Nekoglai in a frame from YouTube
In early November, popular social media personality Nekoglai posted a TikTok parody video of a Russian soldier grabbing and tossing away Ukrainian drone grenades moments before they explode while lying in a trench. Officials thought that he was mocking the army, and he was soon detained. The court ruled to deport him to Moldova for violating immigration rules. Two days later, Nekoglai, his head shaven and his face bruised, apologised on video for the parody. On 4 December, now abroad, he recorded a new video accusing Moscow policemen of attempted rape with a plastic bottle, as well as beating and torturing him.
On 7 November, 22-year-old social media personality Nekoglai (Nikolai Lebedev) recorded a TikTok based on a popular video of a Russian soldier. In the original video from a Ukrainian drone, a soldier hiding in a trench is seen grabbing and tossing away grenades thrown at him from the drone moments before they explode. Lying on the floor of his apartment, Lebedev impersonated the soldier to a remix of Boney M’s “Rasputin” with the words: “There lived a certain man in Russia long ago. / He was big and strong, / In his eyes a flaming glow.” The video gathered over 20 million views.
Next day, the head of the Safe Internet League, Ekaterina Mizulina, had turned to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a request to investigate the TikToker, calling him a “degenerate” who “sneers at a feat of our soldier.” The next day, Lebedev was detained.
Moscow’s Presnensky Court decided to expel Nekoglai, who is a citizen of Moldova, from Russia for violating the country’s immigration rules. On 11 November, RIA Novosti, a state news agency, published a video with his apology. On 24 November, after two weeks in a Temporary Detention Centre for Foreign Citizens (TsVSIG) in the village of Sakharovo, Lebedev was deported to Chișinău, the Moldovan capital.
On 27 November, a member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission, Alexey Melnikov, said that Nekoglai was beaten and his head was shaved at the Presnensky District Police Station before being sent to Sakharovo. On 4 December, Nekoglai released an hour and a half-long video about what had happened to him following the posting of the ill-fated TikTok.
In the video, Nekoglai says that on 9 November a policeman knocked on his door on his fancy 74th floor apartment in OKO complex in Moscow City. He asked the blogger to come downstairs for a while and strongly advised him not to contact either a lawyer or his friends.
Nekoglai thought that the policeman wanted a bribe: “I grabbed two phones and 250,000 roubles in cash. I thought that now we will go down for a minute, he will tell me that I have violated the law and, in order to resolve this on the spot, I will have to give him a certain amount of money.”
The policeman, he says, gave “a man’s word” that he would soon be free to go, and Nekoglai went down to the first floor with him. Three masked policemen were waiting for him there.
The blogger recalls that he was put into a large white van and taken to the police department of the Presnensky District of Moscow. According to Nekoglai, the police forced him to hide in a corner while they silently looked at him contemptuously. At some point, two more people in civilian clothes got into the car, whom the blogger calls “cameraman” and “pusher”.
“These people in the car start to tell me that I am a habitual offender,” he says. “That I am discrediting the Russian Army, that I have betrayed the state, betrayed my homeland. And right now I have to record a sincere apology on camera.”
Nekoglai tried to reassure the police that he did not mean to discredit the army, that his video might have been misunderstood. To back it up, he uses a clip with Artemy Lebedev, a loyalist web designer and a social media personality, calling his TikTok “the popularisation of a cool episode where a Russian soldier performed well and heroically.”
On the way to the police department, one phone was taken away from Nekoglai when he attempted to contact a lawyer. When they arrived at the police station and all the policemen, except for the driver, got out of the car, he recounts that he quickly sent his geolocation to his lawyer using the second phone. A policeman noticed this and took the phone away.
Nekoglai admits that even then he continued to hope for a speedy release, but the police did not allow the TikToker to meet with a lawyer. In the evening he was taken to Presnensky Court, and the judge decided to expel him for violating immigration laws and imposed a fine of 5,000 roubles. After that, he was taken to the police department in Presnensky District and put in a cell.
