‘I heard screams and thought it was important to record’ Alexandra Kaluzhskikh, a young woman who secretly recorded audio of officers beating her at a Moscow police station, tells her story
A viral audio recording from March 6 — a day that saw both anti-war protests break out across Russia and the arrests of 4,400 people — documented the cruel beating and verbal abuse police meted out to artist and feminist activist Alexandra Kaluzhskikh. The 26-year-old managed to smuggle an actively recording phone into the interrogation room. Soon after leaving policy custody, she released the audio online. Meduza contacted Alexandra and asked her to tell her story.
Meduza thanks Dr. Maya Vinokour at the NYU Jordan Center for this translation.
When I was arrested, I had been at the demonstration on Komsomolskaya Square for about 15 or 20 minutes. After that, the police started kettling the crowd [charging and hemming them in] and grabbing everyone they could, including my friend and me — even though we weren’t holding any posters. The arrest itself wasn’t harsh. There was already a line of people being searched in front of the police van. Inside the van were about 30 people — like a commuter train at rush hour. They arrested us at 3:30 p.m., and by 4:45 we were already at the Brateevo police station.
They took our passports and brought us to an auditorium, where we sat for around two hours. Afterward, they began taking people out into the hall in groups and sending them to get photographed. In my group, there were two of us (myself and another young woman) who refused to have our photos taken. The cops started referring to us as “special category” detainees and took us to a separate room, Room 103, if I’m not mistaken. This room looked how you’d expect from movies or cartoons — two tables across from each other and a couple of floodlights aimed at the door.
There were two young women sitting there, a brunette and a blonde. I remember their faces well. Closer to the door stood two men, one of whom didn’t say a word the entire time. The other man had mean little black eyes. He was the one who hit me.
They ordered me to sit down, and then the young women started asking questions. They wanted to know where I worked, where I studied, what my phone number was — that was for the summons. My behavior enraged them. They kept repeating that I was fucked in the head. When I refused to answer their questions and invoked Article 51 of the Russian Constitution [which enshrines the right against self-incrimination], the cop with the little black eyes would hit me in the face, head, and legs with a full water bottle. He pulled my hair and doused me with water. I tried not to react to the blows.
At some point they started saying they were going to tase me. But I don’t think they would do anything that leaves a real mark. I feel like we’ll get to that stage soon enough, but we’re not there yet.
I had two phones with me. One was an old and useless decoy, and the second one was in my pocket with the recorder on. Before I went into that room, I heard screams and thought that it was important to record whatever was going to happen in there. When I went inside, they took the decoy phone and, when they figured out it wasn’t recording, to their delight they hurled it against the wall as hard as they could. It was bouncing around the room like a ball. Luckily, they didn’t search me after that, which is why I was able to record everything that happened on my second phone.
I spent no more than maybe 10 minutes in that room. Afterward, they took me up the stairs to a different room where they tried to get me to sign an “explanatory letter” — a written promise to appear in court, as well as a police report. I just burst into tears. After getting beaten up like that, the cop just sitting there calling witnesses and signing papers seemed almost kind to me. But no one at the station really cared that I’d been beaten. The other cops just pretended that nothing was happening.
I didn’t see how they treated the other people they’d arrested. But my DMs [direct messages] are full of reports from other girls saying they’d also been tortured. One girl wrote that they’d splashed disinfectant in her eyes. Another girl had a clump of hair torn from her head; she sent photos.
When I was leaving the station, it was like I was in a fog. It was late evening already, like 10 or 11 p.m. My friend who I’d been arrested with was waiting for me outside, and another friend had come to support us. We ordered a volunteer taxi — these are people who drive people who have been arrested home for free. My friends insisted that I spend the night at one of their houses.
The day after the protest, I went to an urgent care clinic. They documented my injuries and referred me to a doctor. The paperwork says, “head injury, bruising, beaten up at the police station.” I even have a suspected concussion. The whole time, though, the doctor spoke to me coldly and acted like a cop himself. The first thing he did was tell me to put my phone away. I felt like I was back in that police station. Any sudden movement I make gives me a headache. My friends are watching over me right now — they’re on top of everything, they know where to take me and what I should do, and so on.
I’m going to be tried under Administrative Code Article 20.2, Part 5. The preliminary court date is March 10. We contacted OVD-Info [an independent human rights organization] about arranging my defense. I’m getting lots of messages from lawyers offering to help. In some sense, it’s actually a problem: I’m not the only victim here, it’s just that the other young women didn’t go public like me. I wish they could share in some of the support I’ve been receiving.
As a child, I experienced both verbal and physical abuse, so I feel like my brain knows what to do in these types of situations. What I went through at the police station has added another trauma to the list: fear of the police. But unlike when I was little, today I’m surrounded by lots of friends, volunteers, lawyers, and therapists.
I feel like I’m not alone.