The man with the bag. How a lone handyman was accused of terrorism and then tortured for setting an FSB rug on fire
Оля Ромашова
The man with the bag. How a lone handyman was accused of terrorism and then tortured for setting an FSB rug on fire
31 January 2023, 16:10

Art by Anastasia Krainiuk / Mdeiazona

Igor Paskar was born in a small working-class village. He grew up without a father, served in the army. Throughout all his life he has changed many difficult jobs and was often confronted by the police. He had a dachshund, but this spring she was hit by a car when Paskar wandered with her from place to place as a strawberry patch worker. In the summer, he decided to set fire to the FSB building in Krasnodar, one of the major cities in the south of Russia. He threw a Molotov cocktail at it and did not even try to escape. “I sacrificed myself to the regime, but I'm no terrorist,” says Paskar. After his arrest he was beaten and tortured with electric shocks. Now he is being tried on terrorism charges in military court.

A man with a bag approached the Krasnodar FSB directorate building on Mira Street around 4 p.m. on June 14. He took a bottle with gasoline and a cloth glove from the bag, set the glove on fire, and threw the bottle at the main entrance. The arsonist then drew a Ukrainian flag on his left cheek—he had applied paint on his fingers beforehand. He did not run away. Very quickly, a man in military uniform came up to him. In a few minutes, the police arrived and handcuffed the arsonist.

He turned out to be 46-year-old Igor Paskar, a native of the Volgograd Region. He is now in Krasnodar's pretrial detention centre #5 on charges of committing a terrorist act and vandalism.

“It was a public action. If I had gone into hiding, it would have lost all meaning,” Paskar wrote from the detention centre, answering the question of why he didn't try to escape. “I am not a warrior-terrorist, I do not need to hide. I wanted to express my opinion, it was an outcry. I am a simple man, a simple worker, just like those who live in Ukraine, in the “SVO” [“special military operation” in Ukraine] zone. I sacrificed myself to the regime, but I'm no terrorist. What kind of terrorist am I? That's ridiculous.”

Nevertheless, FSB investigator Yury Zakharchenko pointed out that after his arrest, Paskar fully admitted his guilt. On June 15, the Oktyabrsky district court of Krasnodar sent him to the pretrial detention center.

According to the investigators' version, which was announced in court, at the beginning of the war Paskar “became an adherent of radical liberal opposition ideas based on a hostile attitude towards the activity of authorities in the Russian Federation.” By summer, he had the “criminal intent” to commit an act of terrorism “by setting fire to the central entrance of the FSB building on a weekday during working hours.” By doing this, Paskar wanted to “influence the decision of the authorities” to stop the “special military operation.”

On June 14, Paskar threw a bottle with gasoline into the Krasnodar FSB office, “setting fire to the columns, walls near the door and the door itself.” According to some media outlets, in reality only the rug near the entrance caught fire.

Both in his testimony in court and in his letters from detention, Paskar emphasizes that he did not want to harm anyone in the attack: “I threw a bottle at the door of the FSB building, it broke and caught fire, but it quickly went out. This short-term combustion could not have caused threat anyone.”

“That's how I knew I wouldn't have a life here”

Igor Paskar was born in Novonikolaevsky, a worker's settlement in the north of Volgograd Region. He finished school there, served two years in the military—a construction unit in Samara—and then worked as a messenger, a loader, a construction worker, etc. His parents died, he had no wife and no children.

Paskar was convicted three times. The first time he went on trial when he was 22. He got five years of probation for pot possession. “In the environment where I grew up and lived, half, if not more, of my acquaintances smoked, and it was not considered antisocial or reprehensible,” Paskar explained in court. “But in our society, Motherland considers it, unlike alcohol, an extremely criminal influence. That's how I came to the attention of our law enforcement agencies. In 1998 they searched my place and found — oh, the horror! — several grams of dried cannabis. That's how my homeland took me in, put me on their list of high-risk groups. That's how I got my first conviction and a suspended sentence.”

Three years later, in 2001, he got two years in prison for theft and drug possession. His third conviction was a year and a half of probation in 2006, again for drug possession. According to Paskar, after his first conviction, he was regularly searched and “they didn't hide that they were looking for weed, there must have been some kind of plan for drug addicts.”

“That's how I realised that I would have no life here. In 2013, I left for Moscow,” Paskar recalled that he quit his job in his native village producing and laying paving tiles. In the capital, he did every work he could possibly find. He worked as a longshoreman, mover, and furniture assembly assistant. He sent money to his mother until she died in 2017.

