Art by Anna Makarova / Mediazona
Оn January 25, 26-year-old Darya Trepova was sentenced to 27 years in a penal colony — the longest term ever received by a woman in the history of modern Russia. The prosecution stated that Trepova is responsible for the explosion at the performance of milblogger Vladlen Tatarsky in St. Petersburg. More than 50 people were injured then, and the propagandist himself died. The young woman insists that she was used and unaware — she was sure that she was giving the blogger a bust sculpture with a listening device, not explosives. Mediazona closely followed the trial (its full documentation, in Russian, can be found here) and tells the story of Tatarsky's murder presented in the court.
“Alex, hi there. Are you alive?” Alexandr Baranov, a resident of St. Petersburg, received this message from his friend Dmitry Kasintsev on the evening of April 2. They had studied together at ITMO University. A couple of hours before the message, an explosion occurred in a cafe on Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg during a meeting with a milblogger (or Z-blogger, as they are known in Russia) and participant in the war in Ukraine, Vladlen Tatarsky. The propagandist himself died, more than fifty visitors were injured.
When the explosion occurred, the 27-year-old Baranov was watching a TV series with his girlfriend Almira and chose not to respond to the message. Around the same time, he received a call from an foreign number, which he also ignored. It later turned out that the caller was another acquaintance from the university, Dmitry Rylov. According to Baranov, they “stopped talking in the spring of 2022 due to different views on the special military operation”: Rylov, a libertarian, was against the invasion of Ukraine, participated in protest actions, and left Russia after the start of mobilisation.
Later that night, Baranov was browsing news about the explosion and came across a post with a blurred photo of a girl with reddish hair, identified as Darya T. It was indicated that she was the one who gifted Tatarsky the explosive statuette. He laughed that he only knew one girl fitting that description — Darya Trepova, whom he had seen once in a social gathering. Soon after, he saw that it was indeed Trepova who was being sought by the authorities — and along with her, Dmitry Rylov (who, to Baranov’s surprise, was referred to as Darya’s husband).
The agitated young man said goodbye to his girlfriend and rushed back home. Only then did he remember Kasintsev’s message and finally responded to it, suggesting they meet online on Discord.
At around 2:30 a.m., Alexander Baranov, his girlfriend Almira Galimova, Dmitry Kasintsev, and another friend gathered on Discord to discuss the cafe explosion. “We were shocked by the news. To see our acquaintances in the news, especially in such a context,” Galimova recalled in court. “We began discussing the events, wondering, “What do you think, could it be a mistake, can this really be happening?” It was just a casual conversation about nothing in particular. We discussed [Trepova’s possible involvement], but more in the sense that it must be a mistake and that it couldn’t be true.”
Around 4 a.m., after ending his chat with friends, Dmitry Kasintsev took off his headphones and approached the mattress lying next to him on the floor.
Darya Trepova was sleeping on this mattress – just a few hours earlier, Kasintsev had let her in at the request of her husband, Dmitry Rylov. He hadn’t dared to mention this to his friends during the call. Kasintsev woke the young woman up and asked why her name was mentioned in all the news about the terrorist attack.
Darya replied that she had been set up.
“Dasha was probably the most kind hearted and selfless people in my life, often helping me a lot,” recalled her childhood friend Yulia Zhabreva. “Dasha is always here to help. A very talented person, she is constantly on the run for something new, interested in completely polar things: like medicine, design, and music. And it’s very easy to deceive Dasha: there was a case of buying a fake iPhone on Avito, there were many instances where Dasha, due to her truthfulness and openness to people, got herself into tricky situations.”
The friends studied together at St. Petersburg Lyceum No. 408, which Trepova graduated from with a gold medal. According to Zhabreva, “everything came very easily to her,” although she was “somewhat eccentric.”
Trepova’s father died when she was in her final years of school. According to acquaintances, she wasn’t very close with her mother and stepfather. “But still, she helped her mother with her child, transporting things, and more,” said another close friend, Milana Khavanova. Zhabreva described Trepova’s relationship with her mother as “very open": “Dasha was more or less left to her own devices.”
After finishing the lyceum, Trepova enrolled in St. Petersburg State University to study medicine, but dropped out in 2019 after her fourth year because she had “other interests.” She worked in a vintage clothing store, and according to her friend Zhabreva, she was “trying to figure herself out; medicine is more rigid, while Darya is a creative person.”
Trepova herself recalled that her studies were difficult and she indeed felt that medicine was not her calling. “I was doing an internship at a gynaecological clinic, and I witnessed a surgery where a mistake was made and the patient suffered. I realised that I couldn’t take on such responsibility and decided to give something else a try,” she explained in court.
She expressed an interest in programming, but was unable to enroll in that field. Nevertheless, Trepova was passionate about web design and created a website for Ambar Vintage, the store where she worked. She tried writing electronic music and enjoyed communicating on Twitter, where she was known by the handle Dasha Tykovka (Pumpkin).
Her account was deleted in the fall of 2022, but after Trepova’s arrest, screenshots of some of her tweets circulated online. These were cited by Fontanka: the young woman tweeted ironically about her romantic experiences or simply described everyday situations. Here’s one of her typical posts:
“Dasha Tykovka: What I’ve Learned
1. Alcohol and drugs are crap
2. One should regularly watch uplifting anime
3. Poop every day”
The young woman tended to hold more oppositional views.
During interrogation, her friend Yulia Zhabreva stated during interrogation that Trepova supported Alexei Navalny and the feminist anti-war resistance, and even participated in protests. “Since school, she always expressed rebellious behaviour, wanted to stand out and draw attention to herself. She was very assertive, and I respected her for that,” her friend noted.
