"I ran four laps with the Ukrainian flag."

Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

On September 10, amateur runner Andrei Korolchuk in Novosibirsk ran a marathon with a Ukrainian flag on his shirt. After that the police came to his home and took him to the department, where they drew up a report on "discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation". The day before the law enforcers terminated the Novosibirsk man's administrative case. We talked to Andrei about the power of protest, personal responsibility, and reaction to mobilization. "It's good to zig on the couch. Are you ready to become cannon fodder?"

- I am a citizen of Russia, but an ethnic Ukrainian. My father. He's from those parts of Western Ukraine that people here like to say are "crawling with banders. My mother is Russian, from Belgorod. They both studied in Kharkov, and in the 80s they were sent to Novosibirsk "to raise the local factories. All of our relatives live in Kursk, Belgorod, Kharkov, Mariupol, Lviv, Lutsk. Some of my relatives live in Kiev. In my childhood, I often visited my grandparents in Ukraine. And in my youth I used to go all the time.

On February 24, I was in a kind of prostration. It was as if the ground had been knocked out from under me. I could not believe how this was possible in the 21st century. What should I do? Should I call my relatives in Ukraine or not? My father was in shock. My mom doesn't watch much TV - I told her later that Mariupol had been wiped off the face of the earth...

Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

Later I contacted my relatives in Ukraine. I called them. There was no fear or distance. But there was a lousy, even nasty feeling in my soul.

I do not support this war, this criminal regime. I never voted for it. But I am part of Russian society. This is my country, my president, although I did not elect him. Not without the support of my compatriots attacked Ukraine, my relatives in Ukraine. That's why there was a nasty feeling.

This, by the way, brings up the theme of collective responsibility, which bombs many Russians. To be honest, I do not understand this position: I'm a good person, why should we do this? It's not like I voted for Putin, why should we lump all Russians together? And I kind of agree with them, but collective responsibility will affect us all. Including me. 

Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

When the war first started, and these draconian laws had not yet been adopted, there were several rallies in Novosibirsk. For the first week I was like in anabiosis. On March 6, when the whole country was preparing for a long weekend of drinking and partying, I woke up thinking - how could I celebrate anything when my relatives were hiding in a bomb shelter?

I rushed to the rally at the opera house. I was detained. At the time, everyone was being rowed in masses. I was just a little bit late, because of the traffic, and I didn't have time to join the rally. I was standing at the side, and one of the groups came at us in droves, yelling "Go around! They even took away the Yandex food delivery guy. They took him to the police station and drew up reports. One of the detainees was charged with a "rally," the other with "anti-vision. I was charged with the "anti-vision" article - I wasn't wearing a mask.

Then there was a trial, one appeal, and another. It all dragged on for five months. All this time I didn't go anywhere, I didn't rally. But you look - people come out there, people come out here... And even those who don't have Ukrainian roots. I think, how brave they are! And I am sitting there. The trials are over, and the war goes on. And guys are dying on both Ukrainian and Russian sides. My acquaintance was burnt in a tank - an enlisted man, they took him there... And there is no end. Am I supposed to keep quiet?

And then there's the half marathon. I would have run it anyway. When you register for a race, you are offered a choice: either you buy a number and a branded T-shirt, or you run with your own T-shirt. They just give you a number.

I had a white T-shirt, so I decided to decorate it with a Ukrainian flag. I sewed it next to my license plate. I thought I would run as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine, its people, and my family.
Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

I knew that Ukrainian symbols were not officially banned. But realizing our Russian reality, I thought it was better to play it safe. Otherwise I might not be allowed to go to the start line. I received my starting bag and went to change. I put on a green opaque sleeveless jacket over my number and flag T-shirt. I wore it to the start line, ran and took it off after the first lap. I thought, "Whatever happens, don't worry. All the remaining four laps (the half marathon was held in the center of Novosibirsk - editor's note) I ran with the Ukrainian flag.

I was surprised, but no one told me anything on the course. And there were a lot of checkpoints, volunteers, Rosgvardians, traffic police, and organizers. I was asked later - was it because nobody had dragged you off the course in the open arms? No one said anything, neither positive, nor negative. Zero reaction. So, a man runs with a flag...

Then I had a thought: maybe they just don't want to spoil the party? They would let me run to the finish line and politely escort me there? I run across the finish line, they give me a medal for not having run off the course, and a bottle of water. That's it. I calmly go to the locker room, change, and go home. I think, well, everything can not be so perfect at a time when they can just pick up with a white sheet of paper - remember, the man covered part of the logo of the company "Miratorg"? 

Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

I got home, washed up, went to bed. And then it started. At first I thought someone from the family was breaking in.

I went to the door peephole, and there were two men in plain clothes. And they were knocking pretty hard, I even thought that the door would not hold. Then there was a pause - they must have come out of the doorway. I saw an unfamiliar car standing in the yard and they were on duty. They stood around for four hours. They talked to the neighbors, asked some questions.

Then my father called - the police also had time to stop by, we live at different addresses. He said that the police were looking for me. He asked the police what it was about, and they said that my son was doing something weird. They left my father a phone number for me to call.

I thought that if I left the house now, they'd lock me up and take me to who knows where. If I opened the door - and I was alone at home - I wondered what they might do, what if they planted drugs? I started calling my relatives to have someone come and witness me. My brother and my father's wife came. Thanks to my family, they supported me at that moment. They stood as one wall.

I dialed the number of the detective, asking him what you were looking for me for. He said we needed to talk, but it wasn't a phone conversation, we'd come up. We drove up, we didn't even show our credentials. They started from afar - "Do you know what the situation in the country is like now? We got information that you were running with a Ukrainian flag. We need you to give an explanation...".

The half marathon was in Novosibirsk, I live in Berdsk. My brother and I first went to the Berdsk police station. It turned out that they didn't expect any explanations from me. They said that I had to be taken to the central police station in Novosibirsk. I refused to go without an explanation.

The policeman freaked out and went to get a summons. He brought it with the words: "Hurry up and sign it, or we'll get you in trouble...". I told him to settle down. In general I agreed to go as I am not a criminal and I have nothing to hide. On my brother's phone, I told the IAB-Info about myself.
Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

I was brought to the Novosibirsk police station and handed over to a member of the E Center. He took me to a separate room, without any documents or paperwork. We had a heart-to-heart talk. He also started from afar: 'Do you know what the situation in the world is like now? I answered that I knew everything, that I understood everything. He said, "So why did you run away? I understood that this was Centre "E" and I referred to Article 51 of the Constitution. This made him angry and I promised him that he would come to my house every day. I said, "No problem, come and see me.

He got even more freaked out, he said, "Come on upstairs, I need to check your tattoos. I don't have any tattoos at all.

I took off my top, he took a picture of me on his phone. I asked him if I should undress further, take off my pants and panties. He said no, let's keep talking. And then it started: what was your attitude to the special operation? I told him that I was born and live in Russia, I feel sorry for our guys, but at the same time I have Ukrainian roots... 

I tried to explain something, but then the lawyer from IAB-Info came, and our conversation stopped. The lawyer asked what you were doing here, you shouldn't be here at all. The lawyer left.

The lawyer started demanding papers on what grounds I was detained. The police quickly drew up a report, and there was Article 20.3.3, "discrediting". My lawyer and I filled out the necessary papers. We were told to wait for notification of the progress of the case. And then the day before they issued an order to dismiss the case. So you don't necessarily have to go to jail or get an administrative penalty for expressing disagreement.

Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

While it was unclear how the case would end, my relatives were worried and reprimanded me - "you've had enough," "you've played your game," "why do you need all this," "we told you to keep your head down"... I have no hard feelings towards them. But my hands are dropping. This is a telling example - it's striking how much people are afraid even to admit to themselves that I haven't broken any law, and that there is injustice on the part of the state in relation to me. It's a shame that in addition to the 20 percent of "Z-patriots," the vast majority have this policy.

"Stay quiet, keep your head down!" People by their silence play into the hands of this war, this regime - legitimize them. And then they complain that they are called silent accomplices. What else can you call them?

I often cite the example of Maria Ponomarenko, a journalist from Barnaul, when talking to family and friends. She is a hero to me. On March 6, I sat with her in Novosibirsk in the same police station in Zayeltsovsky. We were waiting for the paperwork after the rally. A person fights for the truth, how many times she came out and didn't keep quiet. And many people came out once and that's it...

I don't think I've done enough. It's too late to drink borjomi now - everyone has heard the news about mobilization. Now it really concerns almost everyone. It's good to zigzag on the couch. Are you ready to become cannon fodder?
Photo: from the personal archive of Andrey Korolchuk

It pains me to look at today's rallies - how few people came out! Only a few came out (I'm proud of them!). That is, the population doesn't care as much as it did at the beginning of the war, and it's not about Ukraine anymore, but about our Russian lives.

That is, people don't care about themselves. This is further confirmation that Russian society is sick, and it's not the Findos and the Banderites, the Freemasons and the LGBT, but the Russians themselves who have fucked up their country. And they don't realize it.

I am shocked by the comments in the channels on relocation. People are panicking and trying to scramble instead of rallying together shoulder to shoulder, coming out and saying their firm "no" to mobilization. Not to run away from their home. So I see the future of Russia in shades of gray. Because, if you look at the root, Putin is a consequence of the state of society. Total disunity, indifference, lack of empathy...

I think that there will be some kind of relationship between Ukraine and Russia in any case. A common border. But it is clear that they will be tense. The relations between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples will be even more tense. Until several generations change. How many depends on us, the Russians. It depends on how soon people wake up. 

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