At that time, his civic and political position was formed. “For as long as I can remember, from a young age I have never been indifferent to what is happening in our country, because my homeland, represented by the state of the Russian Federation, was to me not a mother, but a stepmother. I couldn't stay indifferent and was in pain when I was witnessing any injustice or suppression of dissent,” he recalled in court. Paskar said the wording of the investigation about his adherence to “liberal and radical opposition views” was “crazy.”

In 2020, he went to the Belarusian embassy in Moscow to support opponents of Alexander Lukashenko. “In the summer and fall of 2020, when the Potato Führer in Belarus was harassing his people, I still hoped that we in Russia would avoid a similar fate,” Paskar notes. In 2021 he took part in the Moscow winter protests in support of Alexei Navalny. On January 23 he was detained at the rally and was fined 10 thousand rubles. Paskar never paid the fine.

At that time, Igor Paskar made his money by selling things he found at flea markets on Amazon: “Old Soviet munition, caps, belts, flasks, retro stuff, gramophone records, there was even a charcoal iron.” In September 2021, he moved to Volgograd.

“I was used to living alone, so I got a dog to help with my loneliness. It was a girl, a dachshund I named Larisa. Maybe for the first time in my life I had free time and money at the same time: I started to meditate and take English lessons. I also wanted to get a driving license and finally buy a car,” Paskar recalled.

It all ended on February 24: he was crushed by Russia's invasion in Ukraine, and his bank cards and accounts blocked because of sanctions. He argued online, kept in touch with other opponents of the war, and followed news about the burning of military recruitment centres.

“The news agenda didn't add to my optimism either,” he told the court. “I began to get the idea that since my life had dropped in value so dramatically, I should use it for something valuable, meaningful. And what could be more meaningful than peace—something we took from our neighbors, whom we call a ‘brotherly people.’ I began to think about a meaningful anti-war action, a performance that could draw attention to me. I chose the Molotov cocktail as my instrument. And as a symbol of Euromaidan, which the authorities were so afraid of. I never considered my attack would be lethal, as the state prosecution claims. My action was purely peaceful, intended to show all the opponents of this monstrous war that they were not alone, and to show our neighbors, Ukrainians, that not everyone here is zombified by state propaganda.”

Art by Anastasia Krainiuk / Mediazona

Strawberry picking, dachshund death, cheap hostels

In the spring of 2022, Paskar was constantly moving from place to place with his dachshund Larisa. In April, he returned to Novonikolayevsky and lived for a while at Vera Shurugina's — his mothers friend, who looked after Paskar's apartment. He started looking for work. “I was ready to take a low-skilled job again, with a daily wage, just to survive somehow in this situation,” Paskar says. “But after the loud statements on TV about our readiness for nuclear strikes, I didn't want to settle in cities with millions of people. I started looking online for seasonal work in the countryside. On the VKontakte social network I found one job for picking strawberries in the Krasnodar region.”

Paskar went there in early May. He was accommodated in a workhouse, but he did not have a chance to start work because of the rains. He did not get any money either, so, according to him, he ate what he brought with him: gingerbread and tea.

Soon he got into a quarrel with another lodger, who did not want Larisa the dachshund in the house. “I admit, my nerves gave out,” Paskar told the court. “I was wrong. On top of that, I picked up a flare gun to scare him off. I shot the ceiling. I called the police myself, turned myself in and spent five days in jail.”

After his release, Paskar worked a couple more days picking strawberries for another farmer, and then went to another village. On his way there Larisa, the dachshund, was hit by a car and died.

By the end of May he decided to search work in Krasnodar, where he lived in cheap hostels and workers' houses. There was not much work, he managed to get a job at a construction site only for a couple of days.

In early June, he called his friend Alexei Tarasov from Moscow and told him about his depressed state and the desire to do something out of the ordinary. Tarasov told Mediazona that Igor is a kind, intelligent and honest man: he always returned the change and apologized for minor mistakes, such as buying sparkling water instead of still. He confirmed that shortly before the arrest, Pascar's dog had died. “I think the only thing he had in his life was this dog named Larisa,” Alexei says.

Perhaps Paskar decided that “he would be better off in prison,” suggests Alexei. He adds that in the Volgograd region, Paskar had a long-standing conflict with a local police officer. “He had some kind of paranoia. He thought that someone wanted to kill him. A local policeman was scaring him all the time,” explains. “I kept asking him, ‘Why did you move?’ He said it was because of this man. He was intimidating him all the time. He thought that this man would put him in jail or something like this. Maybe Igor owed him something, I don't know.”

