19 months of Sasha Skochilenko’s case — in the photo story by Andrey Bok for Paper
16 November 2023
Seven years is the sentence for Sasha Skochilenko, a St. Petersburg artist and musician, former Paper’s employee. The young woman replaced price tags in a store with cards containing anti-war texts—this is her crime in contemporary Russia, where one can avoid punishment for a brutal murder by going to war.

For 19 months, Paper and photographer Andrey Bok followed the case, attending almost all court hearings. This photo story is about individuals whose principles and values, evident in their actions, provide strength to combat evil. It reveals how seemingly gentle and quietly protesting people often emerge as the bravest ones.


Sasha had been the target of law enforcement from the very beginning. For 10 days, they tracked the young woman through cameras, the one who replaced price tags with anti-war text at Perekrestok supermarket store—reported by an elderly woman. Then, after leaving the store, Sasha went to a friend's place, where the law enforcers soon set up an ambush for her.

The texts from the anti-war "price tags" placed by Sasha in the supermarket.

My great-grandfather fought for four years in the Great Patriotic War not for Russia to become a fascist state and invade Ukraine.

Putin has been lying to us from TV screens for 20 years. The result of these lies is our readiness to condone war and meaningless deaths.

Stop the war! 4300 Russian soldiers died in the first three days. Why is television silent about this?

Russian conscripts are being sent to Ukraine. The price of this war is the lives of our children.

The Russian army bombed an art school in Mariupol. About 400 people were hiding there from the bombing.

On the morning of April 11th, 2022, Sasha Skochilenko was awakened by a call from a friend: police had arrived to search his place, "looking for a body." By 11 AM, Sasha was already at his door. In two minutes, her other friend Alexey would receive a text that was about to change their lives for the next few years.

Sasha is taken away
Law enforcers wrote under my identity
Two days later, Sasha was brought in handcuffs to the Vasileostrovsky district court. She was accused of "disseminating knowingly false information about the Russian army out of motives of political hatred." Sasha's close friends and her girlfriend, Sonya, hoped that Judge Elena Leonova would consider Sasha's serious health conditions: a heart defect, cyclothymia with medication schedules, and celiac disease requiring a special diet.
After five hours of waiting, the judge decided to put the 31-year-old woman under arrest.


Sasha did not deny that she replaced those price tags. However, she disagreed that the information on them was "knowingly false." In one of the recent hearings, Sasha explained her actions:
"I just wanted belligerence to stop because it's my values: life is sacred to me. I just wanted to stop the war. Not out of hatred, not out of enmity, but out of compassion."
After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sasha, like hundreds of shocked residents of St. Petersburg, took part in anti-war protests. Due to a night spent in police custody, she developed PTSD. In the spring, Sasha organized anti-war jam sessions. Her correspondence with an acquaintance from Kyiv, attached to the case, shows that Sasha took the news of the shelling of civilians in Mariupol to heart.

Today, they bombed Kyiv from 4 AM, the left bank—Kharkivskyi and Pozniaky. A house was hit. Among the victims is a child. There was a battle in the residential area at noon. It's a fucking mess, in short.
It sounds terrible! I'm so sorry. It's unspeakable. I have no words to express my empathy.

Hello, Sasha, how are you?

I recently got out of the police station. It's very frightening here in Russia. We're expecting anything at any moment. I'm protesting as much as I can. I have severe PTSD from the night in custody. I'm already shaking from the encounters with the cops after all the detentions, and now I seem to see them everywhere, even in inanimate objects. How about you?


In the first year of the full-scale war, over 20,000 people were detained in Russia for political reasons. Criminal cases were initiated against 370 individuals for anti-war statements and speeches—many of them based on denunciations. Sasha Skochilenko's case is among them.
From the courtroom cell during the first hearing, Sasha managed to say: "Everyone here makes you feel like you're doing something shameful and bad if you speak out for peace."
Sasha's contact with the outside world was restricted: during the appeal of her preventive measure, she was connected via video link from the detention center, and she couldn't see the visitors who came to the court. For months, Sasha's requests for meetings with Sonya and Alexey were denied. "Even one of the convoy officers said it's quite cruel," Sasha complained to her lawyer, Yana Nepovinnova.
As Sasha was escorted through the court corridor, bailiffs would clear everyone out—during one of the hearings in 2023, they went as far as using tear gas for that purpose."


The inscription on the fence surrounding the court, passed by when transporting the defendants
After the suppression of anti-war protests, people opposed to the war and repression shifted their activism to the courts.
Dozens of St. Petersburg residents started attending Sasha's hearings, with Anna, an IT specialist unfamiliar with the defendant, explaining, “to show that people care.”
A community of hundreds of people emerged around Sasha Skochilenko's case, and the support extended to other political prisoners in St. Petersburg. Sasha's trial stretched over months, and the hostile room of the Vasileostrovsky district court unexpectedly became a place of support and upholding the principles.
"My accusers have power and money, but I have immeasurably more—kindness, empathy, genuine love, and enormous support from people around the world," wrote Sasha in a letter from the detention center.
Sasha's mother, Nadezhda, supported her from France. Official representatives from European countries and prominent community members attended the hearings.
"When you're not alone in the courtroom, it's a bit easier, so I came," explained activist Anush Panina. She served 25 days in the detention facility for speaking out against mobilization. "Moreover, those who support Sasha have the opportunity to see each other," Anush added.

