Illustration: Mari Msukanidze / Mediazona
The war in Ukraine has been going on for eleven months. Over that time, thousands of civilians have died under Russian shelling, and millions have become refugees. Ukrainian cities are battered daily, with some already razed to the ground. Protests against the invasion in Russia have been crushed swiftly, and the very word “war” has been outlawed, with websites blocked and people fined or imprisoned for saying so. Other repressive laws have also been introduced, such as the ban on virtually all mentions of LGBT people, stiffer penalties for those whom the authorities have declared “foreign agents,” and new punishments for military conscientious objectors. Here’s the Russian year of 2022 in numbers.
On the morning of February 24, the Russian army invaded Ukraine on Vladimir Putin’s orders. Officially, this “special military operation,” as the Kremlin prefers to call the war, is aimed strictly against the military facilities, but since the very first day, Russian army has been launching missile strikes on residential buildings, schools, and hospitals.
According to the UN, as of December 26, 6,884 Ukrainian civilians were killed by the shelling, including 429 children. In fact, the number of casualties is greater, and given the ongoing fighting and continued occupation, casualty figures are difficult to immediately verify and confirm.
Since February, the office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General has registered more than 60,000 crimes committed by the Russian military: shelling of cities and towns, killing of civilians, torture, rape, and looting. Bucha, a Kiev suburb, became a grim symbol of this war, occupied by the Russians from March 5 to March 31. According to Ukrainian authorities, more than 400 people died there during that time, some were tortured before their deaths. In September, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were able to liberate the part of the Kharkiv region occupied during the spring and found mass graves and torture chambers there. Kharkiv residents told of brutal torture and looting. The Russian side calls all these reports “fakes news,” but the soldiers who were there admitted to the crimes.
Ukrainian ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets estimates that since the start of the war, 4,9 million people have been forced to relocate to safer parts of the country, while 7,9 million (or about 20 per cent of Ukraine’s population) have left the country. At the same time, more than 13 million people remain in the occupied territories and in the combat zone. Fleeing the war, many Ukrainians were forced to flee to Russia, while others were taken away by force and then ended up in pre-trial detention centres.
The cities of Donetsk and Luhansk regions were hit hardest by shelling, with some of them virtually destroyed. For example, in occupied Mariupol, according to UN estimates, up to 90% of apartment buildings were damaged; the Ukrainian authorities believe that more than 22,000 Mariupol residents were killed by the shelling. Volnovakha, a small town 60 kilometres from Mariupol, was reduced to ruins in two weeks of fighting. “Volnovakha as a city no longer exists,” the Ukrainian Border Guard Service stated back in March.
Having suffered several major setbacks at the front by the fall, Russia has moved on to deliberately destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Missile strikes have left cities without power, water or heat. In early December, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that all of the country’s thermal and hydroelectric power plants had been damaged. “Each of us must realise that we will have to live through this winter with significant restrictions on electricity consumption,” he said.
The invasion of Ukraine made Russia the world leader in the total number of sanctions imposed on it by early March. Dozens of countries have now joined the sanctions. The European Union imposed nine packages of restrictions on Russia in the financial, energy, transport, and technology sectors. Major Russian banks were disconnected from the SWIFT system, Mastercard and Visa payment systems stopped working in Russia, and foreign assets of the Central Bank were frozen. Many Russian companies have been sanctioned. The Yale School of Management Chief Executive Leadership Institute estimates that more than 1,200 foreign companies—from candy manufacturers to automakers—have left or curtailed operations in Russia.
Sanctions have been imposed on members of the State Duma, ministers and officials at various levels, Russian state media, military leaders, relatives of officials and people close to the Kremlin. Several European countries have blocked entry to Russians on tourist visas and suspended the issuance of new visas, while Russian athletes have been suspended from participation in almost all international competitions.
The Russian army suffered heavy losses in the first days of the war, and from the very first days, the Ministry of Defense kept them secret. Sergei Shoigu only mentioned casualties twice, most recently in September. According to him, only 5,937 Russian servicemen died in Ukraine. Mediazona tries to count the deaths that we are able to independently verify. As of December 30, we know the names of more than 10,000 dead military personnel. This data does not reflect the real number of casualties, we only take into account verifiable reports from relatives, local authorities, regional media and volunteers.
