The Ukraine War: Russian snitching on its colleagues and strangers
Snitching, or reporting neighbors, colleagues, and even strangers to the authorities, was common in Soviet-era Russia. Now, as the government cracks down on critics of the Ukrainian war, people with personal grudges and political ideals are once again condemning others.
“I learned how to snitch from my grandfather, who was a snitch himself,” says a woman named Anna Korobkova. She says she lives in a large Russian city, but refuses to specify which city.
But she says her grandfather was an anonymous informant for the Soviet secret police during the Stalin era, when convictions were part of everyday life, and she is following in his footsteps. She now reports anyone she believes is critical of the war in Ukraine.
What series he admitted himself
Korobkova claims to have written 1,397 denunciations since Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine. She says people have been fined, fired and labeled as foreign agents because of her denunciations.
“I don’t feel sorry for them,” she reveals. “I feel happy if they are punished for my denunciations.”
New censorship laws were introduced shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Since then, Korobkova has spent most of her free time online, often reporting people for “defaming the Russian military” – a crime punishable by a fine of up to 50,000. pound. rubles ($560; £450) or imprisonment for up to five years if committed more than twice.
Korobkova is very cautious about speaking with me and will only communicate via email. She does not want to show her face and refuses to provide proof of her identity. She says this is because she frequently receives death threats and fears her information will be hacked or stolen.
It seems that it has two motives for informing its citizens. First, she told me that she believes it is helping Russia defeat Ukraine, and second, that she believes it will help protect its financial stability. She lives alone and works part-time as a humanities professor, relying heavily on her savings. But Korobkova fears Russia could end up paying reparations if the conflict goes Ukraine’s way, and that could affect the finances of the entire country and everyone who lives there.
“All those who oppose the special military operation are competitors for my own well-being,” she explains, predicting that Ukraine’s victory will be her loss. “I might lose all my savings and have to get a full-time job.”
Since the new censorship laws were passed, more than 8,000 cases have been opened against people for defaming the military, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info.
Korobkova mostly talks about people who talk to the media, especially those who appear for international outlets, such as the BBC. One of Korobkova’s targets is anthropologist Alexandra Arkhipova.
“She reported me seven times,” says Arkhipova. “Writing denunciations is her way of dealing with the authorities. She considers it her mission.
“She has found her niche,” adds Arkhipova, who now lives in exile and believes Korobkova’s actions may have contributed to her designation as a foreign agent by the Russian state in May. “Her condemnations silence the experts very effectively.”
“My friends, whom I denounced, now refuse to make any comments to any media. So, you can say it has been successful. Mission accomplished.”
The other target was a teacher in Moscow named Tatiana Chervenko.
When Russia introduced patriotism classes in September 2022, Chervenko decided to teach mathematics instead, she told TV Rain, Russia’s last independent channel, which was shut down by the government and is now based in the Netherlands.
As a result, Korobkova, who watched her television interview, began making denunciations against Chervenko, and complained to her employer, the Moscow Education Department, and the Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner.
Chervenko was later fired in December 2022.
Korobkova shows no remorse for her actions, instead proudly maintaining a database of people she has reported, including the consequences.
It claims that following its denunciations, six people were dismissed from their jobs and 15 others were issued administrative charges and fines.
Although Korobkova insists she is targeting people she believes are enemies of the state, other people have told the BBC that convictions are also used in Russia to settle personal scores.
Imprisoned and longing for freedom
Hunter Yaroslav Levchenko is from the Kamchatka Peninsula, in Russia’s far east, and is known not only for his volcanic landscape and extraordinary wildlife but also for his significant military presence. Many people in this region are pro-Putin including Levchenko’s colleagues.
In February 2023, Levchenko’s ship docked in the port of Kamchatka after a month-long fishing trip. He says one of his fellow fishermen offered him an alcoholic drink, but he refused. He thinks the other guy actually had a grudge against him and they ended up in an argument. Levchenko explains that he was hit on the head by a bottle and later woke up in the hospital.
Levchenko says that when he got out of the hospital and went to the police station to file a report, he was horrified to learn that he was the one who had been reported — not for assault but for holding anti-war views. He claims that the police told him that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against his colleague.
Levchenko was then arrested on July 13. According to court documents seen by the BBC, he is accused of justifying terrorism, charges he denies, and is being held in prison awaiting trial.
The only way he can tell his story to the BBC is through letters sent through his lawyer. “Investigators state that I used physical force toward other sailors…to express my intention to participate in hostilities against the Russian Federation,” Levchenko writes.
Levchenko’s friends told me they believed his conviction was intended to distract police from his assault and the fact that drinking alcohol on board a ship, which is prohibited.
“I just want to go home,” Levchenko says. “The sky is only visible from my cell, through several rows of bars, and this is unbearable,” he wrote in a letter to his friend that was shared with the BBC.
The Russian police admitted that they had received a torrent of convictions since the start of the war. Officials told the BBC, anonymously, that they were spending a significant amount of time investigating and reviewing “endless charges of secrecy in the military.”
A recently retired police officer told the BBC: “People are always looking for an excuse to denounce someone over the ‘special military operation’,” adding: “Whenever something real happens, there is no one to investigate it. Everyone goes to check on some granny.” Who saw a curtain resembling the Ukrainian flag.”
With President Putin’s repeated calls to “punish traitors” and no end to the war in Ukraine in sight, serial snitches like Korobkova show no sign of wanting to stop reporting on their compatriots.
“I will continue writing denunciations,” she wrote in an email to the BBC, adding: “I have a lot of work to do.”