“Break her spine.” The story of a Donetsk resident who was harassed after posting TikToks with Ukrainian songs, forced to fake apologies, and fined
Алла Константинова
“Break her spine.” The story of a Donetsk resident who was harassed after posting TikToks with Ukrainian songs, forced to fake apologies, and fined
10 October 2023, 15:21

Photo: Olga Shchekina's personal archive

Former puppet theater actress, 34-year-old Olga Shchekina, lives in Donetsk and raises a seven-year-old daughter. In April this year, she started a TikTok account, where she posted several videos with Ukrainian-language songs as background. A month later, the police came to her home. The videos themselves found resonance among pro-Russian political groups, while Olga started receiving threats about having her spine broken and “beat her fucking face up.” Two months later, a court in Donetsk fined her 77,000 roubles under administrative articles on calls to violate the integrity of the Russian Federation and the display of Nazi symbols. She told Mediazona her story.

I have the Volnovakha district registration, which is now a part of the DPR. I’ve been living in Donetsk since 2013, I married a local, but my husband and I didn’t really hit it off and separated. He has pro-Russian views, unfortunately. I can’t say that he is a Z-patriot, but he is Russian by nationality. That’s why he’s probably closer to all this madness.

I have a pedagogical education, and I had three jobs before this whole thing started, but then I was fired from all of them on the same day. I'm a performer in a private traveling puppet theater. We’ve been traveling to cities where schools and kindergartens were still open. In the Donetsk-Makiivka direction, for example, all educational institutions are closed, but closer to Shakhtersk and Torez, there are some schools and kindergartens open. So we used to perform children's plays there. I was usually busy with this job until about 1pm, and then I went to the second job—I worked as a teacher at a private kindergarten. On weekends, I worked as an animator, organising children's parties.

I have not been silent since 2014, and everyone I know is aware of my [pro-Ukrainian] position—I openly wrote my opinion on social media, I did not hide. Until 2023, I was somehow lucky. And then I got caught for my position for the first time. Even though I uploaded videos on Facebook and wrote posts about the war long before. But at work, for example, I have never imposed my position on anyone, I just love children. I can remember only one case of such sort that happened during my time in the kindergarten: after February 2022, I had a song “Good evening, we are from Ukraine” as my ringtone. The phone rang right when one of the pupils’ fathers came in—either a military man or an MSS guy. I picked up the phone, and he looked at me so slyly… It turned out that he immediately called the head of the kindergarten and asked: “What do we have here? Is Olga Valeryevna an ukrop?” The head of the kindergarten herself has a pro-Russian position, but she has always been loyal to me.

I can think of a couple of other situations at my other job: a former colleague came to the performance drunk, and we were all in shock – how could he do that, come drunk to a kindergarten? He started to rage and then said: “Well, yes, I’m drunk, but we have enemies of the state and people right among us, traveling with us, and everything is fine with them.” It was such a strange move, he always seemed to be friendly to me. There was a very pro-Russian colleague in our theater. We tolerated each other until we went to Mariupol for a performance. It was the end of April [2023], they had just built a new school there and opened a kindergarten. We went there for the performance. When we drove into Mariupol, I couldn’t hold back my emotions—these ruins! It was very hard to look at. And we had a fight—she said that I was “crazy because of the Ukrainian propaganda” I was listening to.

On 26 May, I wake up to a call from my former colleague, who tells me: “Check your Telegram right away! You're a star.” I say, “What do you mean?” And he corrects himself, “You are a star, but in a bad way.” I checked my Telegram and opened the link he sent me—there's a Donetsk public channel, which posted my TikTok video with the caption: “It turns out that there are still some people waiting [for liberation] in Donetsk.” This was followed by a bunch of angry emojis, and in the comments everyone wished me death and talked about physical violence. I'm thinking, this is crazy.

