Joan of Arc from Ivanovo

In Ivanovo, under strange cir­cum­stances, Olga Nazarenko, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of the Department of Pharmacology at the Ivanovo State Medical Academy and polit­i­cal activist, died from numer­ous injuries. The lawyer was unable to ini­ti­ate an inves­ti­ga­tion into the caus­es of her death and gain access to a med­ical report on the caus­es of death, so he is going to con­duct his own investigation.

T-invari­ant spoke with the lawyer of the deceased and some oth­er local activists who knew Olga per­son­al­ly and mourn her death.

On October 24, in Ivanovo they said good­bye to the can­di­date of med­ical sci­ences, activist Olga Nazarenko. A vari­ety of peo­ple came to say good­bye: rel­a­tives, friends, col­leagues, stu­dents and com­rades who met her at the pick­ets. It was as an activist who con­stant­ly went out on solo anti-war pick­ets and pick­ets in defense of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers that she became known out­side her city.

“And no matter what you tell anyone, we can overcome all evil!”

For the first time, the assis­tant pro­fes­sor came to the main square of the Republic of the city of Ivanovo with a sin­gle pick­et in October 2018. Nazarenko protest­ed in sup­port of demands for the release of Ukrainian polit­i­cal pris­on­ers and the then starv­ing Ukrainian direc­tor Oleg Sentsov. What made the asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of the Department of Pharmacology of the Ivanovo State Medical Academy, wife and moth­er of two chil­dren go out into the street at this very moment is now dif­fi­cult to find out. 

“Olga Anatolyevna nev­er start­ed con­ver­sa­tions with us, stu­dents, about her par­tic­i­pa­tion in ral­lies and her polit­i­cal views,” says one of the stu­dents at the med­ical acad­e­my, who asked not to be named . “It’s a shame that such a teacher and such a per­son died.” To be hon­est, I don’t know much about where and how she held the ral­ly. And she was a won­der­ful teacher and a won­der­ful per­son too.”

However, in the last year, Associate Professor Nazarenko did not have a chance to dis­cuss pol­i­tics with stu­dents or col­leagues. In May 2022, she was sus­pend­ed from work with­out pay due to crim­i­nal cas­es. The last, eighth, case was brought against the asso­ciate pro­fes­sor for “repeat­ed actions aimed at dis­cred­it­ing the army.” 

Nazarenko came out with a poster with a quote from “The Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors” by Vitaly Gubarev: “All peo­ple, except the very bad ones, want to live in peace - war brings grief and ruin.” In the same case, they also recalled her post about this pick­et, accom­pa­nied by a quote from the Ukrainian poet­ess Lina Kostenko: “And who­ev­er it is, with­out telling any­one , but evil will per­ish and truth will over­come!” (“And no mat­ter what any­one says to any­one, evil will per­ish and truth will win”). 

In admin­is­tra­tive cas­es, Olga was sen­tenced to 260 thou­sand rubles in fines and 260 hours of com­pul­so­ry labor. Nazarenko man­aged to col­lect the amount to pay the fines thanks to the help of friends and the “At the same time” plat­form. And as part of her manda­to­ry work, Olga cleaned the ter­ri­to­ry of the chil­dren’s park and looked after the ani­mals in the Ivanovo Zoo. She told her lawyer and fam­i­ly that it even gave her plea­sure and seemed social­ly significant.

“I didn’t con­sid­er myself to have the right to give advice to any­one, espe­cial­ly to a per­son like Olga,” says her lawyer Oscar Cherdzhiev in response to the ques­tion of whether he tried to dis­suade Nazarenko from pick­ets and from pub­lic state­ments. - And why should I talk her out of it? She act­ed in accor­dance with the law, with the Constitution. We nev­er admit­ted guilt, and I still believe that she did not break the law.

“Teaching is a thankless profession”

On the evening of October 20, Olga Nazarenko died. The rea­sons for her death are still unknown. On the night of October 6-7, she was tak­en by ambu­lance to the Ivanovo hos­pi­tal with seri­ous injuries. None of those inter­viewed by T-invari­ant know who exact­ly found Nazarenko in seri­ous con­di­tion and called an ambulance.

