Firecrackers, Telegram chats, and a relay box. Russian‑Ukrainian bartender from Moscow sentenced to 25 years on 10 charges amid torture allegations
Никита Сологуб
Firecrackers, Telegram chats, and a relay box. Russian‑Ukrainian bartender from Moscow sentenced to 25 years on 10 charges amid torture allegations
27 May 2024, 2:50

Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

On Thursday, May 23, the 2nd Western District Military Court sentenced Vladimir Malina, a bartender from Moscow, to 25 years in prison for setting fire to a relay cabinet, with the damage estimated at 9,000 roubles (approximately $100). Malina was found guilty under ten articles of the Criminal Code—ranging from treason to terrorism. Prosecutors had requested a 28-year sentence for the defendant. Mediazona spoke with his mother, who said that after his arrest, FSB officers beat her son, threatening to send him to the Wagner Group or plant explosives on him. During a search of their apartment, they confiscated all Ukrainian language textbooks.

In early June 2023, Vladimir Malina left the apartment in northern Moscow, where he lived with his 63-year-old mother Irina Sokolova, and disappeared.

The 35-year-old Malina worked as a bartender at the Italian-style restaurant Basilico on Novorizhskoye Highway and often returned home late at night, but he usually warned his mother if he was delayed. This time, there was no news from him.

“I had already, you could say, said goodbye to my son. Because it had never happened before that he didn’t at least let me know where he was, that he wouldn’t come home,” Sokolova recalls.

Two days later, she was awakened by an early morning ring at the door. A “whole brigade” of police officers with dogs and FSB investigators entered the flat. They showed the woman a court order for a search.

“They found a three-litre plastic canister of petrol—but that’s my petrol, I have a car, I just didn’t take it to the boot. They found the remains of paint thinner—Vovka used to create art. And most importantly, what impressed and excited them—they found a tent, tourist gear—a shovel to dig a fire pit, a sleeping bag. They asked what he needs it for. I said, look, I have videos and photos on my phone—I can show you—he went to Karelia [in northwestern Russia] before Covid, stayed in a tent, bought everything for that, and was going to go to Altai [in Siberia] too. It’s just tourist equipment! And they also took a Ukrainian language textbook that was left over from his father, who is Ukrainian,” says Sokolova.

Soon after, a second search was conducted in the apartment, and the investigator seized two more Ukrainian textbooks.

Since then, Sokolova has seen her son only twice—when the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow extended his arrest and when she was questioned there as a witness.

“The prosecutor asked me if I was sure he went to Karelia with the tent, and also why we needed textbooks. I offered to show the photos he sent from Karelia. And about the textbook, I said: ‘We have three more of these textbooks lying around, these are textbooks of his dad, who is Ukrainian. We can fill your whole department with them.’ Vovka, it turns out, is half Ukrainian, but he never opened that textbook once, it’s lying there in your evidence, brand new. Do you understand that I speak Ukrainian much better than Vovka, because my mother-in-law spoke only Ukrainian? So what, should I be arrested now too?” Sokolova recalls.

On May 23, Malina was sentenced to 25 years in prison—three years less than the prosecution had requested. Sokolova does not believe she will live to see her son’s release.


Sokolova has not seen the materials of the criminal case against her son. Lawyer Maxim Vasyukhin, who represents Malina by court appointment, refused to tell Mediazona the details of the case. He left the last hearing at the 2nd Western District Military Court before the judge announced the sentence.

Malina was found guilty under ten articles of the Criminal Code: sabotage, attempted sabotage, preparation for sabotage, preparation for a terrorist act, training in terrorist activities, participation in a terrorist community, participation in a terrorist organisation, treason, training in sabotage activities and participation in a sabotage community.

Initially the court arrested Malina under a single article that was not in the final version of the charges—bringing means of communication into an inoperable state, Article 267 of the Criminal Code, which provides for no more than a year of imprisonment. This is confirmed by the record of the hearing on the extension of the arrest on the website of the Meshchansky Court of Moscow. Irina Sokolova drew attention to this in her complaint to the prosecutor’s office, which Mediazona has reviewed. Charges of terrorism appeared in the case no later than last December, and the remaining articles no later than February 2024.

Before lawyer Vasyukhin took over the case, Malina was represented by other defenders—Yevgeny Kirillin and Vadim Rodin, says Sokolova.

She terminated the agreement with Kirillin in December last year, having paid more than 800,000 roubles ($9,000), deciding that the defender was inactive—he refused to show the mother the case materials, suggesting to wait until the formal stage of familiarisation.

Rodin, according to her, requested 350,000 roubles (approximately $3,900) and took up the case, but in early April he suddenly disappeared. Sokolova cannot contact him, and she has run out of money to pay for lawyers.

The woman can only judge what her son is accused of by snippets of conversations with investigators. However, she is certain of one thing—after his arrest, Vladimir was beaten. Both paid lawyers filed statements about torture with the Investigative Committee, which is also confirmed by the current court-appointed defender Vasyukhin—according to him, the complaints were “investigated by law enforcement agencies.”