I go to my TikTok account and see that it has already been trashed. Some time later my employer calls me from the kindergarten and says: “Olya, I told you not to make your position public. I am sorry, but the parents saw it. To avoid any problems, please delete my contacts, and the ones for the kindergarten as well.” I mean, I understand her—if she had left me at work, there would have been pressure from parents, and they are, after all, the clientele.

I look further—it turns out that several pro-Russian channels have written about me: RIA DPR, for example, published my video with the caption “The least we can do to people like her is to kill them.” The Crimean Death Squad even posted a video of me with my daughter. I checked the comments and saw many threats like “we need to break her spine to make her soil herself,” and “break her legs and make her dance.”

Surprisingly, it's mostly women who wrote this. And mostly locals, Donetsk-Makiivka. One even wanted to “shoot” me, adding: “I'll beat your fuckin' face.” There were also some men in military uniforms who wrote in the comments that they would throw a grenade at my window and that my daughter and I would be raped. In general, terrible things were written to me.

Under one of the videos, a girl I didn't know wrote: “So it's Olga!” She also pointed out the neighborhood where I live. Then I got a call from my second employer, from the entertainment field, telling me that the parents whose children we led holidays to, began to recognise me. “For your own safety, you need to lie low,” she said.

Meanwhile, it's already half past five, and there's a knock on the door. I realise that something is wrong, I'm not expecting anyone. My mum and I stay silent: she's 63 years old, very scared. And then there was another knock, a strong one. I hear a neighbor come out and say: “I don't know if they're home.” But they start pulling on the door, and it's flimsy and old. I tell my mum: “Open it, or it'll only get worse, they'll break it down.” She opened the door, and then they broke into our flat.

There were two men in civilian clothes. By the way they talked, they did not differ from us at all. I thought they were locals. They quickly showed my mum some documents and told her: “Don't worry, it's just a door-to-door inquiry.” But I realise it's not an apartment inspection. They ask who the owner of the flat is. I show them my passport. One of them takes me under his arm and says: “Get dressed, you're coming with us.” Me: “What's wrong?” And he looks at me with glassy eyes and says: “You know.”

I was standing in my home clothes, but they refused to leave the room—I turned away from them, stood with my back to them in my underwear and got dressed. I had time to tell my mum about the social media bullying, and she got very nervous. I didn't know where they would take me— a basement, a torture room? People were disappearing here [in Donetsk]! What if it they are military and want to kill me? Or what if they are locals who have found out where I live and are about to do something to me?

We walked outside, and they put me in the ordinary black car. I noticed that the first one sat behind the wheel and crossed himself. And the one with glassy eyes turned round and said to me: “Are you rooting for Ukraine?” And I realise that right now I can't tell the truth and answer: “Well, I made a couple of videos for hype.” And he says to me: “Anyway, let's be straight. We were quite friendly because of your mum, but we can just put you in the trunk of the car now.”

The one who crossed himself says to me: “Do you even realize what will happen to you now?”

“You will kill me or put me in jail,” I say without hesitation.

“Is that what you want?”

“No, but it's not up to me.”

We've been driving all this time—we've already passed Kirovsky police station. I don't know where we're going, and they're not telling me. The one who I talked with looks around 30. Pumped up, handsome, shaved sides, brown eyes. The other one is in his 50s, blue eyes, cruel, I was afraid to look at him.

While we were driving, they were asking me humiliating questions. “Do you have a fuck buddy?” “Do you fuck often?” I answered… because I was afraid to make them angry. Once I came across a memo titled ‘How to behave in captivity.’ And it said: don't cry, don't ask for anything, speak in a calm tone without much emotion, don't look into their eyes. So I did my best.

In the end, they brought me to the Lenin District Police Department. These two said that they would “see me again” and handed me over to the cops. A policewoman was drawing up a protocol on me—I saw how they put a disc with my videos and papers on her desk. One of the papers said that I was detained by the Counter Extremism Center officers for my “anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian statements.” This is how I learned where these two were from.

