Article by: Olena Matusova
The Russian FSB reported on Wednesday it had detained a group of contraband exporters who were taking weapons from Ukraine and the EU to Russia. However, as it turns out recently, Russian special services take on Ukrainian social activists in Russia more than they do real criminals.
Before March of the current year Nataliya Romanenko was a prima at the Khabarov kray Ensemble of Song and Dance of the Russian MIA Armed Forces and head of the local Ukrainian diaspora. However, on March 5, after she return from Kyiv, Natalia was arrested by FSB workers right in the plane. According to Romanenko, the possible reason why she was arrested were her letters about what had been really happening in Kyiv, on Maidan. After a 14-hour-long questioning, the first video was uploaded online, in which Nataliya declares a text which is opposite to what she had described in the letters, and which was very reminiscent of the rhetoric pertaining to federal Russian media.
However, some time later, Rossiya 24 made a report from Khabarovsk, wherein Romanenko delated the text written for her, spiced up with journalists’ comments. After this, Nataliya, having understood that she was being used for information war, denounced her words and the FSB started to use other methods to fight her. She was fired from the song and dance ensemble, and the Ukrainian ethnographic group she had led was closed. Besides, Romanenko started receiving threats that she would be rid of her parental rights. According to Nataliya Romanenko, her case is not the only one, however, it is exemplary due to the cruelty of the FSB.
“My journalist friends later told me, they said that many are arrested the same way I was, but everyone is silent, they don’t tell anyone. And the way they treated me, that never happened to anyone yet.”
Nataliya Romanenko says that in the group she had worked for, many feel sympathetic towards her as a single mother, who practically remained without any means of survival. Meanwhile they also make it clear that they cannot do anything against the baiting the FSB had organized. Romanenko turned to the Khabarovsk Human Rights Representative Yury Berezutsky. In a short conversation with Radio Liberty the representative said he had sent a request to the appropriate structure, however he made it clear that he does not count much on a positive outcome.
“The according requests were sent, and now I am expecting an appropriate reaction to my requests. The matter is delicate… You and I understand… Let’s wait a little,” he noted.
A common story with a sequel
Nataliya Romanenko’s story is not the only one in Russia. Another matter is that not all Ukrainian diaspora activists who feel pressured by the Russian intelligence speak of them. Head of the Moscow Union of Ukrainians Valery Semenenko told Radio Liberty that he knows of several such cases.
“Our people are being summoned a lot and ‘talked with.’ This happened in St. Petersburg, Voronezh, Tatarstan, in Moscow as well: our activists were summoned and questioned for a long time, and of course, they were warned. And this depressed the people and of course they started being more cautious.”
Valery Semenenko is one of the few who is trying to not only make sense of Nataliya Romanenko’s situation but also help the woman with everything he can. After Romanenko’s speech on Russian television, many consider her weakness inexcusable. However, Nataliya and the other activists still hope the situation would change.