“Zelenskyy slaps me on the shoulder: ‘Let him go, but shoot all the others.’” How a dream about a Ukrainian president turned a Russian citizen into a symbol of the anti‑war movement
Павел Васильев
“Zelenskyy slaps me on the shoulder: ‘Let him go, but shoot all the others.’” How a dream about a Ukrainian president turned a Russian citizen into a symbol of the anti‑war movement
1 March 2023, 17:11

Фото: личная страница Ивана Лосева в Instagram

After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Ivan Losev, a businessman from the far-east Russian city of Chita, wrote a series of anti-war social media posts. Comments derided Losev and his mother, who cosigned the posts, calling them “traitors of the Motherland” («предатели Родины»). For a long time, the Losev family wasn’t bothered by officials, until the fall when Ivan posted a series of messages criticizing the partial mobilisation. Losev also recounted a dream he had had of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, where the Ukrainian leader saved him from being shot. Following these posts, Ivan (and later his mother) were fined several times for “discrediting” the army. This is a story of how the war has changed life for the Losev family, and why they continue to criticize the government and the army, despite administrative fines and threats.

“This psychotherapy will come at a cost”

From the earliest days of the war, threats and insults have been pouring into Ivan Losev’s social media channels. The 26-year old Chita businessman recalls some of the more gruesome words: “I would slaughter your family, but the law does not allow” and “…so that your mother can’t recognize you, until you look like a freak. I’m going to beat you on the hood of your car, you faggot,” subscribers and strangers alike wrote to Losev.

These were the reactions to the anti-war Instagram stories that Ivan posted daily on his page to almost three thousand subscribers.

“Honestly, I wasn’t conducting some kind of anti-war activity, but just trying not to go crazy. Here you are reading the news, about this madness that is happening, and you, well, you can really go crazy if you don’t speak out,” Losev explains to Mediazona. “Instagram was used as a means for such offloading. And I write my opinions about this [Russia’s invasion of Ukraine] on [Instagram] stories, just to let everything out, to release the pressure under my skull. For me, it became a kind of psychotherapy. I understood that this psychotherapy could, of course, have some costs from the state, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Well, how can you be silent here?”

Losev is an entrepreneur and a well-known car collector and restorer in Chita. He has never hidden his oppositional views: in April 2021, the court fined him 10 thousand rubles for participating in a rally in support of Alexei Navalny. According to police, he shouted: “One, two, three, Putin, better flee!”, “Freed Navalny!”, and “We want freedom, elections to the people!” several times.

The Instagram stories criticizing Russian authorities and military action alienated many of Ivan’s friends and acquaintances. He says that before the war, many of them were against Putin, but then they somehow supported the invasion of a neighboring country.

“It always seemed to me that, well, the older generation can be fooled, but the youth should understand everything,” Losev says. “Even within my circle, they were all, in my understanding, very liberal, quite progressive people. But a huge number of them will say: ‘Yes, it’s right [that Russia attacked Ukraine]. Putin is not a good person, we agree with you. Putin is a bad person, Putin is a bad president. But in this case, he does everything right. He’s got game.’ These are the things I hear from people who literally the day before this war seemed to be healthy and normal people.”

Chita, where Ivan was born and raised, was filled with Z-symbols in the first months of the war: signs of the Russian invasion appeared on government building, in trollies and minibuses, which greatly depressed Losev.

On his birthday, June 24, the businessman decided to go to a bar and accidentally ran into his classmate and her husband in the city center. “I come up, hold out my hand to him. He beats my hand off and says: ‘Go to hell! You hate your country, writing this nonsense. You even went to Navalny’s rallies,” Ivan recalls the meeting.

The acquaintance continued to exchange insults, and in the end, Ivan could not stand it and hit him in the nose with his forehead. A brief fight ensued, which was broken up by the police. According to Ivan, both were taken to the police department, where they wrote statements against each other, but after a couple of days they reconciled.

“Let him go, but shoot all the others.”

Despite the threats, Losev continued to post his opinions condemning Russian aggression, and eventually gained the attention of Russian security forces. In early December, the police called him and asked him to come to the department office and explain the posts on his Instagram, warning that he was suspected of “discrediting” the Russian armed forces.

At the police station, Ivan was shown the material results of an inspection by the local anti-extremism unit, whose employees studied Ivan’s Instagram and selected six story posts that, in their opinion, could violate Russian legislation. All of these stories were published on the twentieth of September, after the announcement of the “partial” mobilization. Initially, it was an FSB operative who tipped the anti-extremism agency off.

In screenshots of one of the stories used as evidence, Losev expressed disappointment that more Russians did not cause “unrest” after the war began and that Vladimir Putin wasn’t yet overthrown. In others, Ivan compared the Russian president to Adolf Hitler and mentioned a Ukrainian project calling on Russian soldiers to ignore mobilisation and surrender, and he also made his predictions about “general mobilisation” and “martial law”, when “the dancing deep nation will run merrily to die from rocket launchers and drones.” In these stories, Losev referred to Russians as “rusnya”, a slur, and called Russian soldiers “rashists”.

“I told [the policeman]: ‘I consider myself a pacifist, a liberal, and a man of peace. I am against this war. I have friends living in Ukraine, and it is extremely unpleasant for me that my country is destroying the country of my friends right now. It makes me very sick, it disgusts me. And I want my country to stop this war. That’s why I published these, because I consider it my duty, I think it’s right,” Losev says, recalling his conversation at the police department.