“Donbass will prosper again as part of the Russian Federation.” Apology after threats

The girl who drew up the protocol was quite adequate—she asked questions and wrote something down. But we were constantly interrupted by staff coming in and out of the room. They observed me like a circus monkey. One of them came in and asked: “Is that a blogger? Ah, well, I have a couple of minutes—you [to the policewoman], when you finish, let me know, I have a couple of hours to explain the party policy.” And I am thinking, “What, are you going to beat me for two hours there?” Then the next one comes in and rushes straight to me: “Well, are you still waiting [for the liberation of the occupied territories of Ukraine]?” I don't say anything. He repeats the question again. I can't handle myself: “Well, yes, I spoke out against the Special Operation.” And he says: “I can take you to the morgue, I'll show you the torn bodies.” I think to myself: “There are torn bodies on the other side too.” But I don't say anything. He does not stop, “You [the policewoman] should cut her head off with a blunt knife.” He turns around and walks away. Then another one comes in: “Do you know that even if you get out of here [from the police station], the locals will tear you up?”

Photo: Olga Shchekina's personal archive

I got paranoid right there. I thought: are they going to take a pledge from me to appear, and then hand me over to someone? Or is there a crowd outside the police station with bats, for example? I had dark thoughts.

The cops let me go at seven o'clock. I called a taxi, came home. I found my mum crying, my daughter too. I started to calm them down. Then the one religious one called. He asked: “Did you get home well?” I said, “Who's this?” And he answered, “Call me Denis.” He rang me a while later, on May 29, and said: “Tomorrow, I'll come to your place.” And the next day was supposed to be my daughter's birthday.

There was no birthday party, of course—the kid was on the verge of a breakdown. In the morning, this so-called “Denis” arrived—without a summons, without anything. My mother even ran out after me. Just in case, to show him that she saw him picking me up. I got into his car, and there was a new policeman on the second seat, I had never seen him before. They gave me a paper with a text for my apology video. It had lines such as ‘The Ukrainian Armed Forces are Nazis, they are destroying Donbas,’ ‘I support the Special Military Operation’ and so on.

“Can I use my own words?” I asked.

“No, only what is written.”

“Can I at least say it without giving away my personal information? It has my name and surname. The whole town's got a grudge against me.”

“No, you can't.”

I told them that I will not record the video under such conditions. And then this so-called “Denis” turned round and said to me so angrily: “Hey, what am I to you, a kid? Either you make this video, or we're going to the office now, and I'll charge you with an article that will immediately put you in jail and your child to an orphanage.” I replied that I have not done anything to deserve a jail sentence. “I can arrange that,” he said. And that was the first time in these days when I couldn't help crying.

They took me to a city park. They sat me down on a bench. The sun was shining so hard right in my eyes. I asked if I could move a little. And they said: “No, this place has been approved by the office.”

Anyway, they recorded this video with me. I was standing there recording a video in selfie mode, and they were holding a piece of paper with the words that I was supposed to say.

Then they took me to their Counter Extremism Center—although they still had Department for Combating Organised Crime written on the building. They drove in through the backyard and blindfolded me with some kind of cloth. Something human woke up in this “Denis,” I guess, and he said: “Don't be afraid, there are just cars in the yard and things lying there that you don't need to see.” Then he spent some time looking for witnesses and examining my phone under their supervision. I think they also spread my video on the social media, they even uploaded it to Odnoklassniki and VKontakte

In June, they called me several times to the police station—there were some inspection materials there. In a protocol, which they drew up on May 26, they attached all my explanations for each video to the case file. They also examined my phone, and attached a disc. But I never received a summons or anything. And they did not give me any protocols.

