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“Finist the Bright Falcon” by Svetlana Petriychuk

Finist the Bright Falcon In her play, Svetlana Petriychuk tries to understand why Russian women convert to radical Islam — but the Russian authorities have jailed the playwright for ‘terrorist propaganda.’ Read the controversial play (or watch the production)

Source: Meduza
“Finist the Bright Falcon” by Svetlana Petriychuk
“Finist the Bright Falcon” by Svetlana Petriychuk
Daughers of Soso theater collective

On May 4, the Russian authorities arrested two female theater artists: playwright Svetlana Petriychuk and director Zhenya Berkovich, whose 2021 production of Petriychuk’s play, “Finist the Bright Falcon,” had won the dramatist a Golden Mask, a prestigious theater award in Russia. In the play, Svetlana Petriychuk combined the devices of court drama and traditional Russian folk tale to tell the story of hundreds of real Russian women who converted to Islam, starting long-distance relationships with radicalized Muslim men and later moving to Syria — only to find themselves convicted and jailed for terrorism upon return to Russia. Shortly after it was performed by the theater collective Daughers of Soso, the work was denounced by the ultraconservative Russian National Liberation Movement (NOD), for allegedly glorifying the Islamic State and justifying terrorism. Anna Razumnaya has translated Petriychuk’s play for Meduza, with permission from the playwright’s spouse and acting agent, theater director Yury Shekhvatov. Another English translation, by Alexander Vartanov, also exists and is yet to be produced.

For production permissions and queries, please contact Svetlana Petriychuk’s spouse and acting agent Yury Shekhvatov, either directly or via Meduza in English.

Finist the Bright Falcon

A play by Svetlana Petriychuk

MARYUSHKAS (some 2,000 women, according to the past few years’ official data)








Instruction № 1

How to conduct a nikah by Skype

Many Islamic scholars deny the possibility of nikah by Skype, citing the book called Rawdat-al-Talibin, which says that if someone sends their marriage vows to another person who isn’t present, this represents indirect communication, and such a marriage won’t be valid. And yet, the first generations of Muslims couldn’t have foreseen the technical novelties afforded by our present time. The basis for joining in marriage is the presence of the groom, the bride, and the witnesses. The witnesses must hear the groom’s proposal and confirm that they heard it. If parties to the marriage, as well as witnesses, can all take part in a joint meeting, and if the witnesses can see the bride and the groom in real time and hear both of them speak, a marriage can indeed be officiated, and will be valid, assuming there’s no chance of falsification and the witnesses are not just trusting in voices alone. The protocol for online ritual is simple. On the appointed day, a wedding notary will be present at our office, along with witnesses and necessary personnel. The ceremony will take place in a tastefully appointed chamber, where you and your groom will be virtually present on screens of 72-inch diagonal or greater. The chamber is equipped with the latest audio and video technologies, so that you can exchange your vows without any lag to the sound. After the ceremony, you will receive a certificate and, if desired, video footage from the frontal cameras. For any questions, please contact our office by phone at [number redacted].

“Finist the Bright Falcon,” produced by Zhenya Berkovich and Daughters of Soso
Lyubimovka Playwrights’ Festival


JUDGE. Defendant, under what circumstances did you attempt an illegal crossing of the border between Turkey and Syrian Arab Republic for the purpose of entering the territory controlled by a banned terrorist organization?

DEFENDANT. This was near the city of Batman, also called Elih by the Kurds. We drove in the car for a long time. It smelled of gas inside, and all the inner door handles had been broken off. Two women sat next to me. One of them had a child. When he got tired of crying, he fell asleep on her lap. It grew dark outside. The driver stopped the car and pointed to the field, where he said we had to go. I couldn’t see a thing and needed to pee. The child started crying. The crickets chirruped. My skirt kept getting tangled in the thorns. I worried I might step on a snake. To stop feeling so afraid, I started telling myself a nursery rhyme: “Left, right, the soldiers march…” Do you know it too? The driver had said someone was coming to meet us, so when we saw flashlights ahead and heard the dogs bark, we got really excited. But it was only a Kurdish patrol. They started yelling at us, telling us to lie down on the ground and prodding us with their guns. I fell down and scratched up my face, and then they arrested us.

JUDGE. Were you traveling to Syria to become a terrorist?

