47-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin, a small business owner from the village of Rusko-Visotskoye in Russia’s Leningrad region, has a “No to War'' bumper sticker, refuses to shave his beard as long as Putin is in power, and keeps the front of his shop covered in political and anti-war graffiti and posters. He spoke to the Russian outlet The Village about his small acts of protest, the reactions he gets from his neighbors, and whether he’s afraid there might be criminal prosecution in his future.
Since 2014, Skurikhin has put up about 200 political posters on the front of his shop. It all began after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, when he posted a sign that said “Peace for Ukraine, Freedom for Russia.”
“I’m a local activist who’s ready to express my position every chance I get. Whenever something happens, like the murder of Nemtsov, bam — I hang up a poster,” he said.
After the start of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, Skurikhin started focusing on anti-war statements. In early March, he hung up a sign showing destroyed buildings in Kharkiv and a Ukrainian woman who had been killed. Later that month, he used red paint to write the names of Ukrainian cities that Russia had invaded. On the blue part of the store’s roof, he added a yellow banner, making a Ukrainian flag.
“I’ve blatantly sided with Ukraine. And everything is great — my neighbors greet me and nobody tells me to fuck off. I believe there’s unequivocal support,” Skurikhin said.
According to Skurikhin, his signs don’t usually stay up for more than two or three hours — the local government usually sends somebody to take them down and call the police to file a report.
The police in the village are sensible, smart, decent, fine people. Not like in the city. They’re almost all on my side. It’s just that they have orders to follow and an oath to uphold.
Until March 5, the police would always fine Skurikhin for “violating appearance standards.” The initial fines were only 300 rubles (about $5.50) each, but they later increased to 3,000 rubles (about $55). According to Skurikhin, the increase was done specifically with him in mind, because he was the only person being fined for violating that particular law.
When the State Duma passed a law against “discrediting” the Russian army in early March, Skurikhin hung another anti-war sign and wrote a farewell post on Facebook: “This might be my last post, so just in case: Goodbye, my friends.” After that, he was fined 45,000 rubles (about $825) under the new law — less for the sign, according to The Village, than for a Telegram post he wrote about it.
In April, three people anonymously wrote the word “Traitor” on Skurikhin’s store and left a pile of manure at the entrance. Nonetheless, Skurikhin still believes his fellow villagers share his position.
They thought they were making me look bad in front of my neighbors. But the opposite happened. One woman came in and said, “Dmitry, don’t touch the manure, I’ll take it myself — I need it for my garden.” And then when I was taking a bucket of yellow paint to cover up the graffiti, an old man stopped me and said, “What are you doing, covering up the names of the [Ukrainian] cities?” “No, I’m covering up the word ‘Traitor.’” “Alright, go ahead. But leave the cities up.”
Skurikhin did admit that he worries about being arrested for spreading “fakes” about the Russian army, but he has no plans to leave the country. “I’m scared. So what?” he said. “I can’t just stop speaking out. If they put me in jail, I’ll do my time. If they kill me, I guess I’ll die.”