Darya received a ten-day arrest for participating in an anti-war demonstration immediately after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She was detained along with Dmitry Rylov, who was also given an arrest sentence, but it was a day shorter. After this incident, the young couple decided to get married.
“From what I know, it was a mock marriage just for the plot,” her friend commented. “There was no actual wedding. I remember the “circles” on Telegram, how they went their separate ways after leaving the registry office. This joke was very Dasha, so it didn’t surprise me much.”
Trepova herself explained that she got married because she “always wanted to celebrate a silver wedding, that is, 25 years, and then a golden wedding": “It always seemed very romantic to me. But I didn’t want to have a family life.” She noted that with Rylov, she was in a “friendly relationship,” not a romantic one.
After her arrest for participating in the protest, Trepova stopped attending rallies, but she continued to record her thoughts and feelings in a diary. During interrogation, the investigator asked Darya how she could explain her diary entries about wanting to blow up the state and destroy the president.
“It was just an emotional outburst,” Trepova explained. “It was partly due to my time in detention following my arrest for participating in the anti-war protest.”
For several months, she continued working at the vintage clothing store, keeping her diary, and tweeting under the nickname Dasha Tykovka. That is, until September 2022, when, according to Darya, political writer Roman Popkov contacted her on Twitter.
Roman Popkov is the 45-year-old former activist of National Bolshevik Party and journalist, known for his work with Open Russia and MBKH Media. In the late 2010s, he left Russia and settled in Kyiv. After the start of the war, he wrote from there for the Vot Tak media and collaborated with former Russian State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who also moved to Ukraine.
“In late 2021, I followed his Twitter account, and after the start of the SMO, he followed me back,” Trepova recalled the encounter in court. “I was very distressed about the start of the SMO, didn’t support it, and felt a lot of sympathy for Ukrainians. In a wave of emotions at the end of March, I wrote to Roman, asking if there was a chance for me to go to Ukraine as a volunteer, plus I have a medical education that might be useful. He replied that he would think about it, but getting into Ukraine was difficult.”
She forgot about this idea in a couple of months, however, in September 2022, half a year later, Popkov himself reached out to Trepova. According to her, he unexpectedly offered help with moving; she replied that “her situation had slightly changed,” and besides, her international passport had expired. Nonetheless, the proposal still seemed interesting to her: “To go to Ukraine and see everything with my own eyes.” Popkov promised to help her with the documents.
It appears that the investigative officers were unable to obtain the conversation logs between Roman Popkov and Darya Trepova, at least there was no reference to it in the court. Trepova mentioned that they communicated through Signal and Telegram and set a timer for the automatic deletion of messages.
The possible content of their conversations is known only from Trepova’s statements during the investigation and trial, as well as from the testimonies of friends to whom she recounted these conversations (Darya did not hide the fact that she was talking to Popkov and doing his assignments). Meanwhile, the investigation was able to independently confirm most of the factual circumstances that Darya described: her movements, receiving packages and money, visits to Tatarsky’s lectures, and trips to the Listva bookstore.
Roman Popkov himself states that “Dasha is the brightest thing that has appeared in Russia in the last thirty years.” He himself merely talked to Trepova on social networks “for journalistic matters.” Publicly, Popkov neither confirms nor denies Trepova’s version, emphasising that “the truth about the Resistance operations” will only be known to the public “after the victory over the evil that Tatarsky, a warmonger, terrorist, and a murderer, served.”
Approximately a month into her communication with Popkov, Trepova recounted in court, the journalist messaged her saying he needed help: to attend a meeting of a pro-war movement Cyber Front Z.
“I understood that, since he is a journalist covering the SMO, he wants to understand what is happening in the patriotic community,” the young lady recalled. “Well, I decided that I could be this kind of secret agent. I agreed. Due to my work, I couldn’t attend that meeting, and he said it was not a big deal.”
Darya texted with Popkov “almost every day,” and gradually new requests emerged, such as buying a couple of prepaid SIM cards. Trepova thought they were needed for registering social media accounts and bought five SIM cards. The spent money, the girl says, Roman Popkov reimbursed her to a Bitcoin wallet; the same wallet later received money for completing other requests and assignments (according to the investigation, from December 2022 to March 2023, Trepova received a total of 191,470 rubles in her Bitcoin wallet).
She did not hide her involvement with the journalist. “Trepova spoke of Popkov enthusiastically, calling him cool and approving of his activities,” said her friend Milana Khavanova. According to her, Darya talked about how Popkov was persuading her to come to the journalism school that he had organised in Kyiv.
Eventually, Darya agreed and gradually became enthusiastic about the idea of moving to Ukraine, says Khavanova: “She said that it was first necessary to complete Popkov’s tasks, meaning the assignments were a kind of test stage to check her views.”
“I liked that he appreciated my blog,” Trepova herself confessed, likely referring to her Dasha Tykovka Twitter account.
Popkov asked her to write an article comparing anti-war protests and support for the war in St. Petersburg and Moscow. He sent her a text by Eduard Limonov, the founder of the National Bolshevik Party, as an example, where he compares the Moscow and St. Petersburg cells of the organisation. Trepova wrote the article, but it was never published.
Darya applied for a new travel passport and prepare for moving to Ukraine, but the tasks kept coming. In late November 2022, Popkov asked her to pick up a book from a local post service, SDEK, warning her to avoid being caught on surveillance cameras.
“I was scared,” Darya said in court. “I asked if it was an extremist book. He replied that it was just a book, but the times nowadays require extra precautions. He said he would give me the contact of his friend who would handle my relocation and would send the details for collecting the book.”
Popkov didn’t mention his friend’s name, nor did the friend introduce himself. Darya referred to him by his Telegram nickname: Gestalt. From that point on, new requests primarily came from Gestalt.