The first days of the war also saw the first objectors, those who decided not to carry out the orders of their commanders. Some of these people were sent to illegal prisons and “pits,” beaten and forced to return to the front lines, while others were indicted in criminal cases for deserting their units without permission and disobeying orders.
In July, we learned that Russian prisoners were being recruited for the war: representatives of the Wagner PMC and its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin started touring the penal colonies. It is difficult to reliably estimate the number of recruited prisoners, but statistics from the Federal Penitentiary Service show that by the end of October the Russian prison population decreased by 23 thousand people. Volunteers are promised payments and pardons, while deserters are threatened with execution. In November, a video of the brutal execution of one ex-convict, Yevgeny Nuzhin, appeared; Nuzhin surrendered to the AFU, was exchanged for a Ukrainian military man and then murdered—his head was smashed in with a sledgehammer.
But military personnel, volunteers, and prisoners were not enough to continue the war: on September 21, Vladimir Putin announced the “partial mobilization,” although he had repeatedly promised that reservists would not be sent to Ukraine. Men of the conscription age were hunted down in the streets: homeless people near food distribution points, musicians at rehearsal bases, and clerks in office centres. The summonses, contrary to the assurances of the authorities, came also to fathers with many children, people with disabilities, and even the dead. The mobilized immediately began complaining about poor supplies, “brutal conditions,” lack of proper training, and the promised benefits.
Mobilization has become a trap for contract servicemen: now they cannot quit because all the contracts signed with the Defense Ministry, according to Putin’s decree, will be valid until the end of the mobilization. In addition, deputies have introduced the concepts of “mobilization” and “wartime” into the Penal Code, and substantially increased punishments for crimes in military service. Russian courts are already passing sentences under the new articles on desertion and abandoning one’s unit during mobilization.
On the first day of the war, people protested in dozens of Russian cities. The rallies were violently dispersed by the security forces. The OVD-Info team later estimated that since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, 19,478 arrests have been made at anti-war rallies in Russia.
On the second day of the war, the Defense Ministry accused independent Russian media of spreading “fake news,” which is how the agency calls any news about shelling of Ukrainian cities and civilian deaths. On March 4, the State Duma added Article 207.3 to the Criminal Code, which stipulated up to 15 years of imprisonment for “public dissemination of deliberately false information” about the military. This article covers any information that differs from the official reports of the Defense Ministry. The bill was immediately signed by President Vladimir Putin.
According to human rights activist Pavel Chikov, there are now 180 criminal cases under Article 207.3.
In early December, politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced to 8,5 years in prison for streaming about the murders of civilians in Bucha. In July, Yashin’s colleague Alexei Gorinov received seven years in a similar case. A court in St. Petersburg recently started hearing the case of Aleksandra Skochilenko, an artist accused of “spreading fake news” by changing price tags in stores with numbers of casualties in the war in Ukraine. Vladimir Kara-Murza, an opposition politician, is also arrested over similar charges.
Along with the punishments for spreading “fake news,” Russian MPs passed a bill on penalties for “discrediting” the army: Article 20.3.3 appeared in the Administrative Code, stipulating a fine of up to 100,000 roubles for individuals. A repeated violation committed within a year may result in a criminal case under the new Article 280.3.
By the end of December, we’ve been able to find 5,518 protocols filed to Russian courts. The offenses included playing Chervona Kalyna, a Ukrainian song (more than once), anti-war statements in solitary confinement, shooting a video with complaints by the mobilized men, conscientious objection (the case was later dropped), anti-war slogans on ballots and a poster: “*** *****” [matching the number of letters in a phrase Khuy Voine, “Fuck the war”].
The former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, for example, is charged with “discrediting” the army (a criminal offense) after been charged three times under a similar administrative article. Criminal proceedings were also initiated against Yakut musician Aikhal Ammosov after several administrative violations.
OVD-Info calculates that at least 393 people in Russia have been prosecuted for their anti-war stance; the activists count those who have been investigated for speaking out against the invasion, including those whose protest has not been peaceful: military recruiting offices, police stations and administrative buildings have been regularly set on fire across Russia. By the end of December, we’ve been able to count 77 cases.
