Art and war. How a pacifist drawing made by a schoolgirl turned into a criminal case against her father
Алла Константинова
Art and war. How a pacifist drawing made by a schoolgirl turned into a criminal case against her father
3 March 2023, 16:49

Art by Anastasia Krainiuk / Mediazona

A year ago, sixth grader Masha Moskaleva from the town of Efremov in Russia's Tula region drew a picture of a woman and child under rocket fire in her art lesson. Since then, her life has changed dramatically: in the last two months alone, the girl has been twice taken to a children shelter in Efremov, while her father Alexei was interrogated and had his head beaten against the wall at the FSB office. On March 1, Alexei Moskalev was detained and his daughter was put in an orphanage. The next day, the man was put under house arrest and charged with “discrediting” the Russian army. He is waiting for his daughter to be brought back to him from the orphanage.

“The police came to the flat,” says Masha Moskaleva to a lawyer in a video puplished by the media OVD-Info. “Well... They took him away. He went to work.”

Her name is Masha Moskaleva, and she is 13, a sixth grader from the town of Efremov, Tula Oblast. On the morning of March 1, several unidentified men detained her father Alexei on suspicion of “discrediting” the Russian army and took him to the Investigative Committee. An activist and acquaintance of the Moskalev family Elena Agafonova told Mediazona that Masha was left home alone, and then a juvenile affairs officer came to pick her up and take her “to a rehabilitation center.”

“Masha called me in tears and said they had fished her daddy out in the street and brought him home—they ostentatiously showed they were taking him away,” said Agafonova. “They left her alone in the flat and stood at the stairwell. Later they called the Juvenile Justice Unit. I went and saw the officer who took her away, I even know this woman. It's a small town. Then I phoned the child welfare authorities myself, finding out all the details: where they were taking her, what she was doing...”

The girl spent the night of 2 March without any phone or internet acsess at the Efremov “social rehabilitation center for minors,” or “orphanage” as it is known locally. Her father Alexei Moskalev spent the night in the investigation department, as his lawyer Vladimir Bilienko told Mediazona. The next day, investigators charged Moskalev with “discrediting” the Russian army and the court ordered he is placed under house arrest. He is now waiting for his dughter to return, but as of mid-day of March 3, the social services didn't bring her home. Alexei is raising Masha alone since she was three years old, her mother is alive, but is not in touch with them.

“Daddy, the police almost grabbed me for drawing a picture”

Masha attended school No. 9 in Efremov but hasn't been there for almost a year. In April 2022, during an art lesson dedicated to the theme of the army, she drew a Russian and a Ukrainian flag on a piece of paper. The first had the words “No to War” written on it, with “Glory to Ukraine” on the second one. Between the flags Masha placed a woman with a child and rockets flying at them from Russia. Teacher Nina Vorobieva was extremely disturbed by this drawing.

“After that, all hell broke loose!” Alexei Moskalev told OVD-Info and Spektr. “The teacher ran to the principal, who called the police. The art teacher immediately started to threaten my girl, so when the officers arrived and waited for her at the entrance, asking all the children for their names, she immediately understood what was going on. She managed to slip away, gave a false name. When she came running home, out of breath, she said: ‘Daddy, the police almost grabbed me for drawing a picture.’ My daughter was frightened, and I promised her that I would come to school the next day and wait for her until the end of lessons.”

The next day Alexei did so, but when the principal saw him in the corridor, she called the police again. This time the police came along with social services. Masha was called out of class and brought to her father.

“What a disgrace it is, when a child is taken out of class and led down the corridor like a prisoner,” Moskalev recalled. “They started saying to me: ‘See what you are teaching the child! Look what she drew.’ I said: ‘What's the big deal? She is against the war, against bloodshed, what's wrong with that?’ They drew up a protocol, called in teachers as witnesses. Then they took us to the car; the pupils were watching out of the windows as we were being led like terrorists or something. We arrived at the police precinct, where the chief, Andrei Aksionov, lectured me, saying that I wasn't bringing up the child properly.”

At the precinct, Alexei learned that he had been charged with “discrediting” the army; the reason was a comment on the website Odnoklassniki: “Russian army. The rapists are close.” On the same day, the Efremov District Court fined Moskalev 32 thousand rubles. Masha had been waiting for her father the whole time, first in a nearby office at the police station, then in the court corridor.

“We left the courthouse closer to the evening,” Alexei recalled. “My daughter was hungry and crying, she was shaking. I told her: ‘Mashenka, calm down. The trial is over, I was fined, now they'll leave us alone. It's all over.’ She said: ‘I'm afraid to go to school.’ I reassured her that there was nothing to worry about.”

But the very next day Moskalev received a call from the school, asking him to come in, because “FSB officers had taken” his daughter.

“I got dressed, ran there as fast as i could,” Moskalev continued his story. “I was met by the FSB officers. I asked: ‘Where is my daughter?’ They answered that she was in the next room and they were interviewing her. For three and a half hours they told me that I was bringing up my child all wrong: they said she would be taken away from me and I would go to jail. They suggested that Masha should lead some kind of youth team in support of the Russian troops, but I blandly refused: she has a lot of classes and hobby groups, so there's no time to waste.”