Roman Popkov was accused of orchestrating a terrorist act (under Part 4 of Article 205.1 of the Criminal Code) in absentia.
From the start, he denied manipulating Trepova. “I never gave any orders to Dasha, nor did I introduce her to any Ukrainian intelligence officers. I know Dasha through social networks—she follows me, and I follow her on Twitter; we occasionally exchanged messages—she was interested in journalism,” he wrote the day after the explosion.
According to the writer, his interactions with Trepova on social media were strictly “for journalistic reasons.” Popkov consistently posts in support of her.
Shortly before the sentence, Dmitry Rylov, Trepova’s husband, wrote an open letter to Popkov demanding he admit that Trepova was unwittingly used and unaware of the bomb in the bust figurine.
“You portray Dasha as a martyr in your posts. Dasha is indeed a martyr in my eyes, but a martyr who did not wish to become one. From someone who genuinely wanted to help the wounded and sick, someone who always stood for the truth, someone driven all their life by a great force to help their neighbour, incapable of causing harm, you (or people close to you) turned her into a walking bomb,” he writes.
In response, Roman Popkov said that Trepova’s husband is trying to provoke him into a “confession” and is attempting to “manipulate feelings towards Dasha, like a cop.”
“I will not discuss the St. Petersburg operation until it’s time to do so. Dasha can say whatever she thinks is necessary about me. Both in her final word and at any stage of her so-called trial. That’s her right, not yours,” Popkov wrote. “Dasha is the brightest thing that has happened to Russia in the last thirty years. Please respect Dasha’s completely truthful testimonies in court. She is telling the truth.”
Addressing the media, Popkov added, “You will learn the truth about the Resistance operations when necessary,” meaning “after the victory over the evil that Tatarsky, a warmonger, terrorist, and murderer, served.”
“He has either a Southern Russian or Ukrainian accent. He said he was originally from Donetsk but now lives in Kyiv. He mentioned that he personally knows Roman Popkov,” Trepova described what little she knew about Gestalt in court. “He also told me that he is older than me, but I don’t know his exact age. He goes to the gym. His parents died in Donetsk. And he has a Japanese car, though he didn’t specify the brand.”
Gestalt mentioned that he worked in cybersecurity and promised to give a hint on his identity when she was already on the plane heading to Ukraine. They spoke on the phone several times, but unlike with Popkov, they never used video calls, so the girl never saw Gestalt’s face.
At the end of November, as requested, Darya dressed really discreetly and picked up a package from the SDEK office near the “Ulitsa Dybenko” metro station, sent to someone called Anastasia Kriulina. Inside there was a book by Vladlen Tatarsky titled “Meditation,” which discussed the conflict in Donbass in 2014. Z-blogger Tatarsky became widely known after a meeting in the Kremlin, where Putin signed a decree on the annexation of the occupied territories of Ukraine, and Vladlen said on video: “That’s it, we will conquer everyone, kill everyone, rob everyone we need, everything is gonna be as we like it.”
The book had a dedicatory inscription for someone named “Nastya.” Gestalt asked Trepova to take a photo with the book in her hands “for posting on the internet,” and then to capture the content if the book itself.
“Are you going to write a review?” Trepova recounts their conversation.
“Well, kind of,” Gestalt replied.
Later, Darya noticed that she received 17,000 rubles to her Bitcoin wallet and, as she says, was very surprised — as Popkov explained, it was a thank you for her help. “I even joked with Khavanova: look, I went out to get a book and got 17,000 rubles,” Trepova said.
Gestalt insisted she should buy a used phone for “security reasons,” on which she was supposed to install WhatsApp under his guidance — the young woman never understood why she couldn’t do it herself.
“We were supposed to get in touch, but I couldn’t respond to him at the time because I was at work, which made him angry. He said he didn’t have time for me, that he had other work to do. And he asked me to make sure that such situations not happen again,” Darya assured in court. “I got a bit scared. I promised that it wouldn’t happen again.”
She says she shared with Popkov that his friend “is weird,” but he replied: Gestalt is a very good security professional and she should listen to him.
In January 2023, Trepova recalls, she was told that she would need to receive another package, this time in Moscow. She agreed again, traveled to Moscow, and stayed with her friend Milana Khavanova.
“I asked, ’Why wait for a book to come by mail when we can just buy it in a store?’ Gestalt replied that the package contained not a book but a statue, and he sent a photo of a girl holding a small figurine in her palm,” Trepova recalled.
While she was waiting for a new package, Gestalt had another task for her: to go to the Listva bookstore and buy Vladlen Tatarsky’s book “The Run.” The young woman asked if any other books about Donbass were needed.
“Let’s focus on Tatarsky for now,” Gestalt replied, according to her. “And it kind of... Well, it’s impossible to understand the tone from a message, but for some reason, I didn’t like that response,” Trepova said in court. “Such a weird fixation on one person.”
Gestalt asked her to introduce herself as Nastya if anyone asked for her name: “I thought it was strange, but I decided it was just another security measure.”
The 40-year-old Vladlen Tatarsky (real name — Maxim Fomin) was born into a family of miners in Makeyevka, Donetsk region. In 2011, he and two of his friends robbed a savings bank in his hometown; he was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony and sent to IK-57 near Gorlovka. During the fighting between Ukrainian forces and volunteers from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Fomin, according to his own account, escaped with a group of prisoners and then “joined the ranks of the militia.”
In 2019, he moved to Moscow, wrote several books, and hosted streams on YouTube. After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he went to Ukraine again as a “war correspondent.” He ran a popular pro-war channel on Telegram under the pseudonym Vladlen Tatarsky, advocating for the conversion of all industry to military production, striking Ukraine’s infrastructure “with all available means,” and launching a “warning nuclear strike” on Snake Island.
