Alexei Moskalyov is a single dad for his 12-year-old daughter Masha. One day in an art class Masha drew a picture of Russian and Ukrainian flags together with signs «No To War» and «Glory to Ukraine».
In retaliation, Masha was interrogated and taken to an orphanage, her father — beaten and detained, and the family’s cash savings — stolen.
This article was prepared in cooperation with «Spectr» online magazine.
«Alexei Vladimirovich, FSB officers have taken your daughters»
Very little is known about school № 9 in the small town of Yefremov, in the Tula region — in European Russia, not far from Moscow. On the school website, right before photos of teachers, there is a big «Heroes of the Special Military Operation» pop up, and right after that — a banner of the All-Russia People’s Front with the slogan «Support our boys at the frontlines!». The school has cadet classes with police training. There are several videos of 1st and 5th-grade students taking their oath.
In uniform, both freshers and older kids line up on command and swear to «fearlessly and selflessly prepare themselves for service to the Motherland».
On December 13, 2022, the school held a «grand event in support of the special military operation» named «For peace, For Russia, For the President» (Russian: Zа мир, Zа Россию, Zа президента, in reference to the Z that came to symbolise the invasion of Ukraine). Town police chief, Andrei Nikolaevich Aksyonov, was present as a guest of honour.
Before the spring of 2022, Masha Moskaleva was an ordinary 12-year-old 6th-grader. Since the girl was three, her mother has been living in another city. Her father, Alexei, is a single dad. The fifty-four-year-old man was making money by breeding pet birds and had a little farm.
In April 2022, the art class teacher asked the students to draw pictures in support of the Russian troops in Ukraine. Masha drew the Russian and Ukrainian flags with a «No To War» sign on the first flag, and «Glory to Ukraine» on the second. A woman with a child stands in the middle, missiles flying in their direction from the Russian side.
‘What a mess started after that! ’ says Alexei, ‘The teacher ran to the principal, who called the police. The art teacher had been threatening my daughter, so when police came and started asking students’ names and surnames, Masha understood everything.
She managed to slip away by giving someone else’s name. She came running home, out of breath, saying that she was nearly arrested for her art. Masha was scared, so I promised her to come to school the next day to wait for her till the end of classes.
According to Alexei, he came to the school on the next day as promised, and spent about two hours there. The principal walked out into the hall, saw him, and called the police right away. This time police came together with child protection officers. Masha was withdrawn from class and taken to the hall, her drawing was demonstrated to Alexei.
‘Such a shame when they take the child from class and lead her down the hall like a prisoner! ’ says Alexei angrily. ‘They started to say: ‘See, this is what you’ve been teaching your kid! Look what she has drawn! ’ I said: ‘What’s so special about this? She stands against war, against bloodshed. What’s wrong with that? ’. They compiled a report and called teachers as witnesses to sign it. The students watched us through the windows as we were led to the police car, like some terrorists. We were brought to the police chief, Andrei Aksyonov. He lectured me on my ‘poor parenting’.
Andrei Aksyonov could give only a short comment to OVD-Info: ‘If you are defending Moskalev’s interests, you shouldn’t be. The man lives in the wrong context. This person does not live in the sphere of public activity, quite the opposite, he contradicts the sphere of public activity. I can’t add anything more to that.’
On the day Alexei was interrogated by the police chief, Masha was waiting for him in another room of the police department. The police found comments in support of Ukraine and pictures with caricatures of Vladimir Putin on Alexei’s social media.
A protocol was drawn up for Moskalev under the article «public actions aimed at discrediting the Russian Armed Forces» (part 1 of Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offences Code). The trial took place on the same day. Alexei was fined 32 thousand rubles (US$425) for his comment in «Odnoklassniki» social network: «The Russian Military [are the] rapists are among us».
«I am afraid to go to school»
‘We left the court in the evening, says Alexei, ‘my daughter was hungry and in tears, she was shaking.’ I said to her ’Little Masha, calm down. The trial is over, I’ve been fined, they’ll leave us alone now. It’s all over.’ She said: ’I’m afraid to go to school.’ But I convinced her that there was nothing to worry about.’
The next day Masha went to class, and soon her father received a phone call: ‘Alexei Vladimirovich, you need to come to school urgently, FSB (Federal Security Service) have taken your daughter.’