Nekoglai says that after a while he was taken out of the cell by the “cameraman” and the “pusher,” whom Nekoglai first encountered in the car.
“They pulled me out of the cell, put me in the corridor and told me the following: “Nikolai, we can be here with you all night or longer, we have plenty of time for you to apologise, we are not leaving,” he recalls. “And from that moment, from this absolute absurdity that they tell me that they can stay there at least all night and will not go anywhere until I apologise, I began, you could say, to mock them: to laugh it off, joke around, beatbox, dance, sing. I began to do everything, just to somehow brighten up this absurdity. I didn’t know that my songs and jokes could anger and offend the officials of the Russian Federation so much.”
According to Nekoglai, he taunted his companions who demanded an apology for about 40 minutes, at which point some “very angry and offended police officers” arrived. He clarifies that these people looked the same as the police officers who detained him in a Moscow City tower apartment complex, but they did not have chevrons identifying their rank. He is sure that they were employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
These men handcuffed him, took him to the fourth floor and led him into a small office. When the door slammed shut, one of them immediately kicked him in the chest.
“They beat me with their feet and hands. They didn’t care about the footprints. They jumped on me. As I was laying there I said: “What do you want?” I said, “I’m sorry.” I shouted, “I’m sorry.” They beat me for 20 minutes. I was screaming at the top of my voice the whole time. I didn’t understand what they were trying to achieve. I even reached the point where I said: “I will give you each a million [roubles]! Stop it, stop it!” I offered everything I have. I said that I would support the SVO [“special military operation” in Ukraine],” claims Nekoglai. He says that the police filmed the beatings on a phone and sent these videos to someone “for approval.”
“They stripped me naked, took off my trousers and underwear. They took a litre bottle of Coca-Cola and told me that I should sit down on it. Obviously, I refused. After that, I was beaten very badly several more times and they began to try to forcibly shove this same litre bottle of Coca-Cola into me,” Nikoglai describes. “They couldn’t do it for 20 minutes, as I tossed and turned, wriggled like a snake, did everything in my power so that they couldn’t do it. In the end, it only pissed them off. They hit me harder, they started strangling me. They hit me very hard on the back of the head. They beat me so hard that I almost passed out. I even lost consciousness several times for a couple of seconds. Each time, they immediately brought me back to my senses.”
Nekoglai notes that the police tried not to leave marks on his face and neck. When they failed to get the bottle up his anus, the police demanded that he do it himself. “I pretended I did it, made it look like I prodded it in my ass,” he says. He was threatened that if he spoke publicly about the torture, they would post a video of the beating online.
At some point, the “cameraman” came into the office and demanded that Nikoglai filmed a video apology while standing on his knees.
“The whole floor’s in my blood, my sick, I vomited from stress, from shock, from a blow to the kidneys, to the stomach,” he describes. “My whole head was bloodied from blows to the back of the head, from what I touched with my hands, scratches from the cupboard.”
The certificate from A&E, dated 10 November, which Nekoglai shows on the video, lists multiple hematomas, abrasions on the scalp, face, neck and his upper and lower extremities.
This apology video was never published because the result of the beatings was clearly visible, he believes. After recording the video, Nekoglai was shaved bald; he says that at first the police pulled out his hair in tufts.
After that, he was taken to a centre for migrants in the village of Sakharovo. Nekoglai spent two weeks there before being deported.
Sakharovo is a semi-notorious facility that was originally intended for detained migrant workers but now it is routinely used to hold Russians detained during widespread protests. Nekoglai says that he was first placed in an overcrowded cell, where people were forced to sleep on the cold floor. The apology video, which was published by RIA Novosti, a state news agency, on 11 November, was recorded in this detention centre the day after the trial. After recording the video, Nikoglai was transferred to a ten-person cell, where he was by himself. They did not allow any parcels and didn’t let him go for walks. Then, on the fifth day of his stay in Sakharovo, says Nekoglai, he was beaten by a cellmate who was put in with him.