On September 30, 2022, the blogger was present in the Kremlin when Vladimir Putin signed the decree annexing the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. Excited after the ceremony, Tatarsky recorded a video that went viral on the internet. “That’s it, we will defeat everyone, kill everyone, rob everyone we need, everything is gonna be as we like it. Let’s go, with God’s help,” said the war correspondent in the clip.
On 3 April 2023, the day after the explosion at Tatarsky’s event, an artist called Anastasia Kriulina, a student at the Ilya Repin Fine Arts Academy in St. Petersburg, received a message from an unknown Moscow student. “He said that I was mentioned as a person who had been at Vladlen Tatarsky’s lecture on March 28,” Kriulina recalled in court.
The young woman claimed that she was at the university in St. Petersburg that day. A few days later, the Federal Security Services called the artist. That’s how Anastasia found out that her name was used to gain Tatarsky’s trust.
What the real Kriulina thinks about the war in Ukraine, whether she knew about Tatarsky’s existence, and what she thinks about his death remains unclear from her social media or court testimonies. However, according to the legend fabricated by Gestalt, the artist was supposed to support the “Special Military Operation” and admire the blogger.
“He showed me a Telegram channel ’Fragments of Holy Miracles,’ run under the name of someone called Anastasia Kriulina. He said that a girl with such a name exists but has no relation to the case,” Trepova said. “I didn’t check because there could be many people with that name.”
In the Telegram channel “Fragments of Holy Miracles” itself, the name of its author was not mentioned, but it indeed had the impression that it was run by an artist with pro-war views.
Darya insisted that she herself did not post anything on the channel. However, photos taken by her clearly appeared there, for example, of Tatarsky’s books or postcards supporting the “Special Military Operation,” meetings with the blogger, and visits to the Listva store — these posts were deleted after the cafe explosion.
Vladlen Tatarsky was supposed to believe that the channel was indeed run by Anastasia Kriulina. On February 10-12, he planned to give a series of lectures in Omsk, and according to Gestalt’s calculations, this was a great opportunity for Darya to meet him and introduce herself as Anastasia.
“People often ask me when the war will end. I always answer: never, because Russia has always been at war and will continue to fight. Our country has huge resources, and that’s a tasty morsel for the West. There’s a competitive struggle, and you must be morally prepared for the fact that Russia will never have a peaceful life,” Vladlen Tatarsky said during a lecture in Omsk, held in the hall of the Regional Center for Public Relations.
Darya Trepova was sitting in the back rows. Before the trip, the young woman was worried: what if someone will ask what a St. Petersburg student was doing in Omsk. According to the coverup, she was supposed to introduce herself as the artist Nastya — Gestalt had told Dasha Nastya’s biography in detail.
In the auditorium, Trepova noticed many men dressed in military uniform. Tatarsky was asked questions, and Darya herself asked some, as Gestalt had asked her to personally meet the blogger. “Tatarsky said he communicated with the Ministry of Defense and slightly criticised their actions, trying to adjust their decisions. I then thought that Gestalt and Popkov wanted to meet him for this reason,” she recalled in court.
After the lecture, a lot of people wanted to take a picture with the blogger, which even surprised Trepova, who hadn’t thought he was that popular. She too approached him to introduce herself and take a photo together. Later, the photo taken by the young woman from this meeting appeared on the Telegram channel “Fragments of Holy Miracles.”
From Omsk, Trepova didn’t go back to St. Petersburg but to Moscow. By that time, she had started having problems at her job in the vintage store — she was unexpectedly fired. On February 16th, Darya turned 26 years old; she celebrated her birthday with her friend Milana Khavanova. That day, Popkov sent her 10,000 rubles as a gift.
In Moscow, Trepova was still waiting for the package with the figurine. “When I continued to ask Gestalt about the package, he said that once I received it, I would be able to go [to Ukraine],” the young lady recounted. According to her, Gestalt said that he would then continue to correspond with Tatarsky “on behalf of the artist girl” himself.
The busy statue was supposed to arrive on February 25, and Trepova began preparing for her trip. She went to St. Petersburg to say goodbye to her family and friends, then returned to Moscow. At the time, she recounts, Gestalt said that she would have to meet Tatarsky again so that he would definitely remember her, and even better, to invite the blogger “to participate in the project of the artist girl, which she is doing with her uni classmates.”
“It seemed strange to me because Vladlen didn’t seem like a person interested in art, and I suggested maybe it would be better to approach him from a volunteer perspective,” Trepova said. “Gestalt said he would think about it and somehow change the tactic, but nothing changed, he kept the same story.”
Finally, the package arrived on March 8, so in addition to it, Darya Trepova received flowers. The courier who delivered the package and flowers later recalled that the bouquet was so beautiful that his wife even took a photo of it and held it in her hands on the way to keep it from getting crumpled.
On March 8, a 35-year-old man, Yuri Denisov, came into a flower shop for a bouquet and gift wrapping. After examining the offered boxes, he said that they were too small and his gift — a statue for his wife — wouldn’t fit in them.
The flower shop employee asked him to bring the statuette itself, but the visitor only brought an empty box and asked to wrap it in any paper, but in such a way that he could put a gift inside. The saleswoman chose lilac-lavender coloured paper.
“He was polite and helpful,” she recounted during the interrogation. Wrapping it up took some effort, and in appreciation, Denisov bought three more balloons. Afterwards, he called a courier and sent the wrapped box with the figurine and a bouquet to Darya Trepova.
The investigation officers name Denisov as the technical organiser of the terrorist attack in the café. He flew to Moscow in February, but even before that, he had been to Russia several times, living for about a year in Surgut and Vladimir between 2015 and 2016. Neither in her statements to the investigator nor during the court interrogation did Darya mention Denisov. And no questions about him were asked in court.