Sasha's birthday. Activist Anush Panina in a festive crown and clown nose

Sasha, a musician and author of two books, became a global celebrity. The BBC included Sasha Skochilenko in the top 100 most influential women of the year. Artist Ksenia Sorokina handed over her Golden Mask award to Sasha for the play "Finist the Bright Falcon" (later its creators, Zhenya Berkovich and Svetlana Petriychuk, would be arrested on charges of "justifying terrorism"). Protests in support of Sasha took place in European cities, and a petition demanding her release in Russia garnered 169,000 signatures.
A year after Sasha's arrest, her girlfriend Sonya finally managed to secure a meeting—the first opportunity to talk in private. Throughout the trial, the two had more than ten such encounters. Concurrently with the court proceedings, Sonya was undergoing treatment for cancer.


At the end of 2022, star lawyer Yuri Novolodsky joined Skochilenko's case—the mentor of Sasha's defense attorney, Yana Nepovinnova. Novolodsky has been known in St. Petersburg since the 1990s: he worked in Anatoly Sobchak's government alongside Vladimir Putin, defended in court billionaire Mikhael Mirilashvili or crime boss Vladimir Kulibaba.

This disrupted the routine course of the trials: Novolodsky eloquently argued with prosecutor Alexander Gladyshev and demanded the recusal of Judge Oksana Demyasheva.
Novolodsky relied on independent experts, and the defense achieved an unexpected success: the court summoned the authors of the examination on the prosecution's side, Anastasia Grishanina and Olga Safonova. Alongside the lawyers, they were cross-examined by independent linguist Svetlana Drugoveyko-Dolzhanskaya.

Olga Safonova admitted that her conclusion about the falseness of information on the price tags was the result of a misunderstanding of the expert's task and that the information itself cannot be considered "knowingly false" for Skochilenko.

How does Sasha react to reading?

Andrey Bok

Calmly. Sits attentively and focused.

When she spoke, in response to the judge's request for an answer, her voice was hoarse but very firm and confident.

The voice and manner have clearly changed compared to previous hearings.
From left to right, top to bottom: Sasha’s lawyers Yuri Novolodsky and Dmitry Gerasimov, unsalaried defender Margarita Kislyakova. Lawyer Yana Nepovinnova, prosecutor Alexander Gladyshev
“Of course, I'm a little afraid of the verdict. But I look forward to the trials: right now, we are turning them into a real show and an incredible experience of dismantling the prosecutorial authorities," Sasha wrote to Paper.
Meanwhile, other courts handed down the first sentences in cases related to military "fakes." Moscow municipal deputy Alexey Gorinov received a 7-year prison term. Politician Ilya Yashin received 8.5 years. St. Petersburg resident Oleg Belousov was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison.

For Sasha Skochilenko, prosecutor Gladyshev requested an 8-year sentence.

We’ve been waiting for 15 minutes.

We've been standing for 25 minutes; the bailiffs are silent and waiting for us to get out the door.

We've been standing for 40 minutes.

Playing a game of who can outwait whom.

They took her out after an hour of standing.

They brought in 9 people to form a wall and surround us.


Autumn of 2023 turned into torture. Judge Demyasheva scheduled hearings almost daily. Sasha was brought to court at 7 AM—the whole day she sat behind bars, the judge prohibited making breaks, even for Sasha to drink water or take her pills.
"Again, I go through the torture of hunger, like at the very beginning of my imprisonment. Going to court is very difficult. After each such day, you want to lie flat for a day," Sasha wrote from the detention center.
During one of the hearings, Skochilenko was brought to court with a cardiac monitor. The judge decided that the need to replace the batteries in the device was not sufficient reason to postpone the hearing.

The pace also took a toll on the health of 72-year-old Novolodsky: he ended up in the hospital. During one hearing, he requested to speak while sitting—Demyasheva refused.


Sasha was sentenced on November 16, 2023—19 months after the arrest.
"How weak is the faith in our state and society that our prosecutor possesses if he believes that our statehood and public safety can be compromised by five small pieces of paper?"

Sasha Skochilenko
“In the investigators' jargon, putting someone in pre-trial detention is called 'taking them captive.' So, I did not surrender or bend under the conditions of captivity, under the threat of harassment, illness, and hunger."

Sasha Skochilenko


We've been covering Sasha's trial since the day of her arrest on April 11, 2022. You can read the story of the most high-profile trial on 'fakes' on the Paper website.

The team behind the project:

Photographs by Andrey Bok, editors — Ekaterina Alyabyeva, Tatiana Ivanova, designer — Elizaveta Semakina, photo editor — Sergey Ponomarev.

For assistance in preparing the photo story, Paper expresses gratitude to Sasha's friend Alexey Belozerov, Sasha's girlfriend Sonya Subbotina, activist Anush Panina, human rights defender Dinar Idrisov, Sasha's lawyer Yana Nepovinnova, photographer Maria Slepkova.