Russian anti-war protester strip-searched in 10-hour ordeal at her home

Ekaterina Aleksandrova, 26, works as an assistant to an opposition councillor and has publicly supported Alexei Navalny.

16 March 2022

A Russian anti-war protester has said she feels like she “lives under fascism” after state police stripped her at her home in a 10-hour ordeal.

Ekaterina Aleksandrova, 26, works as an assistant to Helga Pirogova, an opposition independent deputy of the Novosibirsk City Council who publicly opposes the war in Ukraine.

Ms Aleksandrova and two other assistants were accused of fraud and of stealing their salary from the city council which was used by police to justify a search of their homes on March 6.

She said these accusations were only levelled at her because she and her colleagues have publicly denounced the war in Ukraine and because of her support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Mr Navalny was arrested in January 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning, which he blames on the Kremlin and which Russian authorities deny.

Ms Aleksandrova met the politician during a campaign for a coalition in her home town Novosibirsk in August 2020, and she also said that she spoke to him days before his poisoning in Siberia.

Ekaterina Aleksandrova (standing, second from the left) and Alexei Navalny (seated) in Novosibirsk, Russia in 2020 (Ekaterina Aleksandrova/PA)

His arrest sparked protests around the country, many of which Ms Aleksandrova attended, often as a correspondent reporting from the scene.

During the search of her property this month, the Russian authorities took their phones and Ms Aleksandrova said a man who was also searched had his legs beaten by police.

“During the search they smashed the whole apartment, took away my passport with a Schengen visa”, Ms Aleksandrova told the PA news agency.

“They took away a colleague’s computer and phone, T-shirts with Navalny’s symbols.

“Then I was charged with allegedly stealing 11 thousand. I was searched, stripped down to my underpants.

“Everywhere in the city the letters Z are pasted, it feels like I live under fascism.”

Russian invasion of Ukraine
People attend a demonstration organised by London EuroMaidan and British-Ukrainian volunteers outside Downing Street, London, to show solidarity with Ukraine following the invasion by Russia (James Manning/PA)

Ms Aleksandrova said that the search was followed by an interrogation which all spanned over 10 hours, and although she was not arrested that day, she fears she will be soon.

All three citizens invoked their Article 51 rights and did not answer any questions posed to them, and a neighbour, who did not have any criminal proceedings against her, also had her phone confiscated.

According to Ms Aleksandrova, Ms Pirogova has four assistants, but only the three who publicly opposed the war and wrote social media posts with the same message, were searched by police.

She added: “I don’t feel safe, I’m very anxious but my passport was taken away from me, I can’t even leave yet.”

A Schengen visa allows entry and travel within the EU, so unless it is returned, she said she can only travel to Kazakhstan or Armenia.

Ms Aleksandrova told the PA news agency that she fears new laws will mean people who post on social media to oppose the war could be under threat of arrest.

She said: “Anyone who comes out with one picket against the war is arrested, and for the Ukrainian flag too. You can write on social networks for the time being, but the new law on fake (news) may contribute to them being arrested too.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Maria Divid, 35, from Moscow takes part in a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Rebecca Speare-Cole/PA)

“I believe that the more people who speak up, the safer it is for everyone. The average person can still but the authorities react very sharply and shut their mouths.”

Russian authorities have already called for Meta, the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram to be labelled an “extremist organisation”, and new laws banning “misinformation” about the war are further limiting social media posts.

Ms Aleksandrova also said that all her friends have fled Russia for countries such as Georgia, Turkey and Armenia, and that many have abandoned their apartments and bought only one-way tickets.

“Who has not left, thinks how to do it as soon as possible. Everyone who realises what is happening is running into the unknown, buying a one-way ticket, out of fear”, she said.

Ms Aleksandrova said she will continue to post on social media to oppose the war but is too scared to attend any rallies.

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