‘I got dressed, rushed there, ’ Alexei says, trembling, ’FSB officers met me there. I asked: «Where is my daughter?» They told me that she was in the next room, having a talk. For three and a half hours they told me that I was providing inappropriate parenting for my child: they said she’d be taken away from me and I’d be put in jail. They suggested that Masha should lead some youth team in support of the Russian troops, but I politely refused — she has a lot of classes and extracurricular activities, no time to spare.’
After that, Masha couldn’t come to school anymore: Alexei says that when she talked about school, she got panic attacks and begged him not to take her there again.
The next meeting with the Federal Security Service took place on New Year’s Eve.
The school principal Larisa Trofimova denies that someone called the police because of a schoolgirl’s drawing.
‘Tell me, do you believe that someone would call the police because of a drawing? It’s impossible, ’ she said, ‘It’s nonsense to say such a things about the school. It’s a crime and a blow to the teacher’s authority. She is 87 years old. (The principal is referring to Nina Grigorievna, the arts teacher who called the police; the reporter could not reach her.) This is a violation of all human norms. This poor, unfortunate child is being dragged into an intrigue, and I don’t understand what kind, and why. Everyone has known everything about Alexei Moskalyov for a long time already. The FSB are dealing with him, and I cannot give any comments. I think it’s wrong to shift the blame onto the school. The girl hasn’t attended school for almost a year, so there can’t be any questions.’
The principal denied the words of Alexei. She says that it is ‘provocative claims that are not true’:
‘Our school has not drawn any pictures, and if we did draw something, only the teacher, the class and Masha would know. Let’s not continue this discussion any further ’.
After that Larisa Alexandrovna hung up. It was impossible to contact her again in order to hear her opinion on what happened afterwards.
We could not contact Masha’s homeroom teacher Ekaterina Ovsyannikova either — she did not respond to OVD-Info’s messages.
According to Moskalev, a man, who introduced himself as an administration official of the town of Yefremov, called him a week before the New Year’s eve. He said that they prepared a gift for Masha. This alarmed Alexei because in 13 years the town administration had never given Masha presents. He did not go anywhere.
‘On the morning of 30th of December I got a phone call at half past six. Someone muttered something into the phone.’ says Alexei. ‘I was getting ready for work. I looked out of the window and I was stupefied. There were three police cars around the house, two more cars at the side, an MES (Ministry of Emergency Situations) car and a fire truck a little further. About twelve people from the Federal Security Service and some policemen got out of the cars and headed for our entrance. They had an angle grinder. I immediately understood that they were here for us’.
Alexei recalls that he did not open the door for the security forces at first, but when they started sawing down the door, he had to let them in. He was shown a search warrant. Alexei calls the search «a looting». The FSB officer took things from cabinets and threw them on the floor, trampled clothes, pulled out cables, tore paintings from the walls, flipped furniture.
They found the family’s cash stash — 125 000 rubles (US$ 1 661) and US$ 3 150. Moskalev says their entire savings. He used to do business until the 2000s, then he was breeding pet birds. The intruders stole the money, Alexei’s documents and electronics: computer, mobile phones, even the old push-button phones. They took a picture of Masha’s drawing, which had the ‘Glory to Ukraine! ’ inscription on it.
After the search the father was taken to the Federal Security Service, the daughter — to a ‘social institution’ (orphanage). Alexei recalls questions, such as ‘Where did you get dollars? Who is your master? Who are you working for? ’. They initiated a criminal case (part 1, article 280.3 of Criminal Code) for a repeated ‘discrediting the military’ against him. Moskalev recalls that at the interrogation the officers ‘hit [his] head against the wall and the floor’.
‘In the afternoon they locked me in a room for two and a half hours, turned on the Russian national anthem on full volume and left. It was so loud the walls were shaking. Then I got heart pain. They got scared that I could die, so they called me an ambulance. Doctors measured my blood pressure, gave me two pills and an injection, and left. After that [the Federal Security Service officers] showed me my daughter’s social media comments. Her comment was under a post ‘our guys die, without regret for their lives’. Masha replied ‘Which amount of money do they die for? 200 000 rubles (US$2 666) a month or a little bit more? ’’
Alexei Moskalev’s lawyer is Vladimir Bilienko from OVD-Info. He said that he found out from the investigative committee that this case was initiated by FSB and then it was «pushed down» to the police. It appears that FSB had information about Aleksei’s social media posts.
