria. It was an easy job: collecting plates, throwing away food. But at some point I was told that an order came from above: I must be removed [from the cafeteria],” she recalls. “I wanted to bring at least some social benefit, but the hospital administration simply wouldn’t let me.”
Now, she says, the hospital staff are “blatantly torturing” her with food: “They bring me food and it stands in the ward for at least an hour. The medical workers look at me with hangdog eyes and say that they’re simply following orders from the administration.” At the same time, Grudina is worried for the medical staff who have been friendly with her. “I feared that they might even be fired. And my fears were justified,” she says. “The doctor on duty, who took the nomination documents from me and submitted them to the chief physician [Arkady Amozov] disappeared from the department. Rumor has it that he was fired — but these are rumors.”
Grudina was hospitalized by court order on July 14, after the authorities accused her of violating coronavirus quarantine requirements — despite the fact that she had already tested negative for COVID-19. To make matters worse, she now says her doctors are ignoring her request to undergo another test for the virus. “According to the court decision, I have to be in a medical institution until [I have] another negative covid test. They do tests, examinations, CT scans, but they come up with every excuse not to do a test [for COVID-19] and not to discharge me,” she says. “I’m convinced that they will keep me here until after the registration of candidates for deputies ends. And it ends on August 9.”
Grudina says that the hospital staff have stopped accepting care packages from her friends and family, but other than that the conditions at the facility are “pretty good.” However, this doesn’t change the fact that the hospital administration won’t let her leave.
“Everything that’s happening to me now is a smear campaign. I’m the only independent politician in the region. And I don’t give up on my convictions, I withstand the authorities’ blows rather steadfastly,” she tells Meduza. “That’s why I think that this is happening by order of the presidential administration, to destroy me as a regional politician.”
Be that as it may, Grudina sees this as an opportunity to send a message. “By my example, I’m showing to society how the government is fighting independent politicians,” she explains. “The authorities need this in order for people to develop apathy, disappointment, and a sense of hopelessness. So that people won’t participate in the elections and think that everything is pointless. […] I want to show that I’m not afraid of all this — and that the people aren’t afraid either.”
With that in mind, Grudina insists that she will continue her hunger strike until her candidacy paperwork is handed over to local elections officials. “We will bombard all the bureaus with complaints so that they test me [for COVID-19],” she says. “And I will submit the documents, without fail. I will fight to the end.”
Translation by Eilish Hart