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Since the start of Moscow’s full-scale war against Ukraine, there have been dozens of confirmed cases of arson at military enlistment offices throughout Russia, and the attacks only became more frequent after Vladimir Putin announced mobilization in September. Twenty-four-year-old Alexey Rozhkov, a former electronics store employee from Russia’s Sverdlovsk region, tried to burn down an enlistment office just a couple of weeks after the start of the invasion. Though he later expressed regret in court, he’s since fled the country and can now speak more openly about his actions. The independent investigative outlet Mediazona spoke to Rozhkov about his motivation, his time in prison, and his eventual decision to leave Russia. Meduza summarizes the interview in English.
Early in the morning on March 11, two and a half weeks after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a military enlistment office outside Yekaterinburg caught on fire. The flames didn’t spread far, and the wooden building was barely damaged at all; a security guard and several traffic officers who happened to be nearby put out the fire. Not long after, police arrested a suspect: 24-year-old electronics store employee Alexey Rozhkov. He was stopped on a nearby street, about a 15-minute walk from the enlistment office.
According to police officer Sergey Kashin, Rozhkov tried to run when he saw the authorities but stopped when they cried out that they would shoot. The officers then handcuffed him and put him in a police vehicle, where he confessed to arson, explaining that he wasn’t drunk and that he’d done it in response to the war.
“‘My peers are dying in Ukraine like cannon fodder, and nobody gives a damn,’” Kashin quoted Rozhkov as saying. The officer also said Rozhkov requested to be driven past the military enlistment office “to see whether he had managed to help anybody with his actions.”
In a new interview, Rozhkov told the independent news outlet Mediazona that he decided to commit arson because he couldn’t accept the fact that conscripts who believed they were only being sent to training grounds were in fact being sent to war. “I believe I saved people, at least some people, from certain death,” he said.
Soon after his arrest, Rozhkov was charged with attempted murder. According to case materials, a security guard was working inside the enlistment office building on the night of the incident. On March 12, a judge placed Rozhkov in pretrial detention, where he spent the next six months.
In early September, investigator Mikhail Snigirev lowered the charges to attempted arson, allowing Rozhkov to be released on his own recognizance. Rozhkov believes Snigirev facilitated his release out of sympathy: “The investigator handling my case is a fairly humane person and has wanted me not to be in prison from the very start. He sent me to [remand] prison for six months so that I would understand what it’s like and so I wouldn’t want to go back,” said Rozhkov, adding that Snigirev once referred to his time in pretrial detention as an “educational measure.”
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Rozhkov later pleaded guilty, expressed his repentance, and apologized for his arson attempt, though he emphasized in his interview with Mediazona that he was pressured by his parents and his lawyer, Larisa Gorshkova, to do those things. “I don’t believe that what I did was right, of course, since the guard could have been injured, but nonetheless, I don’t think I did anything bad,” he said.
Two months after his release, Rozhkov decided to emigrate. “They set my court date, and I decided to leave. It was perfectly clear to me that my case would be sent for further investigation even if I got probation. And I would be convicted of a more serious offense, [such as] terrorism. It would be inevitable,” he told Mediazona.
According to Rozhkov, he didn’t tell his mother about his plans in advance, choosing instead to leave her a note explaining his decision. He’s now outside of Russia. At the request of the volunteers who helped Rozhkov leave the country, Mediazona decided not to publish the details of his departure.
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