Masha Moskaleva, a 13-year-old girl, has been thrown into a «rehab centre», her dad — beaten and jailed for 2 years, and their family savings — stolen. All this for drawing an anti-war painting in her art class
The Moskalevs are from Yefremov, a small town in Russia. Alexei Moskalev, Masha’s dad, is a single father. He owns a business selling pet birds. Both him and his daughter oppose the invasion of Ukraine. In April last year, their quiet life changed in an instant. Masha drew the fateful drawing in her school’s art class. Immediately, the teacher called the police on Masha. Since then, the family’s life has been turned into hell by the authorities.
For months, the regime’s forces harassed the family. A week before New Year’s Eve, Alexei got a call from the authorities. «We got a New Year’s gift for Masha», a man on the phone said. On the morning of 30th of December at 6 AM, law enforcement barged into the family’s apartment, crushing everything in their wake, and stealing the family’s cash savings and other valuables.
They opened a criminal case against Alexei and tortured him during an investigation, hitting his head against the walls and the floor.
Masha and Alexei moved to another city after that but the regime tracked them down. They put Alexei under house arrest. Masha was put into an orphanage where she is kept incommunicado.
On March 28 he was sentenced to two years in prison. Alexei escaped the day before. Two days later he was detained in Minsk, Belarus. Masha was in a state-run «rehabilitation centre» at that time. Now she will be turned over to social services. You can read more about the case here.
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This case is part of a larger horrifying trend. As a part of a wider wartime crackdown the regime routinely persecutes anti-war minors and their families, while squeezing Russian youth into a heavily militarized culture. We have covered such cases before. Last year, 10-year-old Varya was also pulled from school and interrogated for a pro-Ukrainian profile picture on her social media and making anti-war statements in a school chat. A third-grader from Zvenigorod was called to the police for writing the slogan «Glory to Ukraine» in a school chat. In Moscow, a minor expressed his position on the war with Ukraine to a teacher. Later, he was approached by police officers who came to his house and turned off his electricity. In Yekaterinburg, a fifth-grader was publicly scolded for writing in a letter to a soldier asking him not to kill people and to come home. Two high-school students of the HSE Lyceum in Moscow were harassed by the public for playing the Ukrainian anthem and refusing to stand during the Russian national anthem at the school’s propaganda lesson. A 16-year-old while talking in school corridors said that if he was conscripted, he would fight on Ukraine’s side — he was fined.
According to our data, at least 544 minors were detained in anti-war protests in the past year. Seven minors are currently being criminally prosecuted for their anti-war positions. At least 19 anti-war teachers were fired. Many minors have been fined under the administrative «discreditation» provision. In particular, minors are targeted for sharing posts or comments about anti-war rallies, spreading leaflets against mobilization and the war, holding solo demonstrations, expressing anti-war views during school events, demonstrating anti-war peace of clothing, and making anti-war inscriptions. There are also minors persecuted under criminal code for direct action activism. On November 28th, 2022, 15 and 16-year-olds were sentenced to a year and a half of suspended sentence with a two-year probationary period for allegedly planning to burn down a military recruitment office. Three 14-year-olds were detained because they, allegedly, damaged the railway tracks in the Moscow region.
While participation in «non-approved» protests is dangerous for everyone, Russian minors are more vulnerable to pressure than others because of their dependence on the education system and their families.
The Russian law system marginalizes those minors who want to take part in rallies by criminalizing some forms of political interactions between opposition activists and underage people.
The Kremlin also makes attempts to prevent young people from participating in peaceful protests through the media, extrajudicial pressure and propaganda. State propaganda condemns any «involvement» of minors in «unauthorized» protests.
In Russia, there are no policies in place to prevent officials from pressuring minors who participated in unauthorized protests. Minors also have no effective legal mechanism for self-representation in court. That hinders the child’s access to justice.
Through attacks on schools, children and parents, the Kremlin aims to obliterate and terrify Russian civil society. Despite that, Russian activists, including children and parents, continue to stand up against the war. You can read more on the resistance and repressions in Russia in our annual wartime repressions report (Twitter breakdowns 1, 2 and 3 and full report).