Trepova herself believed that the package and flowers were sent to her by Gestalt (and he and Denisov are, apparently, different people).
After the explosion in the café, photos from Denisov’s pages (now deleted) spread across public forums, showing him standing against the backdrop of the Maidan barricades in 2014. At the same time, according to Komsomolskaya PravdaP, he liked posts in support of the “militiamen” of the DPR and was a member of groups like “Antimaidan” and “Army of Russia"..
A relative of his ex-wife even said that Denisov worked in “law enforcement” of the self-proclaimed republic. After the invasion in 2022, he fled the war and came to Russia with his family and lived with her for some time. Once during a conversation, the woman recalled, she mentioned that she supports Putin, to which Denisov said that she understands nothing. Later, the man with his family moved to Latvia, and from there, Denisov planned to go to Kyiv — “he was enlisted in some forces there.”
The investigation department does not identify Denisov and Gestalt, with whom Trepova corresponded, as the same person. Witnesses who saw Denisov in person did not mention him having a “Ukrainian manner of speaking” or even noted that he spoke “without an accent.”
Once in February, Popkov told Trepova that he was walking down Khreshchatyk with Gestalt at that moment, and they were discussing how greatly she was helping them — Denisov was supposed to be in Russia at that time. Finally, when Trepova called Gestalt after the explosion and screamed at him that he had set her up, he replied that his parents had been killed in Donbas. Denisov’s father, on the other hand, died in Russia in the fall of 2022. According to the investigation, Denisov himself left Moscow immediately after the explosion.
She was surprised by the size and weight of the box: as an example, she had been sent a photo of a small statuette.
“I was very scared and asked Gestalt, 'It’s not like with Darya Dugina, is it?'” Trepova recalled. “He said no, there was only a listening device and a GPS tracker. And I believed him.”
According to her, Gestalt and Popkov kept saying that it was necessary to “establish a connection” with Tatarsky, so the explanation about the figurine with a listening device made sense to her.
“Especially as the package was coming from abroad, it’s impossible to transport a bomb across the border,” Trepova said. “But I was still worried, saying that they would get me imprisoned because of them. They reassured me that in six months I would be sitting with them and laughing at Tatarsky’s face when he finds a microphone in the crumbling statuette. I still didn’t understand why it was supposed to crumble. In any case, they told me that they wouldn’t let me go to jail and that I shouldn’t worry.”
She did not like the gilded figurine itself. “It looked more like a caricature. However, [Gestalt] said that Tatarsky would definitely like it,” Trepova recalled. Judging by the last footage before his death, the blogger indeed was happy to receive his gilded bust as a gift.
Gestalt told her that the bust would need to be touched up where the paint had chipped off, but carefully, not to cover the microphone and not to damage the metal disc at the bottom.
Darya Trepova kept this gift for Vladlen Tatarsky in her apartment in Moscow that she rented after moving out from a friend’s place for almost a month. She did not hide the statuette from acquaintances: Milana Khavanova recalled seeing the box with the statuette when she visited her friend, and Trepova shook it during cleaning, as did Khavanova herself.
Darya did not hide the fact that the bust had a listening device installed from her close friend and that it worried her. “Now there’s a listening device, but what’s next?” were the questions her friend, according to Khavanova, pondered. And she shared fears that Tatarsky was “wanted out” because why else would someone go through such things to gain his trust.
A few days before handing over the statuette to Tatarsky, Darya wrote to her friend: “I’m scared. If I die, please don’t delete the photos with me. Basically, if I die, take all the property you can from all my relatives. I’m not joking, I’m really afraid that I’ll die or that I’ll be imprisoned.”
Khavanova replied to her friend that she “is not obliged to meet anyone’s expectations” — in court, the young woman explained that she meant to say that Trepova could refuse to carry out Gestalt’s assignments.
The prosecution in court insisted that Trepova constantly thought or talked about death with her friend Khavanova, especially before the explosion, which means she definitely knew that there was not a listening device in the bust, but a bomb.
“It was just our way of communicating,” Khavanova herself explained. “It’s metaphorical, expressing an emotional state.”
“When I found out that there was a listening device in the figurine, it scared me a lot,” Darya Trepova said in court. “Because previously, it was assumed that I was just supposed to communicate with him. At least that wasn’t illegal. It is not uncommon when well-known bloggers prank call under someone else’s name and try to find out information. Handing over a listening device though is an invasion of privacy and illegal. I was very worried about this and thought, could it be a bomb?”
But in the end, the young woman recalls, she decided that she could trust Gestalt: Roman Popkov, who introduced her to him, treated her well, and the relationship with Gestalt himself was also going well, so she did not think that she could be set up, and “was already preparing to move and got involved in this.”
Apart from meetings with Tatarsky, she was asked to establish contact with the employees of the Listva bookstore and, on behalf of the artist Anastasia Kriulina, to offer them postcards and cards in support of the “SMO.” Gestalt sent her the layouts: the first postcard, intended for Tatarsky, was cute, but the rest, which were supposed to be sold in the bookstore, seemed “really ugly” to the young woman.
“I even offered to draw some myself, but [Gestalt] said that it was difficult to explain to a Ukrainian artist why he needed to draw beautiful postcards about the “SMO".’ And they left it as is,” she recalled. But the “Listva” bookstore also rejected the postcards, so she had to reprint new ones for the store.
A print shop employee later said that Trepova brought him layouts for the postcards with images of soldiers and the caption “Russian style.” It was evident that she had not made them herself: the girl was corresponding with someone and waiting for the necessary files to be sent to her. The witness recalled that she said, “Don’t think anything of it” — and from her conversation with a friend who came with her to the print shop, it was clear that she was embarrassed by these postcards.