Doctors assured the fam­i­ly and lawyer that the injuries were caused by a fall. The same rea­son is indi­cat­ed on the death cer­tifi­cate. Everyone we were able to talk to was unan­i­mous - it def­i­nite­ly couldn’t have been sui­cide. Activists famil­iar with Olga and her lawyer pay atten­tion to the date: she died on the night of October 7, on the eve of President Putin’s birth­day. They’re assum­ing They say that she could try to hang some kind of ban­ner or poster at a height. But rel­a­tives are alarmed that the rea­sons for the fall are not being investigated.

— I would not reject even the most absurd ver­sions now. Need to check. So far I have no doc­u­ments at my dis­pos­al, not even a med­ical exam­i­na­tion of my injuries. - says Oscar Cherdzhiev. — If an offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tion is not car­ried out, I will con­duct my own, lawyer’s inves­ti­ga­tion and on its basis I will be able to voice my already rea­soned opinion.

The uni­ver­si­ty where Nazarenko worked for 22 years did not post an offi­cial obit­u­ary on the pages of its web­site. But a mes­sage appeared in the academy’s VKontakte com­mu­ni­ty: “Why didn’t they post the obit­u­ary of the late Nazarenko either in the group or on the academy’s web­site itself, but only made do with a stand in the foy­er? This is some­how dis­re­spect­ful towards a per­son who has worked with­in your walls for more than 20 years! No mat­ter what views this woman holds, is she real­ly unwor­thy of even such a small thing? Of course, I under­stand every­thing, teach­ing is a thank­less pro­fes­sion, but so that your own peo­ple don’t respect your own… Aren’t you ashamed your­self? People, be peo­ple, eat and burn.”

The post was writ­ten anony­mous­ly, but in the com­ments sev­er­al peo­ple, with­out hid­ing their names, and some even empha­siz­ing that they were not writ­ing anony­mous­ly, regret­ted the death of their beloved teacher. Then the post was deleted.

Even opponents respected

Immediately after death OVD-Info and the plat­form “At the same time” announced a fundrais­er for the funeral.

“We usu­al­ly don’t con­duct such col­lec­tions,” they explained to us at OVD-Info. — We are col­lect­ing funds to pay for the defense of our clients. But in this case, we could not help but do noth­ing for her. The col­lec­tion closed in a lit­tle more than a day. Our team is grate­ful to every­one who con­tributed to this collection.

“Olga’s death is a per­son­al tragedy for me,” says Oscar Cherdzhiev. — Over the two years of my work with admin­is­tra­tive, and in the end with crim­i­nal cas­es that were brought against Olga Nazarenko, we became more than just a lawyer and client, we became friends. Probably, with such an open and sin­cere per­son as Olga, it could not have been any oth­er way. To be hon­est, I have nev­er met such peo­ple anymore.

Both Oscar and for­mer col­leagues recall that work­ing with Olga was easy. “She was respon­si­ble, always punc­tu­al both in every­day life and in terms of com­plet­ing work, very demand­ing of her­self, ready to delve into the nuances, but at the same time sin­cere and open, charis­mat­ic and smil­ing, bright and smart,” notes a depart­ment employ­ee who also asked don’t men­tion her name. Students say that she was per­haps not a kind, for­giv­ing teacher. But she was fair, which is much more important.

— Now it is dif­fi­cult to explain what kind of per­son she was. Even at court hear­ings after her speech, I often sim­ply had noth­ing to say. She delved so deeply into the top­ic, even if it was far from her direct sci­en­tif­ic activ­i­ty, that there was noth­ing to add. I’ll tell you more, even the police learned about her death with great regret,” says Olga’s lawyer. “Even her oppo­nents respect­ed her.” Because she always behaved very cor­rect­ly. She might not agree with you, but she defend­ed her posi­tion calm­ly, giv­ing rea­son­able arguments.

