‘Escaped the noose’: Crowdfunding helps Russian anti-war protesters pay fines

The 30,000 ruble ($497) fine imposed on Sergey Stafeev by a Russian court earlier this year for violating wartime censorship laws was more than his monthly pension.

A retiree from the remote village of Butyrka near the Ural Mountains had little savings and was at a loss as to how to get it. I became hopeless when the appeal failed and it meant I could be jailed for non-payment.

It was then that Stafeev knew rosstraf, a crowdfunding initiative to help those convicted in “political” cases. After he contacted them, the money needed to pay the fine for “discrediting the Russian military” was collected in just over an hour.

Words cannot describe it. I escaped the noose,” Stafeev, 63, told the Moscow Times. “I helped a drowning man.”

ROSshtraf is one of several crowdfunding initiatives to help Russians prosecuted under harsh wartime censorship laws that carry heavy fines and sometimes lengthy prison terms for violators. is.

These projects, which are often coordinated from outside Russia, use online appeals and decentralized structures to avoid closure by authorities.

Run by a small team of volunteers, ROSshtraf runs regular crowdfunding campaigns using the messaging app Telegram (which has over 4,500 followers).

Each post contains a moving story of a fined protester, and details of the protesters’ bank accounts are provided for direct wire transfers.

A police officer causes a riot near the Duma in Moscow.
Sergei Vedyashkin / Moskva News Agency

Stafeev was fined for picketing alone after the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia, where several of his cousins ​​lived, was hit by a Russian missile barrage, temporarily cutting contact with them. rice field.

ROSshtraf was established before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but was designed to help people like Stafeyev with limited financial means.

“Sometimes quantity [of fines] It may not look like much, but … for low-income people, any money matters, ”said activist and ROSshtraf founder Fyodor Krasheninikov. Said Novaya Gazeta in 2019 shortly after the project started.

Other Russian groups using crowdfunding to pay protest fines include Nobel Prize-winning group memorial as well as rights groups Ros Kom Svoboda When OVD information.

Online platform similar to ROSshtraf picket man When Zaodono (“Together”) focuses solely on providing financial assistance to prosecuted dissenters.

Two men who received support from Zaodno — Valery Kraynukov, 35, from Crimea annexed by Moscow, and Artyom Kallas, 31, from Central Russia — saw the crowdfunded amount. I was shocked.

It was a “morale boost,” Kleinukov said. Mr. Kleinukov was fined 30,000 rubles after his neighbors reported him to authorities for his anti-war social media posts and bumper stickers.

“I don’t think anyone actually does anything for the purpose of supporting the war, but people do things for the victims of our country,” he told the Moscow Times. Told.

2 given crows fine He, who received a total of 60,000 rubles ($982) to put anti-war bumper stickers on his car, said he was impressed with Zaodno’s efficiency.

“The concept and execution of this was amazing. I can’t think of any other words to describe it,” he told the Moscow Times.

“This kind of self-organization and mutual support is definitely important.”

					"No war!" Graffiti on the walls of Moscow houses.Alexander Milidonov / Kommersant
“No war!” Graffiti on the wall of a house in Moscow.
Alexander Milidonov / Kommersant

During the first eight months of the Russian invasion, more than 19,000 people were detained at anti-war rallies, and police filed 4,777 administrative and over 300 criminal cases. data Collected by protest monitoring group OVD-Info.

There is no public data on the number or total amount of fines handed down by Russian courts, but Zaodno and ROSshtraf together claim to have crowdfunded 11 million rubles ($180,866) for a total of 385 people. increase.

Both organizations avoid collecting donations in one bank account. Instead, they ask donors to send money directly to the person fined.

“If [your organization] If you have a bank account, they can block you, take your money, or blackmail you,” said Zaodno founder Mikhail Lebedev, 34.

Launched in April, Zaodno has created an online ecosystem that activist organizations can use to set up fundraising pages for their customers.

Organizers not only support protesters, crowdfunding initiatives such as ROSshtraf and Zaodno draw public attention to individuals risking prison time to speak out against war hope it helps.

However, those on the receiving end are often simply grateful that they no longer have to pay a devastating financial penalty.

“I experienced weightlessness when I realized that the fine money had been collected.” fined 350,000 rubles ($5,730) for last year’s “extremism”.

It took ROSstraf just two days to collect the money Rodvikova needed.

“It felt like a weight had fallen off my shoulders and my soul,” she said. ‘Escaped the noose’: Crowdfunding helps Russian anti-war protesters pay fines

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