A Russian court will on Thursday hold a custody hearing for a 13-year-old girl who was forced into a children’s home after drawing an anti-war picture that prompted an investigation and then conviction of her father for discrediting the armed forces.
Russia introduced severe punishments for discrediting the armed forces after President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, laws that have snared dissidents, journalists, actors, musicians and even comedians.
The problems for Alexei Moskalyov, a single parent, began after his daughter, Maria, drew a picture in a school art class last year that featured Russian missiles flying towards Ukraine and the slogans “Glory to Ukraine” and “No to Putin, no to war”.
Secondary School Number 9 in Yefremov, 290km south of Moscow, alerted the police who discussed the matter with both Moskalyov and his daughter, then 12.
More ominously, officers from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era Committee for State Security (KGB), also spoke to both father and daughter, Moskalyov’s lawyer told Reuters.
Shortly afterwards, social services got involved and Moskalyov was accused of poor parenting and fined. He was accused of discrediting the Russian armed forces in social media posts. He said his account had been hacked.
On March 1, he was detained and the next day a court placed him under house arrest. Maria, known by the diminutive Masha, was taken away and put into a children’s home, despite a request from a detective that she be returned home.
Moskalyov went on the run and was arrested in Minsk. While on the run, he was sentenced in absentia to two years in a penal colony for discrediting the armed forces.
“Alexei is not worried about himself – he is extremely worried about what will happen to his daughter,” Moskalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Bilienko, told Reuters ahead of a court hearing on whether or not to limits his parental responsibility.
If his parental responsibility is limited by the court, then the state will have much more power to decide the fate of his daughter, who has written numerous letters to her father and says she wants to stay with him.
“It turns out that a child who has lived all her life with her papa falls goodness knows where in goodness knows whose hands behind some sort of stone wall,” Bilienko said.
Russian officials have said that Moskalyov is a poor parent and that his daughter had poor marks in some classes at school. According to social services, Moskalyov did not interact with either the school or social services.
Her mother has not lived with the family for more than seven years, according to social services documents seen by Reuters.
Still, the nightmarish journey of the Moskalyov family through the minefield of provincial Russian bureaucracy, a theme writer Nikolai Gogol satirised in the 19th Century, has struck a chord with Russians.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s most powerful mercenary group, said the two-year verdict for Moskalyov was “unfair” and asked that it was reviewed as his daughter now faces life in an orphanage.
“Especially, in view of the fact that his daughter Masha will be forced to grow up in an orphanage,” Prigozhin wrote in a letter to the prosecutor of the case and published by press service. “We are waging a war against evil for the sake of the future of our children.”
Some in Yefremov shared such views.
“I feel sorry for the parent and I feel sorry for the girl,” said a resident who gave her name only as Nadezhda. “I believe it is important to be humane and not to separate the family.”
Others were less sympathetic. Some said the case had been misrepresented and that Moskalyov had insulted the armed forces so should be punished.
“It is not necessary to discuss this all over the internet and to say that it’s all because of the drawing,” said Anna Borteneva, a resident of Yefremov.
“He is being tried for insulting the Russian army – no one gave him the right to do this.”