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Time to Unite

An interview with Maria Godlevskaya, a participant in the one-person picket in support of the Khachaturyan sisters in Saint Petersburg

Tomorrow the Sisters’ March – a huge event to support the Khachuryan sisters – is to take place in Moscow. Everyone already knows, but just to remind you: the sisters killed their father who put down and abused the girls over the course of many years, he violated them and now they are facing 20 years in prison for premeditated murder. The government in Moscow has not sanctioned the march. It’s understood that participation in an unsanctioned event threatens detainment and what’s more, information is being disseminated on social media that those who come to the march will be attacked by the participants in the woman-hating movement “Men’s Government”. Therefore the organizers, who are concerned about the safety of the participants, are encouraging other forms of activism tomorrow, including online. 

On the 22nd of June picketing took place in several cities in support of the Khachuryan sisters. Maria Godlevskaya, EVA Project Coordinator took part in the picket in Saint Petersburg. Today Maria told us about why she went to Malaya Sadovaya, how passersby reacted to the picket, what was said on the internet, and why this story affects us all. 

How did you hear about the picket? 

– I am in the public Sister’s March Facebook group and I saw the invitation to the one-person picket. There were many people from various nongovernmental organizations and movements, but they came as citizens rather than as representatives of an organization. 

Was it completely peaceful?

– In my presence everything was cultured and peaceful. It must be said that there were very detailed instructions for picketers in the group. They explained how far people should be from one another, clarified that you are not to wave signs, that you are not allowed to pass them to one another, and other rules. In general, the rules were as specific as possible to keep the participants safe. 

How did the police act?

– The picketers did not aim to have conflict with the police; the main objective was to allow as many people as possible through the picketing line. Therefore the activists were compliant in having their passports photographed by the police. However, when an activists asked to see the documents of the officer on duty, they were forbidden to photograph the documents and were only allowed to copy down the information by hand. 

Why did you go to the picket? 

– The sisters’ case brings forth the issue of domestic violence as well as violence against children, which for me is most frightening of all. When they are beaten and violated, children do not understand that violence is not normal and that there is an alternative. In cases of child abuse, there is an enormous tangled web: the police do not get involved in “family matters”, the agencies regarding guardianship, which are intended to safeguad children’s rights, don’t look at these issues and rather just check the quantity of food in the refrigerator. And in society at large, active positions to protect children lack. Judging by articles that I have read, the neighbors heard the daughters being beaten. And the only comment? “Their father was teaching them a lesson.”

How powerful are such pickets in your opinion? What can picketing accomplish?

– Attract attention, maybe give a fuller picture for mass media. Also, I believe that such events impact the development of civil society. The case of Ivan Golunov (criminal case against the correspondent from Meduza charged for attempted drug trafficking – editor) is confirmation of this. I even think that if the story with Ivan, when society came together to defend the journalist, had not happened before the case of the sisters, it’s possible that fewer people would have reacted and come out to support. In other words, after the situation with Ivan, people started to believe that a unified position can change something. At the picket in Saint Petersburg I saw many people who asked, “What’s going on?”, and after a short explanation said, “Oh, those girls… Good luck!”. Some encouraged, supported, and they said that we are brave. People were actively involved. 

Were there those who were возмущался that you came out in support of “murderers?” Or was that not a popular opinion?

– From the majority of people on the street there were phrases of support. But on social media, it was the opposite. After the picket I made a post and there were comments “after all, they killed a person”. And this was written by a real person that I know. You don’t have to think that hordes of bots are writing. Another point of view that was expressed in response to my post was that it’s “not worth attracting so much attention to the sisters’ case and then the government would have free hands and they could simply let the girls go.

Do agree with this?

– I believe that the government always has free hands and there is always the opportunity to set the girls free. Don’t forget that this is an unprecedented legal situation for promoting a law against domestic violence. According to statistics from 2017, the number of domestic violence victims decreased suddenly. This reduction happened when the article on Beating was removed from the Criminal Code and recharacterized as an administrative offense. But since 2017 there have already been fines for half a billion rubles. It’s evident that fines do not work. Without appropriate protection, more and more women will have to defend themselves if they can, and some women will die. After the picket in Saint Petersburg, I was written, “If you go again, call me, I will come too.” And this was written by people who usually do not participate in such events. This is a common problem, not a private one, and the time have come to unite. 

The EVA Association thanks all activists who are defending the Khachaturyan sisters and we stand in solidarity to demand the end of the criminal case against Maria, Krestina, and Angelina Khachaturyan. 

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