In mid-April, Russian artist Sasha Skochilenko was charged with spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine after she replaced the price tags in a St. Petersburg grocery store with anti-war messages. She now faces up to 10 years in prison.
Skochilenko has now been in custody for over two weeks, or since April 11, when she was arrested at a friend’s house after police reportedly forced the friend to trick her into coming over. Since the prosecution began, Skochilenko’s relatives, supporters, and friends have been warning officials that she needs to stay on a gluten-free diet because she has celiac disease. The court ignored the warnings when choosing her pre-trial restrictions. Two weeks later, the fears have been confirmed: Skochilenko has been largely unable to obtain safe food, and, according to her lawyers, her health is deteriorating.
Until this past weekend, Skochilenko was being held in a temporary detention facility (IVS), despite the fact that the court decided to arrest her (and move her to a pre-trial detention center, or SIZO) on April 13. In the days immediately after the trial, the IVS staff cited the supposedly quick transfer to the pre-trial detention center as the reason they could not take any of the gluten-free food Skochilenko’s supporters tried to send her; “during the transfer to the pre-trial detention center,” they said, “most of a detainees’ items get destroyed.” Over the following week, reports that Skochilenko was slated to be transferred to SIZO No. 5 appeared on Telegram channels created by Skochilenko supporters, but the transfer still didn't happen. On April 19, supporters attempted to send Skochilenko some food, but a prison employee said she was not at SIZO No. 5. The IVS where Skochilenko was supposed to be transferred also refused to take the food.
On April 20 lawyer Yana Nepovinnova met with Skochilenko; afterwards, she reported that Skochilenko was “very sick," having being unable to maintain her gluten-free diet. By April 25 (by which time Skochilenko was transferred to the SIZO), according to Nepovinnova, Skochilenko’s health had further deteriorated. “She met me with tears just now. It is clear that this person is very emotionally unstable,” said Nepovinnova.
According to Nepovinnova, “she hadn’t received a single package in the SIZO,” and the food that was sent to her in the IVC “didn’t make it” to the SIZO. On the following day, April 21, Skochilenko’s partner, Sonya, managed to deliver her a package, but she says the prison’s employees refused to deliver many of the foods she brought, including dates, protein bars, and protein mix. “So Sasha will now effectively only be eating instant food,” said Sonya.
On April 25, the local division of Russia’s Federal Prison Service (FSIN) told Interfax that the current rules “don’t require the provision of separate or individual meals for people who need gluten-free food,” but that deliveries of gluten-free food to inmates “are not prohibited” and will be accepted. The FSIN also claimed that no packages had arrived at SIZO No. 5 for Skochilenko, despite the fact that she had already received one package of food.
A petition in support of Sasha Skochilenko has received over 100 thousand signatures on Changes.org. Both Amnesty International and PEN America have criticized the Russian authorities’ treatment of her. Costume designer Ksenia Sorokina, who recently won Russia’s Golden Mask award, donated her award to Skochilenko “in appreciation for all that she’s doing.” A charity music festival was held in St. Petersburg to support Skochilenko. Local deputy Boris Vishnevsky has called on the St. Petersburg Prosecutor to intervene and alleviate Skochilenko’s pre-trial restrictions.
Mental health activists and journalists have started a separate petition in Skochilenko’s support. “Alexandra has made a huge contribution to the fight against prejudice against people with mental health disorders. In her “Book about Depression,” she explained in simple terms what causes depression, which millions of Russians suffer from, and how it can be treated. The book was one of the first Russian language resources to draw attention to depression, which affects over 300 million people worldwide,” said their statement.