July 04, 2024

The Roof Will Be Yellow and Blue Again


The Roof Will Be Yellow and Blue Again
Road in Reshetikha, the town where Alexander Gorelov lives. Евгений Катышев, Wikimedia Commons.

In a rural town near Nizhny Novgorod, Alexander Gorelov made himself known by painting "No to War" on his car and then his roof in the Ukrainian Flag colors. OVD-Info interviewed Gorelov on police persecution he faced, including a terrorism charge.

Gorelov has lived his entire life in the village of Reshetikha. He worked as a furniture assembler and now renovates apartments. He defined himself as a former "vatnik," a pejorative word used for supporters of the Russian government. Gorelov told OVD-Info, "I even supported raising the retirement age, like a fool." But his political views shifted after encountering the legal system in 2019.

Gorelov was fed up with seeing cars, including police vehicles, parked on the sidewalk. He walked into the Reshetikha police station asking for a solution to the problem. The policeman on duty began arguing with him, so the apartment renovator began recording the altercation. In response, the policeman shouted, "You are a blogger, that is forbidden here." Gorelov won his battle and the cars were removed, but his war with the legal system had just begun.

Three days later, Gorelov returned to the police station to complete paperwork on his complaint. The policeman he had argued with recognized him and charged him with disobedience. Gorelov was forced to spend the night in a bedbug-infested cell and pay a thousand rubles (less than $12) in fines. He told OVD-Info, "I was just trying to change my village for the better, but faced with indifference and aggression." After the incident, he started following opposition politicians.

When Russia's War on Ukraine began, Gorelov joined anti-war protests. He spraypainted "No to War" on his car and later added an image of the Russian president with crossed bones with  "Putin is a Killer" written under it. Gorelov drove the anti-war-mobile to the main square and stood beside it for half an hour. After returning from buying some bread, he saw eight to ten policemen surrounding the vehicle. His car was confiscated and he was charged with defamation for writing "No to War." According to Gorelov, the policemen considered the "Putin is a killer" to be a legal statement. When he came to pick up the car a month later, he was again forced to spend a night in jail and fined for "organizing a rally."

In the spring of 2022, Gorelov bought blue and yellow paint and turned the roof of his home into the flag of Ukraine. He first painted the roof blue and then added the yellow, allowing the painting to go undetected for months. When a policeman asked him about it, Gorelov told him, "I wanted it and I painted it."

In August 2023, police carried out a search warrant on Gorelov's home. In December 2022, the Reshetikha administration received an email that there were bombs in the town. In July 2023, the police chief told the Ministry of Internal Affairs that Gorelov was involved. No bombs were found in the search, but the "terrorism suspect" was taken to the police station. When he left, strangers broke into his home and repainted his roof.

During the interrogation, the police chief asked Gorelov, "Why are you doing this? Our soldiers are dying there, after all, there are Nazis there." The furniture assembler responded that he had been to Ukraine and had not seen any Nazis there. Gorelov added that his grandparents, who survived the Second World War, "always told me that war is just hunger and death."

Gorelov's friends told him to emigrate. But he refuses to leave the town where his father is buried and says, "If everyone leaves, who will stay here?" Despite being persecuted, Gorelov feels proud of how he "offended all the bosses." He said, "I have no high position, title, or authority, in fact, I'm just a spikelet in the field." The Reshetikha native told OVD-Info, "I will definitely repaint the roof. First yellow, and then we'll see."

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