An exhibition of 20 works with anti-war themes was raided by police in St. Petersburg, Russia, seizing the pieces that had been on view, according to the Agence France-Presse. The artist behind the show, the 77-year-old Elena Osipova, now faces up to 15 years in prison for violating a law enacted last year that made “discrediting Russian armed forces” and anti-war protests illegal.
Officials claim that members of the police came to the exhibition, which was being held at a branch of Russia’s social-liberal Yabloko party, because of a bomb threat. No explosives were found, but officers “discovered graphic images drawn on canvas and cardboard on the walls, which possibly contain false information about the Russian armed forces,” according to a police report quoted in the party’s statement and reported by France 24.
Osipova has been a passionate voice of dissent against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. Her life as a radical began in 2002 after Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater hostage crisis during the Second Chechen War. “That was when I realized I couldn’t stay silent any longer,” Osipova told Meduza in 2022. “I took a piece of poster board and wrote on it: ‘Mr. President, change course immediately!’”
Since then, Osipova has been arrested and fined multiple times. In 2022, a video of her being taken into custody by Russian police in riot gear for holding up anti-war placards in public spread across social media.
Osipova, who has been called “the conscience of St. Petersburg,” survived the Nazis’ 872-day military siege of the city formerly known as Leningrad when she was a child. She went on to study art, and eventually to teach it in St. Petersburg.
“What could be worse than what is happening?” Osipova told Agence France-Presse, speaking about the protest-related arrests that have plagued Russia since a law forbidding this activism was put in place. “This is my country, my homeland, why can’t I speak?”
According to Foreign Affairs, over 20,000 people were detained in 2022 on political grounds, “mainly for expressing antiwar sentiment in public.” Some 378 have been criminally prosecuted; 51 of them have been sentenced.
Osipova’s exhibition opened on January 31 and was meant to run through February 24, a date meant to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.