As activist Yelena Agafonova told Mediazona, Masha's teacher Yekaterina Ovsyannikova and principal Larisa Trofimova later denied that they allowed FSB officers speak to the girl in her father's absence on April 26: “They turned everything upside down, saying ‘we gave her an A for that drawing.’ And not a word about the fact that the teacher took the girl out of class to the FSB officers. She was interrogated without her father's knowledge, without representatives, but neither the teachers nor the principal ever admitted to that.”

Since that day, Masha stopped going to school and started home-schooling, but after the New Year she and her father moved to a rented flat in the town of Uzlovaya, an hour and a half's drive from Efremov. As Moskalev told OVD-Info, the girl started panicking at every mention of the school.

Mediazona was able to reach Larisa Trofimova—but upon hearing the question about Masha Moskaleva, the school principle hung up the phone.

“Head against the wall and floor”

On December 30, Alexei Moskalev “peeked out the window and was dumbfounded.” Five police cars were parked in the yard of his house in Efremov, a little further away there were also an emergency services car and a fire truck. “Twelve people—FSB officers and a few policemen—got out of the cars and headed towards our entrance,” Alexei told OVD-Info. “They were carrying a bolt cutter. I knew straight away they were coming for us.”

The officers threatened to cut through the door, so Alexei had to open it. They operatives “took things out of the cabinets and threw them on the floor, stomped on clothes, pulled cords, tore pictures off the walls, turned over furniture,” Alexei recalled. All of the family savings—125 thousand rubles and $3,150—were confiscated, as well as their documents and gadgets. According to Moskalev, the law enforcers were particularly interested in dollars—during interrogation at the FSB, where he was taken after the search, they asked: “Where did you get the dollars? Who do you work for?” Moskalev himself says he was a businessman until 2000, and then he raised birds. “He had a sort of a small private zoo,” Elena Agafonova says of Alexei's activities.

According to Alexei, on December 30, he was taken in for questioning and his daughter was delivered “to a social institution.” A criminal case was opened against him for repeated “discrediting” of the troops; he was in the status of a suspect since December 27. FSB officers beat his “head against the wall and floor,” the man claimed.

“In the afternoon they locked the office for two and a half hours, turned on the Russian national anthem at full volume and left,” Alexei recalled. “The walls were shaking. My heart gave out after that. They were afraid I would die there, so they called an ambulance. The doctors measured my blood pressure, gave me two pills, an injection, and left. After that [the FSB officers] showed me my daughter's comment on VKontakte: on a post about ‘our guys are dying without sparing their lives,’ Masha wrote: ‘And how much are they dying for there – two hundred thousand a month or a little more?’”

The man wasn't released until nine in the evening. After that, the first thing he did was to take his daughter home.

“No questions, lying gently on the fucking floor”

Elena Agafonova says that on the morning of March 1, a few hours before Alexei Moskalev was detained, two men began breaking into her private house in Uzlovaya. Yelena believes they were looking for Moskalev. “One was in a police uniform, the other in civilian clothes and both had masks on,” the activist recalls. “I asked them for identification and they left straight away, while I closed the gate behind them and started a live broadcast on YouTube. We asked them for identification documents, search warrant or BOLO for Aleksei, but they didn't show anything and just started banging on the gate.”

Agafonova says she immediately called the police – they arrived and, after talking to the strangers, did nothing: “There were about 20 of them in all!”

In the video, which Elena's comrades in the Public Control broadcasted on YouTube on the morning of March 1, about ten people in police uniform and plain clothes stand at the gate of the activist's house.

“Who are you?” in a disruptive voice, the owner asks them, clutching her mobile phone. “This is a private property, show me your papers to enter here! Who do you think you are?”

The men continue to stomp at the gate, swapping places and occasionally stepping back for a smoke, but they don't back down. “Why aren't you checking their documents?” Elena's streaming acquaintance approaches one of the policemen. “Whose?” The man wonders. “The one who just broke in here!” says the cameraman indignantly. “We've already checked everything,” replies the policeman blithely. “Who are you to explain anything to you?”

As Yelena Agafonova told Mediazona, police officers neither showed her any documents nor entered her property that day. There is a moment on the video broadcast: a policeman turns towards the camera with a grimace on his face. “Thunder—that's what all of you need, you'd have no questions, lying gently on the fucking floor,” he says, shifting from foot to foot among his colleagues who are frozen with the cold. They chuckle.

On March 2, Alexei Moskalev was released from custody and put under house arrest. He is now awaiting trial and the return of his daughter from social services.

Updated on March 4. After three days, Masha is still being held at the “rehabilitation centre.” According to Moskalev's lawyers, the prosecutor, who is charging the man with “discreditation” of the Russian army, went to get Masha and take her to her father. But social services refused to let the girl go: they demand a psychiatric evaluation for Moskalev and want to limit his parenting rights (and the rights of Masha's mother as well).

Editor: Dmitry Tkachev

Translator: Daria Fomina

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