Attention to this case is extremely important. A child has been stolen from her father. Global attention and pressure could help reunite the family.
5 May, 2023
Alexei Moskalev is being transferred to the Tula region. Most likely, he will be placed in pre-trial detention centre No. 1 in Tula.
Two days ago, OVD-Info lawyer Vladimir Bilienko met with his client in Smolensk for the first time since the end of March. Before that, Alexei’s whereabouts had been unknown for over a month.
3 May, 2023
Alexei Moskalev was found in Smolensk pre-trial detention centre 1. His whereabouts have been unknown since the end of March.
Vladimir Bilienko, an OVD-Info affiliate lawyer, meets with Alexei in the pre-trial detention centre. Alexei describes how his detention in Belarus took place at the end of March. He says he did not call anyone on the phone before that. He didn’t even have his cell phone with him.
Alexei was detained on March 30th in the town of Smolevichy by eight members of the local security services. During the detention he was severely beaten and kicked in the chest and back, and he received several blows to the head, including a blow to the wall with his head. Then, according to Alexei, they put handcuffs on him and squeezed his hands tightly, cutting off circulation. He was kept like that for about half an hour. Alexei still cannot feel his thumbs on both hands because of the handcuffs.
Then Alexei was taken to the TDC. There, the officers registered his injuries. However, Alexei signed a document stating that he had no claims against the law enforcers who beat him. He was afraid that they could «get back at him. Alexei spent about three days in the TDC. He says the detention conditions there were bad: there were 12 people in the cell, after getting up he had to roll down the mattress and was not allowed to stay on the bunks, not even to sit on them.
After that Alexei was transferred to Zhodino pre-trial detention centre — a centre made infamous by the rampant torture and abuse that Lukshenka’s forces carried out there during the 2020 crackdown. He was kept there for about a week. Then Alexei was extradited to Russia.
He was taken out of Belarus by people in plain clothes, in a car without any governmental marking. Once in Russia, he was taken to a temporary detention facility in Smolensk for two days. Later, he was transferred to a pre-trial detention facility, where he underwent a 17-day quarantine. At some point, another man was put in his cell. This person made a mess in the cell, broke the window there, and resorted to violence against Alexei: he choked the dissident and hit his head against the wall. Alexei is certain that the assaulter was intentionally placed there. Furthermore, the man aso talked about joining the PMC Wagner and how they need «to go there and whack khokhols [a slur against Ukrainians]».
Alexei handed his lawyer a letter for all those following his family’s story. «That is to my supporters, activists, all those not indifferent, who are concerned about the situation happening to me and my most beloved and marvellous daughter. I thank you all so much! You are the only hope for Russia and I bow down before you!» — says Alexei in the letter.
May 2, 2023
The local authorities in Efremov have refused to approve the visitation schedule for Olga Podolskaya, a local deputy. The official reason is that the application does not comply with the requirements. Podolskaya claims that she had previously obtained approval for visits using the same application.
Olga Podolskaya was among the supporters of the Moskalev family. She live-streamed the court hearings on Alexei’s case and made attempts to visit Masha at the rehabilitation facility.
April 24, 2023
OVD-Info affiliate lawyers have submitted a complaint to the UN Working Group. According to the document, Moskalev’s detention is deemed arbitrary and in violation of several human rights, including the absence of a legal basis for detention, infringement of freedom of expression and fair trial rights, as well as discrimination based on political views.
The complaint also alleges that Moskalev’s subsequent detention in Belarus and extradition to Russia were also arbitrary and contravened international law, as well as the obligations of both countries regarding bans on extraordinary rendition and covert detention.
Such a complaint will help not only Alexei — if the Working Group finds his detention unlawful, others prosecuted under Article 280.3 (discrediting the Russian army) can use this position in their legal proceedings. Moreover, such complaints help draw international attention to the repressions in Russia — there are currently 65 people, in addition to Moskalev, being prosecuted under Article 280.3, and a total of 540 people are already involved in the anti-war case.
