Russian poets given long jail terms for reciting verses against Ukraine war

Artyom Kamardin, 33, and Yegor Shtovba, 23, sentenced for ‘undermining national security’, ‘inciting hatred’.

Russia jails poets
Russian poets Artyom Kamardin (L) and Yegor Shtovba (R) stand inside the defendants' glass cage as the verdict against them is announced at a court in Moscow, on December 28, 2023 [Alexander Nemenov/ AFP]

A court in Moscow has sentenced two Russian men to several years in prison for reciting poetry against the war in Ukraine during an anti-mobilisation protest last year as the Kremlin presses on with its crackdown on dissent.

Artyom Kamardin, 33, was sentenced to seven years in jail on Thursday after being convicted of making calls “undermining national security” and “inciting hatred”. The charges were linked to him reading his anti-war poems at the rally in Moscow in September 2022.

The Tverskoy District Court also sentenced Yegor Shtovba, 23, to a five and a half year term on the same charges, after he participated in the event and recited Kamardin’s verses.

The demonstration last year was held days after President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilisation of 300,000 reservists amid Russia’s military setbacks in Ukraine. The widely unpopular move prompted hundreds of thousands to flee the country to avoid being recruited into the military.

Kamardin read out his poem, “Kill me, militia man!”,  ending with the line, “Glory to Kievan Rus, Novorossiya – suck!” – using the historic terms for Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and a term from days of the Russian Empire that Moscow uses for the area of southeastern Ukraine it is trying to annex, respectively.

Russian poet jailed
Russian poet Artyom Kamardin stands inside the defendants’ glass cage as his sentence is read out in court, on December 28, 2023. He recited his poem, ‘Kill me, militia man!’ at an anti-war rally last year [Alexander Nemenov/ AFP]

Days later, police stormed into the apartment Kamardin shared with his then-girlfriend, Alexandra Popova, and another activist. According to Amnesty International, Popova said police beat and violated Kamardin with a dumbbell before forcing Popova to watch a video of the act. She also claimed that police super-glued stickers to her face and threatened to rape her. A clip later circulated on Telegram of the bruised and battered Kamardin apologising for his words.

Authorities in Russia have detained thousands of people under wartime censorship laws for their simple acts of protest against the offensive in Ukraine.

Just before his sentencing, a smiling Kamardin recited a poem that refers to poetry as “gut-wrenching” and often disliked by “people accustomed to order”.

Popova, now his wife, was escorted out of the courtroom by bailiffs after she shouted “Shame!” following the verdict.

“It is a very harsh sentence. Seven years for poems, for a non-violent crime,” she told the AFP news agency, before being taken away by police officers.

According to OVD-Info, a prominent rights group that monitors political arrests and provides legal aid, 19,834 Russians have been arrested between February 24, 2022, when Russia began its invasion, and late October 2023, for speaking out or demonstrating against the war.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies