Olesya Krivtsova, a university student, has been missing a lot of classes.
That’s because Olesya, 20, is under house arrest. Her leg is equipped with an electronic tag. Police can track her every move.
Her alleged offence? Olesya was arrested for posting anti-war messages on social media. One of them was the October explosion on the bridge connecting Russia to annexed Crimea.
“I posted an Instagram story about the bridge,” Olesya says, “reflecting on how happy Ukrainians were with what had happened.”
She had also shared a post about the war from a friend.
The drama then began.
“”I was on the phone with my mother when I heard the front door open,” Olesya recalls. A large number of police officers arrived. They took my phone and ordered me to lie down on the floor.”
Olesya was accused of justifying terrorism and undermining the Russian military. She faces up to ten years in prison.
“I had no idea anyone could get such a long prison sentence for something they posted on the internet,” Olesya says. “I’d heard about crazy verdicts in Russia, but I hadn’t paid much attention and kept speaking out.”
Olesya, a student at Russia’s Northern Federal University in Arkhangelsk, has now been added to the country’s official list of terrorists and extremists.
“I thought it was crazy when I realised I’d been put on the same list as school shooters and the Islamic State group,” recalls Olesya.
Her house arrest rules forbid her from talking on the phone or going online.
Olesya has a striking tattoo of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a spider, with the Orwellian inscription: “Big Brother is watching you.”
In Olesya’s case, it appears that her classmates were watching her rather than Big Brother.
“”A friend showed me a post about me in a chat about how I was against the ‘special military operation,'” Olesya says. The majority of the participants in this chat were history students. They were debating whether or not to report me to the authorities.”
The BBC has obtained excerpts from the group chat.
Olesya is accused of writing in one comment “Provocative posts with a defeatist and extremist tone. This is inappropriate for a time of war. It must be stopped at the source “.
“First, let us attempt to discredit her. Let the security services handle it if she doesn’t get it.”
“Denunciation is a patriot’s duty,” someone else writes.
Olesya recognised the names from the student chat when the list of prosecution witnesses was read out in court later.
It has been one year since the Kremlin launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine, which is Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbour. Within weeks of the assault, President Putin was calling on the Russian public to separate “true patriots from scum and traitors”.
Since then, there have been reports of Soviet-style denunciations of war critics across Russia. They include students informing on teachers and employees criticising coworkers.
Public criticism of the invasion, including reposting other people’s criticism, is risky.
The Russian authorities expect total, unflinching support for the offensive in Ukraine.
If you don’t agree with it, you’re expected to remain silent. If you do not remain silent, you will face a slew of repressive laws designed to punish dissent.
This includes laws prohibiting the dissemination of “false information” about the military and “discrediting” the army.
In Arkhangelsk, a giant portrait of a Russian soldier killed in Ukraine stares down on the city from the side of a nine-storey apartment block, along with the words: “Being a warrior means living forever.”
The patriotic messaging is convincing. On the streets of Arkhangelsk, there is little sympathy for Russians who are facing prosecution for anti-war remarks.
“People who discredit our army or spread fakes, they’re sick in the head,” Konstantin tells me. “They should be sent to the front line as cannon fodder.”
“I have a negative attitude to critics of the special operation,” Ekaterina tells me.
But a long prison sentence for posting something online, isn’t that harsh? I ask.
“People should use their brains,” Ekaterina replies. “If they live in this country, if they enjoy all the benefits this country has to offer, if they’re patriots, they need to abide by the law.”
Later that day Olesya is allowed out of her flat. But only to attend a court hearing. Her defence lawyers are trying to persuade a judge to lift the restrictions on her movement.
Olesya’s T-shirt sports a picture of a police van with “School Bus” written on it. A comment on how young Russians are being punished for their criticism of the authorities.
The judge rules to keep her under house arrest.
“The state doesn’t have the stomach for debate, for democracy or freedom,” Olesya says. “But they can’t put everyone in prison. At some point they’ll run out of cells.”