April 21, 2023
The court dismissed the parental restraint case against the parents of Masha Moskaleva. According to lawyer Vladimir Bilienko, who cooperates with OVD-Info, the retention of parental rights for Alexei Moskalev is an important moral victory. The defence will have an opportunity to claim in court that he has an underage daughter in his custody. In addition, the lawyer thanked «all the caring people who have been worried about this family».
April 19, 2023
The Commission on Juvenile Affairs (KDN) of the town of Efremov in the Tula region withdraws the lawsuit for restricting the parental rights of Masha Moskaleva’s parents. The court will consider the motion to dismiss the case on April 20.
«The main task of the child welfare authorities and the Commission on Juvenile Affairs was to ensure that Masha’s interests were protected, first and foremost — her rights to education. All this time we have worked with Masha’s relatives, especially her mother. As a result, her mother is now with Masha. They have good relationships. Masha has started studying again. Thus, as of today, the reasons that were stated in the lawsuit for restricting the parents’ rights have been settled», says Svetlana Davydova, the Commission’s chairwoman’s statement.
Previously, she claimed that the Moskalev family had been on a «preventive registry of families in a socially dangerous situation» since May 2022. She attributed this to the fact that Alexei had been twice brought to administrative liability. In addition, he allegedly made no attempts to return his daughter to school. Masha’s mother meanwhile did not communicate with her for more than seven years.
April 12, 2023
Alexei Moskalev has been extradited from Belarus to Russia. OVD-Info was informed of this by a local human rights activist who tried to visit Alexei in prison № 8 in Zhodino, a town near Minsk.
When speaking with members of OVD-Info, a representative of the prison refused to provide any information about Alexei’s residence. He explained that, to get this information, one needs to visit a prison personally and present a passport.
The OVD-Info affiliate lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko does not know about extradiction of his defendant as he was not informed about it. The lawyer submitted a declaration to the pre-trial detention facility #1 of the Tula region and requested to be notified if Moskalev is put there.
UPD 14:43 Moreover, Alexei Moskalev’s lawyers managed to familiarise themselves with the text of the sentence.
This document states that Alexei was sentenced to administrative penalty under Pt. 1 of Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of Russia (‘discrediting the Russian army’) in April 2022 because of his post in ‘Odnoklassniki’ social network. In June, new ‘discrediting’ posts appeared on Alexei’s personal page again. This served as a reason to initiate a criminal case under Pt. 1 of Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code of Russia (public actions discrediting the use of military forces). This article prescribes a penalty ranging from a fine of 100 000 rubles (US$ 1250) to five years of detention.
Moskalev confirmed that it was indeed his personal page in the popular ‘Odnoklassniki’ social media platform referenced for this criminal case but refused to admit he authored the posts in question. He stated that his page had been hacked several times. Moreover, in July 2022 he rented his apartment to some people who might have used his computer.
As arguments of the prosecution, the sentence paper lists a portrait of Boris Nemtsov which Moskalev used as an avatar in social network as well as two sheets of paper with slogan ‘Slava Ukraini’ (Glory to Ukraine) and a souvenir magnet with the same inscription. Nemtsov was a prominent dissident politician who was murdered in front of the Kremlin.
This document also mentions that in the 1980s and the early 2000s Moskalev was prosecuted under different articles of the Criminal Codes of the Russian Federation and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. He was condemned to a suspended sentence but it did not influence the severity of the verdict. The latter stated that Moskalev had no previous convictions.
The court admitted that taking care of a minor was a mitigating circumstance. As an aggravating factor, the court claimed that this crime was committed «in conditions of military actions connected with the „special military operation“ conducted by the Military Forces of the Russian Federation». Otherwise stated, the necessity of real, not suspended, sentence is justified by the fact of «special military operation» itself rather than previous criminal records which are referred to as expunged.
OVD-Info affiliate lawyer Vladimir Bilienko, who is representing Moskalyov, has already filed an appeal.
April 6, 2023
A hearing on Alexei Moskalev’s parental rights has been scheduled in the Tula region’s inter-district court. The hearing has been moved to April 20th. The court claims that they have no knowledge of Moskalev’s location. On March 30, he was disappeared from the public eye after being detained in Minsk. The court requested that the Federal Penitentiary Service locate Moskalev and ensure that he participates in the trial.
