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Russia: children and their families targeted for anti-war dissent - new briefing


Children as young as 14 can be prosecuted under harsh new laws

A 12-year-old was placed in an orphanage for an anti-war school drawing, while a ten-year-old’s home was searched over her WhatsApp profile picture

‘If you are a child and disagree with the Government, the police, the courts and even schools represent an immediate threat’ - Oleg Kozlovsky

The Russian authorities are carrying out increasingly severe reprisals against children and their families - particularly those opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine - in a “politically-motivated assault on children” as part of a wider crackdown on dissent, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today. 

The ten-page briefing - Russia: ‘Your children will go to an orphanage’, Children and the Crackdown on Protest - shows how the Russian authorities have been targeting children and their families for anti-war dissent and subjecting them to indoctrination through war propaganda. 

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian authorities passed new laws expressly intended to suppress and penalise criticism of the war. Anti-war protesters can be prosecuted for “justification of terrorism” and other terrorism-related crimes, and people can be prosecuted or face administrative proceedings under these laws from the age of 16 and in some cases from the age of 14.

Children have been targeted partly to put pressure on adults opposed to the war, in particular by separating families, threatening to remove parental rights and even placing children in institutions. Such targeting has led to severe mental and physical health impacts on children, including stress-related conditions and trauma, and some families have ended up having to leave the country to avoid criminal prosecution or forced separation.

(See four representative cases below). 

Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher, said: 

“Despite all the Kremlin’s talk about the value of the family, it is the very bond between children and their parents that is being shamelessly exploited to crush dissent.

“In this politically-motivated assault on children, schools and teachers have become tools of persecution and arbitrary interference by the state.

“Schools are indoctrinating children with false Government-mandated narratives and directly reporting those with dissenting views to the police and security services.

“Those who express dissent against the war are particularly vulnerable to threats of forced separation of families or deprivation of parental rights. Even a remote risk of such reprisals is a prospect horrifying enough to deter many people from speaking up.

“In this upside-down world that Russia is becoming, if you are a child and disagree with the government, the police, the courts and even schools represent an immediate threat.”

Four representative cases 

On 22 November 2023, Yegor Balazeykin from St Petersburg was sentenced to six years in prison by a military court for throwing bottles of diesel fuel and white spirit at two military conscription centres ten months earlier in protest against the war in Ukraine. He was 16 at the time of the incidents. His actions, which caused no damage, were disproportionately labelled as “terrorist attacks.” Since “terrorist” cases are tried by military courts, not much is known about the circumstances of other cases similar to Balazeykin’s.

On 1 March 2023, 12-year-old Maria Moskalyova from Yefremov in central Russia was separated from her father, Aleksei Moskalyov, and placed in an orphanage following an almost year-long campaign to persecute her family after she produced an anti-war drawing in school in April 2022 and was reported to police by the school administration. Moskalyov, a single father, was initially fined and later sentenced to two years in a penal colony for “repeated discreditation of the Russian Armed Forces” for his social media comments. In the orphanage, Maria experienced stress and isolation. After a public outcry, she was eventually allowed to live with other relatives.

On 5 October 2022, ten-year-old Varvara Galkina was interrogated by police in Moscow over her WhatsApp profile picture, which featured an anime-style drawing supporting Ukraine. The police threatened her mother, Elena Jolicoeur, and conducted a search at their home. After being mandated to attend a “preventative” programme for “parents improperly fulfilling their duties”, Jolicoeur fled Russia with her two daughters fearing further persecution.

On 24 September 2022, police in Ulan-Ude, in the Republic of Buryatia in eastern Siberia, arbitrarily arrested opposition activist Natalya Filonova at a peaceful protest against the mobilisation of reservists for the war in Ukraine. Charged with “violence against a representative of the authorities”, a claim she denies, she was placed in a pretrial detention centre after several months under house arrest. Her 16-year-old foster son Vladimir Alalykin, who has a disability, was placed in an orphanage. Vladimir was prohibited from attending his foster mother’s trial. On 31 August 2023, Filonova was sentenced to two years and ten months in prison. Vladimir has remained in the orphanage, turning 18 there.

Call on the Russian authorities

Amnesty is calling for the immediate release of Aleksei Moskalyov, Natalya Filonova and others imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights, while unfounded terrorism-related charges against those like Yegor Balazeykin must be dropped. The Russian authorities must end the practice of trying civilians, especially children, in military courts and stop using the justice system to persecute dissent. War propaganda and political indoctrination in schools must cease. The Russian authorities must also stop restricting or removing parental rights and placing children in state custody as a punishment for exercising their human rights. Social services and children’s rights commissioners should act in the best interests of children and comply with international human rights laws.

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