Repression Standpoint

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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