After some time, he was called in for a conversation with five people in masks and civilian clothing. He suggests that they were again employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
“These people immediately start asking me: ‘Tell me when you took drugs, with whom did you take drugs? Which drugs did you take? Tell us where you’ve lived, all the addresses, the addresses of your friends.’ And they especially singled out Danya Milokhin,” emphasises Nekoglai.
He agreed to testify, fearing that he would be tortured again. “Where I could, I fucked it up: I gave the wrong addresses and the wrong dates,” he clarifies. According to Nekoglai, the visitors recorded his testimony and wrote things down on an A4 sheet, and then he was returned to the cell.
Lebedev was sure that next time they would try to force him to sign some papers in a criminal case: “I immediately said to myself: ‘Mate, it’s better to die than let these wankers put you in jail for nothing.’”
The TikTok star asked his new cellmate for his phone and recorded a ‘postmortem’ video in which he said that he did not want to kill himself. “I don’t understand how they can be so lawless, use their official position to such a degree and break people’s lives so much,” he said on the recording. At the end of the video, he tearfully asked the audience to turn to President Vladimir Putin and report his innocence.
On the same day, Public Supervisory Commission member Alexey Melnikov and his colleague came to visit Nekoglai. “They came with the deputy chief, whom I was apologising to before. I burst into tears. I was hysterical, I hugged him, I fell to my knees, I couldn’t speak,” said the TikToker. “I just couldn't believe my luck. Is it possible that a person who is able to protect me has come?”
After the visit of the human rights activists, the staff of the centre began to treat him better. “Nothing super tough happened to me anymore,” he claims. Shortly after, he was deported.
“The Russian government that now rules in Russia is a real organised criminal group. These are bandits, vicious, bloodthirsty, money-hungry scum who are capable of anything to keep their influence and their money. They go in for any bloody, dirty shit. I will never return to Russia, and neither will any of my friends ever again visit the Russian Federation until these authorities change,” concludes Nekoglai at the end of the video.
Nikolai Lebedev was born in Chișinău. He says that his parents died when he was a child, so he was raised by his older brother. He claims that he only studied until the ninth class [about 15 years old] and wanted to become an eSports player, having developed a love of Dota.
He notes that the famous social media figure Danya Milokhin inspired him to use TikTok in 2019. “I look: ‘Wait a sec, what? 150,000 likes?’ The guy turned on the camera, put it down and made faces… If I get a phone, it turns out that I can do exactly the same,” he recalls.
In short, Nekoglai makes humorous videos for teenagers. Now he has almost 10 million subscribers. The Flow notes that the popularity of Nekoglai was associated, among other things, with live streams together with a 17-year-old from Moscow, Ivan Zolochevsky. On 10 January this year, one of their streams was simultaneously watched by 578,000 viewers, a record for Twitch’s Russian-language streaming service. Shortly after, Zolochevsky’s parents banned him from streaming with Lebedev.
After the arrest of Nekoglai, TikToker Danya Milokhin (who has more than 17 million subscribers), his friend and ex-flatmate, stood up for him. “I am very worried about Kolya. Very angry at whoever started this. If I find out that he is being beaten there, everyone will know about it,” he wrote on 11 November.
Shortly before these events, in October, Milokhin left for the United States. On 19 November, during a live stream with Ukrainian social media personality Artur Babich, he began to sing the Russian national anthem. Babich, in response, offered to sing the anthem of Ukraine, and Milokhin supported him. Because of this, Milokhin became a target of harassment by propagandists, who considered the singing of the Ukrainian anthem a betrayal.
Nekoglai was supported not only by Milokhin and other popular social media stars, but also by ordinary TikTokers. After the blogger was detained, children and teenagers began to record mass parodies of his video about the Russian military. Nekoglai’s video with a detailed account about torture in the police department gained almost 2 million views on YouTube in a day.
Editor: Maria Klimova
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