12-year-old Russian girl released after interrogation over anti-war drawing

Alexei Moskalyov and his daughter, Masha, pictured holding her anti-war drawing that got them both detained.
Alexei Moskalyov and his daughter, Masha, pictured holding her anti-war drawing that got them both detained. © Observers

The father of a 12-year old girl who drew an antiwar picture in a school in Russia is now under home arrest and is facing criminal charges, while his daughter has been released from state care, where she was interrogated about her opinions on Russian politics. They are among a growing number of children and parents who have been prosecuted for not supporting Russia’s “special military operation”.

Advertising

Alexei Moskalyov was detained on Wednesday 1 March, in Yefremov, a town in the Tula region, about 240 km outside Moscow, while his daughter, Masha, was sent into an orphanage, according to OVD-Info, a human rights organisation that has been following their case. The father and daughter have been repeatedly detained, interrogated and - in Alexei’s case - beaten, since April 2022, when Masha drew an anti-war drawing at school. The drawing showed rockets being fired at a Ukrainian family. The school contacted the police to tell them about the drawing, which drew attention to anti-war statements that her father, Alexei, had posted on social media.

On one occasion in December, Masha was interrogated for several hours alone, without her father or a lawyer present, according to OVD-Info. A month later, the father was brutally beaten and interrogated, while Masha was taken into state care for a day. They moved cities for their safety, but the police eventually found them on Wednesday 1 March. 

Shortly before she was detained that same day, Masha told OVD-Info: “The police came and took my dad. [They told me] that they would call child protection services soon”.

The detention of the Moskalyovs on Wednesday 1 March coincided with new legislation approved by Russian lawmakers to toughen punishments for anyone deemed to have “discredited” the Russian army. Those who are found guilty of doing so could risk up to 15 years in prison. The amendments are set for a final reading and vote in mid-March. 

Russia has clamped down on dissent and detained almost 20,000 people since its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and more than 400 people have been convicted or charged for anti-war activities, according to OVD-Info.

“Alexei was beaten and detained in prison, while Masha was taken to an orphanage”

Mariya Kuznetsova, is a spokesperson for OVD-Info, which has been providing legal support to the Moskalyovs. She talked us through what happened. 

The ordeal began in April 2022, when Masha’s art teacher at school asked the students to draw pictures in support of the Russian troops in Ukraine. Masha drew a picture that depicted rockets being fired at a family standing under a Ukrainian flag and another that said “Glory to Ukraine!”. The teacher immediately ran to the principal, who called the police. When they arrived, they interrogated the girl and threatened the father. 

A few weeks later, Russia’s FSB [Russia’s main security service] agents went to Masha’s school to further interrogate her. That’s when Alexei first contacted us. He told us the police were threatening to take his daughter away from him. He was really scared and didn’t know what else to do. 

The drawing was the main trigger that drew police attention to the father and anti-war statements he had posted on Odnoklassniki [a Russian social network]. He was charged for “public actions aimed at discrediting the Russian Armed Forces”. 

Since then, they have been repeatedly arrested, while security agents have regularly raided the Moskalyovs’ home and stolen financial savings. 

On Wednesday 1 March, Alexei was once again beaten and detained in prison, while Masha was taken to an orphanage, where she was once again interrogated. Masha’s mother isn’t present in her life, so if anything happens to her father, her care falls to the state. 

Yesterday [Thursday] night, they were released, but Alexei is now under house arrest. He has a bracelet on to track his location and he’s not allowed to leave the house. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a police car waiting outside his home to check on him. If he ever leaves the house, he will be arrested and sent to jail for up to three years. 

He therefore can’t work and is no longer able to support them. It’s a lot of responsibility for Masha. She’s only 12 years old and she’s the one who has to do the grocery shopping, get medicine if they need any - it’s a lot to take on at such a young age. It’s not safe for Masha to go to school, because the school was the one who called the police in the first place. Every time the word ‘school’ is mentioned, Masha starts having panic attacks. 

 

“The Moskalyov case is part of a much larger and terrifying trend”

Masha and Alexei’s case is far from being an isolated one. Kuznetsova told us that eight minors are currently being criminally prosecuted in Russia for their anti-war positions, while more than 500 minors have been detained in anti-war protests since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In many cases, the parents are also prosecuted for their children’s anti-war acts. Meanwhile, at least 19 teachers who expressed anti war sentiments have been fired, according to OVD-Info.

The Moskalyov case is part of a much larger and terrifying trend. The Russian government knows that minors are usually those who are the most opposed to the war. They have more access to the internet, they watch less Russian TV and overall, they’re much more progressive. 

In one case, an 11-year-old boy wrote an anti-war message to a Russian soldier in Ukraine as part of a school exercise. The children were supposed to write supportive messages to the soldiers, but he wrote “Please go back home. Don’t kill people who are peaceful”. The children were told that no one would read the letters apart from the soldiers, but shortly afterwards, the police arrived at the school and interrogated the boy. 

In another, a 10-year-old girl posted a survey in a class WhatsApp group asking her fellow students what side of the war they were on: “Putin killing Ukrainians” or “Peace”.  The school principal reported the girl to the authorities and she was later taken to a police station. Her mother was found guilty of improper performance of parental duties.