Earlier, OVD-Info lawyer Vladimir Bilienko handed out a note from Alexei Moskalev to human rights activists. Alexei wrote it before the verdict was announced and asked to give it to his daughter. Bilienko intended to give the note to Masha at the 6 April court hearing on parental rights restrictions, but the judge refused to allow his plea to transmit the letter to Alexei’s daughter.
«Little Masha, this is your father writing to you. please hold on, many people are now thinking about how to help you. Listen to my lawyer Vladimir Vladimirovich. There are a lot of people dealing with our issue right now. Please agree if any of our relatives want to take custody of you; it’s better than being in an orphanage. A lawyer will advise you. If they bring you to the court, ask for dad, ask the judge very persistently. Your dad», — Alexei’s letter to Masha.
Bilienko did not give this note to the director of the rehabilitation centre where Masha was staying because he was unsure whether they will inform her about it and hand the letter to her. «If the administration needed to keep her in an information vacuum, the letter could have disrupted all their plans», says the defender about the situation with the note.
OVD-Info believes that when Moskalev wrote the letter, he had no idea Masha’s mother might show up intending to get her daughter. She had taken her from the orphanage the day before.
April 5, 2023
Alexei Moskalev was disappeared on 30 March after being detained in Minsk.
«He was pulled out and taken away in an unknown direction», says Dmitri Zakhvatov, a lawyer who kept in touch with him. He hasn’t heard anything regarding Moskalyov’s whereabouts since then. Vladimir Bilienko, OVD-Info affiliate lawyer, is also unaware of his client’s location.
The defender also does not know about the whereabouts of Moskalev’s daughter. During his last visit to the rehabilitation centre, he was not allowed to meet with her. It was explained that Masha was allegedly at a culinary competition field trip.
Later it became known that Masha was eventually given to her mother Olga Sitchikhina. This was told by the Children’s Rights Сommissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. Previously, she claimed that this would not happen, and they are looking for a foster family for the girl.
The Children’s Rights Сommissioner notes that if at first, Masha did not want to go to her mother, later she changed her mind. «Today, during a conversation with my mother, I learned the details about her life, and making a direct impression, I thought: what if a miracle is really possible. Despite all the circumstances of the past. At least, two of them have the right to do so», adds Lvova-Belova. Sitchikhina has already taken Masha from the rehabilitation centre.
April 4, 2023
At last, the authorities decided not to give Masha to her mother. She will be looking for a foster family for temporary guardianship. This was stated by the Children’s Rights Сommissioner Maria Lvova-Belova (International Criminal Court has a war crimes arrest warrant on her). Earlier, she also reported that Masha’s mother herself filed an application, asking that her daughter be taken to a rehabilitation centre.
March 31, 2023
Olga Sitchikhina, Masha’s mother, says she is going to pick her up from the rehabilitation centre. She has been there since 28 March, when Alexei was detained for repeatedly discrediting the Russian army (part 1 of article 280.3 of the Criminal Code).
Alexei alone has been taking care of Masha since she was three years old. He has his own small business of breeding pet birds. Masha’s mother lives with her husband and 17-year-old daughter in the Tambov region, works as a security guard, and travels to work in Moscow.
The woman says she is going to give up shift work. Instead, she will take care of her family and home. «My husband and brother will work, no one will sit without money. I have a large garden: I know that in winter there will be preserves and meat. In the village, we have no work as such, and the city is 25 kilometres from us. Buses run every two days, so I can’t find work in the city», Sitchikhina notes.
According to a telegram-channel «Можем объяснить» («Can explain»), Masha’s mother actually experiences financial difficulties regularly. It follows from a bailiffs’ database that some of Sitchikhina debts have been left unpaid for years. In 5 years, bailiffs instituted several enforcement proceedings amounting to almost 300 thousand rubles in total. One of Sitchikhina’s oldest debts that she had for more than two years was paid-off by her right before she promised to take the daughter from the rehabilitation centre.
