From The Economist:
In a bedsit in Vologda, a Russian city 500 miles north of Moscow, a man sat at a desk surrounded by recording equipment. In his early 60s, tall and thin with long grey hair, glasses and a moustache, he looked like an ageing rock star making a new album. His name was Vladimir Rumyantsev. He lived alone, and his day job was as a stoker, tending a furnace in a factory boiler-room. In the evenings he was the dj of his own pirate-radio station, broadcasting anti-war diatribes against Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Rumyantsev set up the station before the war as a hobby. Radio Vovan (a play on a nickname for Vladimir) mainly broadcast music from the Soviet era that he found in online archives. He said he needed a break from oppressive state propaganda. “Some kind of ‘patriotic’ hysteria started on the airwaves, and as the sole occupant of the flat I voted unanimously to ban the broadcasting of federal tv and radio channels in my home. Well, I had to create something of my own to replace it,” he wrote to me.
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In December Rumyantsev was found guilty of spreading “deliberately false information”, in the words of the judge at Vologda city court, that Russian soldiers in Ukraine were “robbing, killing and raping civilians, destroying hospitals, maternity hospitals, schools and kindergartens”. He was given the option of three years of house arrest or three years in prison. He chose prison.
I learned about Rumyantsev when a friend texted me a news article about the case. He knew I would appreciate the coincidence. A couple of months earlier, at the beginning of the war, I had finally published a novel I had been working on for ten years. Called “Radio Martyn”, it’s set in a nameless totalitarian country, ruled by hatred and fear. The novel is about a secret resistance movement, led by a pirate-radio station fighting propaganda. It was meant as a futuristic dystopia, only life has a habit of imitating art.
I struck up a correspondence with Rumyantsev, using his lawyer as an intermediary. His story gave me some hope. It helps destroy the myth that everyone in the country supports the war, that society in Russia is a monolith – a frozen piece of sxxx. The truth is that every day people in Russia, at great risk to their safety and livelihoods, are trying to stop Putin or help his victims. Their desire to fight this monumental injustice is so strong that even knowing they could lose their jobs, be thrown in prison, tortured or even killed, does not deter them. After all, such threats seem insignificant compared with the horrors their state is perpetrating on the people of Ukraine.
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Rumyantsev was born in Vologda in 1961. His mother worked in an ice-cream factory and his father in a factory that repaired rolling stock. He and his brother, Sergei, grew up in a flat that his family shared with several others. Such poverty was ordinary: “Life was just like most people’s,” said Rumyantsev.
He had very poor eyesight; when he was 14 he was sent to a state-run boarding school for disabled children. The teachers, many of whom had served in the second world war, shocked him by impugning the Russian war effort and Stalin, who had died eight years before Rumyantsev was born. They taught him to think critically: that the truth was more complicated than the official line.
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As a schoolboy in the 1970s, Rumyantsev had assembled a receiver with the help of a physics textbook and a children’s electronics set (“my first experience of radio hooliganism”). He was able to pick up foreign stations that were banned in the Soviet Union, including the Voice of America and the bbc. He noticed how these so-called “enemy voices” dared to ask questions, unlike their Soviet counterparts.
Once he left school, Rumyantsev worked as a locksmith in factories and briefly as a trolleybus conductor. An expert in local history, he also used to give tours of old Vologda. Rumyantsev, described by his lawyer as a “man of the proletariat”, demolishes one of Putin’s favourite propaganda myths: that only “bearded intellectuals” are against the war.
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I am not crazy. I know that in a country of nearly 150m people, zombified by two decades of propaganda, there are many people who support Putin. But the state, through its actions in Ukraine, is pushing more and more ordinary citizens to join the resistance. Every day since February 24th 2022, Russians across the country have been protesting against the war.
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They send money to Ukraine’s army. They hack Russian websites. They help young men escape the draft. One banner at a protest read, “The sixth commandment: thou shalt not kill”. They post leaflets through letterboxes and under windscreen wipers.
They graffiti “No to war” on walls. They scrawl slogans on banknotes. They weave green ribbons into their hair, hang them on fences and in the metro (the colour you get when you mix the yellow and blue of Ukraine’s flag being symbolic of resistance). They make figurines out of plasticine, attach an anti-war message to them and leave them in public places. They hang posters in their windows and on their balconies, on bridges and in shop windows.
They set up Tinder accounts for Putin: the profiles say things like “looking for someone who will love me after all the atrocities”, followed by information about the massacre of civilians by Russian troops in Bucha.
Link to the rest at The Economist