The next meeting of the Z-blogger with fans was scheduled to take place on March 28 at the Russian New University in Moscow. Gestalt told Trepova that she had to attend the meeting; the young woman decided that she would give him the statuette there, but Gestalt forbade it.
“He said that there [Tatarsky] would be embarrassed and wouldn’t accept it,” Trepova asserts. “This explanation seemed stupid to me; he definitely should accept his bust. This conversation happened in the presence of Milana [Khavanova]. Gestalt said that [we should] present the statuette at the next lecture in Saint Petersburg.”
Finally, Darya went to the meeting with those postcards that Listva had refused to accept. In the pre-compiled list of attendees, she was listed under the name of Anastasia Kriulina.
During his speech that evening, the propagandist complained that “volunteers send unnecessary stuff to the front, they send socks and food, not night vision devices.” Trepova stood up and proposed to rectify this situation.
“Oh, great idea! What’s your name?” Tatarsky reacted. Forgetfully, Darya gave her real name. Still, she approached the blogger after the lecture, offered to help with the website, and learned about the upcoming meeting in Saint Petersburg on April 2.
Gestalt said that this was when the statuette needed to be handed over — and after that, Trepova could finally fly to Ukraine.
Before her trip to Saint Petersburg, the you g woman visited a church in the Moscow region, where she told the priest that she was going to another country to engage in “opposition journalism,” and asked him to “pray for a successful journey.” During the interrogation, Father Fedor said that Darya seemed intelligent and pretty naive — and he was very surprised when he saw her in the news about the terrorist attack.
“Preparing for D-Day today, I need to go out for some errands,” Trepova wrote to her husband Dmitry Rilov on March 27. By that time, they had resumed communication, and Darya, though not fully, was keeping Dmitry, who lived outside Russia, informed about her activities.
“Alright, if you need anything — text me, I’m available, and I’ll go to the church. Today, tomorrow, and the day after.”
“No need today, all is good today.”
“I know, still.”
Subsequently, psychologist of the Investigative Committee Svetlana Zakovryashina, who conversed with Darya Trepova in the detention center, concluded based on this correspondence that the girl knew about the explosives in the statuette. This conclusion is one of the main arguments that the investigators present as evidence that Trepova consciously committed this terrorist act.
“Her way of thinking shows that she is a highly intelligent person who tries to get to the essence of things. In school, neglecting sleep, she would delve into the essence of report topics. Moreover, looking at the correspondence with her husband and Khavanova, Zhabreva — they are worried about her. They go to church and light candles for her. ’D-day’ is a term the day of pyrotechnics,” the expert insisted. At the same time, according to her, the examination protocol was destroyed.
Trepova herself insists that Zakovryashina attributed to her words that she did not say. Moreover, she did not know at all that the psychologist was acting in the interests of the investigation: in the detention centre, the young woman requested psychological assistance, and this specialist was provided to her.
On March 31, Darya Trepova set off to Saint Petersburg with the bust. Gestalt forbade her from travelling by train from Moscow, so she had to use the BlaBlaCar service. The driver who took her as a passenger later complained to his wife that Trepova had way too many items with her that she hadn’t warned him about, including a large yellow suitcase that he accidentally broke. And that at loo stops, she would go to the bathroom for 40 minutes.
“Before we picked up the [second] passenger, Darya was more talkative and mentioned that she was going to Pushkin town to visit her relatives, and that her employer in Moscow was paying for her apartment,” the driver recounted. After the second passenger appeared, Trepova, according to him, became more reserved.
But Darya did not go to her relatives — she rented accommodation literally five minutes away from the café on Vasilyevsky Island in Saint Petersburg, where the meeting with Tatarsky was to take place on April 2.
“The apartment was three-roomed, the flat was beautiful, there were many plaster heads, it looked like an artist’s apartment. We sat at the table, where her electronic cigarette was placed. Darya said that you could smoke it and generally take anything you like, except for one of the [plaster] heads, because she was planning to give it as a gift,” described Julia Zhabreva, who stayed overnight at Darya’s place.
The friend saw the figurine that Darya was planning to give to the blogger. She even asked if Darya wasn’t afraid that it might contain a bomb. “She said that these were silly spy games, and there was nothing to be afraid of,” Zhabreva recalled later. Trepova, according to her, indeed talked about carrying out tasks after which she would be taken “to a good job in a cool journalistic project” in Ukraine.
The friends chatted late into the night, and in the morning — it was already Sunday, April 2 — they went to have breakfast at a café. “And there we talked about vacations and boys, she was in a calm, normal state,” Zhabreva recounted. “We parted around 11 in the morning and said our goodbyes very warmly. That was our last meeting.”
In the evening, her friend was supposed to accompany Trepova to the airport: Darya had bought a plane ticket to Bukhara, scheduled to depart from Pulkovo at 11:15 p.m. — a few hours after Tatarsky’s lecture, which was set to start at 5 p.m.
“So, the meeting ends at seven in the evening, and soon is the flight,” Trepova reasoned in court. “I asked, why is there such a rush? [Gestalt] said: ’Well, you’re right’.” According to Darya, she didn’t even check the ticket that was sent to her and was convinced that she would first fly to Baku, not Bukhara — and from there she would be transported to Ukraine.
Before Tatarsky’s lecture, the girl decided to meet with her relatives and celebrate Geologist’s Day, which was a family tradition. Trepova’s grandfather assured the court that it was he who called his granddaughter from Moscow for the holiday: “She behaved as usual. Later, when I found out what happened, I was surprised, how could it be. She had fun with her cousins, climbed the trees, enjoyed herself.”
It seems they celebrated outdoors and made a bonfire — the taxi driver who drove the girl to Vasilyevsky Island recalled that she smelled of smoke.
