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‘The FSB said I’m raising my daughter wrong’ A single father faces felony charges after his daughter drew an anti-war picture at school
In April of last year, an art teacher in Russia’s Tula region asked her sixth-grade class to draw pictures to show support for the Russian military in Ukraine. When one girl drew an anti-war image instead, the teacher immediately called the police. By the end of the following day, the Russian FSB and child protective services were involved. Now, the student’s single father is facing felony charges, and the student herself is at risk of being sent to live in a shelter.
Update: On March 28, Alexey Moskalev was sentenced to two years in prison. Read more here.
A resident of Russia’s Tula region is facing felony charges of “discrediting” the Russian army because his sixth-grade daughter made an anti-war drawing in a school art class, according to the independent outlets Spektr and OVD-Info.
Until recently, 54-year-old Alexey Moskalev was a bird breeder in the town of Yefremov, where he was raising his daughter, Masha, on his own. Masha’s mother moved to a different city when her daughter was three years old.
In April 2022, during an art lesson, Masha’s teacher asked the class to draw pictures in support of Russia’s troops in Ukraine. Masha proceeded to draw a Russian flag with the words “No to war” on it, as well as a Ukrainian flag that read “Glory to Ukraine.” The drawing also showed missiles flying from the Russian side towards a woman and her child on the Ukrainian side.
“[After that], the teacher ran to the [school] director, who called the police,” Alexey recounted.
The art teacher immediately threatened my daughter, so when the officers came and were waiting for Masha at the [school] entrance, asking all of the students their first and last names, my daughter immediately realized what was going on. She managed to slip through: she gave a fake name. She came running home, out of breath, and said, ‘Dad, the police almost caught me — I drew a picture!’ She was scared, and I promised that the next day, I would come to her school and wait for her until her classes were over.
The next day, as promised, Alexey came to Masha’s school and waited in the hallway for her. According to him, however, when the school director saw him there, she called the police, who came to the school along with officials from child protective services. The officials took Masha out of her classes and took her, along with her father, to the local police chief. After interrogating Alexey, the officers charged him with “discrediting” the Russian army for posts and comments he had made on social media. He was fined 32,000 rubles (about $430) for a comment that read, “The Russian army. The rapists right next to us.”
That evening, Masha told her father that she was afraid to go to school. He assured her there was nothing to worry about, and she ended up going the following morning. Soon after, Alexey received a call from someone at the school, who told him that Masha had been taken by FSB officers and that he needed to report to the school immediately. “I got dressed and rushed there. I was met by FSB officers. I asked, ‘Where’s my daughter?’ They responded that she was being interviewed in the next office over. For three and a half hours, they told me that I’m raising my daughter incorrectly; they said they were going to take her from me and put me in jail,” said Alexey.
After that, Masha stopped going to school. Then, on the day before New Year’s Eve, police showed up at the family’s home with a search warrant.
On the morning of December 30, I received a call at 7:30 a.m. They mumbled something [unintelligible] on the phone. I was getting ready to go to work. I leaned out the window and was shocked: there were three police cars around our building, two more vehicles on the side, and an Emergency Services Ministry vehicle and firetruck a bit further away. About 12 people. FSB officers and a few police officers got out of the vehicles and started towards the entrance to our building. They had an angle grinder. I immediately knew they were coming for us.
According to Alexey, the officers threw things from the family’s shelves onto the floor, ripped hanging pictures from the walls, and flipped their furniture over. They took 123,000 rubles ($1,655) and $3,150, all of the family’s savings, and took a photo of Masha’s anti-war drawing. They then took Masha to a shelter and Alexey to the FSB office to be interrogated. There, Alexey told journalists, the officers beat his “head against the wall and against the floor” before leaving him in the interrogation room for two and a half hours with the Russian national anthem playing at full volume.
When Alexey began to feel sick, medical workers were called in. “After that, [the FSB officers] showed me a comment my daughter had left on VKontakte: on a post about how ‘our children are dying selflessly [in Ukraine],’ Masha wrote, ‘And how much are they dying for? Two hundred thousand [rubles] a month, or a little more?’” said Alexey.
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That same day, the authorities opened a criminal case against Alexey for “discrediting” the Russian army. Because he had previously been convicted of a misdemeanor for committing the same offense less than a year earlier, he’s now facing felony charges, according to his lawyer, Vladimir Biliyenko, who spoke to OVD-Info.
Alexey wasn’t released from the FSB office until later that evening, when he was given a summons to appear at the police station on January 9. The next day, he was able to retrieve Masha from the children’s shelter, and the two left Yefremov. Spektr and OVD-Info didn’t specify where the family is currently located.
Alexey is facing up to three years in prison. His biggest worry, he said, is that if he’s arrested or sentenced to jail time, Masha may be sent back to a state institution (Alexey said he has “no faith” in her other relatives). Lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko said that as a single father, Alexey will likely be able to avoid prison time. “But if the officers decide to be stubborn — our justice system often gives in to what they want — they might put him in prison and send his daughter to an orphanage,” Biliyenko added.
Masha’s situation is far from the first case of legal pressure against a Russian child who doesn’t support the war against Ukraine. According to OVD-Info, criminal cases were opened against eight minors for anti-war statements in 2022. But the total number of students who have faced bullying, harassment, and legal persecution for opposing the war is unknown.
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