DEFENDANT. I was traveling there to get married.

JUDGE. To whom?

DEFENDANT. To Finist… To Vlad. To Karim. To Nadir. I don’t really know his name. But he is my betrothed, my one and only, my Bright Falcon.

JUDGE. And what were the circumstances of your first meeting?

DEFENDANT. He sent me a message through the VK Spartak soccer fan club. He told me he was 21 and a nationalist. We started talking about life and soccer. Soon I began walking my dog earlier in the morning and then shutting myself in my room. I’d turn on my computer and a young man of unearthly beauty would appear before me. And then I realized I was in love.

JUDGE. And this happened because of soccer?

DEFENDANT. It was the marshmallows. He’d never talk to me about his family. But then he once told me that when he was very little his mom baked him homemade marshmallows. And he said that when he got married, his wife would also make marshmallows for him. So I imagined myself baking marshmallows for him. I found some marshmallow recipes online, and it made me feel so good inside. I realized we were kindred spirits.

JUDGE. What else do you know about him?

DEFENDANT. I know that where he was born, women stop wearing boots in March, and put on shoes instead. This is how you know spring has come. I know that in his family all the men’s eyes change color from gray to green, depending on what day of the week it is. I know he’s a hero. I know that I’m nothing compared to him, but he loves me anyway. He used many different names and I’ve never seen a picture of him, because pictures lie but the heart never does.

When Finist forbade me to talk to other men, I realized he was serious about me. Once, he even blocked me on VK because I’d friended some guy named Ivan. And that’s how three whole years went by. Bit by bit, he began teaching me about Islam. At first he’d say very little, but then he spoke of it more and more, until there was hardly anything else he talked about. And he spoke of it so nicely. It was really interesting, especially what he said about women. He said it’s just a stereotype that women have no power in Islam. Under her husband’s protection, every woman can do what she wants. She can work if she wants, she can stay home if she wants, and her husband has to take care of her all the same. I liked that idea. And so, I decided to convert to his religion. He said I didn’t need anyone’s help with this, and that I shouldn’t go to the mosque either. I should just say some special words and do an ablution over a basin. I chose myself a new name, [name redacted]. And he approved it.

JUDGE. How did you decide to leave?

DEFENDANT. Finist, my bright falcon, vanished. Not a word from him, not a single line. I started eating marshmallows by the pound and stopped walking my dog. I began praying five times a day to rid myself of sinful thoughts. But he still wasn’t coming back. Then, a few months later, I got a message from a new account. It said he’d gone to the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom to wage battle for his faith. He started pleading with me to come and join him. He said I’d be his wife and he’d take care of me, and that I’d have lots of different friends and life would be wonderful. He said I wouldn’t be anywhere near the war. He said, in the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom, there are only true Muslims who don’t drink or smoke, and they all treat each other well, without any negativity. He asked me if I loved him and told me that if I do, I’ll wear out three pairs of iron shoes, break three iron staves, make three iron hats threadbare, gnaw through three stone loaves, but come and find him.

JUDGE. And so you decided to go to the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom*? [*Prohibited organization.]

DEFENDANT. I ordered myself three pairs of iron shoes, three irons staves, and three iron hats. I opened my piggy bank and took the $20 I got for my birthday. And on the appointed day, I got a message with my airline ticket attached, and they told me to go. I texted my mother I was going to the campus and put an extra skirt in my bag. Together with some lacy lingerie from Intimissimi. I bought it for a special occasion. And off I went in search of my Finist, the Bright Falcon. After passing the border in Istanbul, I donned the hijab and turned on my phone. A message with instructions was already waiting for me.

‘Finist’ and the prosecutors

‘Bright Falcon’ behind bars A new political trial targets theater director Zhenya Berkovich and prize-winning playwright Svetlana Petriychuk

‘Finist’ and the prosecutors

‘Bright Falcon’ behind bars A new political trial targets theater director Zhenya Berkovich and prize-winning playwright Svetlana Petriychuk



Instruction № 2

The correct way to wear the hijab

You will need a square scarf. Pick a lighter satin or cotton scarf for warm and hot weather, or a heavier wool scarf for cold weather. You will also need two bobby pins or safety pins. Place the top right corner over the bottom left corner, folding the scarf into a triangle. Place it over your head. Its two ends should drop over your shoulders. Pin the scarf under your chin. Open your mouth as if to say “O.” This way, you’ll be able to move your jaw and the hijab will stay in place. Now cross the left end of the scarf over to the right, and the right end to the left. Make sure the hijab is secure and won’t slide off. Remember that the hijab must completely cover your hair and the bottom part of your chin: that area isn’t part of your face and should be covered, just like your neck. Girls who let their hair and neck show commit a sin when strange men look at them.


