Tag Archives: Finland

Russian prison spokesman: allegedly-tortured inmate beat himself

A Russian journalist says Zubayr Zubayrayev, imprisoned in Volgograd, was tortured because he is Chechen.

But Russian authorities say the man admitted in a videotape to beating himself, and a Russian court has fined the journalist 200,000 rubles (about $6,500) and ordered that she retract her articles, The Moscow Times reports.

The journalist, Yelena Maglevannaya, refused, and has fled to Finland, where she is currently seeking asylum.

According to The Moscow Times, Maglevannaya also received death threats after her stories about Zubayrayev were published.

She is far from the only journalist to be threatened for her work in Russia.

The Moscow Times noted:

More than 15 Russian journalists covering political issues have requested asylum abroad since Vladimir Putin assumed power nine years ago, said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

“They can’t stand the working conditions [in Russia],” Panfilov said.

But the ones who have fled abroad are perhaps the luckiest.

Sixteen Russian journalists have been killed due to their reporting in Russia since 1999, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Fifteen of the murders remain unsolved, CPJ said, including those of Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov, an American, and Novaya Gazeta reporter and author Anna Politkovskaya, who reported from Chechnya and wrote critically on the current state of affairs in Russia.

Arriving in Russia

5/8/09 – 23:00

A short flight over the Gulf of Finland, a deep blue bordered on all sides by green, set the scenic backdrop for our arrival in St. Petersburg. As we came over the city, its pervasive grayness—a slightly outmoded industrial quality—filled the hazy air. Power lines, massive apartment blocks, and factory complexes stretched through my field of view as the plane descended to Polkovo airport on the city’s outskirts.

On deplaning, we were greeted by a short, stern-faced man who said nothing as he pointed his temperature gun at each of us; no “Welcome to Russia” here, but thankfully, no swine flu either.

Past customs, the mood lightened considerably as we were met by Саша (Sasha), our Russian discussion instructor from first semester. From there, we threw our bags into a small truck with a green-canvas-covered bed and settled into a white mix between a van and a bus for our ride to Капитанская Улица (Kapitanskaya Street), situated right on the Gulf of Finland.

As we drove, St. Petersburg came into focus as a city, it’s character clearly unbounded by the industrial grayness that I saw from above. We passed a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a giant statue of Lenin, whose name the city once bore. Monuments to Tsars and Soviet soldiers filled the centers of enormous circles that seemed to give the traffic—everything from old Ladas to modern Porsches and Toyotas, and even a few American cars—some semblance of order.

Numerous supermarkets, markets, drug stores, convenience stores, clothing stores, and sundry other shops lined the streets, their gaudy signs advertrising their wares, and often, their 24/7 schedules. We strained to decipher the letters on some of the fleeting signs, and painstakingly sounded-out cyrillic filled the bus-van, accompanied, sometimes, by cheers marking the recognition of a remembered vocabulary word. Frequently though, the names were comfortably familar; Кафе (café), суши (sushi) and бар (bar) were only the tip of the iceberg.

But the city, what little of it we explored in our first hours in Russia, hummed to a beat distinct from anything that might be suggested by superficial sign similarities.

Shopping for food was a fascinating, and humbling, experience. Tomato sauce, of the kind we are so used to in America, was impossible to find at the  supermarket we went to. Also missing were spices, crackers beyond a single brand, and all the many styles of granola bar that are ubiquitous at home.

Eggs are packed 10 to a carton—strange.

The checkout aisle marked our first linguistic challenge. As the cashier rang up our bread, cheese, pasta, and massive jugs of water, she asked us if we wanted bags. We quickly declined, only to realize a few seconds later what we had done. Bags being an unfamilar word to us, we couldn’t figure out how to ask for them, except by pointing to one after the cashier had finished ringing us up.

Plastic bags (пакеты – a word I will not soon forget) cost six rubles, the cashier snarled. She waved away Tom’s 100 ruble bill, demanding exact change. The phrase «I just arrived and only have large bills» not being a part of our vocabulary, Tom dug around and handed the cashier a coin that said 5 and another that said 1. Her annoyance visibly increased at being handed a ruble and five kopecks, the cashier finally, mercifully, accepted Tom’s 100 ruble bill (worth, roughly, $3), and doled out all 94 rubles in change, pissed as hell. We quickly shoved our purchases into the bag and escaped, chastened and nervous for future shopping encounters.

Pre-planning vocabulary became the order of the day for our other big purchase – a map of the city. Fortunately, the vendor in the magazine stall was more understanding of our limited Russian skills, and the smoothness of this exchange provided a much-need confidence boost. Tom also managed to buy a memory card reader from an electronics kiosk located in, of all places, a pet shop.

Tomorrow, to wipe out jet lag, we plan to get up around 8 a.m., in plenty of time to go watch the Victory Day parade through the city center.

Stopping in Finland, briefly

The Helsinki airport has free WiFi. Finland – 1 America – 0.

Everything in this airport is made out of wood. The walls. The stall doors in the bathroom. The floor tiles. It gives off a nice vibe, sort of like walking into a mountain lodge. 

But more to the point, I’ve been realizing how many “firsts” today has brought:

  1. First time flying over a big body of water.
  2. First time on FinnAir (and on an Airbus A330)
  3. First time in Europe (and Finland, and soon to be – Russia).
  4. First time being anywhere where the native language isn’t English.
  5. And soon, it’ll be my first time going through customs. Russian customs, at that.

I’m sure I’m missing a few, but needless to say, I’m excited, and the adventure has only just begun. I’m hoping that the adrenaline from said adventurous feelings will carry me through the day. I’ve been up since 6:45 a.m., East Coast time on Thursday and it’s now about 9 a.m. here. I’m feeling it a bit. The plan is to run through to St. Petersburg, crash tonight, and instantly adjust to the time change. I’ll let you know how that goes.