On the very first day of the invasion of Ukraine, Roskomnadzor, the censorship agency, demanded that journalists writing about the war publish only “data from official Russian sources.” Soon, scores of websites have been blocked: DOXA, Current Time, Dozhd (TV Rain), Ekho Moskvy, The Village, Tomsk TV2, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Meduza, Radio Liberty, Kholod, Pskovskaya Gubernia, Caucasian Knot, 7×7", Bumaga, The Insider, Lyudi Baikala and other media. Mediazona was blocked on March 6th.
Some publication have stopped working, others have agreed to remove material that drew ire from the censors and stopped writing about the war altogether, and still others have moved abroad. According to Roskomsvoboda, by December 22, access to 9,300 websites was restricted in Russia. Even Chess.com, a popular online platform, was blocked for links to articles about the war.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were blocked for spreading “fake news.” In addition, at the end of March, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow designated Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, an extremist organization over its decision to temporarily allow posts calling for violence against the “Russian invaders.”
Military censorship quickly moved from the Internet to offline: back in early March, the Russian Media Group compiled a list of “undesirable” musicians who condemned the invasion, and references to Ukraine and Kyiv were removed from the textbooks of the Prosveshchenie publishing house, one of the largest and oldest in the country.
This summer, the State Duma came up with a new anti-LGBT law: “propaganda of homosexuality” among minors has been banned in Russia since 2013, but now the ban covers people of all ages. It coincided with the resounding success of the novel about gay teens “Summer in a Pioneer Tie,” published by Popcorn Books. The book was labelled 18+, but lawmakers still felt that it was dangerous. It “threatened demographic growth and the economic development of the country,” the author of the bill, Alexander Khinstein, argued.
Even before the amendments went into effect, the Russian book market switched to self-censorship mode. The publisher, LikeBook, black-painted paragraphs describing sex between two men in one of its books.
On December 5, Vladimir Putin signed the bill into law. For companies spreading “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations, preferences and sex reassignment,” the law stipulates a fine of up to 5 million rubles, and for individuals—up to 400,000 rubles. There’s also a fine of 10 million rubles for dissemination of content related to LGBT among minors, as well as for “propaganda of paedophilia.”
On the same day, bookstores and libraries started taking queer-themed books off the shelves. VK social network began marking LGBT posts with a plaque warning of “dangerous to health” materials, and the Russian-language translation of World Of Warcraft: Dragonflight renamed the wedding of two male centaurs as “fraternization.”
In late December, the government allowed Roskomnadzor to block sites with “information promoting non-traditional sexual relationships and (or) preferences, paedophilia, and sex reassignment.” The deputies did not stop there: the head of the Duma Committee on Family Affairs, Nina Ostanina, prepared a bill on repeat violations of the ban on “LGBT propaganda,” already covered by up to five years of imprisonment.
In early December, another repressive law came into force, "On the Control of Activities of Persons under Foreign Influence.” Now, it has become even easier to put Russians on the list of “foreign agents.” The unified register now includes over 500 “foreign agents” who are forced to abide by several obligations and restrictions: label their posts online, regularly submit financial reports, they are prohibited from participating in elections or organizing public events—or teaching. At the end of December, Yulia Galiamina, an opposition activist who used to teach at the RANEPA, was dismissed from her position. And the books of “foreign agents” are only allowed to be sold in sealed opaque packaging with 18+ markings.
Violations of requirements, numerous and virtually impossible to fulfil, can mean that an individual can be charged under an administrative or criminal article, and an NGO can be shut down. At the end of last year, the Supreme Court used such grounds to shut down Russia's oldest non-governmental organization, International Memorial, founded 35 years ago in the Soviet Union.
In all, in 2022 Russian MPs passed over 650 bills. For example, there is a new Article 275.1 in the Criminal Code, which introduces punishments for “confidential cooperation” with foreigners, which is now equated to treason. The first defendant was a former employee of the Penza branch of the Federal Penitentiary Service.
Crossing over to the side of the enemy during an armed conflict has also been equated to treason. The first known case under this article was filed against a 21-year-old Moscow man who tried to go to Georgia—allegedly, he planned to go to Ukraine to join the “Freedom of Russia” unit.
On December 29, Vladimir Putin signed a bill stipulating life sentences for “sabotage activities.” “Aiding and abetting sabotage” will be punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison.
Editors: Maria Klimova, Dmitry Tkachev
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