[NAME REDACTED]. My father was a surgeon. In school, I did AP math and physics, listened to hardcore punk, watched DC and Marvel movies… And then, I read the Quran. It came to me as a shock. It said that our Universe is expanding, and that heaven and earth once were a single cloud that separated later. It described the embryo’s development and lots of other things. This teaching couldn’t be the work of a human being, I thought. It was something much greater. Thus I found my faith and said the Shahada, became Muslim, and prayed namaz. I took the hijab to be a sign of the Supreme Creator’s care for me. I began to pray that the Almighty might help me cover myself in such a way as to bless my life here and beyond the grave.

[NAME REDACTED]. When I wear the hijab, I feel protected from outward vanity. It gives me a feeling of integrity and peace. I don’t at all miss the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair. My head doesn’t itch, not even in summer. When I take the subway, it strikes me as bizarre that other women let themselves be seen the way they do. Our religion says that a woman should be cocooned, closed in. The hijab protects women from other people’s gazes, and even from themselves. A woman is weak, prone to being confused and dirty, and that’s why we have this great responsibility not to show off our beauty for all to see.

[NAME REDACTED]. If I were to wear revealing clothes, I’d feel like a thief. I’d feel that I’ve stolen something from my husband and given it to a stranger who did nothing for me at all, who didn’t pay a penny for my expenses. The hijab protects a woman from the male gaze, from those who look at you as if you are a piece of meat. It shuts you off from sin that’s all around you in this world. The hijab isn’t demeaning. It lifts me up. If I ever have a daughter, I’m going to teach her from the start that wearing the hijab is a duty and she must do it for her own good.



Instruction № 3

How to make a halal cake

To make sure that the confection conforms to the idea of halal, make certain that no alcohol was used in preparing it. If alcohol is used, even in micro-doses (for example, as an ingredient in the icing or food coloring), this is unacceptable for eating. Gelatin made from pig’s cartilage is often used by the confectioners, but that’s also unacceptable. The confection should not be decorated with any depictions of living things. It’s also important to invoke the Almighty’s name when making food.


JUDGE. Dagestan’s Tlyarata District Court has considered the defendant’s case. The defendant, [name redacted], born in 1990 in the village of Vitsiatli, Tsunta District, is facing felony charges under Article 33, Part 5 and Article 208, Part 2 of the Federal Criminal Code. The court has established that she aided the members of an illegal militarized formation under the following circumstances.

In November 2011, the exact date and time have not been established, the defendant, [name redacted], went to visit her sister. On the same night, around 11 p.m., four members of the illegal militarized formation (IMF) Tsuntinskaya, namely [names redacted], arrived at the domicile. The above-referenced members of the IMF Tsuntinskaya received voluntary aid from the defendant, who agreed to aid them by providing them with food products. To be exact, she set the table, whereupon she provided two loaves of bread, eight rounds of cheese, and a jar of cucumbers in brine for their consumption. Because of personal religious convictions, and in full awareness of the unlawful nature of her actions, she prepared a cake for the above-mentioned IMF Tsuntinskaya members, which they went on to consume.



Chocolate halal cake with almonds and candied fruit

To make the cake layers, mix the flour with butter, sugar, and an egg. Knead the dough, wrap it in tin foil or cling-wrap, and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 190 C, roll out the dough, and place it in the baking pan, turning up the edges by 3 centimeters. To make the filling, grind the cloves in a coffee grinder or spice mill, break the chocolate into pieces, and melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Chop the almonds and some of the candied fruit into small pieces, adding them to the chocolate cream. Beat the sugar into the eggs and mix them into the chocolate cream. Serve the cake no sooner than two hours after preparing. A small piece of halal cake made from crumbly dough, filled with chocolate-almond cream, and embellished with candied fruit is a nice gesture of love and care for your family and friends.


JUDGE. In this manner, the defendant, [name redacted], deliberately committed the actions constitutive of a felony under Article 33, Part 5 and Article 208, Part 2 of the Federal Criminal Code, namely, aiding members of an illegal militarized formation (IMF) unspecified by the federal law. Considering the nature of the crime and the degree of danger it poses to society, as well as the nature and degree of the defendant’s factual involvement in committing the said crime, the court concludes that reforming the defendant would not be possible unless she serves time in a correctional institution. The court therefore sentences her to one year in a correctional institution, namely, a settlement-type penal colony.

‘Opposition theater’ and its struggles

How Moscow lost the Gogol Center The rise and fall of Russia’s premier avant-garde theater

‘Opposition theater’ and its struggles

How Moscow lost the Gogol Center The rise and fall of Russia’s premier avant-garde theater



JUDGE. Is it alright if we just call you Maryushka going forward?

MARYUSHKA. Sure, I don’t mind.

JUDGE. What were you going to do in the Thrice-Tenth Kindom*? [*Prohibited organization.]

MARYUSHKA. I was going to cook, do the laundry, and be a wife, as preordained by the Supreme Creator and by my anatomy. And I was going to make marshmallows. I already told you about that.

JUDGE. And there was no one for whom you could do the laundry without leaving the home country?

MARYUSHKA. In our home country, all men are like tumbleweeds. They have no convictions. They’re wishy-washy. My Finist embodies a masculine ideal that’s hard to find in contemporary Western society. He represents a tough, fearless man ready both to kill and to die himself for his ideals.

JUDGE. Very well. And so, you landed at the Istanbul airport. You crossed the wide field, you passed through the dark forest, and you climbed the tall mountains. The birds gladdened your heart with their joyful songs, the little streams gave you water to cleanse your white face, and the dark woods sheltered you. And no one even dared touch Maryushka. The wicked wolves, the fox, and the bear all frolicked at Maryushka’s feet… Isn’t that how the story goes?

MARYUSHKA. Pretty much. I got a taxi from the airport and gave the driver the number they sent me through WhatsApp. He called it and they told him where to go. At first he didn’t want to, but they promised him a good deal of money. While he was driving, I texted my mom, asking her to walk the dog. A Chechen man greeted me at the door, but he wouldn’t take my bag, I got it from the trunk myself. The taxi driver left right away. I think he didn’t even ask for his money. My Chechen brother told me that I’m home and took me inside, to the apartment. There were lots of shoes outside the door, but the apartment was completely silent. There were some old sagging couches there. It was hot, but running the fan wasn’t allowed. It smelled of cooked peas and laundry.

There were six women in the apartment. Some of them had children. They were from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. I was told to get rid of my SIM card and not to go online. Leaving the apartment was forbidden. The girl from Baku cried all the time. I wanted to cry, too, but I was afraid someone might tell Finist. We slept on the floor, all the women together in one room, with their children on the floor in the middle. I dreamed I was back at the university, in a philosophy class...


Instruction № 4

How to play the oud

Nekisa plucked the harp, Barbed picked up the oud:

Agreeably, the winged sounds poured,

Mingling, the way the rose blends scent with color,

An ecstasy that drains the soul of power…

The oud is a traditional Arab stringed instrument, an ancestor to the European lute. The oud has five two-string courses and a single base string usually tuned to the note C. When learning to play the oud, begin by mastering the taxim, a characteristic improvisation style in Arab, Turkish, and Middle Eastern music. Taxim is based in melodic return to a single note, using the lower E on the sixth string and the scale on the third and fourth strings. Taxim will help you train your right hand to do string crossings and always pluck the correct string. The particular Arab quality to this sound is achieved by using the Phrygian mode, where a minor scale has a flattened second and third steps. Here is what the great Omar Khayyam said about the oud and its close relative, the barbat:

Wherefore was I raised by the higher power?

To live in Paradise or burn in the abyss?

I know not! Keep, therefore, that promised bliss,

And let me have an oud, a goblet, and a bower!


How a court drama became reality

‘We got married to visit each other in prison’ Svetlana Petriychuk has been jailed for her play about Russian women who convert to radical Islam. Her husband, theater director Yury Shekhvatov, spoke to Meduza the day after her arrest.

How a court drama became reality

‘We got married to visit each other in prison’ Svetlana Petriychuk has been jailed for her play about Russian women who convert to radical Islam. Her husband, theater director Yury Shekhvatov, spoke to Meduza the day after her arrest.

JUDGE. Don’t digress. How long did you remain in Istanbul?

MARYUSHKA. We spent about two weeks there, staying in four different apartments all in all. Some women were taken away and others brought in. And then, I got a message from Finist. He said it was a tough time for crossing the border and that patrols were everywhere. But someone was going to come for me and two other women. Our Chechen brother took us to the shuttle bus, and we left for Batman. When we got there, a Turk met us at the station. He put us in one car, then moved us to another. While we were traveling, I somehow lost my bag with my passport and all my things. I got very upset, because my Intimissimi lingerie was in it. I bought for a special occasion, you see. We were getting near the border when suddenly there was a great whistling and hooting, owls swirled above and mice came up from their burrows down below, and all of them fell upon Maryushka. Maryushka looked up and saw a Gray Wolf running towards her. Don’t be afraid, said the Gray Wolf, jump up on my back and don’t look behind you. Maryushka mounted the Gray Wolf and was gone. Up ahead were wide steppes, velvet meadows, honeyed rivers in sugared banks, and mountains so high they propped up the clouds. But Maryushka was still riding. At last, they came to a field and stopped. And, well, you already know the rest of it. While the Kurdish patrol drove us to the camp, the child who’d been on the road with us stopped crying. He never did cry again. And his mother smiled and smiled all the way.



JUDGE. Dagestan Republic’s Derbent Municipal Court has ruled that defendant [name redacted] joined an illegal militarized formation on the territory of a foreign country, in pursuit of goals compromising the interests of the Russian Federation, under the following circumstances.

In October 2013, she married [name redacted] by performing a Muslim nikah ritual. [Name redacted] was a member of the Islamic Salafi movement and told her that in Syrian Arab Republic people live according to Islamic law in a caliphate, though the Syrian military and law enforcement oppress them in ways interfering with Islamic law. This, he said, made them join forces with their Syrian sympathizers and wage a holy war, or jihad. He persuaded her, nevertheless, that despite the armed conflict in Syria, their associates do live according to Islamic law in a caliphate. He talked about going to Syria with her at the earliest opportunity, to live there and take part in jihad. [Name redacted] wasn’t bothered by her husband’s plans.

In September 2014, they flew together to the Sabiha Airport in Turkey and crossed the Syrian border. The defendant’s husband was then immediately accepted into the Mujahideen Army. He took part in “ribat,” guarding the illegal militarized formation’s facility, and received a Kalashnikov automatic rifle with ammunition, as well as camouflage and defense equipment. While her husband was away, the defendant stayed home, cooking for him, washing his clothes, and doing other household chores. In addition, other illegal armed formation members often came to their house, and she cooked for them too and did their laundry. They lived in Raqqa. She and her husband received a monthly allowance of $50 and an additional $35 for their child.

In January 2015, the defendant’s husband died from multiple wounds. In April 2015, she gave birth to a son. In June 2015, she married [name redacted], who also followed the ideas of religious extremism and talked constantly about religion. Her new husband was involved in recruiting ribat guardsmen. He carried weapons and took part in armed conflict with the Syrian government and law enforcement. She assisted him by cooking and doing the laundry for members of the illegal armed formation who came to his house. In November 2016, she gave birth to another son. A year later, all of them were arrested by the Kurdish military. On November 13, 2017, the defendant and her children flew to the Russian Federation, where she was detained. The court found [name redacted] guilty of a felony under Article 208, Part 2 of the Federal Criminal Code, sentencing the defendant to eight years and six months in a correctional facility.



QUESTION. As-Salaam-Alaikum. Please give me some advice. Four years ago I went through a nikah, but I haven’t seen my husband since and don’t know how to find him. Am I still considered to be married? If so, how can I get a divorce if I don’t know how to get in touch with him? (Natalia, Kaluga region, Russia)

ANSWER. In the name of Allah most gracious and most merciful! Marriage (nikah) doesn’t cease to be effective until talaq (divorce) comes into effect or until the marriage is dissolved by a decision of an Islamic court or a council of alims. Regardless of how long you and your husband have been apart, your nikah is still in force. If you want to divorce, you need to take the following steps:

a) Make an effort to find your spouse. Ask his family, friends, former co-workers, etc., if they have any information about him. Then you can ask him for a talaq or ask his senior relatives, or else the local muftiate may assist you in getting the talaq.

b) If your efforts to find him prove unsuccessful, report this to the muftiate. They will have to conduct a Faskh-e-Nikah (dissolution of marriage), which involves their own effort to find your husband as well as a public announcement in a newspaper or another print publication, addressed to your husband and asking him to attend the divorce hearing. But Allah knows best.

QUESTION. My husband and I got married by Skype. He promised to come for me and take me with him to Morocco. But it’s been eight months, and he hasn’t fulfilled his promise. He says he must first start a pharmacy, and then he’ll come and get me. But I can’t wait forever. (Regina, Kazan)

ANSWER. In the name of Allah most gracious and most merciful! I would suggest that you have a serious conversation with your husband about whether he’s really planning to take you to Morocco and live with you. If he cannot persuade you that his intentions for your marriage and moving you to Morocco are serious, you can ask him for a divorce. For example, you could set him a condition: if he doesn’t take you to Morocco by a certain date, this would automatically grant you the right of irrevocable divorce in the form of talaq-e-bain. If he agrees to this condition, you will gain the right to free yourself from the bond of marriage. This should protect you from waiting in vain, yet Allah knows best.

QUESTION. My parents are Christian and, to put it mildly, don’t approve of Islam, which I consider my religion. In this connection, my boyfriend and I plan to get married without their knowledge. Can we get married in secret from my parents? (Olga, Kazakhstan)

ANSWER. In the name of Allah most gracious and most merciful! Considering the benefits of being married to a Muslim and your parents’ negative views of Islam, a nikah with this man would be both permissible and appropriate. If you marry without telling your parents, this won’t be a sin. But Allah knows best.



Instruction № 5

How to make a Qurban Bayram greeting card with your own hands

You will need an A4-size sheet of black card-stock. Divide it into thirds on the reverse and make an accordion fold along the marked lines. Mark the top and bottom margins of 4.5 centimeters and side margins of 5 centimeters. Use a craft knife to make a cut and fold the card as shown on the diagram. Print the minarets on heavy paper and cut out the details for your card. Glue the Kaaba door, the Kiswa, the Black Stone, and the verses from Quran onto the card as shown. Cut the page with your greeting into two parts. Glue one of them at the bottom of the card, and the other on the right-hand side. Embellish the card with flowers and glitter. A three-dimensional greeting card can be an excellent present for your parents or other relatives.

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JUDGE. Defendant, did your parents have any inkling of your plans to travel to the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom*? [*Prohibited organization.]

MARYUSHKA. My parents were too busy living their own lives. My dear father had gone off to marry a young princess, and my dear mother didn’t waste her own time. I thought I’d start a new chapter and make my family history nice and solid, like a home economics manual. As for telling them, I didn’t tell them anything. In their minds, people in Thrice-Tenth Kingdom all ride donkeys around the desert and wipe their bottoms with burdock leaves. In reality, they have everything we have: movie studios, hackers, and innovative technologies. Ach, how can I even start to explain!..

JUDGE. I see. Can I ask an impertinent question?

MARYUSHKA. Go for it.

JUDGE. How can you fall in love with someone without even seeing their picture? Are you completely fucked in the head?!

MARYUSHKA. Who knows. St. Augustine used to say, “grande profundum est ipse homo.” Which means, the human being is but a great chasm, and it’s easier to count the hairs on his head than to name the movements of his heart.

ST. AUGUSTINE. Love isn’t a fire, but when it burns, it’s dire. Love is crass, you can fall for an ass.

JUDGE. Please sit down, witness. We’ll let you have your say in due course.

MARYUSHKA. Love shouldn’t be taken for granted. You don’t get a love voucher, redeemable for as much love as anyone else gets. You’ve got to grasp it! You’ve got to sacrifice! See, in the fairy tale Maryushka has to give away her silver embroidery frame, her golden needle, and even her spindle — just to have one look at Finist the Bright Falcon in the night. So I thought, if you don’t pay for it, this isn’t real love but only a cheap trifle. I thought I was fated for great happiness, if only I go and grab hold of it. I thought my love was so great, and the world itself so small, that it’s nothing at all to travel to Batman. And having to deal with wolves seemed just a temporary nuisance.