“You have just created a problem for yourself.” Charges of calling for separatism and displaying Nazi symbols

On July 3, an unfamiliar number called, and for the first time I was addressed at the other end of the receiver in a formal tone: “Olga Valeryevna, this is the deputy of the Investigative Committee.” When I arrived at the institution, the investigator told me that they had received materials from the prosecutor's office to open a case of “Public calls to violate the integrity of the Russian Federation.” I said: “But I didn't call to anything!..” And she said: “Is this the first time you are being prosecuted? Ah, well, sorry for scaring you then—for the first time then it will be only an administrative offense, you are very lucky.”

I probably got a few gray hairs during those minutes. She gave me a copy of the refusal to initiate criminal proceedings – it was the first document I had ever received. On July 27, the prosecutor's office called me, and the next day they issued two protocols: an administrative offense for “Public calls to violate the integrity of the Russian Federation” and “Demonstration of Nazi or extremist symbols.” The second article, it turns out, was added on the day of familiarization with the first ruling, which is a violation. I wrote a statement that I did not agree with such a charge. To “deserve” such an accusation, I had to not dance, but run around with a swastika in the frame and call for the dismemberment of the Russian Federation!

On August 1, there was a hearing on my case in the Budennovsk inter-district court of Donetsk. I didn't have a lawyer, I prepared a speech myself, I wanted to say why I didn't agree with the charges. I thought that I would be finally heard and everything would be considered. In the end, they brought me in [to the courtroom], some time later the secretary and the judge came and that was it. No other people in the room. 

I told them that I didn't carry out any propaganda, I didn't make any appeals, I don't agree with the accusation. The judge listened to me, but did not even leave the room to make a decision. She said: “What can I tell you? You know where you live.” She also added that “one person won't change anything.” “You've just created a problem for yourself.” Saying that, she opened the Code of Administrative Offences and read out the judgment. She didn't even pretend.

Photo: Olga Shchekina's personal archive

Under the “calls to violate the integrity” article I got a 75,000 roubles fine, and under the second article, for displaying symbols, 2,000 roubles and confiscation of the device from which the offense was committed. But the phone has not been taken away, it is still with me. I am calling from it now.

I still don't know when my appeal will be heard in the Supreme Court, they don't tell me. At first, I couldn't even fill out the complaint myself, I'm a dummy in this. I went to the lawyer's office, and they said: “We are sorry, with all due respect, but we don't take political articles.” I love this city, but it's damned to its core. We have a lot of things going on here…

I know I won't win [the trial]. Even people with lawyers don't win, and I'm alone. Well, if there was only this damn defamation, I could have agreed with it. But not with calls to violate the state’s integrity, and even less with the display of Nazi symbols!

I am now living on what I have managed to save working three jobs. I stayed at home for the whole of June and half of July. I only left the flat for interrogations, and I did not get there on foot, but by taxi. During these journeys I developed a strong fear of taxi drivers. In the middle of summer I changed my hairstyle, put on glasses and started to go out only like that. But even so I was recognised. Once I went to the post office to pay for the Internet and stopped to smoke a cigarette; a man soon came up to me and asked: “Are you by any chance the [Olga's nickname VKontakte]?” I said, “No, you're wrong.” At least he didn't attack me with his fists.

This entire situation caught my daughter psychologically off guard. My detention, her spoiled birthday, it all affected her. She did not feel safe for a long time, her psyche began to give up. People wrote all sorts of nasty things about her.

People help me to collect money to pay the fine. I published a fundraising link on my social networks. When I finish collecting—I’m 20 thousand short now—I will pay and just leave here. I have Ukrainian documents, I did not apply for Russian citizenship, I don't even have a DPR passport.

Now the flow of this hatred in the comments has decreased, that’s for sure. If during the first week I was just being constantly pelted with curses in my private messages, the second flood of hatred came only after I apologized. I cannot deny that I was bullied, it was emotionally hard to handle. But I also remember crying when I saw a message from a stranger in the midst of all this rubbish: “Hang in there, girl, I'm with you.”

Editor: Dmitry Treshchanin

Translation: Daria Fomina

Support Mediazona now!

Your donations directly help us continue our work

Load more