Paskar confirmed this story in a letter: “I really had a friend who worked in the police, his name is also Alexei. We did have a conflict with him, but I don't want to talk about it in detail, because it was involved illegal actions both from his side and mine.” He assures that in his hometown of Novonikolayevsky “the police are completely corrupt and control drug trafficking.”

That same time, in early June, Paskar also called Vera Shurugina. He sent her money for utility bills for his apartment in Novonikolayevsky. Paskar tried to calm the woman down and told her that things would soon get better for him.

“I chose the FSB as a symbol of the system, on the fear of which this system is based”

During the cross-examination in court Paskar claimed that his action “was timed to coincide with the so-called Russia Day on June 12.” He decided to spend the night before his action in more comfortable conditions than he was used to and rented a room in a guest house for a thousand rubles.

He thought of throwing a bottle of gasoline at some militaristic symbol on Teatralnaya Square in Krasnodar, where a concert celebrating Russia Day was taking place. “But it was crowded there, I didn't want anyone to get hurt,” the defendant said in court. “As a result, after the fireworks, when everyone began to disperse, I found a banner with an unfinished swastika in the shape of the letter Z and threw a Molotov cocktail at it. There weren't many people around and I realized I hadn't achieved the desired result and quietly left.” The banner was near the Motherland monument in the center of the city. Nobody noticed the action.

The arsonist had no money for accommodation and spent the night on a bench in the park. That night Paskar decided he needed to “finish what I started.” “I chose the FSB as the symbol of the system, on the fear of which this system is based,” he explains.

Paskar sold his phone and used the proceeds to buy gasoline and lemonade in a glass bottle. He used a rag glove as a wick. Usually oil is added to the Molotov cocktail, but he had no money left for this ingredient. Before the action, Paskar bought two tubes of paint, blue and yellow. He intended to put the colors of the Ukrainian flag on his face after the arson.

“A bag was put over my head. The next hours were the most frightening in my life”

He was detained a few minutes after throwing a Molotov cocktail at the FSB headquarters in Krasnodar. “I stood outside the building and waited to be detained. I made no attempt to escape or obstruct the arrest,” Igor Paskar recalled in court. The police officers asked him whether he had committed arson. Paskar did not deny it, he was handcuffed and taken to the courtyard of the FSB.

“There were about six to eight men in plainclothes there,” he said. “They took a picture of me on their phone. This photo is in the file. It shows me without any injuries. Then they asked me what I intended to do, why I did it. I answered that I'm taking Article 51 of the Constitution, which gives me the right not to testify against myself. Apparently this amused them, because that very moment a bag was put over my head. The next few hours were some of the worst of my life.”

They raised his hands handcuffed behind his back so high that his “head was down to waist level.” In this position, Paskar went down the corridors of the FSB. “They took me to some room, threw me on the floor, then started beating,” he recalls. “They put a grenade or a fake grenade in my hand and told me they would pull the pin. They put a gun to my head and threatened they'd shoot me. After that, they put rings on the middle fingers of both of my hands and started sending electric shocks. Moreover, someone very heavy sat on top of me so that I could not get away. At first they did not ask me anything. They looked at how much I could stand. I started screaming, but I couldn't even do that at times. I was so pressed from above that I could not breathe.”

According to Paskar, he lost consciousness twice. “They pulled down my pants and tried to penetrate my rectum with a rubber object, apparently a dildo. There was a bag on my head. But I understood from the external sounds that I was being photographed in this position. Perhaps they wanted to blackmail me later,” he described the torture in court.

The police kept coming in and out of the room, he recalled: “As far as I understood, the ones in charge were not only aware of the whole lawlessness, also encouraged it.”

He was also asked about his “Ukrainian curators.” “But since I didn't have any, every negative answer was followed by an electric shock,” Paskar says. “The electroshock rings were thrown over my legs and tucked into my socks. As I realised... when I realised that I would be tortured until I gave someone up, I quickly made up a character: Alexander Wolf, the nickname one of my acquaintances had in the online game I play. Then they picked me up from the floor and even gave me a glass of water.”

Still with a bag on his head, Paskar was taken to the investigator Yury Zakharchenko. He opened a case of committing a terrorist act against the detainee. When later at the interrogation Paskar talked about the failed action with the banner, vandalism was added to the charges.

Igor Paskar has already spent over eight months in pre-trial detention. On December 6, he was put on trial in the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don. He faces a sentence of ten to fifteen years for setting fire to a rug near an FSB building.

Editor: Yegor Skovoroda

Translator: Daria Fomina

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