December 18, 2022

Art and Punishment


Art and Punishment
A search report into the artists bearing the name of one Lieutenant Putin. Facebook, Konstantin Shmolov

Back in 1976, two young KGB agents in Leningrad investigated a brazen act of political protest art. One of them went on to become Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Historian Konstantin Sholmov recently found records at the St. Petersburg Museum of Political History showing Putin’s involvement in the investigation and posted them on Facebook.

On August 3, 1976, artists Oleg Volkov and Yuly Rybakov painted the phrase, “You can crucify freedom, but the human soul knows no shackles!” on the walls of Peter and Paul Fortress (a prison in tsarist Russia). It was an act of political protest aimed at bringing attention to the artist Evgeny Rukhin, who they believed to have been murdered by the KGB in a mysterious house fire for his leading role in Soviet non-official art.

KGB agents immediately tried to get rid of the phrase, but to no avail: the Neva rose unusually high, making the walls unapproachable. Scrambling, they covered it with coffin lids from a display at the fortress, unwittingly adding to the artwork’s message.

Rybakov was not aware of Putin’s role until the documents surfaced.

Rybakov and Volkov were sentenced to six and seven years in a penal colony, respectively. Volkov passed away in 2005.

After returning to Leningrad, Rybakov was a co-founder of the first official opposition party in the USSR, Democratic Union, and began participating in human rights groups, where he is still active. In a new interview, he expressed hope that the war in Ukraine will eventually galvanize civil society in Russia, turning the country towards democratization.

You Might Also Like

With Mouths Sewn Shut
  • July 15, 2022

With Mouths Sewn Shut

Art is a powerful realm for protest. The Ukraine War has inspired a new wave of brave works.
Simferopolsky Banksy
  • July 01, 2014

Simferopolsky Banksy

This issue's language learning insert is on the issue's story on a popular Crimean street artist.
  • July 01, 2020

"Painting Jesus Isn't Dangerous"

Moscow is seeing religious symbolism crop up in unexpected places. It’s not the first time, but there is something different about what is going on now.
Putin's Pooches
  • October 07, 2021

Putin's Pooches

On this, Vladimir Putin's 69th birthday, we are reminded that even authoritarian leaders are softies for good dogs. Maybe especially so?
Is Putin Ailing?
  • May 02, 2022

Is Putin Ailing?

As rumors arise about President Putin's health, we take stock.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Turgenev Bilingual

Turgenev Bilingual

A sampling of Ivan Turgenev's masterful short stories, plays, novellas and novels. Bilingual, with English and accented Russian texts running side by side on adjoining pages.
The Little Humpbacked Horse (bilingual)

The Little Humpbacked Horse (bilingual)

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Tolstoy Bilingual

Tolstoy Bilingual

This compact, yet surprisingly broad look at the life and work of Tolstoy spans from one of his earliest stories to one of his last, looking at works that made him famous and others that made him notorious. 
Chekhov Bilingual

Chekhov Bilingual

Some of Chekhov's most beloved stories, with English and accented Russian on facing pages throughout. 
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955