Russian youth activist Vlad Kolesnikov took his own life on Christmas Day in Russia’s Samara region. Amidst widespread mourning, some in the country are wondering if his death was in fact a murder, and many warn that similar incidents could follow.
A few months earlier, Kolesnikov, an 18-year-old culinary student from the town of Podolsk, walked into his school with a shirt that read “Return Crimea to Ukraine.” This was followed by a few other subtle acts of protest against Russian propaganda and military intervention in Ukraine.
Soon, Kolesnikov’s social media page became very popular, both in Podolsk and outside the town.
Authorities soon found out about the young activist, and the police visited him, threatening him with bodily harm. Kolesnikov remained defiant and was beaten up shortly thereafter. His family, staunchly opposed to his activism, sent him to live with his grandfather, a former KGB officer.
Kolesnikov had since been trying to escape the persecution and pressure of propaganda in Russia, but on December 25, after being unable to cope with the situation any longer, he overdosed on prescription medications and died.
While many continue to mourn his death, many other youth activists are saying Kolesnikov’s fate might become the fate of many others. A few youth activists and anti-war activists report that they are facing persecution and harassment similar to what Kolesnikov went through.
Ivan Dzerzhinov, a mechanical engineering student from Petrozavodsk, says that, in 2014, when he openly voiced his dissatisfaction with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in other parts of Ukraine, he was almost expelled from his university.
“The dean of faculty warned me against such public statements. I was told I might get expelled and would never find a job. Many fellow students started making fun of me. I understand all too well what Kolesnikov went through. I luckily had a supportive family who shared my views, otherwise I don’t know how I would manage,” he recounts.
“Kolesnikov’s death is quite symbolic,” says Moscow-based lawyer and civil society activist Svetlana Paukina.
“As a lawyer, I have seen quite a number of cases similar to Kolesnikov’s in the past two years. What and whom should we blame? The government? The propaganda? I’m not sure. But the fact remains that if nothing changes, this so-called harassment against those who are actually voicing the truth is going to continue. One can only hope that something happens, and this horrible treatment of our brightest young people stops,” she says.