The lawyer explains that they «worked this information through the police and prompt case filing. they immediately conducted the search, so they could take the computer that was allegedly used to share those posts. Now the FSB’s job is done, they reported on the implementation of operational materials, they opened the case, the man is in custody. They are not interested in what’s going to happen next. After the police are done with their part, they hand it over to the Investigative Committee for further investigation. If the Committee needs anything, they may engage the police and the FSB again.
It is stated in the criminal case against him that he was previously brought to [administrative] responsibility and now he is at fault by commenting on the so-called «special operation» again. If the man has been charged under this article during a twelve month period and writes something like this again, they change the administrative case to a criminal one. — says Bilienko — this means a person suffers for collecting information from sources beyond the Ministry of Defense briefings and calling a spade a spade.»
Alexei was released only at 9 pm. He was handed a call-up paper that prescribed him to visit the police station again on 9th of January. They returned his passport and promised to return all other things, including his daughter’s birth certificate, tomorrow at 11 am and go together to pick up Masha right after.
The next morning nobody came. Alexei picked up Masha from the orphanage by himself, she was released to him, because she was registered in his passport. The girl said she was treated well and even got a New Year’s present.
«We aren’t criminals, we didn’t kill anybody»
Alexei had a small zoo: peacocks, pheasants, wild ducks, turkeys and chickens. He had to give them all away in a rush as he and Masha left Yefremov.
«I’m trying to distract Masha. She’s now spending time with the children of activists who are supporting us. They’re making friends, playing, and visiting a horse farm. Yesterday I asked her to go to a local culture centre and maybe sign up for some activities. We aren’t criminals, we didn’t attack, stab or kill anybody».
«Masha misses animals and wants to come back home. All of this is really difficult for us» — says the father.
Alexei is facing up to 3 years of prison. If the court will sentence him to imprisonment, Alexei can plead Article 82 of the Criminal Code and count on reprieve until Masha is 14 years old.
«But if the law enforcement officers get stubborn (and our judicial system is frequently led by them), the man may be arrested and the girl sent to an orphanage.» — adds the lawyer.
This was not the first time since the beginning of the war that a schoolkid was prosecuted for not supporting the «special military operation». According to our data, eight of the criminally prosecuted for anti-war views in 2022 were underage at the time of the case initiation. However there is no clear statistics on bullying and harassment of schoolchildren for not agreeing with the government’s political agenda.
Police came to Kirill, a sixth grader from Moscow, in March last year. According to the boy, on the 4th of March during a history lesson, the teacher said that «nationalism is thriving among Ukranians, from year one, their textbooks say that Ukraine is a superpower…». Kirill asked why did «Putin start the war» and when was it going to end.
After class the boy exclaimed «Glory to Ukraine!» in the school hallway. Kirill’s mother was summoned to the school for a conversation with juvenile probation officers. When Kirill was home alone, police officers knocked on his door, but the boy didn’t answer. Then they cut off electricity in the apartment and left a summons «for questioning» under their door.
In October, fifth grader Varya Zholiker and her mother were taken to a police station in Moscow because of an avatar depicting «St Javelin». The commission on juvenile affairs put the family on their watch list. Elena Zholiker, Varya’s mum, was found guilty of improper performance of parental duties. Apart from missing «the important conversations» (when teachers talk about patriotism, family values etc.) and a pro-Ukraine profile picture, the commission had problems with a poll in a classmate chat allegedly posted by Varya, entitled «Which side are you on?». The poll provided options of «Putin killing Ukrainians» and «Peace». Elena denied that her daughter posted this poll. It turned out that it was the school principal who reported the girl to the authorities.
During the same month Timofey from Ekaterinburg was bullied for an anti-war letter. At a Russian language lesson the teacher gave kids an assignment to write a «letter to a soldier» that would be sent to the frontline. The teacher assured the students that no one would read those at school. «I started writing outside of the box, saying that you shouldn’t kill people in a foreign land. It is better to die than to live like this», said Timofey who is the son of Ekaterinburg-based activist Nadezhda Saifutdinova. When the teacher asked why he wrote «no war» in the letter, the student explained it was his opinion. «She said this was „only your opinion“ and no one asked for it», the boy added.
In May in one of Dagestan schools a girl, who was about to graduate, said: «Freedom for Ukraine! Putin is the devil!» Someone recorded this on their phone and the video went viral on social media. The girl recalls that no one at school supported her. She had to apologise on camera. Now she is on the police watch list.
Text written by Maria-Maya Govzman