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Proekt media challenges reputation of Gulagu.net founder Osechkin

Embellished stories and accusations of profiteering are dogging Vladimir Osechkin, the Russian activist lionized for criticizing the war and exposing Russian prison torture.
Osechkin Gulagu.net Russian activist prison torture
Vladimir Osechkin regularly posts selfies from the beach in Biarritz, France, where he emigrated following (unproven) claims of persecution by the Russian government. Photo via Proekt media
Proekt media challenges reputation of Gulagu.net founder Osechkin

The founder of the Gulagu.net website Vladimir Osechkin has risen to prominence as a Russian human rights activist during the war in Ukraine. However, an investigation by the independent Russian outlet Proekt has raised serious concerns about Osechkin’s credibility and methods.

According to Proekt, Osechkin has a history of embellishing his role and making unfounded accusations. The investigation found several instances where Osechkin took credit for evacuating Russian dissidents and military defectors, when in reality he had little or no involvement.

“Osechkin announced one of the ‘longest evacuations’ of defector Nikita Chibrin as if he had arranged it,” Proekt reports. “But Chibrin told Proekt that Osechkin’s plan for his departure did not work, and he organized everything himself.”

There are also questions around Osechkin’s fundraising methods. Proekt’s investigation found that he earns money by helping Russian emigres obtain asylum, sometimes for inflated fees. Osechkin denied the accusations of profiteering.

Dissenters branded as FSB agents

The investigation also revealed that Osechkin has a pattern of accusing people who disagree with him of being agents of Russia’s security services.

“Almost everyone who comes into conflict with the human rights activist eventually turns out to be an ‘FSB agent,’ an ‘FSIN agent,’ or at least a ‘war criminal,'” notes Proekt. “Osechkin did not provide any evidence of such cooperation in personal conversations with Proekt.”

Some of those accused expressed bewilderment at the accusations.

“He promised to publish evidence that ‘Svetova was complicit in the FSB campaign to discredit him.’ But he did not publish it,” said journalist Zoya Svetova of the accusations against her.

Possibly false Wagner interview

Proekt also accuses Osechkin of publishing unverified information that later turned out to be pranks and claims that his most questionable “fact-checking” efforts was an interview with two Russian men who claimed to be Wagner mercenaries responsible for war crimes in Ukraine, an episode reported by many media, including Euromaidan Press.

“Alexei Savichev and Azamat Uldarov spoke with Osechkin via Skype while still in Russia – making their admissions of personally killing Ukrainian children and throwing grenades into a pit of wounded Russian and Ukrainian soldiers even more sensational,” Proekt reports.

“No further confirmation of what was said has emerged since then. Instead, it turned out that at least one of the ‘sources’ – homeless man Alexei Savichev – was paid for the conversation by Osechkin.”

According to Savichev, Osechkin sent him 10,000 rubles ($103) which he needed “just to eat, to survive.”

Osechkin acknowledged transferring the funds to Savichev but said it was not conditional for the interview. However, Gulagu.net previously openly wrote that it pays its informants.

After the interview, Savichev complained that no one tried to ensure his safety and soon disappeared, along with Uldarov.

Osechkin told Proekt the two are now “under close FSB control.” But he provided no evidence to back the claim.

The sensational yet apparently false Wagner interview is one of several instances where Osechkin published dubious information without verification, raising doubts about his credibility.

Questionable bombshell prison torture report

One of Osechkin’s most high-profile revelations was 2 terabytes of video recordings from security cameras in a tuberculosis hospital run by Russia’s penitentiary service, obtained in fall of 2021.

“On the recordings, some prisoners tortured and raped other prisoners while employees filmed it. After publication – which rarely happens in modern Russia – there was a reaction from the authorities: several criminal cases, dismissals in the Saratov prison department and even the dismissal of the then head of the entire Federal Penitentiary Service,” Proekt reports.

The videos came from a prisoner named Sergey Savelyev who claimed to have smuggled out the hard drive on his release.

However, case materials reviewed by Proekt show that in early messages to Osechkin, Savelyev offered to provide the recordings “at the request of FSIN employees for a cash reward.”

Osechkin paid Savelyev around $2,000 but both claim it was only to buy a laptop to transfer the archive, not a bribe.

The high-profile torture revelation led to purges in Russia’s prison system. But the circumstances around the videos – and large crypto donations worth $709,000 (which constitutes over 75% of Gulagu.net’s total donations over three years) around the same time – have fueled speculation that powerful security forces could have orchestrated the scandal.

Osechkin denies this. But the dramatic saga highlights the ambiguities around the activist and his work, Proekt says.

While Osechkin has drawn attention to human rights abuses in the Russian penitentiary system, his credibility is undermined by embellished stories, unfounded accusations and questionable practices, Proekt concludes.

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