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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

The cost of "five small pieces of paper".

"The Russian army has bombed an art school in Mariupol where 400 people were seeking shelter from a fire."

This is one of the 5 stickers stating facts about the Russian invasion of Ukraine that artist and activist Sasha Skochilenko used to replace price tags in a Saint Petersburg supermarket. After being reported by a shopper, she was arrested and detained in March 2022. Last week, she was sentenced to 7 years in a penal colony for 'knowingly spreading false information about the Russian army'. In her final statement to the court, she said “How fragile must the prosecutor’s belief in our state and society be, if he thinks that our statehood and public safety can be brought down by five small pieces of paper?”.

Now, it is outrageously obvious that the trial was a sham and that Skochilenko, an LGBTQ+ rights, anti-war and mental health activist, is being made an example of for speaking out against the regime. In fact, shortly before her arrest, Russia enacted two laws that criminalize independent war reporting, discrediting the Armed Forces, advocating the end of the war, as well as backing of economic sanctions. According to Amnesty International, since the passing of these laws, the number of people punished for these administrative “offences” stands at more than 8,000.  

I was struck by Sasha's story not just because of her courage. She must have known that her small yet revolutionary gesture could land her in serious trouble. What is happening to her (and others) is a stark reminder of the fragility of the freedoms we enjoy and the many rights we still take for granted.

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