Russian student ‘shopped by classmates’ over anti-war posts

Involvement of university staff in prosecution of Olesya Krivtsova a major cause for concern, observers say

January 7, 2023
Russian Air Force plane Sukhoi Su-35 flies in sky, Russia
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A Russian student faces up to seven years in prison after reportedly being shopped to the authorities by classmates and staff over social media posts that allegedly criticised the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Olesya Krivtsova, a second-year advertising and public relations student at Northern Arctic University in Arkhangelsk, has been charged with justifying terrorism and discrediting the Russian army through posts on the VKontakte and Instagram social media platforms. The former charge is punishable with a fine of up to 1 million roubles (£11,600) or as many as seven years in prison. 

Local media reported that fellow students had used the messaging app Telegram to discuss the need to file a complaint against Ms Krivtsova over her posts, which included instructions for surrender and references to an explosion on a bridge to Crimea.  

University staff have produced a legal report which forms the basis for her prosecution, according to the reports.

Many Russian university administrators have been zealous enforcers of draconian pro-war legislation since its introduction in March last year, but the deep involvement of students and staff in shopping Ms Krivtsova to the authorities and aiding her prosecution was remarkable, according to Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of the exiled Novaya Gazeta newspaper and co-founder of the virtual Free Moscow University. 

“The expertise for this criminal case was produced in the same university,” he told Times Higher Education, citing conversations with Ms Krivtsova’s lawyers. “You catch students, you use other students to report her, you provide negative reviews to make it easy to send her to jail, and after that you find some group of experts who directly support this prosecution by their so-called expertise.

“This case is important because of the direct involvement of the institution, and I think it can be a trend for this year, because these kinds of prosecutions can be used like a nice tool to solve your personal problems, for example,” said Dr Martynov, who spent over a decade teaching at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. 

Leonid Petrov, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s School of Culture, History and Language, said there was no specific reason why the community at Northern Arctic University would be so keen to “snitch” on a student, but that it could be to win favours. “Showing vigilance and uncompromised loyalty in a provincial university might be noticed in Moscow and rewarded with favours or promotion,” he said. 

In May 2022, Ms Krivtsova was fined 30,000 roubles for discrediting the army after posting leaflets in a city square, local media reported. Anna Lyubimtseva, the main coordinator of the Freedom Degree Project, which helps Russian students facing dismissal, said it was trying to contact Ms Krivtsova, who as per a court order can use the internet only to communicate with her university. 

“[There are] hundreds of thousands of people in the same situation, or even more,” said Dr Martynov. He said that the “real” higher education sector “needs to find some way to deliver a message to them that they are not alone”.

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