ST. AUGUSTINE. Reason is the heart’s fool. Love is the victory of imagination over reason. The heart has no master. Love is weird as a bird with a beard.

JUDGE. I said sit down, you! Defendant, why on earth did you bring him here?

MARYUSHKA. At home, everybody looked right past me, as if I were invisible. And he’d say to me, “My silly little girl,” and I would feel real again. Others only noticed the zits on my forehead, but he looked straight into my heart. Because he loved me.

ST. AUGUSTINE. Union in necessity, freedom in doubt, love in everything.

JUDGE. What sort of a blasted love is this?! Have you been born yesterday? Couldn’t you see they were recruiting you? There must have been a shitload of different people writing to you from that account, one after another. Don’t you know this?! They have a special form of marriage over there, it’s called “provisional marriage,” so they can fuck anybody they want to without offending against morality! And all those heifers who go there for the “sex jihad”? They spend two years there and fuck a hundred combatants — is that a sacred mission, too? Haven’t you heard about Sally-Anne Jones? You could have seen her on the news… Remember? That 45-year-old whore — she was a punk, a drug addict, used to live on welfare just outside of London… And next she married a 19-year-old Arab barely older than her own son, went to Syria with him, and took her child there, too, to make him chop down his own compatriots’ heads. And when he got killed, she started recruiting little idiots like you. That’s the White Widow for you. This is who you all are! Fucking romantics! Desert ships! You’re nobodies while you’re here, but there — you suddenly have power! You’re suddenly the elect!

MARYUSHKA. Well, there’s a bit of that, too.

JUDGE. Then cut this talk about love! You were just a horny, traumatized person. What sort of a life did you think you’d have there? Were you going to line yourself a feathered nest in that manure shed? And this wicked guy of yours would come home and cuddle with you, like a bunny? He’d drop his blood-stained boots and shag you, before he even showered? Was that what you wanted?


JUDGE. Or maybe it would’ve been like the fairy tale: Maryushka’s tear would drop onto Finist’s bare shoulder and he’d wake up at once, and look at her, and press her against his heart? He’d say, Can this be really you, my dear Maryushka! Did you really wear out three pairs of iron shoes, break three iron staves, make three iron hats threadbare, but find me at long last? Let us now go home together and live happily!

MARYUSHKA. And we’d sit down to a great wedding feast… Why not, it’s my personal happiness, I can imagine it any way I like. Grace is the conscious activity of a will —

ST. AUGUSTINE. — aimed towards salvation.

MARYUSHKA. As for my parents, you can tell them that تجريالرياحبمالاتشتهيالسفن . The wind never blows as the ship would like it to. It’s an Arabic proverb. Finist taught me.

A portrait of Svetlana Petriychuk, by a fellow artist

‘She didn’t kill Milady’ Dramatist Mikhail Durnenkov talks about his fellow playwright Svetlana Petriychuk and the real reason she’s now on trial

A portrait of Svetlana Petriychuk, by a fellow artist

‘She didn’t kill Milady’ Dramatist Mikhail Durnenkov talks about his fellow playwright Svetlana Petriychuk and the real reason she’s now on trial



JUDGE. In the name of the Russian Federation, Kurgan Municipal Court has considered the felony charges against [name redacted] and rules as follows:

As demonstrated during the trial hearing by witness [name redacted], she first met the defendant in 2012, when both of them worked selling groceries in the city of Kurgan, which they did until February 2013. In October 2013, she chanced to meet another acquaintance, who told her that the defendant, [name redacted], had moved to Turkey and later to Dubai. In February 2014, she learned that the defendant, [name redacted], was taking part in combat operations in the Syrian Arab Republic. She took interest in this news, since before then the defendant had planned to marry her. About a month later, he contacted her by Skype. During their conversation, she heard gunshots in the background. The connection was poor and she couldn’t see the defendant’s face. All she could really see were the outlines of his figure.

