The father, Alexei Moskalyov, 53, was detained Wednesday in Yefremov, a town in the Tula region, about 150 miles south of Moscow. He was charged with repeat offenses of “discrediting the Russian army,” following searches of his home and a review of social media posts that began after his daughter, Masha Moskalyova, made the drawing in her sixth-grade class last April.
Masha’s teacher had asked the students to make patriotic drawings to celebrate soldiers fighting on the front lines. Instead, Masha drew a picture of a woman standing in front of a Ukrainian flag, shielding a child from Russian missiles, along with an antiwar slogan: “No to war.”
Masha’s teacher immediately informed the school principal, who reported the incident to the authorities. Masha was later questioned by the FSB, Russia’s main security service, and Moskalyov was interrogated.
Investigators later found caricatures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and comments supporting Ukraine in his social media posts. Last spring, he was fined about $425 for a comment saying Russian soldiers were “the perpetrators” of the invasion.
“If the daughter had not drawn this drawing, no one would have any paid attention to the father,” Moskalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Bilienko, said in a telephone interview.
But Moskalyov’s legal troubles did not end there. In December, the authorities opened a new criminal case accusing him of “discrediting the army,” a charge created under Russia’s strict, post-invasion censorship laws, that carries a potential prison sentence of up to three years. Security agents raided Moskalyov’s home and confiscated belongings and his financial savings. Moskalyov also said he was beaten during interrogation. Because he is a single dad, Masha was placed in the orphanage.
In Russia’s increasingly hostile and arbitrary wartime climate, pro-war hawks are routinely allowed to criticize the military over its defeats, but others face potentially severe punishment for advocating peace — and Masha is hardly the only Russian child to end up in trouble.
In October, a 10-year-old girl and her mother were detained in Moscow and questioned by the police after her school principal complained about the girl’s profile picture on social media. The girl had used an avatar of “Saint Javelin,” an image of a woman resembling the Virgin Mary, holding an antitank Javelin missile, which has come to symbolize Ukrainian resistance.
That same month, a fifth-grade boy in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, was reprimanded in school after he wrote a letter urging a soldier not to kill anyone and to return home. Students were assigned to write letters supporting Russian troops on the front.
And last March, a sixth-grader in Moscow faced questioning by juvenile authorities and the police after he challenged his history teacher and asked why Putin had started the war.
Other children have been detained during antiwar protests. According to OVD-Info, a watchdog group, at least 544 minors were detained during antiwar demonstrations last year, and seven are currently facing criminal prosecution for antiwar views. At least 19 teachers who expressed antiwar views have been fired, the group said.
“It’s important to understand that the Moskalyov case is a part of a larger, horrifying trend,” said Daria Korolenko, a lawyer and analyst for OVD-Info. “As part of a wider wartime crackdown, the regime is routinely persecuting antiwar minors and their families, while squeezing the Russian youth into a heavily militarized culture.”
The crackdown only seems to be getting more severe.
On Wednesday, Russian members of parliament proposed new and stricter amendments to the existing wartime censorship laws. One key proposal would also make it illegal to criticize “volunteer formations,” such as the Wagner mercenary group, under the umbrella of discrediting the Russian military or spreading “fakes” about the war.
Members of parliament also proposed that anyone found guilty face up to 15 years in prison. The amendments are set for a final reading and a vote in mid-March.
According to an OVD-Info report, 447 people were charged in the past year for antiwar views or protests. The majority of charges fell under the wartime censorship laws, especially for the distribution of “fakes.”
“That is more than one new defendant a day,” the report said. “This is the largest wave of political repression in Putin’s Russia.”
On Thursday, the authorities in Tula are expected to decide if Moskalyov will be transferred to a jail or placed under house arrest. Because he is a single parent, that will determine if Masha remains in the state orphanage. As the case has gotten more public attention, Bilienko, the lawyer, said he has received multiple offers from people willing to provide foster care.
Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.
One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.
A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.
Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.