According to her, Tambov child protective services and officials already inspected her house. They, as well as the head of the rehabilitation centre where Masha is currently held, approved of the living conditions that the Sitchikhina’s family can offer. Prior to that, the Commission on Minors’ Affairs pointed out that the contact between Masha and her mother is lost. The Commissions’ verdict (which is at the disposal of OVD-Info) states that Sitchikhina was informed that her daughter is in the rehabilitation centre, yet she «did not show any desire to visit the daughter, thereby avoiding raising her». The fact that initially the woman didn’t want to take Masha home is confirmed by a member of Efremov municipal council, Olga Podolskaya. Moreover, it was Sitchikhina who initiated the placement of Masha into the rehabilitation centre.
Sitchikhina claims that the reason why her relationships with Masha didn’t work out is that Alexei «kicked her out of the flat and forbade to communicate with her daughter». She claims that she had to kidnap her older daughter, who is from another marriage, while she was in school and that’s why she is living with her now. «TV Rain» found out that Sitchikhina has yet another child — an older son. He is 24 years old now. He lives in Kazakhstan with his paternal grandmother. Sitchikhina left him when he was a teenager.
According to the woman, she made attempts to get in touch with the daughter, but Moskalev never passed the phone to Masha. «I used to choose the time when she was alone and called her, we messaged each other on „VKontakte“. [The last time] I saw her was when she was in her second grade, I guess. We had a walk and picked berries while I was in Efremov, and then I left», the woman remembers.
Sitchikhina promises that she won’t get in the way of Masha talking to her dad. She is even ready to bring the girl to visit him in the colony. Sitchikhina will also not stop Masha if the girl decides to live with her dad once he’s out of jail. However, she does admit that she doesn’t understand «what Moskalev has been teaching Masha». Personally, Sitchikhina doesn’t involve herself in politics and hopes to «discourage [Masha] from her political activities, anti-propaganda, and drawings».
Vladimir Bilienko, the lawyer representing Moskalev’s interests in court, considers Masha’s mother’s statement as «orchestrated by the state authorities». «Initially, the city administration of Efremov had filed a lawsuit, seeking to restrict the mother’s parental rights over Masha. But then, suddenly, they paid her a visit to assess her living conditions and seemed very satisfied. Essentially, the city administration changed its tune on the spot. I think that someone at the Tula regional administration level had decided that it would be wrong to separate Masha from both parents since separating the girl from her father alone is already a crime, factually speaking. So, they found a substitute for the loving and caring father in the form of the mother, who hadn’t shown any interest in her daughter or met with her for seven years», notes the attorney. «She claims that the father would say bad things about her to Masha, but if she had been genuinely interested in communicating with her daughter, she could have gone to court, and the court would have been on her side since she still has parental rights».
Bilienko is confident that replacing the father with the mother is not an equivalent substitution, as Masha has not seen Sitchikhina in a long time and practically doesn’t remember her. They want to send her to a foreign family, to a new environment — she grew up in the city and is not accustomed to rural life. «One can imagine her as a slave on a plantation», the defender adds.
The defender is also concerned about Sitchikhina’s statement that she would attempt to change her daughter’s beliefs. «Naturally, this will be a shock for the girl. After freeing herself from the overseers at school, who are referred to as educators, she will now be placed under the supervision of her mother. Therefore, I believe that entrusting Masha to such a mother is almost a crime against the girl. It is orchestrated by the authorities, who are not pursuing the girl’s interests but rather the interests of the administration. In this way, they claim to show care for Masha by offering her a substitute instead of a real family», the lawyer asserts.
March 30, 2023
Alexei Moskalev is detained in Minsk, presumably, allegedly after he turned on his mobile phone. The information about his arrest is indirectly confirmed by lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov, who maintained contact with Moskalev after his escape. «I don’t have any contact with Alexei at the moment. He is not answering phone calls. I cannot confirm it with certainty, but based on circumstantial evidence gathered, it seems to be the case [that Alexei is arrested]. Very sad...» he wrote in his Telegram channel.
March 28, 2023
The court sentences Moskalev to two years in prison while Alexei is absent from the hearing. The court’s press service claims he had escaped from house arrest. Lawyer Vladimir Bilienko cannot confirm the information as he himself learned about it only in court.
Throughout this time, Masha continues to be held at the juvenile rehabilitation centre. A letter with her drawings is shared with Bilienko who brings it to the court hearing. In the letter, Masha calls Alexei «my hero» and asks him not to give up. «One day, we will sit at the table and remember all this. I love you and I hope, no, I know — that you will not give up. You are strong, we are strong, and we can do it. I will pray for you and for us, Dad» Masha writes. At the end, she draws a heart and traces around her hand.
March 27, 2023
The criminal trial against Moskalev begins. The court limits examination of the case to one day and moves on to arguments: the prosecution requests two years of imprisonment. The head of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) demands to detain Moskalev — allegedly, there was a functional disruption to Alexei’s ankle bracelet on the night of March 15. The prosecutor supports the demand, claiming that Moskalev has «repeatedly violated» the rules of house arrest. Alexei states that he has not gone anywhere. He shares that since the tracking bracelet was installed, it has not worked in the bedroom and bathroom of the apartment where the court had sent him to serve his house arrest. In the end, the court decides to keep Alexei at home.
March 2, 2023
The court rules to place Alexei Moskalev under house arrest. Since the investigator had previously requested to return his daughter Masha home, the defence expected that she would be allowed to live with him. However, the Commission for Minors’ Affairs believes that under house arrest, the father will not be able to adequately exercise his parental duties.
Throughout this entire period, Masha has been residing in a «juvenile rehabilitation centre», where she is isolated from any contact with her father or visitors. It is expected that Masha will be compelled to remain in the centre until at least the 6th of April, as a crucial court hearing has been scheduled to deliberate on the restriction of parental rights for both the girl’s father and mother.
March 1, 2023
Police detain Alexei Moskalev on his way to work. He is taken home, and Masha is informed that her father is being taken to the police station, after which a juvenile commission is summoned. The girl is once again sent to the rehabilitation centre for children in Efremov (A city located in the southwestern part of Russia. It is situated in the Tula Oblast, which is approximately 300 kilometres south of Moscow). The father is held in temporary detention for 24 hours.
A raid is conducted in the Moskalev family’s apartment in Efremov. Police trash the apartment and steal valuables. Later, Alexei is summoned for questioning by the Federal Security Service (FSB). According to his account, he was subjected to physical abuse, with his head being repeatedly struck against the wall and the floor. Meanwhile, Masha is sent to a «rehabilitation centre». The next day, her father retrieves her from the centre and they leave Efremov together.
Criminal proceedings are initiated against Alexei Moskalev under the article pertaining to repeated defamation of the Russian army (Part 1, Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code). The reason behind this is several publications on «Odnoklassniki», including posts about the killings of Bucha civilians and Ukrainian POWs in Elenovka. Alexei himself denies having made these posts. According to his statement, his social media account has been hacked multiple times.
Note: Bucha is a town in Ukraine, and Elenovka is a village in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.
Masha Moskaleva, a student at School No. 9 in the city of Efremov, Tula Oblast, expresses her anti-war sentiments through drawing during an art class. Her doodle depicts the flags of Russia and Ukraine with the words «No to War» and «Glory to Ukraine», along with a woman and child being targeted by rockets from the Russian side.
Masha has been raised solely by her father, Alexei, since the age of three. Alexei is engaged in a small business breeding decorative birds. Masha’s mother resides in a different city.
The school principal, Larisa Trofimova, contacts the police. The following day, Masha is removed from classes and taken to a facility together with her father and child protective services. Another day later, FSB (Federal Security Service) officers come to the school to have a «conversation» with Masha.
A protocol is drawn up against Alexei Moskalev under the article related to discrediting the Russian army (Part 1, Article 20.3.3 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offences) due to an anti-war comment he made on the «Odnoklassniki» social media platform, stating, «The Russian army. Rapists among us». Subsequently, he was fined 35,000 rubles (approximately US$ 437).
Meanwhile, a petition demanding Masha’s return home has amassed over 143,000 signatures. OVD-Info will persist in defending Alexei and Masha Moskalevs in both the ’discreditation’ case and the issue of parental rights deprivation.