The beauty salon employee on Vasilyevsky, where Darya stopped by around 4 p.m. before the lecture, mentioned the same thing — Darya wanted to look beautiful when presenting the gift to Tatarsky.
Victims later recalled in court that Trepova was probably the most elegantly dressed at the meeting with the Z-blogger.
The young lady was slightly late to Vladlen Tatarsky’s creative evening: she left home at 17:10 and entered the café at 5:17 p.m., when the meeting with the blogger had already started. The surveillance camera footage shows Darya wearing a long dark coat walking into the café with the bust in a box.
In court, Trepova recalled that the day before, Gestalt asked her to install a special app on her second Xiaomi phone, through which he could track her location.
“He said that I needed to install an app on my phone that would give him access to my phone, including GPS and microphone, in case something went wrong. So he would know where I am and what’s happening to me. I thought it was reasonable, in case I got detained...” Trepova recalled.
According to the young woman, she “saw the list of settings,” and the app indeed had access to the microphone and her geolocation data. She did not specify the name of the app.
On the day of the lecture, Gestalt asked the girl to “activate the microphone” in the bust and check its operation. “He asked me to remove the magnet [attached to the bottom part of the statuette],” Trepova recalled. “When I removed the magnet, she heard something click inside.”
Then he asked her to place it on the windowsill, “to establish connection.” Darya moved the statuette around several times and checked the connection: “He asked me to say some words near it. He could hear that I was saying something, that is, at that time he wrote in the chat, ’you are speaking, now you are speaking,’ but couldn’t hear exactly what. And that day I wanted to go to a family celebration... And he said, ‘Okay, go, I’ll set it up without you, we’ll check later.’”
At the entrance to the café, an employee asked Trepova what was in the box; the girl explained that it was a gift for Tatarsky. “He asked if it would explode, I said no, we can shake it,” Darya recalled. “All the time I carried it with me, it would lay around in my house, although I tried to handle it carefully. The employee looked at it and kept it with him, said they would bring it later.”
During the meeting, she asked the blogger a question; witnesses said it was confusing, long, and unclear. Then she took the microphone again to present the gift. She introduced herself as Nastya — Tatarsky immediately remembered her — and explained that the gift was left at the entrance because the bar employees said it might explode.
The blogger suggested checking it jokingly. When the bust was brought in and placed on a table in front of Tatarsky, the girl turned around to return to her seat in the hall.
“Nastya! Nastya! Come here, sit down,” Tatarsky stopped her.
“Sit here or here, wherever you want,” the blogger points to two seats next to him.
“Well, actually right here…” Trepova replies and sits in a chair slightly to the side of the stage. “Otherwise, I’ll be shy there.”
Tatarsky looks into the box.
“Wow! What a handsome guy. Is this me?” he comments on the gift.
The bust is taken out of the box.
“It’s just... Well... Golden!”
Shouts from the audience: “A miner in a helmet!”
Tatarsky examines his bust.
“Yes, all golden Vladlen. Well, you know, thank God,” the pleased blogger says, turning to Trepova. “I’m much more handsome here.”
The video captured the moment when the young woman seemed to fling her hands in a slight scare, then covered her mouth. In court, Trepova explained that Tatarsky, after admiring the gift, placed the statuette on the edge of the table. She was afraid it would fall and reflexively raised her hands: “I was scared it would break and everyone would see the listening device. And if they didn’t kill me right there, they would detain me — so I reached for it. And he adjusted it a bit.”
After that, Tatarsky listened to a question from another visitor and, while answering, began to put the bust back into the box. It was 6:11 p.m. when an explosion occurred. The blast wave blew out the windows in the café, and the footage of the destroyed café and injured people quickly appeared on social media.
“Looks like our speaker is fucked,” commented one of the stunned visitors, filming the aftermath of the explosion.
“Everyone rushed to the exit in a crowd, there was a crush, everyone was screaming,” one of the eyewitnesses recounted. “There was a lot of smoke, I almost fainted from the smoke.”
“When I ran out right after the explosion, my ears and my friends’ ears were plugged. I saw some people were injured, it was a nightmare, someone had their eyes bandaged, there was a lot of blood,” recalled another visitor.
Due to the explosion, more than 50 people were injured, six of whom sustained serious injuries.
“When I came back to my consciousness, I saw that there was almost no one left in the café, I saw Vladlen lying down,” Trepova herself recalled. “I approached, thinking to help him, but realised that he was most likely dead. There was a piece of cement lying around, I walked through the hall and headed towards the exit, there were people at the exit. And someone said that we need to call an ambulance, and then I remembered about my phone, which I had left on the table before presenting the statuette.”
According to Trepova, she set her phone aside during the lecture because she was tired of constant messages from Gestalt. It was the separate phone she had purchased at his request, which they usually used to communicate. And it was the phone on which she had installed the app the day before, at his request, which had access to her microphone and location.
When she picked her phone up, she realised that all the messages in their chat with Gestalt had been deleted. And he himself had been renamed — instead of a nickname, there was only the number 1 left. Darya called him.
“He was not as friendly as usual,” Trepova recounted. “I was angry at him, saying that people were injured and I realised that they did it and I was involved. He said, ‘You can ask all your questions later.’ I continued to be angry, and he said, ‘When you come to Ukraine to us — you can hit me.’ This made me very angry. He told me to shut up, that his parents died in Donbas — but does that even matter to me? He told me to shut up.”
Initially, the Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case under the article for “murder by a generally dangerous method” (paragraph “e” of part 2 of article 105 of the Criminal Code). After Trepova’s arrest, the charge was reclassified. Ultimately, the young woman was tried under three articles: committing a terrorist act by a group of persons resulting in the death of a person; illegal trafficking of explosive devices; and forgery of documents (paragraph “b” of part 3 of article 205 of the Criminal Code, part 4 of article 222.1 of the Criminal Code, and part 4 of article 327 of the Criminal Code). The young woman fully admitted her guilt only under the last article.