When lawyer Kirillin first met with Malina, he said that three police officers had detained him on the evening of June 5, 2023 at Barybino station in the southern Moscow region.

First they demanded that he unlock his mobile phone (the bartender refused), and then they opened his backpack and found a crowbar. Malina was pushed into a police car and taken to a department unknown to him.

In the office, the detainee was interrogated by a senior operative, and there was also a person who introduced himself as an FSB officer. He beat Malina with his hands and feet on his arms, sides and knees, demanding that he unlock his phone and “admit guilt in committing crimes”, according to the lawyer’s survey.

After the beating, Malina was taken, presumably, to the Ministry of Internal Affairs Department for the Domodedovo city district, and taken to an office where he was spoken to by an FSB investigator and two more special service officers.

“They offered me three options. The first is that I am sent to fight in the Wagner private military company, the second is that they find explosives on me that were used to blow up power lines, as I closely match the suspect, the third is that I confess to all the arsons they have. After that, one of the FSB officers, following the orders of his superior, repeatedly struck me forcefully in the chest area. Then they took me to the Podolsk FSB office, where they threatened to kill me and repeatedly struck me forcefully with the palms of their hands in the face, back of the head, head and cheeks area in order for me to confess to collaborating with terrorist organisations and setting fire to relay cabinets,” Malina said.

The account of the beating is confirmed by a medical examination certificate of Malina upon admission to the temporary detention facility of the police department at the Moscow-Leningradskaya station, the lawyer wrote in the complaint. Sokolova was unable to provide Mediazona with the original certificate. The lawyer filed a complaint about the beating immediately after Malina’s arrest, but according to his mother, no investigation followed.

Sokolova claims that in conversations with the lawyer, the FSB investigator did not hide the fact that her son had been beaten. “The lawyer talked to the investigator. He directly said that Vovka was all blue when he was arrested. They beat him up and forced him to sign papers—protocols stating where he set the fire,” she says.


Baza, a Telegram channel, reported that the bartender “on his own accord” set fire to a relay cabinet at the “Pozhitkovo—Greater Ring of the Moscow Railway” leg of the railroad at the end of April last year. The arson did not cause any disruptions in train traffic.

The publication Vot Tak added in November, citing a source in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, that Malina, according to the prosecution, joined the “Freedom of Russia” legion comprised of Russians fighting for Ukraine and “participated” in its activities, committing “sabotage and terrorist acts by setting fire to relay cabinets at railway transport facilities.”

The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office stated that Malina “was assigned a handler, with whom he communicated via messenger”, after which he “tried to set fire to relay cabinets several more times, as well as a police department.”

From the lawyers, Sokolova knows that the security forces did indeed find chats with “this organisation” in her son’s Telegram account: he “filled out a questionnaire,” and later “saved a stash.”

“He showed a stash that had firecrackers in it—either he made it himself or they just sent him a photo. They gave him the task of shooting these firecrackers at some police station in the district of Marfino. But he didn’t do it, he was just chatting with people who worked professionally,” she says.

She also suggests that investigators could have found money transfers from Malina to funds supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine on his phone. “He had a certain psychological shift. He is half Ukrainian, he has been to this country many times, he still has many relatives there. This must also be taken into account. Even if he sent something, it is unlikely that Zelensky would have bought an Abrams [tank] with his bartender’s salary,” the mother speculates.

At the same time, according to Sokolova, the investigators did not find any incoming money transfers from “handlers” in her son’s accounts.

She calls the accusation of setting fire to the relay cabinet untenable. “You can’t take fingerprints if everything is burnt, you can’t determine by the combustion products whether it was petrol from my apartment that was used or some liquid from a store—I’m a chemist myself, I know. The FSB investigator, talking to the lawyer, said that they know he didn’t do it. Moreover, they have already arrested someone else for this cabinet, but a chat with the same pro-Ukrainian organisation as his was found in Vovka’s Telegram account, and they sort of appointed them arsonists together. Then two more cabinets appeared there, he allegedly showed where they were located. He rode that road a couple of times to his friend’s house, but even this friend, who also testified, said that he rides there all the time and doesn’t know anything about the cabinets, that it’s simply impossible to point out where they are located along the road at all,” Sokolova explains.

She calls her son “a confused young man who was well manipulated.”

“They simply found out that he had registered with this organisation, and then it rolled on and on... I’m not justifying him—maybe he did send money, maybe he did make that stash with the firecrackers, maybe he did register with that organisation. But no one was hurt, and apart from that single cabinet, no damage was done at all. I understand what times we are in now, but to give 25 years to a person for this?” the mother wonders.

Lawyer Vasyukhin plans to file an appeal against the verdict, but Sokolova believes that this is unlikely to affect Vladimir’s fate.

Editor: Dmitry Tkachev

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