Later, she started searching the Internet for combat videos from Syrian Arab Republic. She also used the Internet to exchange information with women who were married to men taking part in combat against the government forces in the above-referenced state. A user with the handle “White Snow” confirmed to her that [name redacted] was taking part in combat against the government’s military, together with other persons from the former USSR. She also sent her a video showing the defendant firing a machine gun at other people, and a photo in which the defendant posed with a machine gun. In both of them, he appeared wearing clothes and a mask, so that the only visible part of him were his eyes. Nevertheless, she recognized him because she’d known him well. Later, in both March and April 2014, she spoke with the defendant by online audio call. He never disclosed his exact location but invited her to join him in Syria, by traveling through Turkey. He said that, if necessary, others would meet her and bring her to join him in the jihad, which she understood to be the war against the “infidels,” that is, the government forces. She realized the defendant was doing something unlawful and reported this to the Interior Ministry’s Directorate for the Kurgan region.

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JUDGE. Today she goes free, tomorrow she blows up the subway… Still, if just one person in this whole country would take her in marriage, we could let her out. How about deporting her and stripping her of citizenship? I sure would like to teach her a nice Orthodox Christian lesson, for bringing this shame upon our nation. There’s 4,000 comments here. Hey you, listen! What are you covering your ears for? Look at that, covering her ears with her hands. Is this what you wanted? To trample our ideals and the Russian woman’s primordial destiny? And we’d all just keep quiet?!

MARYUSHKA. Left, right, the soldiers march…

JUDGE. Alright. Defendant, tell us, did you try to get in touch with Finist after returning to Russia, while he remained in Thrice-Tenth Kingdom?

MARYUSHKA. My father picked me up in Batman and then brought me to Moscow, the paparazzi following like wolves. Then I was in mental hospital. I got haloperidol injections. After that, the air around me felt prickly like a desert storm, and I myself felt heavy like a ship stuck on a sandbar. I asked my dear father to lock up my gadgets in a safe. I started playing basketball and tutoring biology on Skype.

JUDGE. And what happened next?

MARYUSHKA. The marshmallows. Do I really have to tell you? It’s too personal. I decided to go on VK, just once, to make sure there weren’t any messages. I logged on, and there was Finist. He had camouflaged his message as spam, but I knew right away it was him, and that he worried about me. So I wrote and told him not to come back, because he’d get a long prison sentence and we wouldn’t be able to have a family, and I’d have no one to do laundry for. I told him everything, in detail.

JUDGE. And of course you got no answer. But then you tried to go back to Thrice-Tenth Kingdom. You escaped from your parents and took a taxi to Domodedovo Airport. This, after you’d been arrested, questioned, and nearly shot by the Kurdish patrol the first time around! Is this really what happened, you dimwit? Where’s your self-preservation instinct?

MARYUSHKA. St. Augustine said, “Love and do what you will. If you’re silent, be silent for love; if you speak, speak out of love; if you denounce, denounce with love; and if you spare, spare out of love.” And I — I went to Domodedovo out of love. I longed for him to press me to his heart. I longed to rewrite my family history, starting on a clean page. But they pinned me with Article 205, Part 5, “Participation in a terrorist organization,” and sentenced me to 4 1/2 years, though I’d never seen a live terrorist in my life. So there. I’m going to prison for mere intent.

JUDGE. And what did you expect? Intentions are far more serious than deeds. Deeds only hurt particular people, but intentions hurt our myth, so to speak. Ugh. I’m all sweaty now, thanks to you. How about a closing statement, then.

MARYUSHKA. No, thank you. I’ve already prayed. If you don’t mind, I’ll just play the oud.



Instruction № 6

How to wear a headscarf in a penal colony

When you arrive, you will receive a uniform. Usually, this is a gray or blue cloth skirt or pair of pants (depending on the colony), a button-down shirt, and a quilted outdoor jacket. Regardless of season, the shirt has to be worn over your bare body. Wearing makeup is permissible on holidays. An important element of the uniform is the headscarf, which has to be worn anytime you leave your cell. This is to make sure that inmates and prison guards don’t appear as equals. Put the headscarf over your head. The two ends should drape over your shoulders. Tie them under your chin. Open your mouth as if to say “O” to make sure it stays in place.

More experimental theater from Russia

Two plays during a pandemic A theater critic recounts an underground theatrical performance put on for a limited audience in Moscow

More experimental theater from Russia

Two plays during a pandemic A theater critic recounts an underground theatrical performance put on for a limited audience in Moscow

Translated by Anna Razumnaya

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