Dmitry Kasintsev was accused of concealing a particularly serious crime (Part 2 of Article 316 of the Criminal Code). At first he was charged with failure to report a crime (Article 205.6 of the Criminal Code), but then the charge was toughened — Kasintsev did not agree with the reclassification.
On November 15, the 2nd Western District Military Court began to consider the case at mobile sessions in St. Petersburg. Judge Timur Zhidkov presided over the trial. The prosecution was represented by prosecutor Nadezhda Tikhonova. The entire trial took place in 23 sessions.
85 people were recognized as victims in the case (six received serious harm to health, 18 suffered moderate harm, and minor harm was caused to 17 people). Their interrogations took up a significant part of the process.
The prosecutor demanded 1 year and 10 months in prison for Kasintsev and for 28 years in prison for Darya Trepova. By law, women cannot be given life sentences. The maximum possible sentence when adding up punishments for several crimes, including terrorism, is 30 years.
The mother of the deceased filed a claim for compensation for moral and material damage in the amount of 15 million rubles. Together with other civil claims from victims, the amount of claims against Trepova amounted to about 45 million rubles. Some victims demanded compensation for moral damage from Kasintsev.
Trepova left the café at 6:13 p.m. This moment was also caught on video: here movements were a little sluggish: she stomped around the entrance, and then left.
In court, the young woman explained: she was afraid that the remaining visitors would understand that she was to blame for the explosion and would lynch her on the spot. “I’m a coward, I was really very scared and, of course, I tried to hide,” she said. “I had a choice: do the right thing and stay and help, or save my life and freedom. And I chose the second one. I regret that I didn’t throw this figurine into the Neva river along the way.”
She reached the rented apartment in a few minutes, quickly throwing her things into her suitcase - the young woman had not packed them in advance, despite the flight from Pulkovo scheduled for the evening. She simply threw her secret phone into the trash bin in the apartment.
Gestalt, as Trepova recalled, called her a taxi from the house: “The taxi took me to some strange place, I asked Gestalt what to do next, he said that he would call me a taxi to the airport. I said he was crazy and they would immediately detain me there.”
On the way, Trepova wrote to her mother, friends, and husband. “Dasha wrote to me: ‘I was there, it would be better if I died there. I was set up, I don’t know what to do,’” recalled her friend Yulia Zhabreva. “And I didn’t know what to tell her.”
In the second taxi, Trepova’s phone ran out of charge, and she went to two beauty salons to charge it (she was refused at the first salon); it took her between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
At the same time, Darya corresponded with her husband Dmitry Rylov and asked to find her temporary shelter. It was then that Rylov called Alexander Baranov, but he did not answer. Another friend, whom he asked to shelter someone for a few hours, refused because she was not home.
“In fact, you and I dodged a bullet only because you were not home, and neither was I,” Baranov later wrote to her. In court, he admitted that he would most likely agree to the request.
There was only one option left — Dmitry Kasintsev, who decided to help his old friend. Darya Trepova went to his house.
Before that, she went to the DNS store to buy a new phone. At 10:43 p.m. she entered the front door: an unfamiliar man let her in, and she was riding in the elevator with him. Trying not to panic or look suspicious, Trepova drew the attention of her fellow passenger to the height metre in the elevator, which indicated height not in centimetres, but in celebrities. She said that the man was the same height as Marilyn Monroe, then she stood up to the height metre herself. The stranger said that Trepova is the same height as Antonio Banderas.
Kasintsev stated in the court that he didn’t ask Rylov any additional questions: “He didn’t explain the reason, and I didn’t specify either, because I knew him for a long time and I didn’t have any suspicions.” Trepova introduced herself to him as a political activist, but the young man considered this “bragging and did not attach any importance to it.” In Kasintsev’s apartment, the girl cut off her hair and shaved her eyebrows — for secrecy reasons.
Kasintsev, according to him, did not know that his guest was connected with the explosion in the Vasilyevsky Island cafe until he had a call with his friends on Discord — and it happened late at night.
“I couldn’t believe that Dmitry Rylov could turn to me with such a request,” the young man recalled in court. “I was very scared, I was in a state of shock, stress, panic, I didn’t know what to do, who and what to trust.” He tried to convince Trepova to surrender, but she refused.
At about 7:30 a.m. there was a knock at the apartment; it was the police.
“They asked me if I lived here alone,” Kasintsev recalled. “I answered: Yes. Because I really lived alone in the flat all the time.” Probably, the security forces had already figured out which house the young woman who gave the statuette to Tatarsky had driven up to.
After some time, “within an hour,” they knocked again. This time the young man was asked whether he was “currently alone.” Kasintsev said: “Yes.”
Because of this answer Kasintsev was later tried in the court . “I did not pursue the goal of hiding Trepova with this answer. I was just in such a state that I was basically afraid to say anything,” he explained.
At the time, Trepova was hiding with her things in the closet in the room — it was not visible from the hallway.
About twenty minutes after the second visit, Kasintsev, by the young woman’s advice, packed his backpack and left the house himself. At the front door he met a police officer who asked to show him the flat after all. He let the policeman inside.
Darya was lying on a mattress in the room, covered with a sheet.
The young woman immediately told the police that she understood why she was detained. She said the same thing in a recording distributed after the arrest.
The voice behind the camera asks, “What did you do?” Trepova answers with a sigh: “I brought a figurine there, which exploded.”
Editor: Yegor Skovoroda
Translator: Anna-Maria Tesfaye
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