There was another post on Ivan’s stories that interested the security forces. It was about a dream that Losev had on the night of September 22nd. This is how Ivan described the dream on Instagram: 

Ivan emphasizes that he published this story about the dream as a joke, and could not have thought that the FSB and the Extremism Center would take it seriously. Losev also adds that he, admittedly, has written much harsher posts on Instagram about the Russian government and the army.

Nonetheless, on December 8 of last year the Central District Court of Chita fined Losev 30 thousand rubles for “discrediting” the armed forces of Russia (part 1 of newly legislated Article 20.3.3 in the Russian Administrative Code). Many media outlets mistakenly believed that Ivan was fined because of his story recalling the dream about Zelensky, and released news reports and TV stories about it. Only one published story in Russia mentioned that the FSB and the anti-extremism unit’s work was discredited in court. In the piece, Losev criticizes the mobilization and speaks openly on the number of Russian soldiers killed in the war.

“It took the Ukrainians 7 months to pulverize 55 thousand rashists from our army, [soldiers] who studied and prepared for this, how much [training] does it take? 15 minutes? How many do they plan to mobilize now? 300 thousand? A million? Yes, but all the same, this disgrace will in no way delay the eventual Ukrainian victory” Ivan said in his stories. It was for this publication that the Chita citizen was dealt the hefty fine. Losev slept through the hearing on this case after being confused with the court date.

“The typical arguments, they make you sick.”

News stories about the entrepreneur who was fined for dreaming of the president of Ukraine saving him from execution made waves in Russian- and English-language media. Steve Rosenberg of the BBC flew to Chita to interview Ivan, who subsequently published this material on his Instagram. In his short comment, Ivan talked about what true patriotism is.

The entrepreneur from Chita gave another interview to Tikhon Dzyadko on the air for TV Rain. The conversation directly concerned the dream about Zelenskyy. The video itself was posted on the TV Rain’s YouTube channel under the title, “The penalty for a dream about Zelensky: a blogger from Chita recalls being accused of ‘discrediting’ the army.”

Both of these interviews eventually led to two more cases of Ivan “discrediting” the army. According to Losev, when he went to the police again to give further explanations, they talked to him for almost three hours about the war, the United States, NATO, “LGBT propaganda” and other propaganda cliches justifying Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The charges against Ivan Losev were drawn up after a pair of denunciations. The police and the prosecutor’s office were independently contacted by two women who felt that Losev was “discrediting” the Russian army. On February 7, the court found Losev guilty in both cases and imposed a further fine of 70 thousand rubles.

As is highlighted in the court’s published decision, the BBC video posted on Losev’s Instagram shows a sticker on Losev’s laptop that says “STOP WAR PRAY FOR UKRAINE,” written in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. This was used as evidence, alongside Losev’s arguments about true patriotism, to charge Losev with “discrediting” the army. The court also took into account his interview with TV Rain. “I have criticized this whole war a lot, it is extremely disgusting to me, it sickens me. I despise it, this war,” Judge Markova quoted Losev saying in her decision.

Ivan left a review of the last trial in his stories. He called the first process “ridiculous”; the second, he recalls, turned into a “benefit”. “It even seemed that at some point I would be acquitted. The judge was a very mature and adequate woman, she even said, ‘and where is the [supposed] crime and ‘discredit’ here?’. But in the end, they still gave me a fine,” Losev wrote.

Ivan’s mother, Nelly Loseva, shares her son’s critical views on the war. From the very first days of the invasion, she also began actively publishing posts condemning the war and criticizing the Russian government, but not on Instagram, instead choosing to post on her Odnoklassniki page. In comments under the posts, she was often called a “traitor of the Motherland.”

In January, the security forces became interested in the Nelly Loseva’s online activity. The local FSB department discovered a case of “discrediting” the Russian army: Loseva left a “cool” («класс») reaction to a message about the death of mobilized soldiers, and thus automatically reposted it to her page. “Information began to arrive about the deaths of the mobilized, there will be more and more of them, they do not defend the Homeland, the homeland itself attacked the neighboring country. People are dying just like that,” the post said. For this, the woman was also fined 30 thousand rubles.

On February 1, Loseva was fined another 35 thousand rubles under the article on disrespect of the state (part 3 of Article 20.1 of the Administrative Code). The protocol was drawn up because the word “cool” was pinned to a text image which read: “For visitors to my page: 1. Putin is a dick! 2. Crimea is in Ukraine! 3. Russia has attacked Ukraine! 4. There is a war going on between Ukraine and Russia!”.

The trials were preceded by a conversation with a policeman who tried to convince Loseva that “not everything is clear” and that the United States is to blame for the war. “He’s probably 40 years old, an ordinary guy, such a mess with thoughts like [Russian actor Oskar] Kuchera. About the fact that America is to blame for everything, it’s all apparently this country’s fault [not ours]. In general, we are defending the Motherland. If we aren’t sure of something, we shouldn’t do anything, because it’s easy to end up in jail. The typical arguments, they make you sick,” Loseva recalls the meeting in an interview with Mediazona.

Together with her son Ivan, Nelly Loseva runs a small business renting out a sauna. Even in this work, she tries to resist Russian military propaganda in small, meaningful ways: putting up stickers at the reception in support of Ukraine, and regularly painting her nails yellow and blue. According to her, once a group of soldiers even came to the sauna, returning from the front, but none of them reproached Nelly for the stickers.

Editor: Maria Klimova

Translation: Jack McClelland

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