Olga has a fam­i­ly: elder­ly par­ents, a hus­band, a stu­dent daugh­ter and a sixth-grad­er son. We tried to con­tact Olga’s fam­i­ly, but so far they are not ready to dis­cuss the death of her moth­er and wife with jour­nal­ists. Not all mem­bers of her fam­i­ly shared Nazarenko’s views, but there is no rea­son to think that she could com­mit suicide.

“The poster still survived”

— For most of my life I was a com­plete­ly apo­lit­i­cal per­son, — says Shuya activist Sergei Veselov. “I won’t say that I liked what was hap­pen­ing, but I was just wait­ing for the end of the cur­rent government’s terms and hop­ing that the peo­ple would elect some­one more ade­quate. Currently eight crim­i­nal cas­es have been opened against Veselov.

Sergei’s life changed in 2019, when he broke his heel and had to stay in bed for four months. Just at this time, elec­tions to the Moscow City Duma were tak­ing place. At first, he watched the elec­tions as an enter­tain­ment show: “Some swindlers are try­ing to bypass oth­ers in order to get into a vir­tu­al­ly non-func­tion­al body.”

— But then I began to lis­ten and think about what exact­ly the can­di­dates were say­ing. I start­ed watch­ing Navalny and was amazed by the log­ic, con­sis­ten­cy and rea­son­ing of his inves­ti­ga­tions. They were done as ele­gant­ly and log­i­cal­ly as prov­ing the­o­rems in geom­e­try. It was then that I learned that in Ivanovo we also have a woman who reg­u­lar­ly goes out on sin­gle pick­ets and demands jus­tice, free­dom and com­pli­ance with the laws. To go alone to Revolution Square, where Olga went, requires both courage and willpow­er. I imag­ined what it must be like for this woman, because she is faced not only with sup­port, and even not only with indif­fer­ence, but also with aggression.

During anoth­er sin­gle pick­et, a man shout­ed to her that such oppo­si­tion­ists should be shot and tried to take away the poster. He injured Nazarenko’s fin­ger, which remained per­ma­nent­ly deformed. Veselov says that Olga recalled this with­out anger; on the con­trary, she always empha­sized that she still defend­ed the poster.

— I knew Olga as a per­son with a dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter. But strong, inte­gral, extra­or­di­nary and at the same time prin­ci­pled peo­ple are always peo­ple with a dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter. Her hon­esty and decen­cy, her will and inflex­i­bil­i­ty attract­ed not only me, but also many peo­ple around. As a joke, I called her “Joan of Arc from Ivanovo”. She left a gigan­tic mark on the his­to­ry of Ivanov. I hope that when the Putin dic­ta­tor­ship is over­thrown, we will be able to name some square or street in Ivanovo in hon­or of Olga Nazarenko. I think she deserved it.

Protest Ivanovo

From com­mu­ni­cat­ing with activists in Ivanovo and study­ing the crim­i­nal and admin­is­tra­tive cas­es that were brought against Olga and oth­er activists, one may get the impres­sion that this city some­how stands out espe­cial­ly among small provin­cial cities of the Central Russian strip against the gen­er­al back­ground of their anti-war position.

— Now we know about 7 per­sons involved in crim­i­nal cas­es for their anti-war posi­tion in the Ivanovo region, includ­ing Olga Nazarenko, says OVD-Info. — Many of them have more than one arti­cle: for exam­ple, Sergei Veselov has 8 prece­dents under four dif­fer­ent arti­cles of the Criminal Code. But if you look at the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try as a whole, this is quite typ­i­cal. Moscow and St. Petersburg stand out; for the rest of the cities of the Central Federal District, 7 defen­dants are the aver­age figure.

— Do you think there is any hope for such clients as Olga and Sergei to win their cas­es in court? — I ask the lawyer.

— Even in ordi­nary cas­es in the coun­try, less than 0.5% of acquit­tals are made. Having such sta­tis­tics, you can pre­dict the out­come of polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed cas­es, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of today, with­out my answer, says Cherdzhiev.

Text: Julia Chernaya
Photo: Oscar Cherdzhiev


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